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ICJ hears South Africa’s genocide case against Israel over Gaza war

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12 January 2024, Herald Sun, by Tiffany Bakker and Adella Beaini

The UN’s top court has heard how Israel has shown “chilling” and “incontrovertible” intent to commit genocide in Gaza, with full knowledge of how many civilians it is killing. 

Israel’s plan to “destroy” Gaza comes from “the highest level of state”, the UN’s top court has heard.

The claims were made by South African lawyers as it presented its case accusing Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice.

South Africa also called on the court to order Israel to cease military operations in Gaza.

Israel – which will present its defence on Friday – has strongly rejected the accusations as “baseless”, “preposterous” and “atrocious”.

The court has accused Israel of breaching the UN Genocide Convention, arguing that even the deadly October 7 Hamas attack could not justify such alleged actions, as it launched a landmark case.

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, a lawyer for the High Court of South Africa, told the ICJ Israel’s “genocidal intent” was evident “from the way in which this military attack is being conducted”.

“The intent to destroy Gaza has been nurtured at the highest level of state,” he said.

“Every day there is mounting, irreparable loss of life, property, dignity, and humanity for the Palestinian people,” Adila Hassim, also representing South Africa, told the court.

“Nothing will stop the suffering, except an order from this court.”

Top lawyer for South Africa Adila Hassim said Israel’s bombing campaign aimed at the “destruction of Palestinian life” and had pushed Palestinians “to the brink of famine”.

“Genocides are never declared in advance, but this court has the benefit of the past 13 weeks of evidence that shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention that justifies a plausible claim of genocidal acts,” she said.

“Israel deployed 6,000 bombs per week … No one is spared. Not even newborns. UN chiefs have described it as a graveyard for children,” she said.

“Nothing will stop the suffering, except an order from this court.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed South Africa over the landmark case, saying it was Israel that was fighting “genocide” committed by Hamas militants.

“The State of Israel is accused of genocide at a time when it is fighting genocide,” Mr Netanyahu said in a statement after South Africa lodged an urgent appeal at the International Court of Justice accusing it of breaching the UN Genocide Convention.

Pretoria has lodged an urgent appeal at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to force Israel to “immediately suspend” its military operations in Gaza.

“No armed attack on a state territory, no matter how serious … can provide justification for or defend breaches of the convention,” said Pretoria’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.

“Israel’s response to the October 7 attack has crossed this line and given rise to the breaches of the convention,” he added.

The Gaza war erupted when Hamas launched its unprecedented attack, which resulted in about 1,140 people killed in Israel, mostly civilians.

Israel has responded with a relentless military campaign that has killed more than 23,000 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

A world away from the death and destruction in Gaza and Israel, robed lawyers battled it out over technical legal arguments in the Peace Palace in The Hague.

South Africa argues Israel is breaking its commitments under the UN Genocide Convention, a treaty signed in 1948 in the wake of the Holocaust.

As a fellow signatory to the treaty, South Africa can take Israel to the ICJ, which rules on disputes between countries and is often described as the “World Court”.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has long been a firm supporter of the Palestinian cause, often linking it to its own historic struggle against the white-minority government, which had cooperative relations with Israel.

South Africa has acknowledged the “particular weight of responsibility” of accusing Israel of genocide. It “unequivocally” condemned the Hamas attacks that sparked off the war in Gaza.

Describing South Africa as the “legal arm” of Hamas, Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said Pretoria’s case was “one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy in history.”



This rate of killing makes Israel’s war the deadliest conflict in the 21st century, the humanitarian organisation has said in a recently published report.

The daily death rate in Gaza is higher than that seen in the conflicts in Syria (96.5 deaths per day), Sudan (51.6), Iraq (50.8), Ukraine (43.9) Afghanistan (23.8) and Yemen (15.8), according to the report.

“The scale and atrocities that Israel is visiting upon Gaza are truly shocking. For 100 days the people of Gaza have endured a living hell. Nowhere is safe and the entire population is at risk of famine,” Oxfam’s Middle East director Sally Abi Khalil said.



Israel President Isaac Herzog has already hinted at his country’s likely defence against what he called an “atrocious and preposterous … claim”.

“We will present proudly our case of using self defence … under international humanitarian law,” he said.

Mr Herzog said the Israeli army was “doing its utmost under extremely complicated circumstances on the ground to make sure that there will be no unintended consequences and no civilian casualties”.

The United States is backing its ally Israel, with the State Department describing the charges as “unfounded”.

As it is an urgent procedure, the ICJ could rule in a matter of weeks. Its rulings are final and cannot be appealed. However, countries do not always follow the court’s verdicts — the ICJ has ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine, for example.

But a court ruling against Israel would certainly increase political pressure on the country, with many speculating it could serve as a pretext for sanctions.

Cecily Rose, assistant professor of public international law at Leiden University, noted the court did not have to rule on the fundamentals of the case at this stage — that issue will likely take years.

“Instead, the court would only be evaluating whether there is a risk of irreparable prejudice to rights held under the Genocide Convention, in particular the right of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts that threaten their existence as a group,” Rose said.

Dutch police kept rival demonstrations apart in The Hague. Hundreds of pro-Israeli protesters waving flags marched through the streets while a smaller group of pro-Palestinian supporters brandished placards saying: “End Israel apartheid.” Pro-Israeli protester Ada Deyl, an 80-year-old pensioner, said: “I think it’s a shame that Israel — who is doing all the right things and is attacked by Hamas — is now facing a lawsuit.”

On the other side, Zohar Janovitch, 40, alleged that Israeli leaders had “explicitly expressed their disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians”.


Colombia has become the latest country to express support for South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

“South Africa’s lawsuit is a brave step in the right direction,” the Colombian Foreign Ministry said in a press release, which was shared on X by Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro.

“As the President of the Republic Gustavo Petro Urrego has maintained since the very beginning of this bloody phase of the conflict in Palestine, it is very clear that the actions and measures adopted by the government of Israel constitute acts of genocide.”



The Palestine Red Crescent Society said a missile from an Israeli drone destroyed one of its ambulances in central Gaza on Wednesday, killing four crew members as well as the two patients it was transporting.

“Our colleagues were intentionally targeted while inside an ambulance clearly marked with the Red Crescent emblem,” the aid group said.

The UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator Martin Griffiths posted on X condemning the attack which killed four employees with the ambulance crew.

“The rules of war are clear: Parties must protect civilians, including humanitarian workers. These rules must be upheld,” Mr Griffiths said.



US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday accused Iran of being behind a spate of attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on ships in the Red Sea.

“These attacks have been aided and abetted by Iran with technology, equipment, intelligence, information, and they are having a real-life impact on people,” Mr Blinken told reporters in Bahrain.

Mr Blinken met with the head of the Palestinian Authority and travelled to Bahrain on his Middle East tour aimed at stopping the Israel-Hamas war from escalating.

The Israeli military said it killed dozens of “terrorists” and hit another 150 targets in Hamas-run Gaza, where the health ministry said 147 people had been killed over the previous 24 hours.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war has raged since the unprecedented Hamas attacks against Israel on October 7 and killed more than 23,000 people in the besieged Palestinian territory, according to its health ministry.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas spoke with Blinken of the need “to stop the Israeli aggression against Palestinian people” in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, which has also been torn by deadly unrest, said the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Mr Blinken told Abbas that Washington supports “tangible steps” towards the creation of a Palestinian state — a long-term goal which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government has opposed.

The secretary of state reiterated the US position that a Palestinian state must stand alongside Israel, “with both living in peace and security”, said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

As Mr Blinken arrived under tight security at Abbas’s headquarters in Ramallah, protesters held up signs reading “Stop the genocide”, “Free Palestine” and “Blinken out”. Some scuffled with Palestinian security forces in riot gear.

In Bahrain, Mr Blinken said Abbas was “committed” to reforming the Palestinian Authority to provide “effective” governance for his people.

Blinken was in the Gulf state for talks with King Hamad on preventing a regional escalation of the war, according to the State Department.

Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi arrived in the Jordanian city of Aqaba to discuss with King Abdullah II a “push for an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, Jordan’s royal palace said.

Washington sees a future in Gaza for the PA, whose ruling Fatah faction is a rival of Hamas. But Netanyahu has long sought to weaken the semi-autonomous body.


US and British warships shot down an unprecedented 21 drones and missiles fired by Houthis from Yemen towards international shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea, in what has been described as “the largest attack” to date.

No injuries or damage were reported, said the US Central Command, adding that this was the 26th attack by Iran-backed Houthi militants in the area since November 19.

The latest barrage consisted of 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles, and one anti-ship ballistic missile, all of which were destroyed by F-18 fighter jets from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower, and by four destroyers, including the USS Gravely, the USS Laboon, the USS Mason and the UK’s HMS Diamond.

“Overnight, HMS DIAMOND, along with US warships, successfully repelled the largest attack from the Iranian-backed Houthis in the Red Sea to date,” British Defense Minister Grant Shapps said in a statement.

“The UK alongside allies have previously made clear that these illegal attacks are completely unacceptable and if continued the Houthis will bear the consequences,” Shapps warned.

“We will take the action needed to protect innocent lives and the global economy,” he added.

In a televised speech Wednesday, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree said the militants fired a large number of ballistic and naval missiles and drones at a US ship that he claimed was “providing support” to Israel.

Saree did not say when the Houthi strike had occurred or what damage, if any, the vessel had sustained, but that the operation was a “preliminary response” to a previous US attack that killed 10 Houthi fighters.

The drone and missile attack came ahead of a planned United Nations Security Council vote Wednesday to purportedly condemn and demand an immediate halt to the attacks by the Houthis.

The Shiite rebels, who control most of Yemen, have been firing on the crucial commercial route between Europe and Asia, which accounts for about 15 per cent of the world’s shipping traffic — an estimated $1.5 trillion in goods annually — to show their support for Hamas during the war with Israel.

The militants have vowed to carry on the disruptive attacks until Israel pulls out of Gaza, and threatened to fire on US warships if the Houthis themselves were targeted.

Earlier this month, the US, the UK, and 10 other countries, including Germany, Italy, and Japan, issued a joint statement saying that Houthi attacks posed “a direct threat to the freedom of navigation that serves as the bedrock of global trade in one of the world’s most critical waterways.”

“The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and the free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways,” the coalition warned.


The World Health Organisation pleaded with Israel to allow the WHO and other UN agencies access to deliver aid within the Gaza Strip, branding the humanitarian situation “indescribable”.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday local time that its teams have had to cancel six planned missions to northern Gaza since December 26 “because our requests were rejected and assurances of safe passage were not provided”, while a mission planned for Wednesday was also called off.

“Delivering humanitarian aid in Gaza continues to face nearly insurmountable challenges,” he told a press conference.

“Intense bombardment, restrictions on movement, fuel shortages, and interrupted communications make it impossible for WHO and our partners to reach those in need.

“We have the supplies, the teams and the plans in place. What we don’t have is access.

“We call on Israel to approve requests by WHO and other partners to deliver humanitarian aid.” Tedros said only 15 hospitals in the Palestinian territory were functioning even partially, while the lack of clean water and sanitation, and overcrowded living conditions in the coastal strip were creating the ideal environment for diseases to spread.

“People are standing in line for hours for a small amount of water, which may not be clean, or bread, which alone is not sufficiently nutritious,” he said.

The bloodiest ever Gaza war started by the unprecedented October 7 Hamas attack on Israel has raged on for more than three months and killed more than 23,000 people in the besieged Palestinian territory, according to its health ministry.

The Hamas attack resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians.

Militants also took around 250 hostages, of whom Israel says 132 remain in Gaza including at least 25 believed to have been killed.

Israel has responded with a relentless military campaign.

– with AFP

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Article source: 12 January 2024, Herald Sun, by Tiffany Bakker and Adella Beaini

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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