South Africa Accuses Israel of Genocide at International Court of Justice
South Africa has taken Israel to the International Justice Court (ICJ) in an unprecedented case accusing them of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.
The country has called the court to order a halt to Israel’s military campaign in the enclave.
South Africa’s representative argued on day one of two day hearings that Israel’s air and ground assaults on Gaza were intended to “bring about the destruction” of its Palestinian population. They also brought up comments made by Israeli leaders that signaled their “genocidal intent.”
“The point is not simply that Israel is acting disproportionately. The point is that the prohibition on genocide is an absolute,” said Vaughan Lowe, one of the lawyers representing South Africa. “Nothing can ever justify genocide.”
South Africa operated under a system of apartheid from 1948 until the early 1990s, and its governing African National Congress has long championed the Palestinian cause.
Israel declared war on Hamas after the militant group killed more than 1,200 Israelis on October 8 and took 240 hostages back to Gaza. In response, Israel has killed more than 23,000 people, mostly women and children, in Gaza and is continuing to bombard the city.
South Africa condemned Hamas’ attacks but said “nothing” could justify Israel’s response.
Israel delivered its defense to the court a day after South Africa presented its case.
In his opening remarks on Friday, Tal Becker told the court that while the civilian suffering was “tragic”, Hamas sought “to maximize civilian harm to both Israelis and Palestinians, even as Israel seeks to minimize it”.
Becker accused South Africa of making “an attempt to weaponize the term genocide against Israel” and is trying “to thwart Israel’s inherent right to defend itself.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry accused South Africa of “functioning as the legal arm of Hamas.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also hit out at South Africa.
“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 said during a televised speech Thursday.
“South Africa’s hypocrisy screams to the high heavens.”
The ICJ is the United Nations’ highest court and while its rulings are legally binding to all ICJ partners, it is not enforceable.
The court is based in The Hague in the Netherlands and was set up in June 1945 to hear cases brought by states accusing others of violating their UN treaty obligations. This is the first time Israel has been tried under the Genovice Convention, which was drawn up after World War II in light of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during the Holocaust.
Multiple countries came in defense of Israel, claiming that accusations of genocide is not factual.
The German government issued a statement on Friday, saying it “expressly rejects the accusation of genocide” against Israel, and that the accusation had “no basis whatsoever”.
“In view of Germany’s history and the crime against humanity of the Shoah [Holocaust], the Federal Government sees itself as particularly committed to the Convention against Genocide… We firmly oppose [its] political instrumentalization,” a Germany government spokesperson said to the main hearing at the ICJ.
A spokesperson for the UK claims that South Africa’s case was “completely unjustified and wrong.”
“The UK government stands by Israel’s clear right to defend itself within the framework of international law,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the genocide claim “meritless” and that the submission against Israel “distracts the world” from efforts to secure the remaining hostages from Hamas.
Palestine Watch Parties
Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem gathered in local coffee shops and living rooms to watch the opening statements at the hearings.
“I am amazed at the fact that the international community is trying to hold Israel accountable,” Assalah Mansour, a 25-year-old lawyer, said from the northern West Bank city of Nablus.
“For the first time, I felt like this case restored the Palestinian people’s hope in the international community,” Mansour said.
Palestinians said they felt represented on the international stage no matter the outcome of the lengthy judicial process.
“Even if nothing comes out of this, the sheer fact that the whole world is listening to our story is a victory,” Marwan Mohammed, a coffee shop owner in al-Bireh, a town abutting Ramallah, said.
A final ruling on this could take years, although the court could rule more quickly on South Africa’s request for Israel to suspend its military campaign.