Although the International community is increasingly isolating Israel and the US for war crimes and crimes against humanity they are committing in Palestine, no country except the Houthi government of Sanaa is concretely taking action to fight Israel. Until now.
According to The Guardian, On December 29, South Africa launched a case against Israel at the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing it of committing genocide in Gaza. Israel responded to the accusations “with disgust”, calling South Africa’s case a “blood libel” and asking the ICJ to reject it. Cases at the ICJ usually take years to resolve, but South Africa has called for the court to gather in the next few days to issue “provisional measures” calling for a ceasefire. According to The Guardian, in March 2022, the ICJ ordered Russia to stop its offensive in Ukraine, an order that President Vladimir Putin ignored. A clear position taken by the ICJ would be meaningful to direct the public opinion.
The South African document starts by accusing Israel of perpetrating genocide in the Gaza Strip since it intends to destroy the besieged region and its people.
“Provisional measures are necessary in this case to protect against further, severe, and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people under the Genocide Convention, which continue to be violated with impunity.”
Article IX of the Genocide Convention allows any state and any party to bring a case against another to the ICJ.
In 2022, the court ruled that the Gambia could bring a genocide claim against Myanmar. The court also ruled in a case between Croatia and Serbia that depriving a people of food, shelter, medical care and other means of subsistence constitutes genocidal acts, The Guardian reported.
“Genocidal intent is assumed to be the most difficult element to prove, but Israelis in charge of prosecuting this conflict have made a plethora of statements that easily prove the requisite intent to ‘destroy in whole or in part’ the Palestinian population in Gaza,” affirmed Susan Akram, director of the international human rights clinic at Boston University.
As examples, Akram mentioned Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant’s reference to Palestinians in Gaza as “human animals” and Israeli army Major General Ghassan Alian’s subsequent statement that: “Human animals must be treated as such. There will be no electricity and no water [in Gaza], there will only be destruction. You wanted hell, you will get hell”.
Iva Vukušić, assistant professor in international history at Utrecht University, said: “With over 21,000 dead in Gaza, [the South Africans] believe it is time to let a court look at what is going on. The Genocide Convention allows them to do that, because states, globally, don’t have a lot of places to ‘go to’ in these kinds of situations, especially with the Security Council being as polarised and dysfunctional.”
Since 2021, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has been investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Hamas and Israel in the Israeli aggression of the Gaza Strip in 2014.
The ICC can prosecute individuals, the ICJ is an arena for judges conflicts between states.
The Guardian also reported declarations by Victor Kattan, assistant professor in public international law at the University of Nottingham: “The ICJ’s provisional measures are legally binding but enforceability is always the problem, “Ultimately, enforcement always returns to the political organs of the UN and they are paralyzed. But it’s still symbolic and it’s embarrassing, I’d imagine, for Israel to be facing a genocide claim, given its history.”
Lior Haiat, the spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry, wrote about the rejection of South Africa’s case on his social media accounts.
“Israel rejects with disgust the blood libel spread by South Africa in its application to the international court of justice,” Haiat said on X. “South Africa’s claim lacks both a factual and a legal basis, and constitutes a despicable and contemptuous exploitation of the court.”
“South Africa is cooperating with a terrorist organization that is calling for the destruction of the State of Israel”, he continued.
Richard Gowan, UN director at the International Crisis Group said: “I think it is fair to say that a lot of states now use appeals to the ICJ as part of their battles to control global narratives around wars and crises.”
“Turning to the court and using the word ‘genocide’ is a powerful way to influence international debates about a conflict. But it is notable that the court has sadly failed to stop violence in Myanmar and Ukraine. There is a risk that the ICJ becomes just another platform for public diplomatic disputes and name-calling similar to the UN general assembly.”