Egypt to Join South Africa’s ICJ Case Against Israel

Egypt has announced they will be formally joining South Africa’s case against Israel in the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The case by South Africa accuses Israel of carrying out genocide in Gaza.

An Expanding Case

Egypt announced their decision to join the case was a result of “the worsening severity and scope of Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilians.”

“The submission … comes in light of the worsening severity and scope of Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, and the continued perpetration of systematic practices against the Palestinian people, including direct targeting of civilians and the destruction of infrastructure in the Strip, and pushing Palestinians to flee” -An excerpt from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Statement

Egypt’s announcement on Sunday came after several days of Israeli bombardments and ground operations in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. Particularly notable in Israeli operations is the Israeli seizure of the Rafah border crossing, which lies on the border between Gaza and Egypt. Egypt staunchly condemned the Israeli operation, and has reportedly refused to coordinate with Israel on aid deliveries since then. When Israel seized the crossing, it closed, and has remained as such.

Egypt has long condemned Israel’s invasion of Gaza, and in particular had previously warned against an operation in Rafah.

Egypt’s entry into the case is likely to have significant ramifications on relations between Egypt and Israel. The two nations have a unique relationship; Egypt was the first Arab nation to recognize and sign a peace deal with Israel, and thus has been paramount in Israel’s efforts to normalize relations with the Arab world. Egypt was a previous participant in Israel’s blockade of Gaza following Hamas’ takeover of the strip in 2007.

A photo of a highly damaged hall in the Islamic University of Gaza (Photo from Dawoud Abu Alkas/Reuters).

Relations have been extensively strained since the war began on October 7th, with Egypt being vocally critical of Israel’s conduct in the war.

Egypt’s announcement follows the formal entry of Libya into the case several days earlier, on May 10th, and Colombia’s formal entry a few days before that, on May 5th. Turkey has also announced their intention to join the case, although they have not officially done so. Earlier in the case, Turkey had stated they would be offering evidence to South Africa in order to support their case against Israel.

Both Colombia and Turkey have been some of the most vocal critics of Israel during the war.

Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro has accused Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu specifically, of committing genocide. Colombia suspended arms purchases from Israel over the matter, and President Petro suspended diplomatic relations between the two nations over the matter completely.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has similarly accused Israel, and again Netanyahu specifically, of genocide on several occasions. Turkish officials have met with Hamas leadership in person in Turkey during the war, and have held phone calls with Hamas officials on several occasions, most recently last week when Hamas announced they had agreed to a ceasefire proposal offered by mediators in Egypt. It is worth noting that an Israeli delegation was not present at the negotiations that produced this proposal, after Netanyahu refused to send a delegation. Israel promptly refused the proposal Hamas had accepted, as it would have called for a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and a complete end to the war, largely akin to previous ceasefire proposals offered by Hamas.

While Erdogan’s rhetoric towards Israel and Netanyahu were in staunch opposition to their conduct over the war, Turkey had been drawing significant criticism for still maintaining a trade relationship with Israel. Turkey announced at the beginning of May the severance of trade, import and export, with Israel.

The Case

The case which Egypt has announced their intention to join was initially filed by South Africa at the end of December. The case accuses Israel of committing genocide within Gaza, and sought several provisional measures to be brought against Israel.

Initially, South Africa was seeking a court order for Israel to halt the war completely, take action to prevent genocide, and allow in humanitarian aid, among other things.

Later in January the court ruled on the provisional measures, and while they did not order Israel to halt their war, they did order them to take action to prevent genocide and allow in humanitarian aid. Furthermore, the court ruled that there was the “plausibility” of genocide.

A Pro-Palestinian protest watches the ICJ’s ruling live, January 26th, 2024 (Photo from Patrick Post/AP Photo).

Notably, the ruling of the plausibility of genocide is not an affirmation nor a denial of South Africa’s accusations, but largely served as a means of continuing the case based upon this plausibility. Thus far in the case, the court has only ruled upon provisional measures sought by South Africa. The wider case on the accusation of violations of the genocide convention could take years. Also notable is the fact that this plausibility served for Nicaragua’s own case against Germany, in which they accuse Germany of being complicit in Israel’s alleged genocide due to German political and material support for Israel, as well as the German cessation of funding for the UNRWA.

In late March the ICJ once again ruled on provisional measures, ordering Israel to expand humanitarian aid in Gaza. This order came as famine conditions were being reported within several areas in Gaza, primarily the north.

The case has had recent developments as well. On the same day that Libya officially filed their intervention, May 10th, South Africa petitioned the court for emergency measures to be instated in order to prevent an Israeli military incursion into Rafah, as well as allow unimpeded access of the UN and other aid groups into Gaza. South Africa requested the court rule on these provisional measures by May 17th, within one week, given the urgency of the matter, although there is no guarantee the court will do so.

A photo of South Africa’s legal team at the South Africa v Israel ICJ case (Photo from AN/ICJ).

Rafah was previously established earlier in the war by Israel to be a safe zone. As such, many civilians displaced from northern areas of Gaza had evacuated to the city. Before Israeli operations began there on Tuesday, the city had been host to approximately 1.4 million people. Since evacuations were ordered by the IDF on Monday, around 300,000 people have reportedly evacuated from Rafah, with tens of thousands more evacuating daily.

Israel’s operation in Rafah had been on the horizon for weeks. Many different nations, including the US and other traditional Israeli allies, had condemned the prospect of the operation, saying it would be too costly in civilian casualties and too damaging to humanitarian operations, given Rafah’s high civilian population and importance in humanitarian operations in Gaza, although this role has effectively been rendered null with Israel’s seizure of the Rafah crossing.

Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray
Sébastien Gray is a published journalist and historicist with over 5 years experience in writing. His primary focus is on East and West African affairs.


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