SA urges ICJ to halt Israel’s ‘destruction of Gaza’ in genocide case

South Africa has urged the International Court of Justice to take strong action against Israel for its military campaign in Gaza, accusing Israel of aiming to “destroy Gaza from the map.” Israel defends its actions as a legitimate defence against attacks by an Iran-backed group. Cease-fire talks are at an impasse, and South Africa seeks protection for Palestinians in Gaza. The ICJ has previously ordered measures for humanitarian assistance in Gaza, which Israel is accused of obstructing by closing land crossing points.

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By Hugo Miller and Sarah Jacob

The International Court of Justice must take bolder action to make Israel protect civilians in Gaza, according to South Africa, which has brought a genocide case before the United Nations tribunal.

“The key point today is that Israel’s aim of destroying Gaza from the map is being realized,” Vaughan Lowe, a lawyer representing South Africa, said at a hearing at the court in The Hague on Thursday. “The court is not powerless and South Africa submits it must do something to assert its own authority and also the authority of international law.”   

The nation this month sought an urgent order from the court seeking protection for Palestinians in Gaza from “further, severe and irreparable harm” of their rights due to Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. The ICJ’s panel of judges is hearing arguments from South Africa at the court on Thursday afternoon, and will hear from Israeli representatives on Friday morning.

Israel has previously rejected South Africa’s allegations at the UN court, arguing its operations in Gaza are a legitimate defense against the largest calculated mass murder of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust.

Read more: In-depth: The history of the Israel-Palestine conflict explained

The seven-month conflict was triggered when the Iran-backed group invaded Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and abducting 250, while Israel’s retaliatory campaign in Gaza has left about 35,000 Palestinians dead, according to authorities in the Hamas-run enclave.

Israel’s war cabinet last week approved a “limited” expansion of the ground offensive in Rafah, where about 1 million Palestinians are sheltering. Cease-fire talks between Israel and Hamas have since reached an impasse, according to Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

In January, South Africa’s government called upon ICJ to rule Israel’s actions in Gaza to be genocide and order Israel to withdraw its troops. In an interim order on Jan. 26, the ICJ told Israel it must act immediately to prevent the killing of innocent Palestinians, but rejected South Africa’s demand for a ceasefire.

The court’s then-President Joan Donoghue has clarified in a BBC interview that the order states that “the Palestinians had a plausible right to be protected from genocide and that South Africa had a right to present that claim in the court.” The court didn’t decide there and then whether the claim of genocide itself was plausible, she said.

The Hague tribunal in March ordered Israel to ensure measures for the unhindered provision of urgently-needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to Palestinians throughout Gaza, increasing the capacity and number of land crossing points and maintaining them open for as long as necessary. 

Instead, “Israel’s closure of those crossings has hermetically sealed Rafah, further torpedoing the delivery of humanitarian aid,” said Max du Plessis, a second lawyer representing South Africa. 

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