The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague commenced a two-day hearing on Thursday, January 11th, for the genocide case brought by South Africa against Israel related to the ongoing war in Gaza.
While the hearing was underway, Israeli forces continued to bombard the Gaza Strip. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health on Thursday, the attack resulted in the deaths of over 100 Palestinians and left nearly 200 injured in the last 24 hours.
South Africa, presenting its case, called for an immediate halt to Israeli military operations in Gaza.
Since the start of the Hamas-Israel war on October 7th, more than 23,000 Palestinians, including 5,500 children, have been killed.
Vusimuzi Madonsela, South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands, highlighted the history of violence against Palestinians, and stated, “South Africa acknowledges that the genocidal acts and permissions by the state of Israel inevitably form part of a continuum of illegal acts perpetrated against the Palestinian people since 1948.”
South Africa’s Justice Minister, Ronald Lamola, stressed that the response of Israel to Hamas attacks “crossed a line,” adding that no attack, even one involving atrocity crimes, can justify breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Advocate Adila Hassim, representing South Africa, detailed the alleged genocidal acts by Israel, including mass killings and infliction of serious bodily or mental harm upon Palestinians in Gaza.
Hassim stated that nearly 60,000 Palestinians have been injured or permanently disabled due to Israel’s attacks, with most of them being women and children.
She also showed the pictures of mass graves as evidence of these violations.
Another lawyer representing South Africa, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, accused Israeli political and military leaders of expressing genocidal intent.
Ngcukaitobi referred to a statement made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on October 28th, in which he reminded ground forces poised to enter Gaza to “remember what Amalek has done to you.”
The lawyer said this comment is a reference to “the biblical command by God to Saul for the retaliatory destruction of an entire group of people.”
Ngcukaitobi expressed that soldiers are under the impression that their language and actions are permissible, viewing them as aligned with the state’s explicitly stated policy of targeting Palestinian lives in Gaza.
The hearing also delved into the question of whether Israel’s actions constitute a breach of the Genocide Convention.
John Dugard, a South African international law professor, pointed out the obligations under the convention are owed to the international community as a whole.
Max du Plessis, another legal representative for South Africa, noted that various international bodies and human rights organizations have considered Israel’s acts as genocidal or, at minimum, a risk of genocide to the Palestinian people.
Israel maintains its stance of self-defense, citing attacks by Hamas on its territory.
Prime Minister Netanyahu criticized the accusations as false, stating, “We are fighting terrorists, we are fighting lies.”
He also questioned South Africa’s silence on conflicts in other regions, such as Syria and Yemen.
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lior Haiat labeled the hearing as hypocritical and accused South Africa of allowing Hamas to commit war crimes.
The hearing is set to resume to hear Israel’s oral arguments.
Although the ICJ’s rulings may not directly impact the ongoing war, a decision favoring South Africa could increase pressure on the United States, Israel’s principal supporter.
White House national security spokesperson John Kirby expressed skepticism about South Africa’s allegations, indicating the U.S. sees no basis for the genocide claims against Israel.