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South Africa tells International Court of Justice that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza as landmark case begins

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12 January 2024, ABC News

South Africa has told judges at the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. 

In its opening remarks in a landmark case at The Hague, South Africa pleaded with the court to urgently order Israel to halt its military operation in the Palestinian enclave. 

“Israel has a genocidal intent against the Palestinians in Gaza,” Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, an advocate of the High Court of South Africa, told the court.

“That is evident from the way in which this military attack is being conducted,” he said.

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

Israel has vehemently rejected the accusations of genocide, calling them baseless and accusing Pretoria of playing “advocate of the devil” for Hamas. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the court had been presented with hypocrisy and lies.

“Today we saw an upside-down world. Israel is accused of genocide while it is fighting against genocide,” he said in a statement.

“Israel is fighting murderous terrorists who carried out crimes against humanity: They slaughtered, they raped, they burned, they dismembered, they beheaded — children, women, elderly, young men and women,” he said.

The 1948 Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

South Africa points to Israel’s sustained bombing campaign that has killed over 23,000 people in the small, densely populated Gaza Strip, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run territory.

“Every day, there is mounting, irreparable loss of life, property, dignity, and humanity for the Palestinian people,” said Adila Hassim, another South African High Court advocate.

South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said South Africa condemned Hamas’s October 7 assault on Israeli civilians, but added that any attack, even one involving atrocious crimes, was not a justification for violations of the Genocide Convention.

Post-apartheid South Africa has long defended the Palestinian cause, a relationship forged when the African National Congress’s struggle against white-minority rule was cheered on by Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.

The ICJ is hearing South Africa’s arguments on Thursday and Israel’s response to the allegations on Friday.

It is expected to rule on possible emergency measures later this month.

Proceedings could take years 

The court will not rule at that time on the genocide allegations — those proceedings could take years.

The ICJ’s decisions are also final and without appeal — but the court has no way to enforce them.

With the politically charged case attracting global attention, supporters of both sides of the case planned marches and rallies in The Hague.

Thousands of pro-Israel protesters marched in freezing temperatures in the city centre early on Thursday, carrying Israeli and Dutch flags and posters with images of people taken hostage by Hamas.

A heavy police presence made sure the pro-Israel march and a pro-Palestinian march, with red-and-green coloured smoke symbolising the Palestinian flag, were kept separate.

Gabi Patlis, a native of Tel Aviv who now lives in the Netherlands, said it was painful to hear Israel accused of genocide.

“Especially after 7 October — we were the ones that were attacked,” he said at the rally.

Israeli forces launched their offensive after Hamas fighters carried out a brutal attack across the border in what became the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history.

Since then, the offensive has laid waste to much of the heavily built-up territory, and nearly all its 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes at least once, causing a humanitarian catastrophe.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on social media platform X: “I want to make a few points absolutely clear: Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population.”

Israel, US dismiss case’s merits

Israel has said it is waging war against Palestinian militants, not the Palestinian people.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed the case as “meritless” during a visit to Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

“It is particularly galling, given that those who are attacking Israel — Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, as well as their supporter Iran — continue to call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews,” he said.

The ICJ, sometimes known as the World Court, rules on disputes between nations, but has never judged a country to be responsible for genocide.

The closest it came was in 2007 when it ruled that Serbia “violated the obligation to prevent genocide” in the July 1995 massacre by Bosnian Serb forces of more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.

In its court filings, South Africa cites Israel’s failure to provide food, water, medicine and other essential assistance to Gaza, where Hamas seized power in 2007, two years after Israel ended a 38-year occupation of the enclave.

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told the Reuters news agency that the group was following the ICJ proceedings with great interest.

“Justice is going to be tested today,” he said.

“We urge the court to reject all pressure and take a decision to criminalise the Israeli occupation and stop the aggression on Gaza.”

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Article source: 12 January 2024, ABC News

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000