South Africa asks World Court to sanction Israel for genocide in Gaza

Gaza has been reduced to rubble by Israel's  relentless attacks.

Gaza has been reduced to rubble by Israel's relentless attacks. Photo: Getty

South Africa is pleading for an urgent order from the International Court of Justice to end what it says is Israel’s campaign of genocide against Gaza’s civilians.

Israel immediately rejected the genocide claim, describing it as “blood libel” and saying it was scrupulously following international law and conventions in its war on Hamas.

“South Africa is collaborating with a terrorist group that calls for Israel’s destruction,” a statement from the Israeli foreign ministry said.

The ICJ, sometimes known as the World Court, is the United Nations venue for resolving disputes between states.

South Africa’s filing alleged Israel was violating its obligations under the treaty, drafted after the Holocaust, which makes it a crime to attempt to destroy a people in whole or in part.

‘Severe and irreparable harm’

It asked the court to issue provisional, or short-term, measures ordering Israel to stop its military campaign in Gaza, which it said were “necessary in this case to protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people”.

No date has been set for a hearing.

While the ICJ in The Hague is considered the UN’s highest court, its rulings are sometimes ignored. In March 2022, for example, Russia shrugged off the court’s order to  halt its military campaign in Ukraine.

The current war began on October 7 when militants of the Islamist group Hamas killed 1200 people in a cross-border attack and seized 240 hostages by Israel’s count.

Israel responded with an assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza, killing more than 21,000 people, Palestinian health officials say.

In the latest development in Israel’s war against Hamas, tens of thousands of newly displaced Gazans sought refuge in the centre of the Palestinian enclave on Friday after fleeing an Israeli tank offensive while warplanes attacking the south flattened homes and buried families as they slept.

In a first response to South Africa’s suit, Israel’s foreign ministry blamed Hamas for the suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by using them as human shields and stealing humanitarian aid from them, accusations Hamas denies.

Humanitarian aid

“Israel has made it clear that the residents of the Gaza Strip are not the enemy, and is making every effort to limit harm to the non-involved and to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip,” the ministry statement said.

In a statement from South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO), the government said the application against Israel was filed on Friday.

“Israel, since 7 October 2023 in particular, has failed to prevent genocide and has failed to prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide,” DIRCO said in a statement.

It said it had requested that the ICJ declare “on an urgent basis that Israel is in breach of its obligations in terms of the Genocide Convention, should immediately cease all acts and measures in breach of those obligations and take a number of related actions”.

South Africa has backed the Palestinian cause for statehood in Israeli-occupied territories for decades, likening the plight of Palestinians to those of the black majority in South Africa during the repressive apartheid-era, a comparison Israel vehemently denies.

The new Israeli assaults in central and southern Gaza on Friday propelled a new exodus of people already driven from other areas in what Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant called an essential stage of its mission to destroy its foe Hamas.

Gaza health authorities said 187 more Palestinians were confirmed killed in Israeli strikes in the past 24 hours, raising the toll to 21,507 – about 1 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s population.

In the south, Israeli forces have been pounding Khan Younis in preparation for an anticipated further advance into the main southern city, swathes of which they captured in early December.

Gallant said troops were reaching Hamas command centres and arms depots.

“Our operations are essential to achieving the goals of the war. We see the results and the destruction of enemy forces,” he said.

-with AAP

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