Michael Keating Dake examines the legal and judicial implications of South Africa's ongoing case against the State of Israel at the International Court of Justice
In December, South Africa launched proceedings against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). The proceedings relate to the ongoing military conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
South Africa alleges that Israel's ongoing military activity in Gaza is tantamount to Genocide, and that Israel is actively attempting to "destroy the Palestinian people in whole or in part." Counsel for South Africa cited the rampant destruction of civilian infrastructure and devastating death toll, in addition to the appalling humanitarian crisis in the territory. A recent Oxfam report estimates that Palestinian civilians are being killed at a rate of 250 per day. 85% of the Gazan population have been displaced from their homes, and Israel has imposed restrictions on access to food, water, and medical supplies.
A recent Oxfam report estimates that Palestinian civilians are being killed at a rate of 250 per day. 85% of the Gazan population have been displaced from their homes, and Israel has imposed restrictions on access to food, water, and medical supplies.
In her closing statement before the ICJ on behalf of South Africa, Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Grállaigh described the alleged Genocide as the "first in history where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real time, in the desperate but so far vain hope that the world might do something." She went on to describe the situation in Gaza as "nothing short of moral failure."
Israel argued in its defence that it had been forced to defend itself in response to the October 7th massacre perpetrated by Hamas, and that the high rate of civilian casualties must be attributed to Hamas' use of civilian dwellings and facilities as shields and collateral. They vigorously denied having genocidal intent, arguing that the war, however brutal, did not meet the threshold of Genocide.
The case carries important symbolic, psychological, and ideological value for both litigants. If Israel is found guilty, the United Nations (UN) could intervene to enforce the ruling on behalf of the Court, although it is likely that the United States would exercise i's right of veto at the UN Security Council. Hence, the case carries important moral and geopolitical ramifications, in addition to offering judicial precedent in international law.