The World Today for February 05, 2024

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In a Jan. 26 interim ruling on whether Israel was perpetrating acts of genocide in the Gaza Strip, justices on the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands said they were “deeply concerned” about the ongoing bloodshed.

And so it went, a preliminary decision, say legal analysts, so hedging that every side could claim a partial win.

In the decision, the justices rejected Israel’s petition to throw out the case and ordered the country to prevent genocidal actions in Gaza, wrote Reuters. The justice refused to demand a ceasefire, however, as South Africa requested – a decision that gave some Israelis hope that the court might eventually find their military actions justified after the attack on their country by Hamas on Oct. 7, CNN added.

Now the court could take years to render a final judgment on South Africa’s contention that Israel is committing genocide in the conflict that has resulted in more than 27,000 Palestinian deaths and displaced 90 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, explained the Associated Press. And although the ICJ’s rulings are legally binding, they require UN Security Council resolutions for enforcement, not likely since the US is a staunch ally of Israel.

Still, Israel takes the case seriously. And in the country, the reaction to the case has been fierce. While pointing out that the court did not label its actions during the war as genocide, Israeli officials called the court proceedings “a mark of shame.” “We are fighting terrorists, and we are fighting lies,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Today, again, we saw an upside-down world in which the State of Israel is accused of genocide at a time when it is fighting genocide.”

He vowed to press on with the war.

However, the South African officials who brought the case against Israel to the court claimed that the interim ruling shows that “Israel’s actions in Gaza are plausibly genocidal,” and that the court is implicitly ordering a ceasefire by ordering Israel to allow for aid to flow into Gaza.

“Today marks a decisive victory for the international rule of law and a significant milestone in the search for justice for the Palestinian people,” the government said.

Palestinian leaders celebrated the court case, saying they felt “seen.” “The ICJ judges saw through Israel’s politicization, deflection, and outright lies,” they told Al Jazeera.

In the meantime, the case has illustrated a stark divide in the world over the two sides, the Washington Post reported. The US government, which gives Israel $3.8 billion in economic and military aid annually, far more than any other country, firmly supports Israel, along with much of Europe, Australia and other Western allies, noted the Wall Street Journal.

Leaders in countries in the so-called Global South, however – from Brazil to Bangladesh to Turkey – have lined up behind the Palestinians. To them, Israel is a Western-backed oppressor and the Palestinians are the oppressed.

“The significance of the fact that the country bringing the case is South Africa – an icon of the ravages of colonialism, settlement, and apartheid – cannot be lost on anyone,” wrote Guardian columnist Nesrine Malik.

And while Israel’s allies in the West might dismiss the case, they can’t afford to alienate Africa’s industrial and diplomatic heavyweight – South Africa – especially with China wooing the continent with money, railways and tech transfers, noted Reuters.

“If you’re going to start punishing South Africa for going to the International Court of Justice, then you’re going to have to start punishing a lot of other African countries (for supporting the Palestinians),” Steven Friedman, director of South Africa’s Centre for the Study of Democracy, told Reuters. “If you do that, then you might as well send (Chinese President) Xi Jinping a letter saying ‘You’ve won.’”

Meanwhile, the justices have their work cut out for them. As do the legal analysts.

The court, for example, admitted that death and destruction were not enough to prove that genocide was occurring, argued Atlantic Council Fellow Thomas Warrick.

And University of Massachusetts-Amherst political scientist Charli Carpenter, writing in World Politics Review, said that given the scale of death and destruction in Gaza, it would be easier to find Israel guilty of crimes against humanity.

Some, meanwhile, think the case should have never been brought at all. “South Africa’s claim that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians … cheapens the term,” wrote the Economist. “It risks weakening the taboo and body of law aimed at preventing it. It obscures the real worry that Israel’s destructive campaign is breaking the laws of war; and the fact that permanent occupation is wrong.”

And even though the final decision could take years, wrote the AP, Israel is due to report to the court what it is doing to minimize casualties and allow for aid to civilians in Gaza, both part of the court’s orders, in the next few weeks. Stay tuned for round two.


Peace In Deed


Northern Ireland marked a historic moment over the weekend as Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill became the first Irish nationalist to hold the post of first minister in a region created by partition in 1921 as a bastion of pro-British unionism, the Financial Times reported.

O’Neill was named the first minister in a government created under the terms of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, which mandates power-sharing between Northern Ireland’s two primary communities: British unionists advocating for remaining in the United Kingdom, and Irish nationalists aspiring for Irish unification.

The Sinn Fein vice president – who represents the Irish nationalist community – emphasized the symbolic importance of her role in creating a more democratic and equal society, the newspaper wrote.

She will share power with the pro-unionist Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Emma Little-Pengelly, who was appointed as deputy first minister.

Although both posts share the same power – and cannot function without the other – O’Neill will hold the more prestigious title because her party won more seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly in the 2022 elections, the Associated Press noted.

Both women carry personal histories intertwined with Northern Ireland’s violent past, marked by decades of conflict known as the Troubles: O’Neill’s father was an IRA prisoner, while Little-Pengelly’s father was convicted in 1991 for his involvement in a loyalist gun-running plot.

Even so, they pledged to work towards bridging historical divides.

The historic appointment comes after the DUP ended a boycott that left the region without a functioning government for two years amid rising living costs and strained public services.

The pro-unionist party left the government because of disputes over new trade rules following the UK’s exit from the European Union in 2020. These rules included customs checks and other obstacles for goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

The checks were meant to keep the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland open – a crucial aspect of the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of violence in the region. However, the DUP countered the new customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK threatened its status within the union.

Last week, the UK government proposed new changes to eliminate routine checks and paperwork for most goods entering Northern Ireland, while retaining some inspections for illegal goods or disease prevention.

These changes also affirm “Northern Ireland’s constitutional status” as part of the UK and grant local politicians “democratic oversight” of future EU laws applicable to the region.

Meanwhile, the British government also pledged more than $3.8 billion for Northern Ireland’s public services once its government resumes operating.

Bleeding Over


A United States-led coalition launched a series of strikes on Iranian forces and Tehran-backed militias in Iraq, Syria and Yemen over the weekend, as tensions continue to escalate in the Middle East amid Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Wall Street Journal reported.

On Friday, Washington launched retaliatory strikes against Iran’s Quds Forces and affiliated militias in Iraq and Syria, in response to a drone strike in Jordan late last month that killed three US troops.

Iran-backed groups were accused of launching the drone strike, but Tehran has denied any involvement and criticized the US strikes as a threat to regional and international security.

Friday’s attack also prompted condemnation from the governments of Iraq and Syria for violating their sovereignty and endangering the safety of their citizens.

Iraqi officials said 16 people died, including civilians, and 25 were wounded in western Iraq. Syrian military officials said the strikes killed a number of civilians and army personnel but did not disclose the exact figures.

Separately, US and British strikes hit Iran-backed Houthi rebels in 13 locations across Yemen on Saturday, with the Pentagon saying the attacks “targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ deeply buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, and radars.”

The recent strikes follow escalating tensions across the Middle East following Israel’s invasion of Gaza in the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Various Iranian-backed groups have targeted US forces in the region and commercial ships transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, saying they won’t stop until Israel ends the war in Gaza.

The strikes are aimed at halting Iran’s forces and militia attacks on American troops across the Middle East, which have increased in recent months over Washington’s support for Israel against Hamas, analysts said.

Meanwhile, the strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen are part of an effort to protect shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

Even so, analysts suggested that the strikes would not deter the Tehran-affiliated militias in their assaults on US troops and ships transiting the Red Sea.

The Growing Tarnish


Senegalese President Macky Sall indefinitely postponed the country’s elections scheduled for Feb. 25 over the weekend, a decision that raised serious questions about the state of democracy in one of West Africa’s most stable nations, the Washington Post reported.

On Saturday, the president said the delay came because of disputes over which candidates were able to run in this month’s elections.

His announcement comes after a number of prominent contenders were disqualified from running by the country’s courts. Among them is popular opposition figure Ousmane Sonko, who faced a series of charges that critics said were politically motivated.

In June, deadly protests killed more than a dozen people in the country after a court sentenced Sonko to two years in prison for “corrupting youth,” according to CNBC.

While Sall reiterated that he would not seek a third term, critics countered that the election postponement undermines the democratic principles enshrined in Senegal’s constitution.

Some opposition politicians criticized the unprecedented move as an “institutional coup d’état.”

Analysts suggested that the postponement may be driven by concerns among the political elite that Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the candidate selected by Sonko last month to run as his replacement, could pose a significant challenge in the elections.

Sonko’s popularity has surged in recent years, fueled by his outspoken criticism of Senegal’s political establishment and the country’s close ties with France.

Some observers noted that Sall’s decision has put into question Senegal’s reputation as a beacon of democracy in a region that has been marked by military coups.

Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Senegal has experienced four peaceful transitions of power without any military takeovers.

This stands in stark contrast to neighboring countries such as Niger and Gabon, where military coups have occurred in recent years. Meanwhile, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea are currently ruled by military juntas after recent coups.


The Flap Ruse

A team of paleontologists came up with a creative way to test an evolutionary theory about why some dinosaur species had feathers, Cosmos Magazine reported.

Because they lacked an actual living dinosaur, researchers built a robot resembling a Caudipteryx – a bipedal, peacock-sized predator from the early Cretaceous – in size, shape and movement.

Aptly named Robopteryx, the dino-bot had an aluminum body skinned in black felt, plastic wings and black paper feathers.

In their study, the team explained that the purpose of the robot was to determine why Caudipteryx and other dinos had feathers despite their inability to fly.

They theorized that the plumage was used for flapping to startle prey, similar to the way modern birds hunt using a “flush-and-pursue” strategy.

In a series of experiments, the researchers observed how grasshoppers responded when the Robopteryx flapped its artificial black wings at different distances.

They also examined grasshoppers’ neuro-physical reactions by removing their antennae and exposing their ventral nerve cords to an animation of Robopteryx.

Their findings showed that the robot’s wing flapping triggered grasshoppers to flee, supporting the “flush-and-pursue” theory.

The authors noted that even seemingly inefficient structures like Caudipteryx’s small wings could have played a crucial role in its predatory strategy, according to Scientific American.

Despite their diminutive size and unconventional appearance, these wings may have provided a selective advantage for the dinosaur in hunting and survival.

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