‘I VISITED South Africa twice,” my friend and colleague writes from Gaza, an hour after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has made its order.

“Once when I was a PhD student [in the UK] and once after 2004.”

For two long weeks, we’ve been under a communication blackout, and I have not known if any of my friends and colleagues are dead or alive. Communications have been what I can only describe as “palliative” for months, and always feel lame, “where to smile is a taboo” as my friend says. It’s hell on earth in Gaza. In its order pertaining to the Genocide Convention, that is also what the ICJ says too.

I’m watching Judge Donoghue, president of the ICJ, deliver the order in the company of the best legal minds I know. Some are new friends on social media, others old friends and colleagues, brilliant legal minds, but also situated, as I am, within the lived experience of acute injustice and alongside the oppressed. Most importantly, my friends and colleagues in Gaza are watching with us, “intently with every breath. Twins,” they say.

I don’t have a TV licence so I’m round in the lounge of my friend who knows the law and knows torture and oppression intimately. Their baby sits with us, the most poignant reminder of why we are watching with such acute concentration, hanging on every word.

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The president of the court pauses to take a sip of water, after a couple of sentences.

“She’s nervous,” says my friend. Quite right, too.

The strength of the order can be felt in the ICJ’s use of adjectives indicating scale: “Causing massive civilian casualties” (paragraph 13); “the massive destruction of homes” (46); “massive displacement on a massive scale” (70) of “overwhelming majority of the population of Gaza” (13).

It can also be felt in the court’s use of adjectives indicating concern: “The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering.” (13)

We comment back and forth, softly, hardly daring to hope.

It’s like a litany, held in repetitions: “The court recalls…” “The court notes…” “The court considers…” “The court finds…” “The court concludes…” And finally, “The court indicates the following measures…”

Twenty-one minutes into the presentation, the president cites the United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator, Mr Martin Griffiths: “Gaza has become a place of death and despair.”

The National: 1756643849.

We look at each other, “what more do they need?”

I breathed in when the date of the order was announced.

I now breathe out.

It’s a shaky breath.

Images and words from Gaza pass before my eyes. All the dead babies. The mass graves. All the limbs amputated without anaesthetic. The obliterated universities. The cultural treasures looted and destroyed. The expectant mothers with no health care. The starving, the utter desperation. All the messages from my friends. All the ghosts. In Gaza, nowhere is safe.

At 12.31pm, we hear the president state: “In view of the fundamental values sought to be protected by the Genocide Convention, the court considers that the plausible rights in question in these proceedings, namely the right of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to be protected from acts of genocide and related prohibited acts identified in Article III of the Genocide Convention, and the right of South Africa to seek Israel’s compliance with the latter’s obligations under the convention, are of such a nature that prejudice to them is capable of causing irreparable harm.”

“Yessssss” we gasp.

“Now for the provisional measures, that’s the most important.”

And then it’s clear.

The International Court of Justice has found in favour of South Africa’s request for interim measures to prevent genocide. It sees that there is a plausible risk that Israel, abetted by her allies, is committing genocide.

This is perhaps the saddest sentence I have ever written.

My whole work has been influenced by the Holocaust committed by Germany against Jews, Roma, homosexuals and people who stood against them. The sadness is immense.

I long ago gave up, allied with those who are oppressed, on a faith in the sincerity of western states’ commitment to international law or liberal values. Much of my work with those seeking refuge, between art and faith and justice, seeks other ways to live in peace that do not depend on the hypocrisy of the west.

But right now, it’s all we’ve got. So, we’ve written the heaviest, gravest of words, and been maligned for it, and dismissed by the UK Government as “unhelpful” and been persecuted for it.


All who have protested and called for a ceasefire are vindicated.

That vindication is also a consequence of justice.

There is no more effective way than a ceasefire to comply with the order of interim measures. The order itself requires, with immediate effect, that the State of Israel and its military take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this convention, in particular to prevent:

“(a) killing members of the group;

(b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; and

(d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;”

But make no mistake, and do not be misled by those who have misled from the very start, the order goes further than this. If such measures are to be complied with – and sadly, Israel has already dismissed them – then alongside an immediate ceasefire, the siege must end, the aid must arrive and be distributed in safety, clean water must flow, the fields must be planted. Peace must reign. People must sit at a table and make a new future, one of justice and peace.

Or as Palestinian journalist Ali Abunimah puts it much better: “‘Ceasefire’ is what you demand in an armed conflict. In a genocide you demand an immediate end to all genocidal acts and that is exactly what the ICJ ordered with immediate effect.”

The International Court of Justice has now ruled.

It is the end of impunity for Israel.

There is a plausible risk of genocide and ALL parties to the Genocide Convention – including the UK – now have a duty to prevent further harm.

What that means will detain us for many years. Many of our leaders in Westminster may now face prosecution in The Hague unless they cease their support for actions which risk genocide.

“Long live South Africa and justice,” writes my friend in Gaza.

Alison Phipps is Unesco Chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and Arts at University of Glasgow. She has worked with colleagues in the Gaza Strip for 15 years.