South Africa accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza, first hearing in The Hague

The Hamas attack on 7 October cannot justify Israel’s “violation” of the Genocide Convention: this is what South Africa stated today during the hearing of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The hearing at the International Court of Justice

The main judicial body of the United Nations must express its opinion on the accusation of genocide leveled against Israel for the war in the Strip triggered by the Hamas massacre on 7 October and which has so far caused the death of over 23 thousand Palestinians. “Israel has committed, is committing and risks continuing to commit acts of genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza”, is in summary the accusation made by South Africa against the Jewish State. The request was presented by Pretoria on December 29th to the International Court of Justice, provoking various international reactions and indignation from Israel. The first day is dedicated to the prosecution’s arguments which will be illustrated by the South African delegation, led by the Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola, and composed of a team of diplomats, lawyers and international politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn, the former British Labor leader several times accused at home of anti-Semitism.

South Africa’s accusations against Israel

According to South Africa, Israel violates the Convention against Genocide which it ratified in 1950. In particular, we read in the 84 pages presented to The Hague, “Israel’s acts and omissions are of the nature of genocide because they accompany the specific intent required to destroy the Palestinians of Gaza as part of the larger Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group.” Pretoria also accuses Israel before the Court of Justice (which settles disputes between states, while the International Criminal Court prosecutes individual responsibilities) of not fulfilling “its obligations to prevent genocide, nor to prosecute” those responsible “for the ‘direct and public incitement to commit genocide’ as required by the Convention. In the application, South Africa then asks the Court to impose “precautionary measures” (which would be binding) such as ordering Israel to stop killing and “serious physical and mental harm inflicted” on Palestinians in Gaza and to allow access to humanitarian aid in the Strip.

Israel’s military operations in Gaza, South Africa explained, have pushed the population to the brink of famine. “The situation is such that experts now predict that more people in Gaza could die of starvation and disease” than from direct military action, said a South African lawyer, Adila Hassim.

The defense of Israel

Tomorrow it will be up to Israel’s team of lawyers, including the British Malcolm Shaw, to explain the reasons for Israel’s war in the Strip. “There is nothing more atrocious and absurd” than the lawsuit brought by South Africa, anticipated Israeli President Isaac Herzog, while just on the eve of the hearing, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government opened a website “to show the world some of the crimes against humanity committed by Hamas”. “Tomorrow we will appear before the tribunal in The Hague – explained the prime minister’s office – This site will help the State of Israel in its mission to remind the world that we are victims of the unprecedented terrorist event we have experienced”. The National Directorate of Public Diplomacy of the Jewish State has put online a new website ‘Oct. 7 2023, Hamas Massacre: Documentation of Crimes Against Humanity’. The site – which is only available outside Israel – was created together with the army spokesman’s office and features extremely gruesome photos and videos of the Hamas massacre. The United States has already sided with Israel, as has Great Britain.

The possible scenarios

Israeli Justice Ministry officials, quoted by Haaretz, believe that the Court in The Hague is not expected to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, although it could issue “injunctions” against Israel. According to jurists, the Court can “induce Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the Strip, launch an independent investigation or allow displaced Palestinians to return to northern Gaza”, while there is “a real possibility that the Court agrees with the requests of the South Africa and issue some sort of injunction against Israel.”