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Moral, legal, and political efforts to end the suffering in Gaza are reaching a crescendo

Ireland’s efforts to defend the humanity of Palestinians are an important contribution

The Government has announced that it is preparing a submission to intervene in South Africa’s case currently under way at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, which alleges that Israel has violated its obligations under the Genocide Convention through its military campaign in Gaza. In the face of the escalating and horrific humanitarian catastrophe that is rapidly unfolding, will it make any difference?

South Africa’s case against Israel began in December at the UN’s highest court. There is a bitter irony in the fact that the 1948 Convention, which was created in the aftermath of the second World War, was supposed to reflect the commitment of the international community to “never again” allow atrocities such as those carried out against the Jewish people. While there have been numerous violations in subsequent years, Israel’s military campaign, combined with its blockade of aid to Gaza, has been condemned as clear evidence of genocide.

The Court responded to the call for “provisional measures” in this case in record time, instructing Israel on January 26th to prevent its military from committing acts which could be genocidal, and allowing the case to proceed to be deliberated on its merits. While this fell short of an order to Israel to end its military actions against Gaza, it can be interpreted as a moral victory for South Africa and other states seeking to denounce the legality of Israel’s actions.

This will certainly be the basis of Ireland’s submission, which may be expected to follow similar lines of argument to those made by Attorney General Rossa Fanning who spoke before the court on a related case in February. He claimed that the prolonged occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands is illegal, a breach of the “basic rules of international humanitarian law” and “the prohibition of acquisition of territory by force”.

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This could be interpreted as a call for the cessation of all kinds of material and political support to Israel. As he put it, “states are obliged not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by Israel’s breach of its obligations to respect the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”

The United States, Israel’s strongest supporter, has been gradually more critical of the military campaign, culminating in its abstention from a vote condemning Israel at the UN Security Council on March 25th

Many of the submissions argued that anything less than outright condemnation amounted to complicit support of the Israeli occupation, if not an enabling of Israel’s actions.

Ireland’s submission to the court will crystallise the country’s position on this issue on legal, not just political grounds. Indeed, Ireland is in a strong leadership position on the question of Palestine, having been the first EU member state to declare in 1980, that a resolution of this conflict must be based on a fully sovereign Palestinian state and a two-state solution. Building on this interpretation, France has indicated that it is preparing a UN Security Council resolution calling for the recognition of the Palestinian state in the coming weeks.

The legal and moral weight of the Court’s opinion is vital, but so too is the context and timing. Although some may argue that Israel’s blatant violation of international law reflects a contempt for the institutions of world order, the same cannot be said of its allies. The United States, Israel’s strongest supporter, has been gradually more critical of the military campaign, culminating in its abstention from a vote condemning Israel at the UN Security Council on March 25th. Resolution 2728, which was agreed by 14 votes to 0, is the first time the 15-member Council has reached an agreement on this issue since October. The council now demands a ceasefire in Gaza through to the end of Ramadan on April 9th. By abstaining, the US allowed the resolution to pass and refrained from using its veto, as it has in previous debates.

The political and military support that the US, UK and other Western powers have provided to Israel for the past five months is being gradually chipped away. The vote signifies a further shift away from public support of Israel, pointing to the growing isolating of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, and the progressive unease in Western capitals with the persecution of the Palestinian people.

Only through the concerted action of states condemning the genocide, and suspending all support for Israel, can lives be saved

Last Thursday, the ICJ issued additional provisional measures pointing out that only by suspending the military operation, as demanded by the Security Council, can Israel abide by the court’s orders. Recognising that famine has already begun, the court called on Israel to “ensure, without delay, in full co-operation with the United Nations, the unhindered provision at scale by all concerned of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance” to the people of Gaza. Former president of the court Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf stated: “The alarm has now been sounded by court. All the indicators of genocidal activity are flashing red in Gaza.”

As the moral, legal, and political efforts to bring an end to the suffering in Gaza appear to be reaching a crescendo, this is an opportune moment for Ireland to intervene. Only through the concerted action of states condemning the genocide, and suspending all support for Israel, can lives be saved. Proving genocide at the ICJ will be a long process, and may take years, but Ireland’s efforts to defend the humanity of the Palestinians as part of it will be an important contribution.

Dr Alanna O’Malley is associate professor of international history at Leiden University

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