South Africa ICJ genocide case against Israel — what you need to know

South Africa filed a landmark legal case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging Israel’s onslaught on Gaza amounts to genocide.

Submitted on December 29, South Africa’s 84-page lawsuit graphically details the brutality in Gaza and urges the ICJ to rule that Israel has breached international law. It asks the court to urgently order Israel to cease hostilities, provide reparations, and reconstruct destroyed Gazan infrastructure.

The case accuses Israel of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention, which defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

“No armed attack on a State’s territory no matter how serious — even an attack involving atrocity crimes — can, however, provide any possible justification for, or defence to, breaches of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (‘Genocide Convention’ or ‘Convention’),1 whether as a matter of law or morality,” says the document.

It also adds that Israel has failed to prevent and prosecute incitement of genocide and references statements made by Israeli officials and others justifying Gaza’s mass killings.

South Africa confirmed the ICJ has scheduled initial hearings on January 11-12 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, with Pretoria requesting an expedited process given the ongoing bloodshed. 

Critics question the court’s power, given that past rulings have been ignored without significant repercussions. But any potential ICJ judgement favouring South Africa and the Palestinians would put considerable pressure on Israel’s staunchest ally – the United States – to call for a ceasefire. 

Responding to the suit, Israel’s Foreign Ministry rejected the allegations, denouncing South Africa’s lawsuit as “blood libel” and a “despicable and contemptuous exploitation” of the court.

The US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said South Africa’s submission was  “meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever.”

Over 21,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7. It includes over 7,000 children, with a further 7,000 missing and presumed dead amidst rubble. 55,000 others have endured injuries or maiming.

“Israel has failed to prevent genocide”

Genocidal actions listed in the exhaustive suit include the killing of large numbers of Palestinians in Gaza, especially children. It says 60% of Gazan homes have been destroyed, 85% of the population has been expelled or displaced, and there has been an enforced blockade on food, water and medicine.

“Israel has now pushed the Palestinian population in Gaza to the brink of famine,” says the filing. 

It also cites Israeli measures to prevent Palestinian births by destroying health services critical for the survival of pregnant mothers and infants.

All these actions, the filing asserts, are “intended to bring about their [Palestinians] destruction as a group”.

“The facts relied on by South Africa in this application and to be further developed in these proceedings establish that — against a background of apartheid, expulsion, ethnic cleansing, annexation, occupation, discrimination, and the ongoing denial of the right of the Palestinian people to selfdetermination — Israel, since October 7 2023 in particular, has failed to prevent genocide and has failed to prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide,” it adds.

The suit also mentions reports of “Israeli soldiers performing summary executions, including of multiple members of the same family — men, women and older people.”

And paints a picture of the grim impact on families: “An estimated 1,779 Palestinian families in Gaza have lost multiple family members, and hundreds of multigenerational families have been killed in their entirety, with no remaining survivors — mothers, fathers, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, cousins — often all killed together.”

Beyond genocide, South Africa charges Israel with assaulting Palestinian culture by attacking sites of “religion, education, art, science, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected.”

Expressions of “genocidal intent” by Israeli officials

An astonishing 8 pages detail the “genocidal intent” against Palestinians expressed by Israeli officials and leaders.

“Repeated statements by Israeli State representatives, including at the highest levels, by the Israeli President, Prime Minister, and Minister of Defence express genocidal intent,” it says. 

It cites Prime Minister Netanyahu comparing Palestinians to the biblical Amalek, whom God commanded the ancient Israelites to destroy. The biblical verse says: “Now go and smite Amalek … kill both man and woman, infant.”

In another comment, Netanyahu said despite the death and destruction in Gaza, “we are deepening the fighting in the coming days, and this will be a long battle.”

It says President Isaac Herzog “made clear that Israel was not distinguishing between militants and civilians in Gaza, stating in a press conference to foreign media — in relation Palestinians in Gaza, over one million of whom are children: ’It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware not involved. It’s absolutely not true. … and we will fight until we break their backbone.’”

The filing mentioned other comments made by Israeli officials, including:

“Israeli Minister of Energy and Infrastructure: ‘Tweeting’ on October 13 2023, Israel Katz stated: ‘All the civilian population in Gaza is ordered to leave immediately. We will win. They will not receive a drop of water or a single battery until they leave the world.’”

“Israeli Minister of Finance: On October 8 2023, Bezalel Smotrich stated at a meeting of the Israeli Cabinet that ‘[w]e need to deal a blow that hasn’t been seen in 50 years and take down Gaza.’”

“Israeli Minister of Heritage: On November 1 2023, Amichai Eliyahu posted on Facebook: ‘The north of the Gaza Strip, more beautiful than ever. Everything is blown up and flattened, simply a pleasure for the eyes … We must talk about the day after. In my mind, we will hand over lots to all those who fought for Gaza over the years and to those evicted from Gush Katif’ [a former Israeli settlement].”

The report provided evidence of similar statements made by Israeli army officials, advisers and other spokespeople in the media.


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