South African officials and lawyers on Thursday made their case at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to show that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian population of Gaza.
The over three-hour hearing was an indictment of the US-backed Israeli campaign in Gaza, which has killed over 23,000 Palestinians, mainly women and children, in just over three months.
South Africa said Israel breached the Genocide Convention of 1948, which Israel is a signatory to, and Pretoria invoked to bring Israel to the ICJ. Article II of the Convention defines genocide as “a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part.”
Referencing the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said that no “armed attack on a state territory, no matter how serious, even an attack involving atrocity crimes, can provide justification for or defense to breaches to the Convention whether it’s a matter of law or morality.”
South Africa referenced Israel’s brutal bombing campaign and siege tactics to demonstrate that its actions are genocidal. “For the past 96 days, Israel has subjected Gaza to what has been described as one of the heaviest conventional bombing campaigns in the history of modern warfare,” said Adila Hassim, one of the lawyers representing South Africa.
“Palestinians in Gaza are being killed by Israeli weaponry and bombs from air, land, and sea. They are also at immediate risk of death by starvation, dehydration, and disease as a result of the ongoing siege … the level of Israel’s killing is so extensive that nowhere is safe in Gaza,” she said.
To prove that Israel is committing genocide, South Africa needs to demonstrate that Israeli officials have the intent to do so. South Africa pointed to the genocidal rhetoric from Israeli officials that has been common since October 7, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referencing the Bible story about the nation of Amalek.
“You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible. And we do remember, and we are fighting,” Netanyahu said in October.
Chapter 15, verse 3 of the Bible book of 1 Samuel reads: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel, and ass.”
The ruling on whether or not Israel is committing genocide could take years, but South Africa is asking the ICJ to immediately order a halt to Israel’s military operations. The ICJ doesn’t have the power to enforce its orders, but the ruling would be a major diplomatic blow for Israel and its primary backer, the US, and would increase international pressure on both parties to end the slaughter.
Israeli officials responded to Thursday’s hearing by accusing South Africa of being the “legal arm” of Hamas. Israel’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said the trial was “one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy in history, compounded by a series of false and baseless claims.”