Historic provisional ruling: ICJ orders protection of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip from ‘acts of genocide’

Ayesha Naseem, UK

On Friday 26 January 2024, the International Court of Justice delivered a provisional ruling in South Africa’s case, submitted to the court in December last year, in which it accused Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip

The International Court of Justice concluded that “South Africa has standing to submit to it the dispute with Israel concerning alleged violations of obligations under the Genocide Convention.” (“APPLICATION OF THE CONVENTION ON THE PREVENTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE CRIME OF GENOCIDE IN THE GAZA STRIP”, www.icj-cij.org)

Given how historic this whole development is, it is imperative to highlight South African solidarity with the Palestinian people and the nation’s practical display of learning from one’s history. For South Africa to have taken this stand when the silence of the Western world couldn’t have been louder, the importance of taking calculated steps to try and bring an end to oppression comes to light. Islam also encourages solidarity, which can create a means to stop oppression. 

Hazrat Anasra narrated, “Allah’s Messengersa said, ‘Help your brother, be he the oppressor or the oppressed.’ The companions said, ‘O Allah’s Messengersa, we understand that we should help him when he is the aggrieved party, but how should we help him when he is the wrongdoer?’ He said: ‘Hold his hand [i.e., stop him from oppressing.]’” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-mazalim, Bab a‘in akhaka zaliman aw mazluman, Hadith 2444)

Hazrat Chaudhry Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khanra, a pioneer Ahmadi Muslim diplomat and jurist who was also the President of the International Court of Justice between 1954 and 1961, has written extensively on Islam and its principles on human rights.

In his book, Islam and Human Rights, Hazrat Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khanra explains how the values and principles established in the UN Charter of Human Rights were revealed and inculcated within Islamic teachings by Allah the Almighty over 1400 years ago. 

Article 3 of the UN Human Rights Charter speaks of “the right to life, liberty and security of person.” (“Universal Declaration of Human Rights”, www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights)

In Chapter 5, verse 33 of the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty states: 

“On account of this, We prescribed for the children of Israel that whosoever killed a person — unless it be for killing a person or for creating disorder in the land — it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and whoso gave life to one, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind. And Our Messengers came to them with clear Signs, yet even after that, many of them commit excesses in the land.”

Sir Zafrullah Khan stated, “The sense of horror sought to be inspired against destroying human life may be gathered from [this verse of the Holy Quran].” (Islam and Human Rights, p. 83, www.alislam.org

Convention on the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide

To consolidate and understand the progress in this case at the ICJ, it is worth mentioning what the first three Articles of the Geneva Convention are. 

Article I of the Genocide Convention states that “genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they [member states of the United Nations General Assembly] undertake to prevent and to punish.” (“Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”, www.un.org)

Then, Article II of the Genocide Convention states:

“Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group, as such: 

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (Ibid.)

Lastly, Article III of the Convention states:

“The following acts shall be punishable: 

(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.” (Ibid.)

The Genocide Convention was only established in 1948. Islam, the universal religion for all, set out teachings on protecting innocents from oppression over 1400 years ago. 

The provisional verdict and the order of provisional measures

In its ruling, the ICJ declared that the Palestinian people are a protected group within the meaning of Article II of the Genocide Convention. The court then quoted references to reports from the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as reliable evidence of the catastrophic situation in the Gaza Strip. 

Not only this, but the court even noted statements from Israeli government officials that clearly highlighted the intent of the aggression. Among the statements noted, one was from the Israeli Defence Minister, in which he refers to the Palestinians in Gaza as “human animals” and says that “Gaza won’t return to what it was before […] we will eliminate everything […]” Another statement noted by the court was of the Israeli President, in which he stated: “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved.” (“APPLICATION OF THE CONVENTION ON THE PREVENTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE CRIME OF GENOCIDE IN THE GAZA STRIP”, www.icj-cij.org)

Based on all types of evidence and reports considered from various organisations and political leaders, the International Court of Justice concluded that it is “sufficient to conclude that at least some of the rights claimed by South Africa and for which it is seeking protection are plausible […] with respect to the right of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide.” (Ibid.)

In light of the “real and imminent risk that irreparable prejudice will be caused”, the court announced provisional measures. They were different from what South Africa had requested; in particular, the call for an immediate suspension and ceasefire of the Israeli military campaign was not ordered. (Ibid.)

Instead, the court ruled that Israel must comply with the Genocide Convention in relation to the Palestinians in Gaza, to deliver humanitarian assistance to the population of Gaza, and to prevent destruction and to ensure the preservation of evidence related to allegations of acts within the confines of Article II and Article III of the Genocide Convention. 

The main ruling, which had an overwhelming majority with fifteen judges voting in favour, against two who opposed it, stated that: 

“The State of Israel shall ensure with immediate effect that its military does not commit any acts described in point 1 [Article II of the Genocide Convention].” (Ibid.)

A ruling that invited mixed reactions

The Israeli government doubled down on its rhetoric that the war would continue, while many of its officials accused the International Court of Justice of antisemitic bias. (“Israeli officials accuse international court of justice of antisemitic bias”, www.theguardian.com)

The EU and South Africa called for the ruling’s absolute and complete implementation, while the United States still maintained that the allegations of genocide were “unfounded”. (“ICJ orders Israel to prevent genocidal acts…”, www.bbc.co.uk)

Undeniably, with no direct order for an immediate and permanent ceasefire, this ruling, in effect, does very little for the oppressed population of the Gaza Strip. With the health system collapsed and only one adequately operational hospital, millions displaced and hundreds of thousands in the North starving due to lack of food, and the increased Israeli shelling and bombardment of the southern Gaza Strip, many Palestinians feel this ruling is as meaningless as those statements by western leaders who would like Israel to do more to protect civilian lives. 

However, many researchers and legal experts have commented that although the term “ceasefire” itself was not used in the ruling, Israel cannot effectively adhere to it unless they stop their aggression in the Gaza Strip. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor commented after the ruling, “If you read the order, by implication, a ceasefire must happen.” (“ICJ Rules Israel Must Avoid Genocidal Acts in Gaza, Stops Short of Ordering Cease-fire”, www.haaretz.com)

If put together – the ruling and Article II of the Genocide Convention – it appears as follows: “Israel shall ensure with immediate effect that its military does not commit” the acts of “killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

It is quite clear that if these rulings were to be implemented and adhered to, as would be expected from Israel by the ICJ, then the military aggression in Gaza would need to end in its entirety. 

A historic ruling – even if provisional

During his address at the National Peace Symposium 2023, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa said: “The Holy Quran has instructed that every possible opportunity to achieve peace must be pursued, no matter how remote the chances of success are […].” (“Global Muslim Leader Urges Good-Faith Negotiations…”, www.pressahmadiyya.com)

Therefore, while it is indeed regrettable that this ruling does not bring any immediate relief to the oppressed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, it does, however, offer their cause a glimmer of hope. By not dismissing the case on Israel’s appeal and instead recognising that there is plausibility in the South African claim that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians, the International Court of Justice has effectively opened the door for accountability. 

The determination of the accusation with a definite ruling is very far, so is the expected time frame. For a genocide to be determined by definition, it needs to happen and end first. This also explains why the provisional measures speak of “genocide prevention” rather than genocide itself. That is why the ruling calls for the prevention of acts of genocide being committed against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The peaceful public pressure and protest must continue, though. For as long as public pressure for accountability and justice keeps mounting, the courts, the international organisations and – regardless of how long it may take them – the Western capitals will have to succumb to the need of the hour. 

For many, this ruling may not be enough; some even believe it is meaningless and that by not ordering a ceasefire, the ICJ may appear as an institution that benefits the West and its allies. However, there is no modern-day example as clear as the one from this provisional ruling that challenges Western impunity. By keeping the case open and by giving some confidence to the case that Israel is committing genocide in the Gaza Strip, Western hegemony has been confronted. 

Whether the United States, the UK, or the European Union acknowledge and change their stance or not, the fact remains that this ruling proved them all wrong. Their denial of Israel’s intent for its aggression, their unconditional support for it, and their uncompromising defence of all that oppression and brutality inflicted on innocent and defenceless civilians was challenged by an International Court. If anything, they are now even more vulnerable to the prospect of complicity unless they use reason and now utilise their faculties to urge Israel to stop its aggression.

For Peace, Justice is Essential

The importance of dialogue, utilising avenues, and consultation to bring about a good and peaceful resolution to problems and conflicts is repeatedly emphasised in the Holy Quran. In Chapter 4, verse 115, it is said:   

“There is no good in many of their conferences except [the conferences of] such as enjoin charity, or goodness, or the making of peace among men. And whoso does that, seeking the pleasure of Allah, We shall soon bestow on him a great reward.”

Explaining the meaning of this verse in the Five-Volume Commentary of the Holy Quran, it is stated: 

“The verse is important inasmuch as it differentiates between good and bad conferences. The verse teaches that only three kinds of conferences or societies or meetings can be productive of good: Firstly, من امر بصدقة i.e. those that are founded or held with the object of promoting the welfare of the poor, the needy, etc. Secondly, من امر بمعروف i.e. those whose object is to promote the spread and propagation of, or investigation and research into, sciences, law, education, learning, the arts, etc. Thirdly, من امر باصلاح بین الناس i.e. those established for the purpose of settling disputes and removing causes of friction in domestic, social, national, or international matters. This would include associations for the purpose of conducting the political affairs of a nation or a country, for their object also is to promote peace among mankind. This teaching, if faithfully acted upon, should go a long way to establish peace and harmony in the world.” (Five-Volume Commentary, Vol. 2, pp. 702-703)


Amidst so much uncertainty, fear, and the deteriorating state of the world, where threats of war are being expressed as if they are greetings of peace, and where injustice and oppression are so rampant that one rarely gets a moment to maintain optimism, this provisional ruling by the ICJ is a step in the right direction. 

It is something rather than nothing at all. 

At this time, there is nothing more significant than to hold on to Khilafat – the rope of Allah – and to the blessed words of guidance and prayers of Khalifatul Masihaa

During his Friday Sermon  of today, 26 January 2024, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa said: 

“Pray for the Muslim ummah. May Allah Almighty foster unity and understanding among them. Also, pray for the general state of the world, which is rapidly progressing towards war. May Allah Almighty have mercy.” [Amin] (@AlHakamWeekly on X, x.com)

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