Contributed Photo / Michel Porro
The trial at the International Court of Justice in The Hague
On Dec. 29, 2023, South Africa filed a case against Israel and brought forth genocide allegations to the International Court of Justice at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. By Jan. 26, the ruling was decided.
After weeks of statements, documents and other evidence presented to the court, the 17 judges behind the bench, all elected by United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council, have officially ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza, keep track of evidence and submit a report on the steps it’s taken towards this in one month. The court did not order a ceasefire.
The court rejected Israel’s request to throw out the case and stated “at least some of the acts and omissions alleged by South Africa to have been committed by Israel in Gaza appear to be capable of falling within the provisions of the Convention.”
Adila Hassim, a South African human rights lawyer, presented South Africa’s opening statement to the court on Jan. 11. Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, another South African lawyer and legal scholar, followed the statement with a speech. He outlined South Africa’s key arguments to support their genocide allegation against Israel.
He said “Israel’s political leaders, military commanders and persons holding official positions” both systematically and explicitly declared genocidal intent, which was repeated by soldiers on the ground as they carried out the “destruction of Palestinians and the physical infrastructure of Gaza.”
Ngcukaitobi then quoted what Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said two days after the Hamas attack in October.
“As Israel was imposing a complete siege on Gaza, there would be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything would be closed because Israel is fighting ‘human animals,’” said Ngcukaitobi. He added that Gallant told troops he released all “restraints” and “Gaza won’t return to what it was before.”
Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh represented South Africa and delivered a speech to the court that laid out several statistics on the current situation in Gaza. She said each day, over 10 Palestinian children will have one or both legs amputated, many without anesthetic, and an average of 3,900 Palestinian homes will be damaged or destroyed. Blinne also said, on average, 247 Palestinians are being killed and are at risk of being killed each day, of which 48 are mothers and 117 are children.
Tal Becker is an Australian-Israeli and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ legal adviser with an expertise in international law. He delivered the opening statement on behalf of Israel’s defense on Jan. 12.
“The civilians suffering in this war, like in all wars, is tragic. It is heartbreaking,” he told the court. “The harsh realities of the current hostilities are made especially agonizing for civilians given Hamas’ reprehensible strategy of seeking to maximize civilian harm to both Israelis and Palestinians, even as Israel seeks to minimize it.”
Maryka Van Wyngaarden, a fifth-year digital media and journalism student, said she doesn’t agree with Israel’s arguments.
“They’re basically saying, ‘Civilian deaths are going to happen, and it’s all Hamas’ fault. It’s Hamas’ fault that we’re bombing refugee camps,’” she said. “I can’t wrap my head around that. It’s like every argument they have is, ‘Well, these civilian deaths are justified because — Hamas’… I don’t think you can justify that.”
Countries in support of South Africa’s case include the 57-member Organization of Islamic Countries, Malaysia, Turkey, Jordan, Bolivia, The Maldives, Namibia, Pakistan, the 22-member Arab League, Colombia, Brazil, Belgium, Slovenia and Spain. Countries in support of Israel’s defense are the U.S., Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary and the U.K.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country believes in and respects the ICJ’s processes, but this “does not mean that we accept the premise of the case brought forward by South Africa.”
It has been 117 days since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed around 1,200 people in Israel and the state’s ruthless carpet-bombing over Palestine, viciously killing an ever-increasing death toll of at least 26,751 civilians in Gaza.