On December 29th, 2023, South Africa initiated a groundbreaking legal move by filing an application at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), alleging genocide by Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza. This significant step marks a new chapter in international legal proceedings concerning the conflict.
The application accuses Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, with South Africa arguing that Israel’s actions in Gaza are “genocidal in character.” The ICJ’s documentation outlines these allegations, highlighting the specific intent to destroy Palestinians in Gaza.
According to the Health Ministry in Gaza, over 22,000 people have been killed since October 7. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees reports that at least 308 of these casualties were sheltering in United Nations facilities. With nearly half of Gaza’s population, approximately 40%, being under the age of 14, a large proportion of casualties have been children.
Israel has firmly rejected these claims, with its Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that South Africa’s application lacks factual and legal basis. Israel maintains that its military efforts are directed solely against Hamas and other terrorist organizations, emphasizing its commitment to international law and efforts to limit harm to non-involved civilians and facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The conflict has seen Israel’s aerial bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza in response to Hamas’ attacks and kidnappings, causing widespread devastation in the densely populated coastal strip. This has led to international outcry, with United States President Joe Biden criticizing Israel for “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza. U.S. intelligence suggests that nearly half of Israel’s air-to-ground munitions used in the conflict have been unguided, posing a greater threat to civilians.
South Africa’s application to the ICJ comes amid Israel’s expansion of military operations in southern Gaza, including claims of destroying Hamas’ tunnel network and hideouts. The South African government expressed grave concern for civilians caught in the Israeli attacks, citing reports of international crimes and potential acts of genocide.
As both South Africa and Israel are parties to the Genocide Convention, the ICJ’s involvement signifies a critical moment in addressing these grave allegations. The unfolding legal battle at the World Court, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, is set to draw significant international attention.