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Impact of South Africa versus Israel genocide case before the World Court

February 1, 2024 at 8:10 am

A view from the court as parties attend session on the day the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rule on Gaza genocide case against Israel made by South Africa in the Hague, the Netherlands on January 26, 2024. [Dursun Aydemir – Anadolu Agency]

When South Africa filed its case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing Israel of violating the International Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, few observers saw the repercussions of the case on the rest of the world. In the Global South, the case not only made history, but also empowered other colonial victims to consider the ICJ as a potential venue to hold their former colonial powers to account. At the same time, it empowered the Convention, itself long ignored in conflicts.

Most countries in Africa, Asia and America side with South Africa simply because most such countries, at one point in their history, were victims of colonial subjugation. The case also rang bells across the world that international law must be upheld and not one country is above it.

At the same time, leading Western powers voiced their support for Israel by simply asking the ICJ to dismiss the case. US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, dismissed the case because it “distracts the world from important efforts for peace and security”, he said, without informing the world about such “efforts” which have failed the Palestinians for the last seven decades. The United Kingdom, the former colonial power behind the creation of Israel, was more hypocritical, as usual with the shrewd British diplomacy, issued a statement claiming that South Africa was wrong to “describe Israel’s actions in Gaza” as “genocide”, without offering a more suitable description.

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This pro-Israeli position from both the US and the UK, as staunch allies of Israel, was expected. But what really surprised almost every informed observer is the position of Germany. Berlin not only dismissed the case as “political instrumentalisation” of the UN Genocide Convention, but went a step further, asking for permission to intervene on behalf of Israel as a third party — an unusual step in the ICJ proceedings.

Among those really shocked by Berlin’s position is Namibian President, Dr. Hage Geingob. Posting on X, he said that “Germany cannot morally express commitment” to the UN Convention against Genocide “whilst supporting the equivalent of a “holocaust” Gaza”. Clearly the Namibian leader saw not only a parallel in the case against Israel to his own country’s struggle, but also clear contradiction on the part of Germany.

Namibia, after all, was the first victim of the first, well-documented genocide in the 20th century, perpetrated by no other county but Germany.

In just four years of occupation, between 1904 and 1908, Nazi Germany killed some 70,000 civilians from the people of the Herero and Nama tribes, in part of today’s Namibia. In some cases, the gruesome murderous campaign took the easiest form by besieging civilians in their straw-covered huts and setting them ablaze. German soldiers also killed people by simply leaving them in the harsh Kalahari Desert, hanging them, shooting them or rounding them up in concentration camps and leaving them to die of hunger and disease, decades before the Holocaust and years before fascist Italy used concentration camps to murder thousands in Libya—another African country. On a typical day, German soldiers would murder anywhere between 40 and 50 civilians, including women and children. Their crime was: resisting German occupation! Faced with resilient resistance to its colonisation project, starting in 1884, Germany resorted to inhumane and savage ways to subdue the population.  While Germany compensated the Jews, starting in 1952 and, by 2022, it has already paid a staggering €82 billion ($89 billion) to Israel, but it had refused to recognise what it did in Namibia as genocide, until 2015, when it apologised and accepted to pay only €1.1 billion ($1.2 billion) in reparations.

Namibia has nothing to gain from taking a pro-Palestinian position in the genocide case brought by South Africa, but doing so is a matter of principle and shared history. Both Namibia and Palestine were victims of the most brutal colonisation. When Israel was created, Namibia was already under apartheid South African occupation. And, being of a similar nature, the regimes of both Tel Aviv and Pretoria were natural bedfellows, bringing the struggling Palestinians, Namibian and South African liberations movements closer together. This explains why the late Nelson Mandela, in 1997, said “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

The South Africa versus Israel case before the ICJ is likely to resonate further across the Global South, isolating Israel more than it has already been. It also puts renewed pressure on all former colonial powers, particularly those supporting Israel, like the UK, to show their adherence to international law as they seek ways to reconcile their irreconcilable positions of supporting Israel, while denying support to the Palestinians, who are the victims of violations of international law.

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The case further highlights that Germany and other pro-Israel countries have failed to learn the lessons of history, while States like Namibia, South Africa and Palestine did learn that solidarity always pays.

On the other hand, neither Namibia nor any other country in the Global South is under the illusion that Israel will adhere to the ICJ ruling demanding it to make sure not to commit genocide, among other measures, let alone implement it. The entire world knows only too well that Israel has never, in its entire 75 years history, respected, let alone implemented, any UN legal decisions against it, including the ruling of the ICJ.  In 2004, the ICJ ordered Israel to dismantle its Separation Wall and compensate Palestinians for their losses because of it. Until today, Israel is yet to accept and implement that ruling.

The next legal grilling of Israel is due on the 19 of this month, when the ICJ will start hearing on the nature of Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem, with Indonesia and tiny Slovenia leading the legal fight against Israel, backed by over 60 States. This case is the second part of the initial case about the nature of the Israeli Occupation and the legality of the Separation Wall. The Court has already declared the Wall was illegal and must be destroyed and, this time, it is very likely to declare the Israeli Occupation as illegal, too, as the ICJ is unlikely to contradict its earlier ruling.

Israel chose to participate in the proceedings this time, unlike in 2004 when it refused to take part. Regardless of the ICJ ruling this time, the fact that Israel is being forced to appear before the World Court for the second time in the space of a few weeks increases its isolation and further puts its allies under the blaring spotlight of embarrassment and unethical conduct.

The South Africa case and the upcoming ICJ proceedings in 18 days’ time, also empowers the long ignored Genocide Convention and the brutality of colonisation—essentially, it is colonialism that led to all Israeli legal nightmares.

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