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Charging Israel With Genocide
Charging Israel with Genocide

Mari Cohen speaks with Noura Erakat, Darryl Li, and Tony Karon about the International Court of Justice’s order that Israel must prevent genocidal acts.

On January 26th, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found it “plausible” that Israel might be committing a genocide in Gaza. The court also ordered a series of immediate provisional measures requested by South Africa, including calling on Israel to prevent violations of the Genocide Convention and punish incitement to genocide. However, the ICJ stopped short of ordering a ceasefire.

On this episode of
On the Nose, associate editor Mari Cohen speaks to human rights attorney and scholar Noura Erakat, legal scholar Darryl Li, and journalist Tony Karon about the meaning of the ICJ’s ruling.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the transcript:

Mari Cohen: International law has often proved to be insufficient for actually ensuring justice in places like Palestine. Some of its structures have protected aggressors or colonizers in certain situations. On the other hand, we still often turn to the language of international law to make our arguments because it is the tool that we have available when violations are happening. I’m interested in how the ICJ decision makes us think about international law as a tool, and if it has changed any of your thinking on it?

Tony Karon: If international law was not a useful tool for us, then the Americans and Israelis would not routinely ignore it. It clearly creates some space that is very important and helpful. Yet at the same time, we should insist that we need to reconsider the international institutions and processes that we’ve inherited. In 1947, Palestine was divided, at least in concept, by the United Nations in what was an apartheid partition. At that time, the United Nations had about 58 member states, very few of them from Africa or Asia. Most of the world was still colonized, and most of the world didn’t have a vote in making those decisions. We ultimately need to use international law as a defensive mechanism to restrain imperial powers and violent colonizers as much as we can. At the same time, we need a different international order and regulations that are more democratic in the long term. We should start by asking Palestinians what they want, and that should be such an obvious principle. Yet this idea of colonial stewardship is still very rooted in the international systems of the day.

Darryl Li: There was a moment in the history of the Palestinian struggle where international law was a site where positive achievements were gained, but it grew to become an empty form of ritual. This feels like the first moment in a long time where international law is being used for something more than that. The ICJ’s ruling is a symptom, not a cause, of a broader mobilization in a moment of political urgency, defined first and foremost by Palestinian steadfastness from Beit Hanoun to Rafah on either end of the Gaza Strip, to the West Bank, central Palestine, and around the world, from Johannesburg to New York to London to Sana’a. I don’t think it can be repeated often enough that energy, steadfastness, and popular resistance reshapes the terrain of possibility, not just for legal struggle, but for all other domains of contestation.

Noura Erakat: One of the things that we know full well is that the law is not going to be a panacea. It serves to further what people are doing and the strength of movement. Historically speaking, the Apartheid Convention was drafted in 1973 to condemn apartheid. Not once was anyone tried for that crime and yet, apartheid crumbled ideologically and also as a form of governance. That legislation was another way of mobilizing power, another way of shifting the terrain so that this is not just a legal argument, but a battle of the narrative and a battle over moral authority. This is what these legal interventions have the capacity to do.