Judges at the International Court of Justice, at the Hague in Netherlands on Thursday opened two days of legal arguments in a case filed by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide in its Gaza war.
Israel rejects the allegation.
Lawyers for South Africa asked judges at Thursday’s hearings to impose binding preliminary orders on Israel, including an immediate halt to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.
ICJ President Joan E. Donoghue said that South Africa argues that Israeli actions after the October 7 attacks by Hamas “are genocidal in character” and that Israel ”failed to prevent genocide and is committing genocide.”
She said South Africa also claims Israel violates “other fundamental obligations under the (U.N.) Genocide Convention.”
Ahead of the proceedings, hundreds of pro-Israeli protesters marched close to the courthouse with banners saying “Bring them home,” referring to the hostages still held by Hamas. Among the crowds, people were holding Israeli and Dutch flags.
Outside the court, others were protesting and waving the Palestinian flag in support of South Africa’s move.
The dispute is an important one and strikes at the heart of Israel’s national identity as a Jewish state created in the aftermath of the Nazi genocide in the Holocaust.
It also involves South Africa’s identity: Its governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Blacks to “homelands” before ending in 1994.
Although it normally considers U.N. and international tribunals unfair and biased, Israel has sent a strong legal team to defend its military operation launched in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas.
South Africa immediately sought to broaden the case beyond the narrow confines of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.
“The violence and the destruction in Palestine and Israel did not begin on Oct. 7, 2023. The Palestinians have experienced systematic oppression and violence for the last 76 years,” said South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
Vusimuzi Madonsela, the co-leader of South Africa’s delegation said that “at the outset, South Africa acknowledges that the genocidal acts and omissions by the state of Israel inevitably form part of a continuum of illegal acts perpetrated against the people of Palestinian people. since 1948,” when Israel declared its independence.
Mothers, fathers, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, cousins are often all killed together. This killing is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life. It is inflicted deliberately. No one is spared. Not even newborn babies,” said South African lawyer Adila Hassim.
“Nothing will stop the suffering except an order from this court. Without an indication of provisional measures, the atrocities will continue with the Israeli Defense Force indicating that it intends pursuing this course of action for at least a year,” she said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a video statement Wednesday night defending his country’s actions and insisted they had nothing to do with genocide.
“Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population,” he said. “Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists, not the Palestinian population, and we are doing so in full compliance with international law.”
He said the Israeli military is “doing its utmost to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas is doing its utmost to maximize them by using Palestinian civilians as human shields.”