South Africa takes Israel to court for genocide

Israel-Palestine conflict

Published 12 January 2024
- By Editorial Staff
Netanyahu's Israel is accused of systematic crimes and "genocidal" acts.

Yesterday marked the start of Israel’s trial at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. In an 84-page long complaint, South Africa accuses the Israeli state of genocide, saying the Netanyahu regime intends to “destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group”.

“Palestinians in Gaza have been killed in their homes, in places where they sought shelter, in hospitals, in UNWRA schools, in churches, in mosques, and as they tried to find food and water for their families. They have been killed if they failed to evacuate, in the places to which they fled, and even while they attempted to flee along Israeli declared ‘safe routes'”, the complaint reads.

“Reports are multiplying of Israeli soldiers performing summary executions, including of multiple members of the same family — men, women and older people”. It continues, noting that men are executed in front of their wives and children – before they too are killed by Israeli troops.

It also points out that unarmed Palestinians are killed by snipers as soon as they are spotted, even if they pose no threat, and that this includes children, women and the disabled.

South Africa says it is clear that Israel is actively and wilfully violating the 1948 Genocide Convention, and that Israeli officials are also inciting and encouraging genocide against the Palestinian people.

Limited power

On Thursday and Friday, hearings will take place at the ICJ in The Hague, the main UN body for settling legal disputes between states.

The court usually has 15 judges who decide whether action should be taken against Israel – such as ordering it to stop invading Gaza.

The Peace Palace in The Hague where the ICJ resides. Photo: R Boed/CC BY 2.0

South Africa points to what it says are statements by the highest Israeli authorities calling for genocide and stresses that the court must act very soon. It therefore calls for an immediate cease-fire – a demand that the Court can grant, but it is highly uncertain whether the ICJ can actually enforce a cease-fire or stop the Israeli invasion.

– This is where the problem often arises. You don’t really have the ability to force compliance, but what you can do if the state in question doesn’t comply is to go to the UN Security Council, says Joachim Åhman, professor of international law to Swedish newspaper GP.

USA backs Israel

In theory, the Security Council can decide to take military action against a state that is, for example, committing genocide or systematically violating international law – but Israel’s allies, the United States and the four other permanent members, have veto power, so such action is considered completely out of the question and unthinkable.

– Otherwise, the Security Council decides on measures to try to force a state to comply with a decision. However, these measures are quite far-reaching, and these kinds of legal cases often have some kind of political significance. The whole thing depends very much on states actually complying with the rules themselves, Åhman continues.

It should also be noted that a number of countries support South Africa’s decision to charge Israel with genocide – including the 57 Muslim countries in the OIC, Bolivia, Namibia, Colombia and Brazil. In Europe, the elite’s willingness to hold Israel accountable is much lower – but even here individual politicians and parties have supported the complaint. Hundreds of organizations and associations have also decided to support the South African complaint.

Countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom have attacked South Africa, with US national security spokesman John Kirby calling the application “meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever”.

“Shooting children and the disabled”

South Africa also points out that Israel has systematically engaged in persecution and genocidal acts against the Palestinian people long before the invasion of Gaza, in what appears to be an elaborate strategy of ethnic cleansing.

“There were reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers ‘intentionally shot’ children, knowing them to be children, and they also ‘intentionally shot’ health workers and journalists ‘despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such’. It further found ‘reasonable grounds to believe’ that Israeli snipers shot disabled demonstrators ‘intentionally, despite seeing that they had visible disabilities’ and despite them not presenting an imminent threat”, the complaint says, citing an independent report from 2019.

Israel is accused of committing innumerable injustices against the Palestinian people. Photo: IDF

It also points to reports that Israeli soldiers have systematically injured protesting and demonstrating Palestinians in areas such as their kneecaps, crippling them for life.

“The State of Israel shall immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza”, the authors of the complaint demand.

“Modern heirs of the Nazis”

Israel, which must formally respond to the genocide allegations on Friday, strongly denies the accusations, saying instead that it is South Africa that is behaving suspiciously and reprehensibly.

– The State of Israel emphatically condemns South Africa’s decision to play devil’s advocate and make itself criminally complicit with the perpetrators of the October 7 massacre, Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy told a press conference.

He added that it was “tragic” that South Africa was “fighting pro bono for anti-Jewish racists” and that “history will judge South Africa for abetting the modern heirs of the Nazis”.

Although “provisional measures” can be taken relatively quickly, the actual verdict, which will determine whether or not Israel is guilty of genocide, is expected to take several years.

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