Mint Explainer: Why has South Africa taken Israel to the International Court of Justice? | Mint

Mint Explainer: Why has South Africa taken Israel to the ICJ?

South Africa's minister of justice Ronald Lamola and ambassador to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela at the International Court of Justice on Thursday. Photo: AFP
South Africa's minister of justice Ronald Lamola and ambassador to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela at the International Court of Justice on Thursday. Photo: AFP

Summary

  • South Africa accusing Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinian people with its military campaigns in Gaza. Israel has pushed back strongly against the allegations.

South Africa has taken Israel to the international Court of justice, alleging that the country is committing genocide against the Palestinians. The case has attracted much global attention. 

Israel has pushed back strongly against the allegations, but the hearings may raise pointed questions about the statements of Israeli politicians on the future of the Palestinians and Gaza.

Mint breaks down the developments.

What happened?

South Africa has brought a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice the Hague, accusing it of committing genocide against the Palestinian people with its military campaigns in Gaza. 

Israel’s armed offensive in Gaza began after the 7 October attacks by Hamas, which killed around 1,200 people. However, Israel has attracted considerable criticism globally as its retaliatory strikes have killed more than 20,000 people, by some estimates. Statements by Israeli right-wing politicians, many of whom have served in important positions in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, were perceived seen as advocating for the widespread displacement of the Palestinian people.

What did South Africa say at the ICJ?

South Africa has accused Israel of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention adopted by the UN General Assembly. 

“The acts and omissions by Israel complained of by South Africa are genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group, that being the part of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip," reads the 84-page South African application. 

In recent days, South Africa's legal team at the Hague has argued that Israel’s top political leadership and its military have carried out their attacks with the aim of destroying Gaza.

How will Israel respond?

While Israel’s defence will be heard on Friday, its top political leadership has pushed back against South Africa’s allegations, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticising South Africa for its “hypocrisy". 

Israeli authorities have said their goal is to destroy Hamas, not to inflict casualties on Gaza’s civilians. It may also point to Hamas’s use of civilian infrastructure as a reason for the large number of civilian deaths from its airstrikes. 

It may also argue that objectionable statements made by Israeli politicians do not reflect the view of the government.

What could the ICJ hearing achieve?

The ICJ is the UN’s top legal body, with 15 judges from across the world, and mainly deals with disputes between states.

In this case, South Africa has asked the court to order Israel to stop its military campaign and remove its troops from Gaza. The court will first decide whether it has the jurisdiction to rule on the issue. This will allow it to pass temporary orders related to South Africa’s request. 

A final decision on the main allegations raised by South Africa will take longer. While ICJ rulings are binding, they may not be enforceable. However, ruling against Israel would increase the international pressure to halt its military campaign.

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