Who’s Surprised? Processing the Lackluster Ruling of the ICJ

As of writing this, today is day 112 of the inconceivably ruthless carpet bombing, forced starvation and mass killing taking place in the Gaza Strip. The mark of 100 days of a broadcasted escalation of genocide was a ‘milestone’ we all collectively dreaded as members of the Palestinian cause. 100 days of bombs, 100 days of videos of dead children, 100 days of no effort by the IDF to secure the hostages they claim to be committing these atrocities in the name of. But as inevitable as it proved to be, one more united symbol of hope seemed to emerge. On December 29, 2023, South Africa presented a legal case against Israel’s genocide in Gaza to the International Court of Justice, stating plainly before the court what we had been saying in for the past four months. Many of us held our breath in anticipation, even as the higher powers of the U.S. desperately tried to pull our attention elsewhere by airing South Africa’s oral arguments as little as possible and launching an attack on Yemen in response to their blockade against Israeli ships in the Red Sea. Even I, who would consider myself to have been on the more jaded and pessimistically realist side of things, felt for a brief time that surely something would come of this. South Africa’s survivors of apartheid, backed by the governments of multiple countries, were taking the most infamous culprits of colonization, imperialism, and international atrocities to arguably the highest court in the world. It felt symbolic, even climactic. If anything was going to finally bring about a permanent ceasefire, it had to be this. But predictably, what we got proved to be…lackluster. No ceasefire, just a warning by the ICJ for Israel to not commit any acts of genocide while they further investigate South Africa’s case. Despite the crux of the argument being proving without a reasonable doubt that Israel’s current actions in this so-called war immediately constitute an active genocide, no action was taken to halt said genocide aside from demanding Hamas release all hostages with no conditions. No end of the bombing and blockade in exchange for them, no release of any of the thousands of Palestinians being held hostage in IDF prisons under no criminal charge. Essentially, ordering a complete defeat without any guarantee that said defeat will actually end the attacks on Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, or Yemen.

So, what are we to think of this? The International Court of Justice, a power founded to prevent the atrocities of the past from repeating themselves, has acted as nothing more than a disgruntled teacher telling a disobedient student with a lighter to not misbehave while they leave the room to meet with their parents. But this is, unfortunately, right on course for many interactions with Israel and their crimes against humanity. Israel is the golden child of the West, their precious vulnerable little pet project that would never do anything wrong. And if they did, and did it again, and again, and again, it would have to be for a good reason. Kids will be kids, right? But instead of a child with a lighter, we are faced with the government receiving billions of dollars from the U.S with weapons of mass destruction, and clear, documented genocidal intent. And at the feet of this entity lie the countless homes, communities, and bodies of the Palestinians and anyone who dares speak up or fight for them. We have seen this infantilization and dismissal of any straightforward action against the powers of Israel for 75 years and 112 days, and the powers that be have once again denied the people of the world the relief of justice.

It is important that I explain at this point that I do not in any way wish to frame this as a complete failure. The lawyers of South Africa presented an objective and effective argument that not only ensured that the case was not dismissed, but led to a decision in favor of the idea that Israel may actually be committing actions that fall under the label of genocide in the eyes of the court. But what needs to be realized here, as we all struggle with what to make of this latest blunder solely on the part of the ICJ, is that this must serve as our final reminder that the only ones we can rely on, the ones who have been fighting and struggling and raising their voices this whole time, are not the systems of legality and ‘justice’, but the people. It is an unfortunate but statistically backed truth that in America, there is hardly any justice found in the practices of the systems supposedly designed to keep us safe. Most of the time, what is found in courtrooms is either a slap on the wrist, or retribution against the individual that far exceeds the crime and circumstances that led to the crime being committed in the first place. The actions, or lack thereof, of the police force serve to only exasperate this. Over a week ago, protestors at Columbia University were attacked with a chemical weapon by former IDF soldiers which led to up to 10 hospitalizations. No arrests were made against the perpetrators. Days later, Al-Awda members were arrested in Manhattan for supposedly breaking the set-in-stone rule of not being allowed to have more than 20 organizers gather in a park. And just last night, multiple Within Our Lifetime organizers, including Nerdeen Kiswani, were arrested during a protest for the crime of…using a loudspeaker, less than a day after the organization published a 60-page report detailing the repression of Palestinian protests by the NYPD.

As the case against Israel was prepared to be argued in front of the ICJ, I witnessed many people sharing the sentiment that not only was Israel to be on trial, but the powers of the world would be as well. Though well-intentioned, this statement glosses over a truth that I wish to articulate to as many people as possible through this piece; the powers of the world have already been on trial. They were on trial after the Deir Yassin Massacre, the Abu Shusha Massacre, the Tantura Massacre, the Lydda Massacre, the Saliha Massacre, the Al-Dawayima Massacre, the Qibya Massacre, the Kafr Qasim Massacre, the Khan Yunis Massacre, the Sabra Massacre, the Shatila Massacre, the Al-Aqsa Massacre, the Ibrahimi Mosque Massacre, the military operations in the Jenin Refugee Camp, and the invasions and air strikes against Gaza in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2018, 2019, and 2021. They were on trial when Israel disregarded warnings from the UN in their latest siege after the October 7 attacks, with every hospital bombed to the ground or cut off from essential energy and supplies, and when Netanyahu himself declared that not even a guilty verdict from The Hague would end military operations that had already taken over 30,000 lives thus far.

We, the people who back this movement firsthand have been fighting on every front imaginable. Public opinion, misrepresentation by the media, legal persecution, financial assistance for the people in Gaza, and even physical safety against the police and other citizens who harass and attack us. And I urge us all to come to the collective realization that we cannot count on or place any more blind faith in the legal and ‘justice’ systems of the world, not even at the highest level of international affairs, to act as our main source of aid. And though there are more legal battles to come, headed by amazing lawyers who fight for true justice, we must put our faith in their efforts, not the judgment of those who may provide the bare minimum of fairness when giving the verdict. We are all exhausted from more than 75 years of organizing, protesting, spreading awareness, and trying just about everything we can to succeed. At some point, we wish for the higher powers of our so-called democracy to finally heed our calls and take on the helm of our battles for us, to give us time to grieve for our friends, family, neighbors, homeland, and culture. But they will not. And we will not grieve that anymore, because we have the numbers on our side. The majority of US voters support a ceasefire, and our fight for Palestinian liberation has grown roots in all parts of the world. Revolutions are not won in courtrooms, and we have already proven since October 7 that no matter what any president, lawmaker, judge, media outlet or politician says, we know we have power in numbers, in spirit, in faith, no matter what God it falls under, and in our humanity. So, I urge you all to continue to fight for and protect each other with even more vigor, anger, and determination than before this disappointing verdict, not less.

Julia Abusharr is a 20-year-old Egyptian and Palestinian woman living in America.