South Africa slams Israel at ICJ for genocidal acts

“Genocides are never declared in advance but this court has the benefit of the past 13 weeks of evidence that shows, incontrovertibly, a pattern of conduct and related intention that justifies a plausible claim of genocidal acts.

“Israel has killed an unparalleled and unprecedented number of civilians, with the full knowledge of how many civilian lives each bomb [dropped] will take.

“More than 1,800 Palestinian families in Gaza have lost multiple family members and hundreds of multi-generational families have been wiped out with no remaining survivors. Mothers, fathers, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, cousins, often all killed together.

“In the first three weeks alone, following Oct. 7, Israel deployed 6,000 bombs per week. At least 200 times it has deployed 2,000-lb bombs in the southern area of Palestine designed to be safe. These bombs also decimated the north, including refugee camps. 2,000-lb bombs are some of the most destructive bombs available.

“This killing is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life. It is inflicted deliberately. No one is spared. Not even newborn babies.”

That was what South Africa’s legal panel told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague last Thursday, as it asked the United Nations’ top court to immediately order Israel to stop further attacks in the Gaza Strip.

The legal panel is headed by John Dugard, reputedly one of South Africa’s foremost international law experts. Notably, he was recently UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Occupied Palestinian territory and served as ad hoc ICJ judge in the 2000s.

It was the first of two-day hearings, set by the ICJ, on South Africa’s case against Israel for “genocidal intent.” As I was writing this yesterday, it was Israel’s turn to respond. Both sides are given three hours to present their cases. Judgment is usually reserved until later, but it could come within weeks, according to the Guardian.

Ahead of the hearing, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video clip wherein he asserted that Israel was fighting Hamas, not the Palestinian population, and acting in full compliance with international law. “Israel has no intention,” he said, “of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population.”

Outside the court, Israel held a series of events including a “peace march,” exhibits featuring Israeli hostages still held by Hamas and interviews with relatives of the hostages. Palestinian supporters, for their part, made their own lively presentations.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, consisting of 57 member-countries, has welcomed South Africa’s case against Israel, with individual member-states declaring their support. Meantime, Belgium’s deputy prime minister, Petra De Sutter, tweeted that she wanted her country “to take action at the ICC, following the lead of South Africa.”

In its opening address to the 15-member ICJ, South Africa said that it has long recognized the repression and dispersal or “Nakba” of the Palestinian people which has been ongoing through Israel’s colonization since 1948. It stated:

“(Israel) systematically and forcibly dispossessed, displaced and fragmented the Palestinian people, deliberately denying them the internationally recognized inalienable right to self-determination and their internationally recognized rights to return as refugees to their towns and villages in what is now the state of Israel.

“We are also particularly mindful of Israel’s institutionalized regime of discriminatory laws, policies and practices designed and maintained to establish domination, subjecting the Palestinian people to apartheid on both sides of the ‘Green line’ separating Gaza Strip from the West Bank.”

Decades-long impunity for “widespread and systematic” human rights violations, South Africa noted, has emboldened Israel in its “recurrence and intensification of humanitarian crimes in Palestine.”

Acknowledging that “the genocidal acts and omissions by the state of Israel inevitably form part of a continuum of illegal acts perpetrated against the Palestinian people since 1948,” the case filed at the ICJ “places Israel’s genocidal acts and omissions within the broader context of Israel’s 25-year apartheid, 56-year occupation and 16-year siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.”

Adila Hassim, South Africa’s highest court advocate and legal team member, laid out before the ICJ specific Israeli violations of the Genocide Convention of 1948:

• Large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including children, are arrested, blindfolded, forced to undress and loaded onto trucks taken to unknown locations. The suffering of the Palestinian people, physical and mental, is undeniable.

• Israel has deliberately imposed conditions on Gaza that cannot sustain life and are calculated to bring about its physical destruction by displacement. Israel has forced the displacement of about 85 percent of Palestinians in Gaza. There is nowhere safe for them to flee to.

• Israel’s first evacuation order on Oct. 13 required the evacuation of over one million people, including children, the elderly, the wounded and the infirm. The order itself was genocidal. It required immediate movement, taking only what could be carried while no humanitarian assistance was permitted. And fuel, water and food and other necessities of life had deliberately been cut off. It was clearly calculated to bring about the destruction of the population.

Furthermore, South Africa offered evidence of the “mass killing” of Palestinians within Gaza by Israel, which it argued constituted genocide:

• Palestinians have been killed by the relentless Israeli bombings “wherever they sought shelter:” in schools, in hospitals, in mosques, in churches and as they tried to find food and water for their families. They have been killed if they failed to evacuate, killed in the places to which they have fled and even killed while they attempted to flee along Israeli-declared safe routes.

• The extent of killing is so extensive that bodies have to be buried in mass graves, often unidentified.

As provisional measures, South Africa asked the ICJ to speedily order Israel to cease killing and causing serious mental and bodily harm to Palestinian people in Gaza; to cease deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about the destruction of the Palestinians as a group; to prevent and punish incitement to genocide and to stop restrictions on aid and evacuation directives.

Published in Philippine Star
January 13, 2024

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