The Republic of The Gambia on 11 November 2019 instituted proceedings against the Republic of the Union of Myanmar before the International Court of Justice-ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, alleging violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide through “acts adopted, taken and condoned by the Government of Myanmar against members of the Rohingya group”.
Africa the site of countless genocides, slavery and the most virulent forms of imperialism have not only the moral authority but the abiding responsibility to demand justice for dispossessed people anywhere from the world court. Therefore, South African is doing the right bringing the State of Israel to the world court to answer for its crimes against the civilians in Gaza, even though South Africa is accused of being equivocal on Russia’s aggression in the Ukraine in its second year where Russia is also accused of committing war crimes.
Whatever the outcome of the preliminary hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, South Africa’s case against Israel’s ongoing military campaign in Gaza has garnered global attention in a way that the Gambia Vs. Myanmar—the Rohingya Case did not have. As the 15-member court assembled, along with two ad hoc judges representing South Africa and Israel, quite a bit of history must have weighed on the parties.
Of the two countries on either side of this dispute over whether the Gaza war is aimed at wiping out the Palestinian people, South Africa has left behind its apartheid past, but believes that the State of Israel is practising 75 years of ‘apartheid’ against the Palestinian people since 1948; South Africa firm in its belief that it is acting in the interest of justice and humanity, the state of Israel equally firm in its belief it can never be accused of genocide, a crime that was sought to be prevented by the Genocide Convention of 1948, a treaty to prevent the sort of Holocaust the Jewish people had suffered.
Both South Africa and the State of Israel spent many years in the 20th century in diplomatic isolation, as countries and sporting bodies boycotted them, but both had the support of their western allies (USA UK France Germany Italy Austria Belgium Netherlands etc. ). Today, save for those few allies, the entire world supports a ceasefire in Gaza to end the epic suffering of its people. At this preliminary stage, South Africa sought to demonstrate that some of Israel’s acts were capable of falling within the terms of the Genocide Convention and that there was ‘genocidal intent’ behind its acts.
South Africa relied on data on deaths and destruction and the collapse of civilian life and health infrastructure in Gaza. It drew upon statements attributed to key Israeli government figures exemplified by the Prime Minister Netanyahu to underscore what South Africa called ‘genocidal intent’. The provisional measures sought include a suspension of military operations and steps by the parties to prevent the occurrence of genocide.
The State of Israel described the South African case as ‘blood libel’ before the hearing but sought to make a case that its Gaza operations were a legitimate response to the terrorist attack on October 7, 2023. It played down the relevance of its leaders’ statements, calling them mere rhetoric. The State of Israel attributed the civilian casualties to Hamas using civilians as shields and hospitals as storage for explosives and launching pads for attacks. Proofs of which is yet to be independently verified by the neutral observers.
The issue before the world court is quite straightforward, but the larger concern is whether the state of Israel will abide by any provisional measure. As it has consistently ignored countless UN Resolutions on the Palestine question since 1948. Russia ignored an ICJ order to suspend its operations in Ukraine in March 2022. However, there is little doubt that any provisional measure will cast a huge shadow on the legitimacy of Israel’s Gaza war.