South Africa files ICJ case accusing Israel of ‘genocidal acts’

Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip

By Daniel De Simone and Alys Davies

in Johannesburg and London

South Africa has filed a case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging that Israel is engaging in “genocidal acts” in Gaza.

The UN court confirmed the application concerning alleged violations of Israel’s obligations under the Genocide Convention.

Israel has strongly rejected the allegation, calling it “baseless”.

“Israel rejects with disgust the blood libel spread by South Africa”, the foreign ministry said.

The ICJ, which is based in the Hague in the Netherlands, is the UN’s principal judicial organ. It settles disputes between states and gives advisory opinions on international legal issues.


Following its application to the ICJ, South Africa’s presidency said in a statement that the country was obliged “to prevent genocide from occurring”.

“South Africa is gravely concerned with the plight of civilians caught in the present Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip due to the indiscriminate use of force and forcible removal of inhabitants,” it said.

“Furthermore, there are ongoing reports of international crimes, such as crimes against humanity and war crimes, being committed as well as reports that acts meeting the threshold of genocide or related crimes… have been and may still be committed in the context of the ongoing massacres in Gaza.”

The 84-page document states that the “acts and omissions by Israel” 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”.

The application asks the ICJ for a hearing to take place next week and requests that a number “provisional measures” be indicated by the court, including that Israel cease all military activities in Gaza.

Lior Haiat, a spokesman for Israel’s foreign affairs ministry, said South Africa’s claim “constitutes despicable and contemptuous exploitation of the Court.”

He said South Africa was “cooperating with a terrorist organisation that is calling for the destruction of the State of Israel” and said Hamas was “responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by using them as human shields and stealing humanitarian aid from them”.

“Israel is committed to international law and acts in accordance with it, and directs its military efforts only against the Hamas terrorist organization and the other terrorist organizations cooperating with Hamas,” Mr Haiat said.

“Israel has made it clear that the residents of the Gaza Strip are not the enemy, and is making every effort to limit harm to the non-involved and to allow humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip.”

South Africa has been highly critical of Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

In early November, it recalled all of its diplomats from Israel. Israel, in turn, recalled its ambassador from Pretoria.

In addition, the South African national assembly voted to suspend all diplomatic relations with Israel, but the government has not yet formally responded to the vote.

South Africa previously filed a referral to a different court, the International Criminal Court (ICC), relating to alleged war crimes by Israel in Gaza. The ICC ​investigates and tries individuals charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Israel does not recognise the ICC.

The current war between Israel and Hamas was triggered by the 7 October Hamas attack on southern Israel, which killed about 1,200 people – most of them civilians – and saw about 240 others taken hostage.

More than 21,500 people have been killed in Gaza – mostly children and women – during Israeli retaliatory attacks on Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

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