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Following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israeli civilians, Israeli forces have launched a full-blown military campaign in the Gaza Strip. Though South Africa is not engaged in the conflict, it has jurisdiction to file suit against Israel in the ICJ given that both it and Israel are members of the United Nations, and that both states are party to the Genocide Convention.

“Palestinians in Gaza are subject to relentless bombing wherever they go. … They are killed in their homes, in places where they seek shelter, in hospitals, in schools, in mosques, in churches, and as they tried to find food and water for their families. They have been killed if they have failed to evacuate the places to which they have fled and even if they attempted to flee along Israeli-declared safe routes,” said Adila Hassim, a lawyer representing South Africa, told the court during the opening hearing.

In launching its genocide allegations, South Africa has positioned itself as representing a broader coalition of concerned members of the international community. Speaking on intent during Thursday’s hearing, lawyer and legal scholar Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said: “South Africa is not alone in drawing attention to Israel’s genocidal rhetoric against Palestinians in Gaza,” asserting that scores of UN special rapporteurs and working group members had warned that the situation in Gaza constituted a “genocide in the making.”

The case was initiated by South Africa last month, in a complaint accusing Israel of having violated the Genocide Convention. “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 ethnical group … in the Gaza Strip,” South Africa alleged in its complaint.

In particular, South Africa accused Israel of killing tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, causing serious mental and bodily harm, causing the forced evacuation and displacement of some 85 percent of the population in the Gaza Strip, failing to provide adequate humanitarian protections, causing widespread dehydration and starvation, and imposing measures intended to prevent Palestinian births in the region, according to the complaint.

At the outset, South Africa has requested the ICJ take provisional measures to protect the rights of the Palestinians of Gaza, pending the outcome of the genocide complaint.

Israel is expected to respond in court on Friday.

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Source: JURIST Staff

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