ICJ on Israel and Palestine: One small step for humankind

The International Criminal Court’s order on provisional measures to stop Israel’s annihilation of Palestine and Palestinians falls considerably short of the demand for an immediate ceasefire that South Africa sought.

The measures will not put an immediate stop to the bombardment of Gaza, which South Africa charges amounts to genocide, and if Israel ignores the order no mechanisms exist to force it to do so.

The order is nonetheless critically important: 

  • It reflects the court’s consideration that there may be merit in South Africa’s charge that Israel’s onslaught on Gaza amounts to genocide;
  • It is an official finding of Israeli misconduct by a court representing the entire world, unswayed by the political and/or ideological and/or economic interests of individual nations (however powerful); and
  • It is an indictment on the old-world structure of the United Nations that affords some nations more powers than others, and has enabled the United States to use its veto to block resolutions calling for ceasefire.

Most critically, it affirms that Palestinians are human beings, with human rights – and not animals, as senior Israeli officials have contended. 

The United States, and other nations in the global north which have aligned themselves behind Israel’s military actions, must now do the right thing and pressure Israel to implement the order of the world’s court.

Applying such pressure, against their geo-political instincts, would represent a giant leap for humankind. Failure to do so would, conversely, place them in the same league as others who have ignored world court rulings such as Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Providing food, water and medical provisions to Palestinians does not imply support for Hamas, or the nature of its 7 October 2023 attack on Israel that targeted civilians. 

Nor does criticising Israel’s response to the attack amount to anti-Semitism; it is about equality. It says that, as an inter-dependent species, we should all play life by the same moral and ethical rules. 

South Africans should be proud to have played a strong hand in asserting that fact. It provides a glimmer of light to a gloomy world of violent self-interest and division.


* This statement was issued for Dr Mamphela Ramphele, Chairperson of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Intellectual Property Trust.