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South Africa at the ICJ paved the way forward

January 15, 2024 at 6:00 pm

Supporters of the religious and political party Jamaat-e-Islami attend a demonstration against Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, to show solidarity with Palestinian people, in Karachi, Pakistan on January 14, 2024. [Sabir Mazhar – Anadolu Agency]

We have arrived at a critical juncture following the historic hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where Israel faced charges of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. The war continues ablaze, surpassing 100 horrific days of death and destruction in Gaza. The harrowing death toll of men, women and children in Gaza has exceeded 23,000. Conflict continues to spill into neighbouring countries; with the risk of regional conflagration omnipresent.

In reality, few, if any, governments hold sway with the obstinate right-wing Israeli government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defiantly claims that Israel’s war against Hamas will not be halted by anyone, including the world court: “No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anyone else.”

Anti-Semitism claims are foreshadowed in response to any criticism of Israel’s conduct. Nevertheless, those advocating for a cessation of hostilities refuse to relent, acutely attuned to the stance adopted Millions worldwide are eagerly awaiting a ruling in favour of an injunction order by the ICJ to demand a stop to Israel’s bloodthirsty military campaign. In the interim, it would be foolhardy of any government to ignore the gravity of the claims against Israel. Governments should take heed of the arguments, facts and evidence thoroughly detailed by South Africa at the ICJ. Otherwise, they risk being complicit or aiding and abetting some of the gravest war atrocities known to modern history.

The attacks by Hamas on 7 October were shocking, inflicting deep wounds. They struck a chord in the psyche of the Israeli people for which legal retribution should be sought. However, Israel’s brutal retaliation and quest for vengeance has long gone past justifiable self-defence.

Read: In siding with Zionist genocidaires, Germany ignores its own history of genocide in Namibia

The spotlight is now on the Israeli government’s own responsibilities as an occupying power; the Israeli army’s reckless conduct; and Israel’s human rights violations. The war is likely further endangering the lives of the Israeli hostages as they remain under constant bombardment by the army.

Israel’s reputation has been tarnished at a time when the popularity of Netanyahu has sunk to an all-time low according to opinion polls. It has been suggested that Netanyahu is prolonging the war to delay his own inevitable political demise. Governments who still offer impunity to Israel risk losing standing and moral authority on the global stage.

South Africa seeks justice for Gaza - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor] 

South Africa seeks justice for Gaza – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The compelling case put forward at the ICJ was, at minimum, a symbolic victory. It helped restore morale for Palestinians and their supporters alike. Hope for justice was reignited, as well as a renewed faith in humanity. When watching the ICJ hearing, I was reminded of a quote from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” In other words, one should do the right thing even though the odds may not be promising.

Unless the current Israeli government undergoes a dramatic overhaul, it is unlikely that Israel will exercise restraint or cease hostilities despite South Africa’s convincing case, even in the event of a ruling by the ICJ demanding an end to the genocide. It is equally doubtful that Israel will appease its formidable allies by opting for diplomacy over aggression, if implored to do so. It remains to be seen if justice will prevail for the civilians of Gaza who have been displaced on multiple occasions; lost their homes, livelihoods and family members; whose limbs have been amputated in the absence of anaesthesia; and who have been subjected to unimaginable horrors.

Any subsequent actions by Israel will not detract from the fact that South Africa exercised its moral conscience at the ICJ when no other country was willing to step forward. It may take time for the international community to process and decide on appropriate measures, such as arms embargoes and boycott and divestment strategies, to curb future aggression if they choose to stand on the right side of history. For Palestinians in Gaza, time is a luxury not afforded to them. Death is always lurking in the shadows as they fight to survive Israel’s deadly game of Russian Roulette from which there is no escape.

The image of Israel as a shining beacon of democracy and its army as “the most moral army in the world” have been irrevocably shattered. What remains unchanged, however, is that South Africa sought justice for a densely populated enclave of oppressed people being massacred and starved. South Africa relayed facts and carefully constructed arguments in the context of international law. Most importantly, they gave a voice to Palestinians at the highest court in the world.

Our pleas to our own governments are nominal by comparison: We ask that our political representatives and decision-makers embody at least a fraction of the integrity displayed by the South African legal team at the ICJ. Hence, we implore them to continue to exert pressure on Israel to halt its belligerent aggression and lift its unlawful siege on Gaza. Finally, we demand that Israel respects international humanitarian law. We seek to live in a civilised world, not one that is conducive to genocide or where one country stands perched above the law.

Read: The bombing of Arab capitals reveals who really stands with Palestine

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.