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South Africa Has Sued Israel At The International Court Of Justice For Committing Genocide In Gaza

"No armed attack on a state territory, no matter how serious, even an attack involving atrocity crimes can provide any justification for or defense to breaches to the [Genocide] Convention."

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the world’s top court, has begun a hearing to determine whether Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza after South Africa instituted a case.

On Dec. 29, 2023, the South African government formally sued the Israeli government at the ICJ, saying that Israel is committing “genocidal acts” against Palestinians in Gaza.

South Africa filed an 84-page document that it says presents evidence that Israel has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention, an international treaty created in the aftermath of the Holocaust that has been signed by 152 states, including both Israel and South Africa.

The convention, which makes genocide a crime, mandates all countries prevent genocide from happening again.

It defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnic, racial or religious group”, including:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately imposing living conditions intended to destroy the group
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

South Africa has accused Israel of committing the first four acts and is urging the court to institute an emergency order, to stop Israel from committing further crimes in Gaza as an official judgement may take years.

The hearing began on Thursday Jan. 11, with South Africa’s justice minister, Ronald Lamola, delivering the opening statement to the court.

“‘In extending our hands across the miles to the people of Palestine, we do so in full knowledge that we are part of a humanity’,” Lamola said. “These were the words of our founding president Nelson Mandela. This is the spirit in which South Africa acceded to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1998.”

He said that the violence and destruction in Palestine and Israel did not begin on Oct. 7, 2023, when Israel declared war on Hamas after it launched a surprise attack.

“The Palestinians have experienced systematic oppression and violence for the last 76 years, on October 6, 2023, and every day since October 7, 2023,” Lamola said.

“In the Gaza Strip, at least since 2004, Israel continues to exercise control over the airspace, territorial waters, land crossings, water, electricity and civilian infrastructure, as well as key government functions,” he said. “Entry and exit by air is strictly prohibited, with Israel operating the only two crossing points.”

As a result of Israel’s continual control, this has led Gaza to be still considered by the international community to be under belligerent occupation by Israel, he said.

Lamola went on to say that South Africa had condemned Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7 but added that no armed attack on a state, no matter how serious, can provide justification for committing genocide.

He said that Israel’s response to Hamas’ attack has “crossed this line and given rise to the breaches of the convention.”

“Faced with such evidence and our duty to do what we can do to prevent genocide, as contained in Article 1 of the Convention, the South African government initiated this case,” he said.

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