UN court reviews South Africa’s genocide case against Israel

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is currently examining a case brought forward by South Africa, accusing Israel of engaging in genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

The accusation includes a call for the ICJ to instruct Israel to cease its military operations in the region. It’s crucial to note that the ICJ’s role in this case is to provide an opinion, as it is not a criminal trial. Israel has vehemently denied the accusations, labeling them as “baseless.”

Tensions flared outside the ICJ’s Peace Palace, where Dutch police worked to maintain order between groups of Palestinian and Israeli supporters.

South Africa is set to present its case, emphasizing that Israel’s actions aim to destroy a significant part of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnic group.

The allegations encompass killing Palestinians in Gaza, causing them severe physical and mental harm, and imposing conditions conducive to their physical destruction.

South Africa is urging the ICJ to implement urgent “provisional measures,” including the cessation of all Israeli military activities in Gaza. Israel, scheduled to present its defense, justifies its actions in response to deadly attacks by Hamas on October 7. However, South Africa’s Justice Minister, Ronald Lamola, argued in court that no attack can justify breaches of the Genocide Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.

The ICJ, based in The Hague, Netherlands, is the United Nations’ highest court. While its rulings are theoretically legally binding on involved parties, including Israel and South Africa, they are not enforceable.

The court ordered Russia in 2022 to immediately suspend military operations in Ukraine, but the order was ignored. Genocide, under international law, is defined as committing acts with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.

In contrast to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the ICJ lacks the authority to prosecute individuals for crimes like genocide, yet its opinions hold influence with the UN and other global institutions. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa stated that opposition to the ongoing Gaza conflict led the country to approach the ICJ, while Israeli President Isaac Herzog called the accusations “atrocious.”

Herzog affirmed that Israel would present a case of self-defense under humanitarian law in the ICJ, emphasizing efforts to avoid unintended consequences and civilian casualties.

Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups protested outside the court.
Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli groups protested outside the court.

Zane Dangor, from South Africa’s international relations department, defended the genocide allegation as meticulous, while acknowledging condemnation of Hamas attacks on October 7 but stating that the level of killings in Gaza cannot be justified.

Caroline Glick, a former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, criticized the case as an affront to morality and reasonableness.

The ICJ may quickly rule on South Africa’s plea for Israel to halt its military campaign, but a definitive decision on whether genocide is occurring could extend over several years.

William Schabas, an international law professor with experience in investigating Israel’s conflict with Hamas, notes that there’s a relatively low threshold for the court to issue an injunction against Israel.

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South Africa needs to present elements supporting its case, but this doesn’t entail a definite decision on the existence of genocide. South Africa, critical of Israel’s Gaza operation, draws parallels with its anti-apartheid struggle.

In Gaza, over 23,350 people, primarily women and children, have reportedly been killed since the war initiated after Hamas’s October 7 attacks on southern Israel, resulting in around 1,300 deaths and approximately 240 hostages.



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