The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will start a hearing a landmark case brought by South Africa against Israel, accusing it of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.
The case, filed on December 29, 2023, is the first time that Israel has to face formal allegations of atrocities before an independent and impartial court since its military campaign in Gaza began on October 7, 2023.
South Africa, which has compared Israel’s policies to its former apartheid regime, claims that Israel has violated the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which defines genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.
South Africa argues that Israel has carried out genocidal acts by killing Palestinians, causing serious mental and bodily harm, and deliberately inflicting conditions meant to bring about their physical destruction as a group. It also cites statements by Israeli officials that express genocidal intent.
South Africa has asked the ICJ to declare that Israel has breached and continues to breach its obligations under the Genocide Convention, and to order Israel to cease hostilities in Gaza, to offer reparations, and to provide for reconstruction of what it has destroyed in Gaza.
South Africa has also requested the court to issue provisional measures to protect the Palestinian people in Gaza from further harm, ensure Israel’s compliance with the Genocide Convention, and safeguard South Africa’s ability to have the case fairly adjudicated. Arguments on the request for provisional measures are the subject of the hearings on January 11 and 12, 2024.
Israel, which has a history of ignoring international tribunals, has decided to defend itself at the ICJ, calling South Africa’s case a “despicable and contemptuous exploitation” of the court and a “absurd blood libel”. Israel denies committing genocide and argues that its actions in Gaza are in self-defense against Hamas, which it accuses of launching rockets and inciting violence.
It is seen as a significant test of the Genocide Convention and its ability to hold states accountable for grave human rights violations.