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South Africa's ICJ case against Israel is a challenge to the West's ‘rules-based order’

January 16, 2024 at 9:26 am

Public hearings in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands on January 11, 2024 [Selman Aksünger/Anadolu Agency]

All eyes are fixed on the International Court of Justice (ICJ), as it begins its deliberations on whether or not South Africa’s application to halt Israel’s genocide in Gaza is compelling enough to succeed. South Africa’s monumental submission to the UN’s highest judicial institution positions its case as a defining moment in the history of international relations post World War Two.

The decision awaited by the world either to uphold the provision of the Convention on Genocide by instructing the settler-colonial entity to halt its savage slaughter in Gaza, or to reject SA’s case, will inform the people of the world whether trusting in international institutions for justice is valid or not. The case is not only against the Zionist state of Israel, but it is also a challenge to the West’s “rule-based order”.

In the court of public opinion, there is no doubt that the arguments advanced by Pretoria’s highly professional team of lawyers led by the world-renowned doyen of international law, Professor John Dugard, makes it extremely difficult for the ICJ not to grant the order. In a remarkable display of solidarity for Palestine and in keeping with its international obligation to prevent the ongoing butchery of innocent lives resulting from Israel’s relentless bombardments in the besieged Gaza Strip, the South African government filed an application to the UN’s highest judicial arm.

The three-hour submission by the South African legal team kept the world enthralled by the sheer sophistication, detailed research and classic articulation of each of the six dignified legal experts.

There is no doubt that it kept the global audience in awe of the compelling arguments put forward, which revealed to the world that instituting genocide proceedings against Israel was for “acts threatened, adopted, condoned, taken, and being taken by the Government and military of the State of Israel against the Palestinian people.”

OPINION: South Africa at the ICJ paved the way forward

In his opening argument for South Africa, Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi drew attention to Israel’s genocidal intent by making it known that South Africa is not alone in taking this hugely important step. “Fifteen United Nations Special Rapporteurs and 21 members of the United Nations Working Groups have warned that what is happening in Gaza reflects ‘a genocide in the making’ and an overt intent to ‘destroy the Palestinian people under occupation’,” he explained.

South Africa released its 84-page document giving details of the case prior to the hearing at the ICJ in The Hague. In graphic and heart-wrenching detail, the document points to a comprehensively researched compilation that describes a litany of Israeli actions as “genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent… to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial, and ethnical group.”

As expected, much of the public discourse that followed the release of the 84-pager, centred on the definition of genocide.

Although it became apparent that South Africa’s watertight case and its interpretation of the concept of genocide was in conformity with the legal requisites of the Convention on Genocide, spoilers from the Netanyahu camp sought to discredit it. The apartheid state’s hangers-on within South Africa’s Zionist establishment, including a handful of political parties, right-wing analysts and a few prejudiced journalists, sought not only to question the veracity of the content, but also to profile it as biased in favour of Hamas.

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However, an overwhelming number of media platforms such as the Intercept.Com proclaimed it to be “meticulous,” and offering “an overview of a murderous campaign waged against a civilian population under the fraudulent cover of self-defence.”

The case papers set out the horrifying scope of Israel’s destruction in Gaza of human life, civilian infrastructure, history and culture, and paint a devastating picture of the grave conditions faced by those Palestinians who have managed to survive.

However, to cloud and confound the public discourse, Israel’s hasbara (propaganda) lobbyists keep injecting red-herrings by insisting that South Africa’s ICJ filing fell short on the question of genocide. Such expected propaganda aside, though, the definition of genocide as explained by legal experts is unambiguous and straightforward: “To qualify as genocide or attempted genocide, two things are required. First, the specific intent of the perpetrator to destroy all or part of an identified national, ethnical, racial, or religious group. Second, commission of at least one of five specified acts designed to make that happen.”

As it turned out, South Africa’s petition to the ICJ as described by an overwhelming number of objective analysts and legal minds was that it was “filled with clear and horrifically compelling examples, identifying Israeli actions that match at least three of the five acts that constitute genocide when linked to specific intent.”

Those include killing members of the group, causing serious physical or mental harm to members of the group, and, perhaps most indicative of genocidal purpose, creating “conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction.”

READ: Israel must know that there are limits to right to self-defence: Ex-Austrian president

When South Africa’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusimuzi Madonsela, opened the proceedings at The Hague, his memorable opening statement — “South Africa has recognised the ongoing Nakba against the Palestinian people” — set the tone for the hearing.

There is now a distinct possibility that Benjamin Netanyahu’s invoking of a Biblical text — “You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible,1 Samuel 15:3: ‘Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling…’” — may come back to bite him.

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