Cape Town - National pride swelled yesterday as South African lawyers took their fight to prevent further loss of life in Gaza, Palestine to the World Court.
South Africa’s legal team detailed what it believed to be breaches of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) by Israel in relation to its military aggression and human rights violations in Gaza, while highlighting this in the context of the 75 year long occupation of Palestine and 16 year siege of Gaza.
What has globally been described as a historic and landmark case, South Africa presented its oral arguments in front of the 15 judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague, Netherlands.
As the hearings inched closer, the number of countries supporting SA’s application has reached nearly 60, such as Bolivia, Malaysia, Namibia, Türkiye, Venezuela, Maldives, Pakistan, Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, Jordan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia and the Arab League.
Presenting SA’s arguments were Adila Hassim SC, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi SC, John Dugard SC, Max du Plessis SC, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh KC, and Vaughan Lowe KC.
Whatever the outcome, #SouthAfrica🇿🇦 has already scored a major victory for the #Palestinians & humanity. We've given them a voice before the highest court in the world. The evidence being presented to the #ICJ judges & to a global audience can't be ignored. #CEASEFIRE_NOW pic.twitter.com/TOnxPDQKAh— Clayson Monyela (@ClaysonMonyela) January 11, 2024
The hearings were devoted to the urgent request for provisional measures to “protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of the Palestinian people under the Genocide Convention” and “to ensure Israel’s compliance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention not to engage in genocide, and to prevent and to punish genocide”.
Hassim expounded on the genocidal acts that have led to the urgent request for provisional measures.
These included the mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza, violating Article II(a) of the Genocide Convention, with around 23 210 killed since October 7. She said the level of killing was so extensive that those whose bodies were found were buried in mass graves, often unidentified.
In the first three weeks alone following October 7, Israel deployed 6 000 bombs per week, she said.
“For the past 96 days, Israel has subjected Gaza to what has been described as one of the heaviest conventional bombing campaigns in the history of modern warfare... They are also at immediate risk of death by starvation, dehydration and disease as a result of the ongoing siege by Israel, the destruction of Palestinian towns, the insufficient aid being allowed through to the Palestinian population and the impossibility of distributing this limited aid while bombs fall.”
On October 13, Israel ordered over 1 million Palestinians “including children, the elderly, the wounded and infirm; entire hospitals, even newborn babies in intensive care” to evacuate from the north to the south of Gaza within 24 hours. She said the order itself was genocidal.
Ngcukaitobi SC said 1% of Palestinians in Gaza have been “systematically decimated” and one in 40 have been injured since October 7, “evidencing Israel’s genocidal intent.”
The intentional failure of Israel to condemn, prevent, and punish these in itself was a grave violation of the Genocide Convention.
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, leading the South African delegation, said “Israel’s response to the October 7 attack had crossed this line and gives rise to breaches of the convention.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said South Africa’s “hypocrisy screams to the high heavens”.
“A terrorist organisation carried out the worst crime against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and now someone comes to defend it in the name of the Holocaust. What brazen gall. The world is upside down.
“Where was South Africa when millions of people were being murdered and uprooted from their homes in Syria and Yemen, by whom? By Hamas’s partners. Where were you?”
Retired Judge Seraj Desai said he was optimistic about the outcome after SA presented its case on the first of the two-day hearings.
Israel’s legal team will deliver their arguments today.
“Our counsel competently placed a coherent and compelling case before the International Court of Justice. They were on a firm footing both on the facts and on the law. It will be difficult to rebut their case on any basis, let alone the bluster of the Israelis. At this stage I am optimistic of an outcome favourable to our country.”
Ahead of the hearings, members the legal fraternity and the public gathered at the Western Cape High Court to express support for South Africa’s legal team and the case.
Seehaam Samaai from Lawyers for Palestine said: “This 84-page application is phenomenal. It’s well-resourced, well-referenced.
“It gives us facts, it shows us systematically how the genocide is being perpetrated by Israel in Palestine, how it’s being done. It’s an 84-page document but it’s a simple document and it allows us to to show the world what Israel has done.”
At 6m-high statue of Nelson Mandela located in Ramallah, Palestinians gathered on Wednesday evening to express their gratitude to South Africa for launching the application.
Palestinian cultural activist and member of Ramallah Municipal Council, Rula Rezeq, referred to the day of the hearing as historic.
“For us, today is a historic day. After 76 years of Israeli occupation since al Nakba in 1948 ... It is on this day that Israel stands before an international court to be held accountable and convicted for its crimes against the Palestinians. And regardless of the outcome, whether the decision favours Gaza or not, there are persistent concerns that Israel may not comply with it. However, it would mark the first time that Israel no longer positions itself above international laws.”
In a statement released, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) national chairperson Karen Milner said the country was “inverting reality by accusing Israel of genocide” and that this could only be interpreted as anti-Semitic while the South African Zionist Federation condemned the ANC government’s attempt to politicise “the meaning of genocide”.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s (PSC) Usuf Chikte said it believes South Africa was the correct state to bring the application against Israel to the ICJ and that they “are proud and pleased that South Africa has acted to protect the Palestinians in Gaza from the ongoing genocide”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said South Africa's "hypocrisy screams to the high Heavens".
"A terrorist organization carried out the worst crime against the Jewish People since the Holocaust, and now someone comes to defend it in the name of the Holocaust. What brazen gall. The world is upside down.
"Where was South Africa when millions of people were being murdered and uprooted from their homes in Syria and Yemen, by whom? By Hamas's partners.Where were you?"