South Africa to Take Israel to Court Over Gaza Offensive, Accusing Israel of Genocide

What’s Happening

Israeli Government Spokesman Eylon Levy today announced the nations’ intent to fight a court case which South Africa filed with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday, which accuses Israel of perpetrating genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. The case filing says that the “acts in question include killing Palestinians in Gaza, causing them serious bodily and mental harm, and inflicting on them conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction”. It accuses Israel of failing to “prevent genocide”, and “committing genocide in manifest violation of the Genocide Convention”.

South Africa stated that they are acting in accordance with their “obligations to prevent genocide” as a “state member of the Genocide Convention”.

South Africa’s government lawyers are preparing the case to first be heard on January 11th and 12th in The Hague, in the Netherlands, where the ICJ is based. As signatories of the Genocide Convention and members of the UN (to which the ICJ belongs), both Israel and South Africa are technically legally bound by the decisions which the ICJ makes, if they are binding. However, the ICJ has no means of enforcing its decisions, and instead relies upon the political weight which its decisions carry in order for its decisions to hold power. Despite the political ramifications, several of the ICJ’s rulings have simply been ignored by numerous different states in the past

Israeli Reactions and Escalating Disputes

Israel has altogether condemned the case filing. While the case was initially filed on Friday, December 29th, South Africa and Israel have been entered in diplomatic disputes since the beginning of the present Isreal-Gaza war on October 7th, which saw Israel’s embassy in South Africa closed and ties suspended in late November. This followed South Africa recalling all of their diplomats from Israel earlier in November, as a part of a wider multi-national “diplomatic boycott” of Israel.

After the case was filed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement in which he said “No, South Africa, it is not we who have come to perpetrate genocide, it is Hamas. It would murder all of us if it could”.

In Spokesman Levy’s statement, which announced Israel’s intention to fight the case, stated that South Africa’s actions hold them “criminally complicit with the Hamas rapist regime”, stating they will fight the case at the Hague “to dispel South Africa’s absurd blood libel”, which he said is South Africa deciding to “play advocate for the devil”.

The Court Case

South Africa’s court case is an 84 page document which details the grounds on which they accuse Israel of committing genocide, the background of the conflict, the conditions in Gaza, a history of UN and Human Rights Organizations missions/inquiries into Gaza, Israeli attacks against religious, healthcare, cultural, and educational sites, what they claim to be statements of genocidal intent by numerous Israeli officials (including PM Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and more), as well as the violations of specific articles of the Genocide Convention.

At the beginning of the case, South Africa condemns the initial attack by Hamas against Israel.

In the case, South Africa accuses Israel of violating “Articles I, III, IV, V and VI, read in conjunction with Article II.

The articles in question will be listed below, from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:

  • Article I
    The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in
    time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to
  • Article II
    In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with
    intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
    (a) Killing members of the group;
    (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
    (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
    (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
    (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
  • Article III
    The following acts shall be punishable:
    (a) Genocide;
    (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
    (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
    (d) Attempt to commit genocide;
    (e) Complicity in genocide.
  • Article IV
    Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III shall be
    punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private
  • Article V
    The Contracting Parties undertake to enact, in accordance with their respective
    Constitutions, the necessary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the present
    Convention, and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of
    genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III.
  • Article VI
    Persons charged with genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III shall
    be tried by a competent tribunal of the State in the territory of which the act was
    committed, or by such international penal tribunal as may have jurisdiction with respect to those Contracting Parties which shall have accepted its jurisdiction.

The case lists the particular violations of which South Africa is accusing Israel, which are also listed below:

  • (a) failing to prevent genocide in violation of Article I;
  • (b) committing genocide in violation of Article III (a);
  • (c) conspiring to commit genocide in violation of Article III (b);
  • (d) direct and public incitement to commit genocide in violation of Article III (c);
  • (e) attempting to commit genocide in violation of Article III (d);
  • (f) complicity in genocide in violation of Article III (e);
  • (g) failing to punish genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to
    genocide, attempted genocide and complicity in genocide, in violation of Articles I, III, IV and VI;
  • (h) failing to enact the necessary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the Genocide Convention and to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, incitement to genocide, attempted genocide, and complicity in genocide, in violation of Article V; and
  • (i) failing to allow and/or directly or indirectly impeding the investigation by competent
    international bodies or fact-finding missions of genocidal acts committed against
    Palestinians in Gaza, including those Palestinians removed by Israeli State agents or forces to Israel, as a necessary and corollary obligation pursuant to Articles I, III, IV, V and VI

The entirety of the case filing may be read here.

The Situation in Gaza

As of January 2nd, 2024, the death toll within Gaza has surpassed 22,000, making up 1% of Gaza’s approximately 2.2-2.3 million people. Of these 2.2 million, approximately 85% of them have been displaced within Gaza into smaller and smaller areas. The majority of refugees are finding shelter within or in close proximity to UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) sites, which according to the UNRWA’s Situation Report #56, has resulted in an average of 12,000 people per square kilometre (0.38 square miles). An estimated 60 percent of Gaza’s housing stock has been damaged or completely destroyed.

A photo of several Palestinians standing in a heavily damaged house in Rafah, in the South of the Gaza Strip (Photo from REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa).

Over 55,000 Palestinians have been injured. Additionally, above 7,800 people are reported missing, most of which are believed to be dead and simply buried underneath rubble, being presently inaccessible.

The UN has said that the amount of aid they are able to provide, having been Gaza’s primary aid provider during and before the conflict, is wholly inadequate and is becoming distinctly lessened as time goes on. Throughout the conflict thus far, at least 136 UN workers have been killed, alongside a large amount of UN vehicles having been destroyed in the North of Gaza. According to the UN operating in Gaza, Israel has not allowed them to replace the vehicles which they have lost. These factors, paired with lack of consistent communication networks, has resulted in heavy logistical issues when it comes to providing aid.

The UN’s loss of 136 people is the highest recorded loss of UN staff in a conflict since the organizations founding.

Throughout the conflict thus far, an approximate 238 attacks have taken place on Gaza’s healthcare installments. Out of 36 hospitals within Gaza, only 13 remain partially functional, with none of them operating at full functionality. 311 healthcare workers have been killed, 22 of which were on duty at the time of their deaths. Many of Gaza’s remaining hospitals have doubled as a shelter for refugees, with all of them hosting hundreds or thousands of people.

A picture of a crowded hallway within Al-Shifa hospital in early November (Photo from the WHO).

Due to the distinct lack of medical supplies, most hospitals are having to carry out operations without anaesthetic and most proper medical supplies.

“I was forced to do dressing changes on massive wounds, excruciatingly painful wounds. There was a girl with just her whole body covered in shrapnel. She was nine. I ended up having to change and clean these wounds with no anaesthetic and no analgesic. I managed to find some
intravenous paracetamol to give her … her Dad was crying, I was crying, and the poor child
was screaming…” – Dr. Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a Surgeon in Gaza

Several UN experts are warning that deaths from diseases and starvation could soon surpass, if it has not already, those wrought by Israeli military action. Approximately 360,000 cases of communicable diseases have thus far documented in UNRWA shelters alone, of which 100,000 are diarrhea and 150,000 are upper respiratory infections.

Mounting Pressure

The case filed by South Africa is the latest escalation in a long series of mounting political pressures upon Israel by numerous nations throughout the world, both within and outside of the West. South Africa is not the first nation to accuse Israel of committing genocide in the present conflict, and many nations have began to call for permanent ceasefires or a scaling back of military action.

While it is unclear if Israel will adhere to a decision from the ICJ, if one is even made against them, what is certain is they will face larger pressures from Western nations that are typically their partners.

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien is a published journalist and historicist with over six years of experience in freelance journalism and research. His primary expertise is in African conflict and politics, with additional specialization in Israeli/Palestinian and Armenia/Azerbaijan conflicts. Sébastien serves as the deputy desk chief for Africa.


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