What to know about ICJ’s Israel ruling and what happens next

What to know about ICJ’s Israel ruling and what happens next

The United Nations’s top court ruled Friday that Israel must immediately stop its military operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is a major condemnation of how Israel has conducted its war, but enforcement is another question.

Without a police force of its own, the international court is limited in its ability to carry out its orders. For example, Russia has ignored a 2022 ruling to stop its invasion of Ukraine.

In 1986, the ICJ ruled that the U.S. violated international law and ordered it to pay Nicaragua war reparations. The U.S. refused and was able to veto further attempts.

Here’s what to know about the Israel ruling and what happens next.

Rafah at center of ruling

The court’s ruling is focused on Rafah, which sits at the border of Gaza and Egypt and is the center of a nearly two-week campaign being carried out by Israel. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have taken refuge in Rafah since the start of the war.

Despite warnings from President Biden and other world leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the operation into what he says is the last Hamas stronghold so Israel can achieve a “complete victory.”

The Israeli operations are focused on finding the last four battalions of Hamas’s conventional army and looking for remaining hostages taken in the group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

But the U.S. has issued dire warnings about the humanitarian toll of a full Rafah invasion, and Biden this month threatened to withhold offensive weapons from Israel if its forces move into the city.

What the ruling means

Judges on the court voted 13-2 for Israel to “immediately halt” its military offensive because it may “inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

The 13 judges in the majority were from the United States, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, Romania, Somalia and South Africa. The two judges who voted against were from Israel and Uganda.

The court described new evacuation orders for an estimated 800,000 Palestinians in Rafah as “exceptionally grave.”

The case was brought to the ICJ by South Africa, which accused Israel of carrying out genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The ruling also called for Israel to open the Rafah crossing with Egypt “for unhindered provision” of “urgently needed” basic services and humanitarian aid.

It also called for Israel to ensure investigative bodies can access Gaza to probe the allegations of genocide.

What happens next

Early indications from Israel and its allies suggest it does not feel constrained by the court’s order, while pro-Palestinian advocates hope it will help spur international action to stop the war.

Immediately after the ruling, Netanyahu said he would hold a special ministerial meeting to decide how to respond, The Associated Press reported.

Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon posted on social media that the ICJ judges deliberated in comfort while 125 hostages remain “in tunnels.”

“Israel will not cease the war until our hostages are brought back home and Hamas is completely defeated,” Danon said.

David Friedman, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel in the Trump administration, called the ICJ a “kangaroo court” that makes its decisions on political bias.

“Its decision today that Israel should leave Rafah and surrender to Hamas is a victory for radical Islamists and will only encourage more terrorism,” Friedman posted online. “Fortunately, Israel properly will ignore the ruling.”

Blaise Misztal, a national security policy adviser for the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, noted that the ICJ is ordering Israel to not undertake operations that could result in genocide.

“So Israel still has the legal right to continue operating in Rafah so long as it can show it is fulfilling its obligations to prevent the commission genocide,” he posted online.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told the ICJ to “go to hell” over the ruling. He said the order “will and should be ignored by Israel.”

The organization Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) released statements praising the court’s decision.

“The ICJ and ICC confirmed this week that international action is needed because Israel will not hold itself accountable and will not voluntarily end its crimes,” DAWN advocacy director Raed Jarrar said in a statement.

DAWN’s executive director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said it highlighted the need for the U.S. to implement an arms embargo on Israel.

The organization’s director of research for Israel-Palestine, Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, said the decision reiterates warnings from the Biden administration and urged the U.S. to support enforcement of the court’s order.

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