Just the Beginning
The landmark ICJ case filed by South Africa against Israel began today. The day began with South Africa making their case against Israel to the court, explaining their position across three hours. Tomorrow, Israel will have their chance to make their defence. Normally Israel has boycotted international tribunals or UN investigations against them, calling them unfair and biased, however they have decided to appear in court, showing the severity of the case.
While South Africa seeks a court order to halt Israel’s military offensive on Gaza, their request is likely to take several weeks to be granted, if it is granted. The full case itself could potentially last several years.
South Africa’s arguments began with expressing their belief that the current war is merely an extension of the “ongoing Nakba” since 1948. Nakba, which means catastrophe in Arabic, is oftentimes used to refer to the initial displacement of Palestinians during and following Israel’s independence war.
They have accused Israel of violating a series of articles within the Genocide Convention. South African lawyer and advocate Adila Hassim stated “South Africa contends that Israel has transgressed Article 2 of the convention by committing actions that fall within the definition of genocide. The actions show systematic patterns of conduct from which genocide can be inferred”, adding that the “first genocidal act is mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza”, which she accompanied with photos of mass graves within Gaza.
In total, South Africa’s case accuses Israel of violating articles I-VI of the Genocide convention. The articles in question are:
- 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:
(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.
Israeli and US Reactions
Both Israel and the US have altogether rejected the case. US National Security Council Spokesman called the allegation of genocide “unfounded”, and said “that’s not a word that ought to be thrown around lightly, and we certainly don’t believe that it applies here”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that “today, again, we saw an upside down world, in which the State of Israel is accused of genocide at a time when it is fighting genocide”. He referred to the IDF as “the most moral army in the world”, further stating that the IDF does everything in its power “to avoid harming non-combatants”.
Notably, he also referred to the South African lawyers as representatives of Hamas.
The US has thus far not commented when asked about what it will do if Israel is convicted of genocide by the court.
What will it Achieve..?
In cases judged by the ICJ, there has thus far never been a country which has been charged with genocide (the ICC oftentimes handles cases of genocide and crimes against humanity). If Israel is convicted of genocide in the court, it will represent the first time of this happening within the ICJ.
However, many have asked what will happen if the ICJ does actually convict Israel of genocide. While the ICJ’s decisions ca, technically, be binding, it has no means of actually enforcing its decisions and rulings. Meaning, if Israel is ordered by the court to stop it’s offensive on the grounds that it is committing genocide, it is a realistic possibility that they could just ignore the ruling, and the ICJ cant do much about it.
The ICJ ruling against Israel, however, could drastically increase pressure against both Israel and the US to halt the Israeli offensive, as well as bring about potential UN sanctions against Israel, though it is unclear how such sanctions would fare when the US has veto powers within the UN.
South Africa on December 29th filed an 84 page court case against Israel, accusing it of genocide based upon its actions in the Gaza strip. The case may be read about in great detail in an article by this publication here.