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South Africa Brings Genocide Case Against Israel at International Court of Justice

Document details numerous alleged crimes, including the execution of Palestinians by Israeli Defense Forces

South Africa Brings Genocide Case Against Israel at International Court of Justice

South Africa has filed a case at the United Nations’ highest court charging that Israel is committing genocide in its treatment of Palestinians.

In a sign of how serious Israeli officials are taking this action, they have abandoned a decades-old policy of boycotting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and will be defending their country in court.

Over the years, there have been doubts as to whether injunctions levied by the ICJ were binding. As reported by The Guardian, state parties in just 50 percent of cases complied with the court’s measures. However, an ICJ ruling against Israel could cause significant reputational damage, the news outlet states, which could force the country to alter its military campaign in Gaza.

“The very fact that Israel has chosen to defend itself at the ICJ – a UN sponsored body – and is a signatory to the genocide convention makes it harder for it to brush aside an adverse finding,” The Guardian wrote.

In its sprawling 84-page indictment of Israel, South African officials begin by explicitly denouncing the terrorist attack that was perpetrated by Hamas, which resulted in the deaths of roughly 1,200 individuals.

“South Africa unequivocally condemns all violations of international law by all parties, including the direct targeting of Israeli civilians and other nationals and hostage-taking by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups,” the document says.

The document then follows by laying out an exhaustive case, supported by 574 footnote citations.

Summary and Overall Claims of Genocide

Officials state that Israel has breached the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which considers genocide a crime under international law and defines it to mean “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its

physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The ICJ filing alleges that Israel is engaging in genocide by killing, causing serious mental bodily harm to, and deliberately inflicting on Palestinians life conditions that are “calculated to bring about their destruction as a group.”

Deaths and Military Executions of Palestinians in Gaza

The large, and growing, number of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli Defense Forces are listed as part of the basis for labeling the ongoing conflict in Gaza a genocide, according to South African officials.

They reference the more than 21,000 Palestinians that have been killed since Israel began its military assault on Gaza, 70 percent of whom are believed to be women and children.

In addition to the 21,000 dead, more than 55,243 Palestinians have been wounded in the attacks, the majority women and children, with an estimated 1,000 children having lost one or both legs, South African officials state.

“An additional estimated 7,780 people, including at least 4,700 women and children, are reported missing, presumed dead under the rubble of destroyed buildings — dying slow deaths — or decomposing in the streets where they were killed,” the filing states.

Israeli forces are killing Palestinians “in their homes, in places where they sought shelter, in hospitals, in UNWRA schools, in churches, in mosques, and as they tried to find food and water for their families,” the indictment says.

Officials also detail executions being carried out by IDF forces against noncombatant Palestinians, who have failed to evacuate, or actually fled to other locations, and while attempting to flee on so-called “safe routes,” in full compliance with Israeli military directives.

“Reports are multiplying of Israeli soldiers performing summary executions, including of multiple members of the same family — men, women and older people,” officials explain. “One such account is the reported execution in Gaza City of at least 11 male members of the Annan family and their relatives — boys and men, said to have been separated out by Israeli soldiers and shot in front of their family — before the women and children were then attacked.”

According to the report referenced in the ICJ indictment, IDF soldiers allegedly ordered the women and children into a room and either shot at them or threw a grenade into the room, which resulted in serious injuries.

Other reports included allege IDF forces were shooting on sight unarmed individuals, including Israeli hostages, who were posing no threat, even if they were waving white flags.

Displacement and Forced Migration

In its response to the Oct. 7 attack, Israel launched a bombing campaign that is now regarded as one of the heaviest conventional bombing campaigns in the history of modern warfare.

During just a single week shortly after the airstrikes began, Israel dropped more bombs on Gaza — a densely populated area roughly the size of Manhattan — than the U.S. dropped on Afghanistan during an entire year.

As of the time of South Africa’s legal action, Israel has dropped 65,000 tons of bombs on Gaza, more than the weight and power of three nuclear bombs similar to those dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

“The destruction wrought by Israel is so extreme that Gaza is now a different color from space. It’s a different texture,” the ICJ indictment states.

Officials also explain that more than half of all homes have been destroyed, roughly 80 percent of the 2.3 million Palestinian population has been forcibly displaced, and there is no protection of civilians.

They also chronicle abuses that took place following evacuation orders given by Israeli authorities. Palestinians who were told to move north were then told to move south, where they were then subjected to shelling, arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, and killings. South of Wadi Gaza, the indictment says, Israel continued bombing Palestinians who followed evacuation orders. Some who attempted to return north during a temporary pause were shot at by the IDF.

Adding to claims of forced displacement and ethnic cleansing are secret discussions between the Israeli government and African countries to receive Palestinians who will not be allowed back into Gaza.

“The policy to cleanse Gaza of Palestinians wholesale, ‘is slowly becoming the leading and official policy of the government and the coalition,’” a recent report says.

South African officials explain:

For many Palestinians, the forced evacuation from their homes is necessarily permanent. Israel has now damaged or destroyed an estimated 355,000 Palestinian homes — amounting to 60 per cent of the entire housing stock in Gaza. The extent of the destruction in the North of Gaza, in particular, has rendered it largely unliveable, with the destruction in the South reaching a similar level. As noted by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, “Gaza’s housing and civilian infrastructure have been razed to the ground, frustrating any realistic prospects for displaced Gazans to return home, repeating a long history of mass forced displacement of Palestinians by Israel.” The forced displacements in Gaza are genocidal, in that they are taking place in circumstances calculated to bring about the physical destruction of Palestinians in Gaza.

Current Genocide is a Continuation of a 16-Year Blockade

In their lengthy claim of genocide brought to the ICJ, South African officials allege that the current hostilities between Israel and Palestinians are merely the continuation of an ongoing 16-year blockade.

Citing a UN report, the document states, “In Gaza, the apparent strategy of Israel is the indefinite warehousing of an unwanted population of two million Palestinians, whom it has confined to a narrow strip of land through its comprehensive 15-year-old air, land and sea blockade (with further restrictions by Egypt on the southern border of Gaza).”

Until 2005, the ICJ indictment reads, Gaza was occupied by Israeli military forced. Though Israel claims it unilaterally “disengaged” from Gaza, it “continues to exercise control over the airspace, territorial waters, land crossings, water, electricity, electromagnetic sphere and civilian infrastructure in Gaza, as well as over key governmental functions, such as the management of the Palestinian population registry for Gaza.”

The document continues, “The near total control exercised by Israel over access to Gaza, and over its water, fuel, electricity and food supplies, has been demonstrated starkly since 7 October 2023.”

Israeli officials “imposed a stringent blockade of Gaza, following Hamas’ electoral victory in 2006,” which the legal filing says resulted in:

  • Israel barring Palestinians from leaving via air or sea

  • Palestinians needing hard-to-obtain travel permits

  • Israel regulating food imports into Gaza, limiting calorie consumption and keeping food to a “humanitarian minimum”

  • Home demolitions and the denial of building permits for Palestinians

  • Damage to or demolitions of an estimated 318 Muslim and Christian religious sites

  • Polluted drinking water for Gazans, as Israel hindered the creation and repair of water installation and desalination plants

  • Rolling electricity blackouts between 12 and 20 hours daily

  • Entry and export of goods completely controlled by Israel

  • A naval blockade policed by IDF forces who have shoot to kill orders if Palestinian fishermen stray too far into the water

South African officials also cited a years-long pattern of killing, noting “approximately 7,569 Palestinians, including 1,699 children” killed in “four highly asymmetrical wars” between September 2000 and Oct. 7, 2023, where IDF soldiers had authority to shoot and kill unarmed civilians.

The document also lists attacks on peaceful events where Palestinians have been killed by the IDF. One such set of incidents occurred during the “Great March of Return,” a large-scale peaceful protest along the separation wall between Gaza and Israel that took place every Friday for 18 months, where 214 Palestinians, including 46 children, were killed by the IDF.

"On one particularly lethal day alone, Israel killed 60 Palestinian protesters," South African officials explain, adding a reference to a commission which found that the IDF "killed and gravely injured civilians who were neither participating directly in hostilities nor posing an imminent threat to life. Among those shot were children, paramedics, journalists, and persons with disabilities."

The filing continues:

A total of over 36,100 Palestinians, including nearly 8,800 children, were injured by Israel, including 4,903 people who were shot in the lower limbs, “many while standing hundreds of metres away from the snipers, unarmed.” 156 of them had to have at least one limb amputated, and over 1,200 required specialized limb reconstruction treatment. The Commission found that the maiming was not accidental: the rules of engagement adopted by Israel permitted snipers to shoot at the legs of the “major inciters.” One Israeli soldier admitted that he shot “42 knees in one day.”

The Commission found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers “intentionally shot” children, knowing them to be children, and they also “intentionally shot” health workers and journalists “despite seeing that they were clearly marked as such.” It further found “reasonable grounds to believe” that Israeli snipers shot disabled demonstrators “intentionally, despite seeing that they had visible disabilities” and despite them not presenting an imminent threat.

Public Statements of Genocidal Intent

Also presented in South Africa’s claim of genocide are public statements made my Israeli officials since October 2023, which have been interpreted as having genocidal intent.

Examples (quoted from the South African officials’ document to the ICJ) include:

President of Israel: On 12 October 2023, President Isaac Herzog made clear that Israel was not distinguishing between militants and civilians in Gaza, stating in a press conference to foreign media — in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, over one million of whom are children: “It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware not involved. It’s absolutely not true. … and we will fight until we break their backbone.”

Israeli Minister of Defence: On 9 October 2023, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in an Israeli Army ‘situation update’ advised that Israel was “imposing a complete siege on Gaza” … stating in terms that: "Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything. If it doesn’t take one day, it will take a week. It will take weeks or even months, we will reach all places.”

Israeli Minister of Finance: On 8 October 2023, Bezalel Smotrich stated at a meeting of the Israeli Cabinet that “we need to deal a blow that hasn’t been seen in 50 years and take down Gaza."

Israeli Minister of Agriculture: On 11 November 2023, Avi Dichter in a television interview recalled the Nakba of 1948, in which over 80 percent of the Palestinian population of the new Israeli State was forced from or fled their homes, stating that “we are now actually rolling out the Gaza Nakba.

Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Member of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee: On 7 October 2023, Nissim Vaturi ‘tweeted’ that: “[n]ow we all have one common goal — erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth. Those who are unable will be replaced."

Relief Sought

South African officials are requesting several specific remedies from the ICJ:

1. A declaration that South Africa and Israel are each obligated to take all measures to prevent genocide, in accordance with the Genocide Convention

2. A declaration that Israel has breached those obligations, and that it must cease all actions that could result in the killing or serious bodily or mental harm to Palestinians, or deliberately inflicting conditions that bring about the group’s destruction

3. Ensure that individuals committing genocide are punished through a “competent national or international tribunal”

4. Ensure that Palestinians who have been forcibly displaced are returned to their land, with full human rights, receive protection for further discrimination and persecution, and have their homes reconstructed

5. Offer assurances and guarantees that violations of the Genocide Convention will not be repeated

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