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As hearing begins at ICJ: S/Africa wants Israel held accountable for genocide in Gaza

Judges at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday began two days of hearing in a lawsuit filed by South Africa accusing…

Judges at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday began two days of hearing in a lawsuit filed by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide during its war in Gaza.

South Africa has asked the court to order an emergency suspension of Israel’s assault in Gaza, where Israel claims it is attempting to eradicate the Hamas fighters in response to an October 7 attack in southern Israel.

A written suit from South Africa said it wants the court to hold Israel accountable for violations of the Genocide Convention, and to “ensure the urgent and fullest possible protection for Palestinians in Gaza who remain at grave and immediate risk of continuing and further acts of genocide.”

Israel has dismissed the accusations as “atrocious” and “preposterous” and will lay out its defence today.

South Africa accuses Israel of breaching Genocide Convention

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However, according to the UK’s tabloid, The Guardian, unlike the international criminal court, which is also investigating alleged war crimes by Hamas and Israel, the ICJ only tries states and not individuals. Its cases can take years to resolve but South Africa’s request for provisional – or interim – measures means the 17 judges, including one from each side, will seek to reach a decision as soon as possible.

Proceedings at The Hague

South Africa said evidence of genocide was present in the number of civilians killed by Israel and also in statements made by its political and military leaders including the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In support of its case, it showed photos of Palestinian mass graves, Israeli flags adorning wreckage in Gaza and what it claimed were videos of Netanyahu expressing support for genocide, as well as troops – taking his cue, it alleged – chanting “no uninvolved citizens,” The Guardian reports.

“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,” the South African lawyer Adila Hassim told the court.

Her colleague Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said there had been “reiteration and repetition of genocidal speech throughout every sphere of state in Israel” such that “the evidence of genocidal intent is not only chilling; it is also overwhelming and incontrovertible.”

Israel, which has denied the allegations, will give its response on Friday. It has said it is waging war against Palestinian fighters, not the Palestinian people. In a statement, Israel’s foreign ministry accused South Africa of rank hypocrisy, saying it had ignored “the fact that Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel, murdered, executed, massacred, raped and kidnapped Israeli citizens, just because they were Israelis, in an attempt to carry out genocide.”

A march including relatives of hostages held since Hamas’s 7 October attack on southern Israel, in which 1,200 Israelis, mainly civilians, were killed and 250 people taken hostage, arrived at the court just before proceedings began.

Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protesters were in separate areas but briefly came face-to-face and tried to drown each other out.

Hassim said Israel had dropped 6,000 bombs a week in the first three weeks after 7 October and had used 2,000lb bombs – “some of the biggest and most destructive bombs available” – 200 times in southern areas of Gaza it had designated as safe.

“Israel has killed an unparalleled and unprecedented number of civilians, with the full knowledge of how many civilian lives each bomb will take. More than 1,800 Palestinian families in Gaza have lost multiple family members and hundreds of multi-generational families have been wiped out with no remaining survivors … This killing is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life,” she said.

If South Africa is successful, it wants Israel to report to the court within a week how it will comply with the provisional measures and then regularly thereafter. It is entitled to take Israel to the ICJ by being a fellow signatory to the Genocide Convention.

Hamas, Arab League, others react to South Africa’s case

Hamas officials have expressed hope that the International Court of Justice will rule favourably regarding South Africa’s case alleging genocide by Israel against Palestinians.

“We welcome the convening of the [case] … on the accusation of ethnic cleansing and genocide. We are looking forward to seeing a decision by the court that would achieve justice for the [Palestinian] victims, end the aggression on Gaza, and hold the war criminals accountable,” Basem Naim said.

For his part, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, “The Palestinian people are following the court session in The Hague with great concern and interest. We urge the court to reject all pressure and take a decision to criminalise the Israeli occupation and stop the aggression on Gaza.”

The Arab League voiced its support for the South African case on the eve of the hearing, following in the footsteps of the 57-member state Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Among the individuals in court to back South Africa were the three-time French presidential candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and the former leader of the UK Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn. They were cheered as they joined the South African justice minister, Ronald Lamola, who was greeted by cries of “Thank you South Africa” when he addressed the pro-Palestinian crowd outside the court after the hearing.

A Palestinian-American lawmaker Rashida Tlaib and progressive Congresswoman Cori Bush have released a statement in support of the South Africa-initiated genocide proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice, saying the United States has had a “devastating role in the ongoing violence in Gaza.”

3 key takeaways

The three key takeaways from the first day of the hearing are: Are Israel’s actions in breach of the Genocide Convention? South Africa sought injunction against Israel to stop the war and the list of ‘genocidal acts’

Gaza death toll nears 23,500

The Palestinian death toll from ongoing Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7 has mounted to 23,500, the health ministry in the enclave said on Thursday, Turkiye’s newswireAnadolu reports.

The ministry’s spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said 59,604 other people have been injured in the onslaught.

“The Israeli attacks left 112 people dead and 194 others injured in the last 24 hours,” the spokesman said.

“Many people are still trapped under rubble and on the roads and rescuers can’t reach them,” he added.

Israel has pounded the Gaza Strip since a cross-border attack by the Palestinian group Hamas in October which Tel Aviv says killed around 1,200 people.

About 85% of Gazans have been displaced by the Israeli onslaught, while all of them are food insecure, according to the UN. Hundreds of thousands of people are living without shelter, and ⁠less than half of aid trucks are entering the territory more than before the start of the conflict.

Meanwhile, Qatari broadcaster, Al Jazeera, reports that even as the hearing which will span Thursday and Friday was being conducted, the ongoing bombardment of the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces killed more than 100 Palestinians and injured nearly 200 over the latest 24-hour reporting period, the Gaza Ministry of Health said yesterday.


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