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International Court of Justice orders Israel to do more to protect Palestinian lives


Today, in a much anticipated ruling, the United Nations' top court in The Hague stopped short of ordering a cease-fire in Gaza but demanded that Israel do more to contain the death and damage its military operation has wrought there. This provisional ruling is in response to a lawsuit brought by South Africa alleging that Israel's war in Gaza amounts to genocide against the Palestinian people. A definitive ruling on that question isn't likely to come for another few years.

NPR's Lauren Frayer has been following this case from her base in London and joins me now. Good morning, Lauren.


FADEL: Hi. So how did the court rule today, exactly?

FRAYER: So the court issued a provisional order saying that it is, quote, "plausible" that Israel has committed acts of genocide in Gaza, and it ordered Israel to, quote, "take all measures within its power" to prevent more killings and destruction there. The president of the International Court of Justice, Joan Donoghue, who is an American, she read out the order, and she said Israel's response to the October 7 Hamas attacks has resulted in Gaza in...


JOAN DONOGHUE: In tens of thousands of deaths and injuries and the destruction of homes, schools, medical facilities and other vital infrastructure, as well as displacement on a massive scale.

FRAYER: And she noted that 17 judges have been hearing this case. They voted 15-2 on this. The two dissenters were the one Israeli judge, as well as a Ugandan judge.

FADEL: Now, I know that Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a video statement after the court ruling. What did he say?

FRAYER: He sounded pretty defiant. Here's part of his statement.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: The charge of genocide leveled against Israel is not only false; it's outrageous, and decent people everywhere should reject it.

FRAYER: Netanyahu noted that tomorrow is Holocaust Remembrance Day and that the Hamas attacks, which started this war on October 7, were the worst atrocities against Jews since World War II. About 1,200 people were killed that day, about 240 taken hostage, many of them still held in Gaza today. Netanyahu called Hamas a genocidal terror organization, and he repeated his vow that Israel will defend itself no matter what.

FADEL: And what about the Palestinians? Have you heard anything from them?

FRAYER: Yeah. The Palestinian Authority, which is the internationally recognized leadership of the Palestinians, issued a written statement saying it welcomes this provisional order. It says that the court ruled, quote, "in favor of humanity" and that the message here is that no state is above the law. It also called on other states to help enforce this order. And that's really key because, as you know, Leila, Israel's biggest backer, the United States, has not called for a cease-fire in Gaza.

FADEL: Right.

FRAYER: And as you and I both know from our time on the ground in the Middle East, among Palestinians, there's incredible frustration about that.

FADEL: Yeah. OK, so the court is demanding that Israel do more to contain the death and damage its military operation has wrought in Gaza. What happens now? Is this order binding?

FRAYER: The ICJ president, Donoghue, said today in her ruling, yes, this is legally binding. But in reality, it's pretty hard to enforce. We can look at past precedent. In 2019, the West African country of Gambia sued Myanmar at the ICJ for alleged genocide. The court in that case ordered Myanmar to halt its attacks, and Myanmar basically ignored it. In this case, the court has asked Israel to take steps to prevent further killings and destruction, to let more aid into Gaza and to report back to the court in 30 days.

FADEL: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in London. Thank you, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.