South Africa's Lawyer Accuses Israel Of 'Two Genocidal Acts' In Gaza In ICJ Case

Israel has rejected all accusations of genocide.
Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela, right, and Minister of Justice and Correctional Services of South Africa Ronald Lamola, centre
Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela, right, and Minister of Justice and Correctional Services of South Africa Ronald Lamola, centre
via Associated Press

South Africa brought its lawsuit against Israel to the United Nations today, accusing the country of genocide in its war on Gaza.

Speaking at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), South Africa called for emergency suspension of Israel’s aerial and ground offensive, claiming it was looking to induce “the destruction of the population” of Gaza.

The case was welcomed by some countries as calls for a ceasefire in Gaza ramp up as the death toll continues to climb – although others, like the UK government, believe it is “completely unjustified”.

Israel has rejected these claims, accusing South Africa of playing “advocate of the devil” for Hamas.

It says it is not targeting any civilians, but the militants.

And on social media platform X, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said: “I want to make a few points absolutely clear: Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population.”

What is in South Africa’s case against Israel?

South Africa claims Israel has committed actions which fall within the definition of genocide in the UN’s 1948 Genocide Convention – “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

It presented its evidence in The Hague in “two acts”.

The country’s legal representative, Adila Hassim, said: “The first genocidal act is mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza.”

According to the Hamas-run health ministry, at least 23,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli attacks on Gaza.

She added: “In the first three weeks alone following October 7, Israel deployed 6,000 bombs per week. At least 200 times, it has deployed 2,000-pound bombs in southern areas of Palestine designated safe.”

She added: “No one is spared. Not even newborns. UN chiefs have described it as a graveyard for children.”

She defined the “second genocidal act” as the infliction of serious bodily or mental harm to Palestinians in Gaza.

The lawyer said that 59,000 Palestinians have been wounded and maimed, many of whom are women and children, and that the healthcare system has essentially collapsed.

Nearly all of Palestine’s 2.3 million population have been displaced since the war began, and many have been arrested.

Hassim said: “Every day there is mounting, irreparable loss of life, property, dignity and humanity for the Palestinian people. Nothing will stop the suffering except an order from this court.”

The lawyers also looked at the history between the two parties, which stretches back to 1948 when the state of Israel was created.

What is South Africa’s relationship with Israel and Palestine?

Another lawyer, Professor John Dugard, speaking for South Africa, told the ICJ: “South Africa has a long history of close relations with Israel.

’For this reason, it did not bring the dispute immediately to the attention of the court.

“It watched with horror as Israel responded to the terrible atrocities committed against its people on October 7 with an attack on Gaza that resulted in the indiscriminate killing of innocent Palestinian civilians, most of whom were women and children.”

Post-apartheid South Africa has been vocal in its support for Palestine for years, and the Palestine Liberation Organisation encouraged the African National Congress against white-minority rule in the 90s.

More than a year before the Israel-Hamas war began, in July 2022, South African diplomat Nalendi Pandor noted that for many “the narrative of the Palestinian people’s struggle does evoke experiences of our own history of racial segregation and oppression”.

Dugard also said South Africa had contacted Israel several times to stop its offensive in Gaza but it received no reply which is why it has been escalated to the ICJ.

What happens next?

Israel is presenting its own evidence on Friday, but the case could take years to conclude.

A separate, temporary, legal obligation for the Israeli bombardment to stop could be announced within weeks until the case is finished – but it’s worth remembering the court has no authority to enforce its rulings.

There are 15 judges in the International Court of Justice, meaning South Africa needs eight countries to decide if the alleged acts could fall under the genocide treaty.

Although the UK is not on the board, it is one of Israel’s allies – and it has challenged the whole case.

PM Rishi Sunak’s spokesperson said: “The prime minister’s view is that South Africa’s case is completely unjustified and wrong. The UK supports Israel’s right to defend itself within international law.”

The war has been raging since October 7, when Palestinian militants from Gaza, known as Hamas, massacred around 1,200 people on Israeli soil and took another 240 hostage.

Israel declared war on Hamas as a result, put Gaza under siege, and began bombarding the Palestinian territory.


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