It’s hard to overstate the symbolic power of the Jan. 11 hearing at the International Court of Justice. In a moving display of solidarity, a diverse lineup of South African, Irish, and British lawyers meticulously laid out their evidence for charging Israel with the crime of genocide in the Gaza Strip. The malicious statements of Israeli officials, including cabinet ministers and generals, were recited as declarations of murderous intent. Videos of mass destruction, often recorded gleefully by Israeli soldiers, and which have dominated our social media feeds for months were brought before the world’s highest court for judgment. Palestinians have long been bitterly disappointed with international law, but watching the courtroom that day, even the most cynical observers could not help but feel seen, supported, even hopeful.
Notwithstanding South Africa’s performance, the fate of the ICJ case is far from a foregone conclusion. In the second hearing on Jan. 12, Israel’s attorneys gave a tough rebuttal to try and dismiss the claims of genocide as ludicrous. They presented examples of Israel’s coordination of humanitarian aid; the army’s methods of instructing civilians to evacuate targeted areas; images showing Hamas militants’ assimilation into the urban environment; and of course, the repeated invocation of Israel’s right to defend itself under international law.
The Israeli arguments were predictable, and many were easy to debunk, but they still carry significant weight. Along with the court’s proclivity for conservative interpretations of the law, the judges are acutely aware that they are presiding over what may be the most politically divisive case ever brought to The Hague, and thus may opt for a more cautioned approach.
At this point, however, the ICJ’s impending decisions are secondary to the lessons that ought to be drawn from the proceedings. One key takeaway, which has yet to fully register in Western policy circles, is the vacuity of Israel’s claim of “defense” to explain the wanton devastation wrought upon the besieged Strip.
Indeed, from its oral arguments in The Hague to its actions on the ground, Israel has made it abundantly clear that it is not asking the court to respect its right to self-defense. What it really wants is for the world to indulge Israel’s right to tyranny: to violently redesign its geopolitical environment, to secure its military and demographic dominance, and to do whatever it wishes to the Palestinians without criticism or consequence.
This tyranny is not just reflected in the mounting death toll in Gaza, although 24,000 bodies and 7,000 others missing — an especially searing rate for a small population that is tightly intertwined by familial, communal, and cultural bonds — is a grisly indicator. It is also in the terrifying fact that Gaza’s social fabric is deliberately being unraveled. [Continue reading…]