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“A Place of Death and Despair.” South Africa Makes a Case for Genocide in the ICJ

11 January 2024 | International Solidarity Movement | The Hague, Netherlands 


     It came through a series of damning statements.  A striking case for genocidal intent and acts tantamount to genocide by Israel against the totality of Gaza’s Palestinian population, was presented in a powerful, if gut wrenching, presentation by South Africa’s legal team this morning in a landmark case in the International Court of Justice.  The charge, submitted to the ICJ on December 29th, seeks provisional measures for Israel to end its onslaught in Gaza related to clear violations of the 1948 Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.   A final ruling may be years in the making.  

     A fifteen judge panel heard the case laid out sharply by South Africa’s robust legal team.  The most incriminating evidence could arguably be the presentation of the systematic normalization of genocidal rhetoric conveyed by Israel’s highest political offices and understood as state policy by the foot soldiers of the occupation army on the ground who made props and tiktok backdrops of their razing of entire residential blocks, universities and hospitals.  Occupation forces on the ground comfortably filmed themselves committing shocking and prolific atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza without any attempt to hide their identities, painting a picture of collectively understood intent and impunity.  

     Here are the points of the case as laid out by South Africa before the International Court of Justice at the Hague.  

     Opening the hearing, lawyer Adila Hassim outlined, point by point, a case for Israel’s actions in Gaza as tantamount to genocide including the intentional destruction of infrastructure, the blocking of aid delivery, humanitarian mission denial and the intentional creation of conditions that would ravage survivors of bombardment with forcible starvation and infectious disease.  Hassim cut to the bone of the ethnic cleansing project the world has witnessed in horror, “Reproductive violence against Palestinian women, children and babies,” held the intention of Israel’s war purveyors to, “impose measures to prevent birth in a group.”  

     Hassim carefully laid out the sheer breadth of the devastation Israel has wrought onto Gaza through “large-scale homicidal destruction,” before addressing the court for the closure of her remarks,  “In sum, Madame President, all of these acts individually and collectively, form a calculated pattern of conduct by Israel indicating a genocidal intent.”   

     Lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi followed up with more pointedly platformed statements of genocidal intent by high ranking members of the Israeli government.  He referenced the “extraordinary features” of explicit language expressing intent to exterminate the Palestinian population of Gaza.  Presenting a litany of exemplary evidence of rhetoric born in high political offices of the Israeli government, he then noted that the sentiments were, in turn, “repeated by Israeli soldiers on the ground in Gaza.”  

     Making a case for the normalization of rhetoric of intent, Ngcukaitobi presented quote after quote distributed from the upper echelons of Israel’s political and social bodies utilizing explicit exterminatory discourse with regards to the Palestinian population of Gaza, not of Hamas, which he then expertly  threaded to statements and actions on the ground by occupation forces; the correlation of violence vocalized and violence committed.  “Genocidal utterances, are therefore not in the fringes, they are embodied in state policy.”

     Israeli society and occupation forces alike have an understanding of their government’s intent for the destruction of Gaza interwoven so deeply that, as Ngcukaitobi explained, they rose up in anger at talks of a limited trickle of aid entering the embattled Strip because it was a violation of Israel’s promises to starve Gaza’s population.  

     Arguing the question of jurisdiction and the existence of a dispute between South Africa and Israel, International Law Professor John Dugard assumed the floor and noted the recognition that Gaza “is now turned into a concentration camp where genocide is taking place.”  He traced the steps which led from South Africa’s condemnation of Israel’s genocidal acts in the Security Council to the emergency special session of the General Assembly to its filing on December 29th with the ICJ seeking provisional measures for immediate cessation of genocidal acts on Gaza’s Palestinian population.  

     On outlining the pathway to the ICJ, Professor Dugard concluded his statements on the Republic of South Africa’s charge, “Despite these harsh accusations, Israel has persisted in its genocidal act against the population of Gaza.” 

     South African advocate Professor Max Du Plessis addressed the court for a statement on “the rights that South Africa seeks to preserve through its application.”  He painted a picture of a trapped population existing piecemeal to this point on rights deprivations imposed by the occupying force “for more than half a century” in a world where Israel has operated as though it were “above and beyond the law.”

     Arguing South Africa’s intention against turning the court “into a theater for spectacle,” the presentation of videos representative of convention violations were decided against.  However, an unobjectionable case was made for provisional measures as the reality on the ground in Gaza reflects, as Professor Du Plessis pointed out, beyond a doubt, genocidal act definitions warned against in the 1948 convention including defined-group persecution of which Palestinians in Gaza represent and are being slaughtered as members thereof.  Invoking provisional measures rulings in the cases of Ukraine, Bosnia and Gambia, Du Plessis contended that “Palestinians in Gaza are no less worthy of this court’s considerable protective power… to issue provisional measures.”  

     He then called Tshidiso Ramogale speaking to the “urgency and irreparable harm” conditions needed for the provisional measures bar to be met.  Contexts on the ground in Gaza were expressed before the court in shocking detail.  Food insecurity, looming specter of famine and daily births in a war zone.  

    “It is becoming ever clearer that huge swathes of Gaza; entire towns, villages, refugee camps are being wiped from the map.”  From death littered streets to mass amputations to the fact that two mothers an hour are massacred in this aggression, Ramogale constructed rubble-wrought Gaza in the courtroom, in explicit retelling, to support South Africa’s case.  

     “There is an urgent need for provisional measures to prevent imminent, irreparable prejudice to the rights and issue in this case.” Hers was an aching expression of the real time genocide being narrated by Israel and witnessed by the world at large.  “The situation could not be more urgent.”

     Also making the case for precedent set by the court in prior rulings, the irreparable prejudice argument was exhibited aptly through stories “expressing scenes from a horror movie” through the stripping and humiliation of rounded up Palestinians to associated harms of infrastructure destruction to impromptu abductions by occupation foot soldiers.  

     Professor Vaughan Lowe appeared next, making the case that requirements of the convention have been met in order to urgently usher in provisional measures to halt the onslaught and promote the “right of the group to not be physically destroyed” as the death toll arches to 25,000 with masses of Palestinians still missing and presumed trapped in the rubble.

     Stated plainly,  Professor Lowe asserted that “Israel’s actions have violated its obligations under the genocide convention, they have continued to violate them and Israel has asserted that it intends to continue them.” 

Palestinians gather in Ramallah’s Mandela Square in the occupied West Bank in support of South Africa’s genocide charge. Photo credit: ISM

     Friday’s hearing will conclude with Israel’s utilization of the 3-hour case presentation allowable by the court to convince a horrified world that their prolific incitement to genocide and genocidal acts committed on the ground against the Palestinian population of Gaza is an act by any other name.