The first day of a two-day hearing in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ended with the presentations of lawyers appearing for the petition.
The first day of the hearing started with a reading of South Africa’s case against Israel and the demand that Israel should immediately cease its military operations in Gaza.
Outside the court, pro-Palestinian demonstrators called for an end to Israel’s genocidal war.
South Africa stated before the court that more than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip since October 7 and sought injunction against Israel to stop the war
While the hearing was taking place, the Israeli forces killed more than 100 Palestinians and injured nearly 200, as the Gaza Ministry of Health said on Thursday.
“South Africa acknowledges that the genocidal acts and permissions by the state of Israel inevitably form part of a continuum of illegal acts perpetrated against the people, Palestinian people since 1948,” Vusimuzi Madonsela, Pretoria’s ambassador to the Netherlands said.
Adila Hassim, one of the lawyers representing South Africa’s case, explained to the judges what she believes were a series of violations of the Genocide Convention, which Israel is a party to.
“South Africa contends that Israel has transgressed Article 2 of the convention by committing actions that fall within the definition of genocide. The actions show systematic patterns of conduct from which genocide can be inferred,” she said.
She continued her presentation by listing a number of “genocidal acts” committed by Israel.
The “first genocidal act is the mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza”, she said.
She produced photographs and video footage of mass graves where “often unidentified” bodies were buried.
Showing heart wrenching visuals she added that no one, including newborns, was spared.
The second genocidal act according to her was the serious physical or mental harm inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza.
She stated that Israel’s relentless bombing has left around 60,000 Palestinians seriously wounded and many of them have been mutilated, and the majority of them are women and children.
Hassim argued that all these acts were in violation of Article 2B of the Genocide Convention.
“Large numbers of Palestinian civilians, including children, have been arrested, blindfolded, forced to undress, loaded onto trucks and taken to unknown locations,” she added.
Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, the second lawyer representing South Africa, argued that “Israel’s political leaders, military commanders and persons holding official positions have systematically and in explicit terms declared their genocidal intent.”
He reminded the court of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments on October 28.
He claimed that Netanyahu made an explicit call for genocide as he urged the
troops preparing to enter Gaza to “remember what Amalek has done to you.”
“This refers to the biblical command by God to Saul for the retaliatory destruction of an entire group of people,” Ngcukaitobi said.
He further pointed out how other Israeli parliament members repeatedly made public calls for Gaza to be totally destroyed, erased and wiped out from the face of earth, the lawyer argued.
“Soldiers believe that this language and their actions are acceptable because the destruction of Palestinian life in Gaza is articulated state policy,” Ngcukaitobi said.
After the readings, the second part of the first day’s hearing moved to the question of jurisdiction.
John Dugard, a South African legal expert, observed that the obligations under the Genocide Convention are “erga omnes, or obligations owed to the international community as a whole”.
“State parties to this convention are obliged not only to desist from genocidal acts but also to prevent them,” Dugard said. He added that South Africa tried to reach the Israeli government via the embassy before filing the case.
Max du Plessis, another lawyer from the South African side, emphasised how UN bodies, legal sholars as well as human rights organisations, institutions and states “have collectively considered the acts committed by Israel to be genocidal or at the very least warned that the Palestinian people [are] at risk of genocide”.
South Africa’s legal representatives urged the court to intervene in real time and prevent further escalation of Israel’s war crimes.
They said that at this stage, protection of Palestinian lives deserves the primary attention before looking into the other technical aspects of the case.
At the same time, Israel reiterates its position that it is acting in self-defence against Hamas.
South Africa’s delegation highlighted the shallowness of the “self-defence” argument, which has been used as a tool to justify the mass murdering of civilians including children and women.
In addition, they noted that Hamas is not a state and cannot be a party to the Genocide Convention or to the proceedings at The Hague.
The three hours long descriptions of South African team comprehensively presented the case of genocide before the court was adjourned.
Though the verdict or directions issued by the ICJ may have little effect on the war. It is expected that at least a significant amount of pressure could be exerted on the supporters of Israel, including the United States, who continues to term South Africa’s allegations as “baseless”.
The hearing will resume today (Friday), and the judges will listen to Israel’s arguments in their defence against South Africa’s case.