On Thursday, a legal proceeding at The Hague will examine the conflict in Gaza, with the international court of justice (ICJ) considering claims that Israel is engaged in genocide within the region.
The country initiating the case, South Africa, is urging the UN court to take immediate action in order to prevent any additional, serious, and irreversible harm to the rights of the Palestinian people. This harm is in violation of the genocide convention and is being ignored without consequences.
The ongoing attack on Gaza, which was initiated as a reaction to the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7th resulting in the deaths of 1,200 individuals, mostly innocent civilians, and the capture of 240 people, has caused immense destruction.
After the 7 October assaults, the Gaza health ministry reports that Israel has caused the death of over 23,000 Palestinians, with approximately 70% being women or children. According to UNRWA, the ongoing conflict in Gaza has led to 1.9 million people being displaced within the region, which accounts for 85% of the total population. Additionally, tens of thousands of structures have been demolished.
South Africa submitted a 84-page application to the ICJ requesting the opening of proceedings. In the application, South Africa stated that Israel’s actions and lack of actions are genocidal in nature as they aim to destroy a significant portion of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnic group.
The South African government is urging the court to swiftly take action in regards to Israel’s actions towards the Palestinian people in Gaza. This includes ordering Israel to stop causing harm and destruction, punishing incitement to genocide, and lifting restrictions on aid and evacuation orders. Proving cases of genocide can be difficult and time-consuming, but South Africa is requesting urgent “provisional measures” to be put in place.
Israel responded with anger to the submission of the application, denouncing it as groundless and a false accusation. It claims to be taking defensive measures in order to safeguard Israelis by dismantling Hamas. The United States, the country’s main ally, has rejected the lawsuit as lacking in substance.
Before the trial, the Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu shared a video stating that Israel was battling Hamas, not the Palestinian citizens, and was following all international laws. He stated, “Israel has no plans to permanently hold Gaza or force its non-military residents to leave.”
Both parties will also strive to gain public support outside of the courtroom. Israel has planned various events in The Hague, such as a peace rally on Thursday morning, while South Africa prepares to present its argument. Exhibits featuring the Israeli hostages still being held by Hamas and interviews with their family members will also be showcased.
On Wednesday, South Africa announced that its representatives will include Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the UK Labour party. Corbyn has been a strong advocate for the Palestinian cause, but his tenure as opposition leader was overshadowed by allegations of antisemitism.
The ANC, the ruling party of South Africa, has a longstanding history of equating the treatment of Palestinians by Israel with that of black South Africans during apartheid.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), comprised of 57 member states, has expressed approval of South Africa’s decision to bring the case. Several individual countries have also shown their support. Belgium’s deputy prime minister, Petra De Sutter, took to Twitter to express her desire for her country to follow in South Africa’s footsteps and take action at the International Court of Justice.
The legal representatives for both sides will be given equal time, about three hours each, to present their arguments. South Africa will present first on Thursday, followed by Israel’s response on Friday. The decision will be held back until a future date, but may be announced in a matter of weeks.
The genocide convention, drawn up in 1948 after the second world war and the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, describes the crime as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole, or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. The acts include killing members of the group or causing them serious bodily or mental harm,
The Hague lacks the ability to enforce its rulings, leaving open the possibility of Israel disregarding a negative verdict. However, this action would only intensify global disapproval of its military actions.