‘Gaza genocide’: ICJ hearing South Africa’s case against Israel concludes

Team India Sentinels Friday 12th of January 2024 09:19 PM

Judges at the ICJ hearing South Africa’s case against Israel on Gaza. (Photo via X)  

New Delhi: The International Court of Justice in The Hague has concluded hearing a case, on Friday, brought by South Africa against Israel for war crimes in Gaza under the 1951 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), or the Genocide Convention in short. The case called upon the UN-mandated court to order Israel to stop its military campaign against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

South Africa was supported by Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Morocco, Namibia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Venezuela in this case. Apart from these individual countries, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation had also extended their support to South Africa.

South Africa, in its case, argued that Israel’s Gaza campaign is aimed at the systematic destruction of a large segment of the Palestinian population by mass and indiscriminate killings of civilians, infliction of physical and mental harm, and imposition of living conditions that makes their survival in Gaza impossible.

On the first day of the hearing, on Thursday, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, a lawyer representing South Africa, said, “The evidence of genocidal intent is not only chilling, it is also overwhelming and incontrovertible.”

As a part of the plea, South Africa is also requesting the ICJ to instruct Israel to cease its military operations in the besieged and battered Palestinian enclave.

The court has 15 judges from different countries who are appointed for nine-year terms through elections at the UN general assembly and the security council. In the hearing of this case, they were joined by former Israeli supreme court president Aharon Barak and South Africa’s deputy chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke to have each side’s representation in the bench.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch also said Israel’s war on Gaza has included “acts of collective punishment that amount to war crimes”.

Israel rejects charges

On the second day of the hearing at the ICJ, on Friday, Israel rejected South Africa’s accusations against it at the court. Israel’s representatives in the court termed South Africa’s case as “absurd”, “unfounded”, and amounting to “libel”. They said Israel sought to protect its own people and not to destroy the Gaza Palestinians.

They argued that “Israel has acted in compliance with international law in Gaza” and tried to mitigate civilian casualties by warning them of military actions in advance through phone calls and dropping leaflets.

Christopher Staker, one of the lawyers representing Israel, said, “The inevitable fatalities and human suffering of any conflict is not of itself a pattern of conduct that plausibly shows genocidal intent.”

Malcolm Shaw, a professor of international law representing Israel, said if the charge of genocide, which “stands alone among violations of international law as the epitome of evil”, against Israel is levelled wrongly, “the essence of this crime would be lost”.

On bombing Gaza hospitals, Galit Raguan from the Israeli justice ministry told the court that Israel had unearthed evidence of Hamas using “every single hospital in Gaza” for military purposes.

In response to Raguan’s statement in court, Ammar Hijazi from the Palestinian foreign ministry, speaking to an Al Jazeera reporter, said, “What Israel has provided today are many of the already debunked lies.”

Israel tries to discredit South Africa at The Hague

Israel also tried to discredit South Africa during the ICJ hearing by questioning Pretoria’s motives. An Israeli foreign ministry legal adviser, Tal Becker, told the ICJ that South Africa enjoyed close relations with Hamas and was therefore attempting to paint a “distorted factual and legal picture”.

South Africa rejected the claim and said its support for the Palestinian struggle against occupation does not mean that it supports Hamas.

It is noteworthy that, on Thursday, South Africa’s representatives in The Hague also condemned Hamas’s raid in Israel on October 7.

Hearing ends

The ICJ hearing on South Africa’s case against Israel ended after the representatives of the two sides put forward their arguments and counterarguments for two consecutive days, on Friday. Joan Donoghue, ICJ president, said the court will announce its decision in the coming days.

‘Gaza daily deaths top other major conflicts in 21st century’

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza soon after Hamas’s raid in Israel on October 7, 2023, has killed nearly 24,000 and wounded nearly 60,000 Palestinians in the besieged enclave, so far. Many thousands are missing and believed to be trapped under the debris of the buildings that were bombed, with almost all of them presumed to be dead.

On October 7, 2023, armed Hamas militants raided Israeli military stations, settlements, and kibbutzim, killing between 1,100 and 1,200 Israelis, including civilians. Many Israeli civilians were killed by Israeli fire after being caught in crossfire or identified mistakenly by Israeli forces who responded to the raid.

Hamas fighters also took around 250 hostages back to Gaza. Since then, the armed Palestinian group has released most of the foreigners and civilians taken as hostages. Most of the hostages in Hamas’s captivity are now serving Israeli military personnel or military reservists.

Since Israel started its military campaign in Gaza in retaliation for Hamas’s raid, tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians, mostly children and women, have been killed and northern Gaza has almost been razed, displacing over a million people to the south of the strip. Now, Israel has intensified its bombing in south Gaza after razing the north.

The killings and destruction have been so widespread in Gaza that Britain-based charity Oxfam, on Thursday, said the daily death toll of Palestinians in Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has surpassed that of any other major conflict in the 21st century.

In a statement, Oxfam said: “Israel’s military is killing Palestinians at an average rate of 250 people a day, which massively exceeds the daily death toll of any other major conflict of recent years.” “In addition, over 1,200 people were killed in the horrific attacks by Hamas and other armed groups in Israel on 7 October and 330 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since then,” it added.

Oxfam then provided a comparison of average deaths in other conflicts since the turn of this century. The figures are: 96.5 in Syria, 51.6 in Sudan, 50.8 in Iraq, 43.9 in Ukraine, 23.8 in Afghanistan, and 15.8 in Yemen.

According to Oxfam, the situation is exacerbated by Israel’s strict restrictions on the delivery of aid to Gaza, allowing only a mere 10 per cent of the required weekly food aid to reach the region. This restriction significantly increases the threat of starvation for those who manage to endure the continuous bombardment.

Human Rights Watch says Israel committed ‘war crimes’

The Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2024 said civilians in Gaza have been “targeted, attacked, abused, and killed over the past year at a scale unprecedented in the recent history of Israel and Palestine”. It said Israel’s acts of “collective punishment” in Gaza amount to “war crimes”, which include the “use of starvation as a method of warfare.

Omar Shakir, HRW director for Israel and Palestine, also criticized Hamas’s October 7 raid along with assailing Israel’s military actions in retaliation to Hamas’s actions that day. He said, “The heinous crimes carried out by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups since October 7 are the abhorrent legacy of decades-long impunity for unlawful attacks and Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, late on Thursday, the US and its allies launched sea and air attacks against the Houthi rebel group, Ansar Allah, in Yemen as a response to the group’s targeting of Israel-linked ships in the shipping lanes of Gulf of Aden and Red Sea. The Houthis demand that Israel stopped its Gaza campaign and allow aid into the besieged Palestinian enclave. The coalition said it carried out over 60 strikes on Houthi targets inside Yemen.

[Full India Sentinels report here.]

This is seen as a dangerous escalation of the security situation in the Middle East, which is already volatile with the Muslim population in the countries in the region are seething with anger over Israel’s military campaign against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which they see as an ongoing genocide.

Editor’s note: India Sentinels publishes, from time to time, world news and op-eds, depending upon their gravity and impact on global security and diplomacy.

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