The United Nations court decides on Friday in a case against Israel for alleged genocide in Gaza. The International Court of Justice might order Israel to halt its military campaign but will not pass judgment on whether genocide is occurring.

The top United Nations court handed down an initial decision on Friday in a case against Israel over alleged genocide in Gaza, a landmark ruling closely watched in the Middle East and around the world.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) could order Israel to stop its military campaign in Gaza, sparked by the October 7 attacks by Hamas, or to facilitate humanitarian aid.

However, the court will not pass judgment on whether or not Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

At this stage, the ICJ will hand down emergency orders while it considers the wider accusation of genocidal acts in Gaza, a process that is likely to take years.

South Africa has brought the case, which accuses Israel of breaching the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, set up in the ashes of World War II and the Holocaust.

Over two days of hearings earlier this month in the gilded halls of the Peace Palace in The Hague, lawyers argued over the technicalities of the Genocide Convention.

“Genocides are never declared in advance,” declared Adila Hassim, a top lawyer for South Africa.

“But this court has the benefit of the past 13 weeks of evidence that shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention that justifies a plausible claim of genocidal acts,” she added.

Ahead of Friday’s ruling, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said that South Africa was “hopeful” and that the “very important achievement” was to highlight what she called “the plight of the innocent in Palestine.”

‘World Is Upside Down’

The case sparked fury in Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring that “the world is upside down.”

Israel’s lawyer Tal Becker dismissed Pretoria’s case as a “profoundly distorted factual and legal picture” and a “decontextualized and manipulative description of the reality” on the ground.

The ICJ’s rulings are binding on all parties, but it has no mechanism to enforce them.

Sometimes, they are completely ignored. For example, the court ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine.

Netanyahu already suggested that he does not feel bound by the court, saying, “No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the Axis of Evil and no one else.”

Hamas said, on the eve of the ruling, that it would abide by a ceasefire order if Israel did the same.

‘Huge’ Symbolic Impact

“It is conceivable that an order by the court would not have any significant influence on Israel’s military operation,” said Cecily Rose, assistant professor of public international law at Leiden University.

But if the court decides that there is a risk of genocide in Gaza, it could still have a ripple effect, notably on other nations that back Israel politically or militarily.

“It makes it much harder for other states to continue to support Israel in the face of a neutral third-party finding there is a risk of genocide,” said McIntyre.

Katrine Dige Houmøller, with AFP