South Africa has officially submitted a case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Israel of committing “genocidal acts” in the Gaza Strip.
The United Nations court has confirmed the initiation of proceedings, focusing on alleged breaches of Israel’s obligations under the Genocide Convention.
Israel vehemently denies the accusation, dismissing it as “baseless” and expressing strong opposition to what it calls a “blood libel” spread by South Africa.
ICJ’s Role and South Africa’s Statement
The ICJ, based in The Hague, Netherlands, serves as the principal legal body of the United Nations, resolving disputes between states and providing advisory opinions on international legal matters. South Africa, in its application to the ICJ, emphasized its obligation “to prevent genocide from occurring.” The country expressed grave concerns about civilian suffering in Gaza due to what it perceives as indiscriminate force and forcible removal of inhabitants.
Genocidal Allegations and Requested Measures
South Africa’s 84-page document argues that the “acts and omissions by Israel” are “genocidal in character,” intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnic group. The application requests an expedited ICJ hearing and urges the court to indicate several “provisional measures,” including a cessation of all Israeli military activities in Gaza.
Israel’s Response and Counterclaims
Israel’s foreign affairs ministry spokesperson, Lior Haiat, denounced South Africa’s claim as a “despicable and contemptuous exploitation of the Court.” He accused South Africa of cooperating with a terrorist organization (Hamas) and emphasized that Israel directs its military efforts against terrorist entities. Haiat stated that Israel is committed to international law, endeavors to minimize harm to non-involved individuals in Gaza, and facilitates humanitarian aid.
Deterioration of Diplomatic Relations
The ongoing conflict has strained diplomatic relations between South Africa and Israel. In November, South Africa recalled all its diplomats from Israel, prompting a reciprocal move from Israel recalling its ambassador from Pretoria. The South African national assembly voted to suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel, although the government has not yet formally responded to the vote.
Previous Referral to the ICC
South Africa had previously filed a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding alleged war crimes by Israel in Gaza. The ICC investigates and prosecutes individuals charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Israel does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.
Background of the Conflict
The current conflict between Israel and Hamas was triggered by a Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7, resulting in casualties and hostages.
The situation has led to a significant loss of life in Gaza, with over 21,500 people reported killed, predominantly children and women, during Israeli retaliatory attacks, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.