South Africa vs. Israel: U.N.’s World Court to hear genocide charges
A copy of the ICJ's press release announcing South Africa's initiation of proceedings against Israel; in the background is the Peace Palace, the World Court's headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. | Photos: ICJ and AP

Israel vowed Wednesday to defend itself before the United Nations’ top court against South African charges that it has engaged in a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

Eylon Levy, an official in the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sought to smear South Africa, which has brought the case, by accusing it of “giving political and legal cover” to the October 7 Hamas raid that triggered Israel’s current military campaign.

“The state of Israel will appear before the International Court of Justice at The Hague to dispel South Africa’s absurd blood libel,” he said in remarks that implied South Africa is anti-Semitic. Levy told South Africa’s leaders, “History will judge you without mercy.”

South Africa launched the case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, on Friday, saying that the magnitude of the death, destruction, and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip caused by the Israeli military campaign against Hamas meets the threshold of genocide under international law.

In its application to the court, the South African government described Israel’s actions as “genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnical group.”

It continues: “The acts in question include killing Palestinians in Gaza, causing them serious bodily and mental harm, and inflicting on them conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction.”

It asked the court to order Israel to halt its attacks in the Palestinian coastal enclave. A hearing is scheduled for January 11 and 12.

The ICJ, also called the World Court, is a civil court that hears disputes between U.N. member countries. It is different from the International Criminal Court (ICC), which prosecutes state actors and other individuals for war crimes. As members of the U.N., both South Africa and Israel are bound by the court’s decisions.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has likened the treatment of Palestinians by Israel to the way that the Black majority in South Africa was treated during the apartheid era, a comparison Israel constantly denies.

“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,” a statement from South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) said, adding that the country has “repeatedly stated that it condemns all violence and attacks against all civilians, including Israelis.”

DIRCO reiterated South Africa’s call for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire and the resumption of talks that will end the violence arising from the continued belligerent occupation of Palestine.”

Israel usually dismisses international legal cases against it as biased and rarely cooperates with global institutions. Its decision to respond to the latest charge signals that the government is concerned about damage to its global reputation.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, has vowed to press ahead with the brutal military campaign until Hamas is crushed and the more than 100 hostages still held by the militant group in Gaza are freed, which he has said could take several more months.

Heavy fighting continued Tuesday and Wednesday in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, but, with Israel facing a growing international outcry over the human cost of its campaign, Tel Aviv said on Monday that it was withdrawing thousands of troops from other areas.

This could mark a shift away from the massive air and ground operations that have killed nearly 22,000 Palestinians—almost 20 times the number of Israelis who lost their lives on October 7—displaced some 80% of Gaza’s population, and flattened large parts of the tiny Mediterranean territory.

Israel has also the banned the delivery of food, water, medicine, and other supplies to Gaza’s 2.3 million people, except for a trickle of aid that the UN says falls far short of their needs.

Also on Monday, Israel’s Supreme Court struck down a key component of Netanyahu’s attack on the judiciary’s powers, which had sparked massive protests. The ruling may kill off Netanyahu’s flagship policy and could also damage his standing in the run-up to elections that are widely expected once the fighting winds down.

This article features reporting from the Morning Star and other international sources.

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