South Africa formally accused Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinian people and asked the UN’s most important court to order an end to military operations, which have been carried out practically uninterruptedly for more than three months and have already caused the deaths of more of 23 thousand Palestinians, in addition to a series of other humanitarian damages. It was this Thursday (11), the first day of public hearings regarding the genocide complaint presented to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in The Hague. Israel denies the accusation.
The South African Minister of Justice, Ronald Lamola, made an initial intervention. He said that the suffering of the Palestinian people is not new, as it has lasted 76 years, and cited Nelson Mandela, the greatest symbol of the fight against apartheid in his country. The African National Congress, South Africa’s governing party, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime, which imposed white minority rule and restricted the black majority to ” homelands” before finally being phased out in 1994.
After the minister’s testimony, South African defenders began to present their arguments, with the aim of showing that Israel violated a series of articles of international law.
“Genocides are never declared in advance, but this court has the benefit of the last 13 weeks of evidence that incontrovertibly shows a pattern of conduct and related intentions that justifies a plausible allegation of genocidal acts,” said lawyer Adila Hassim.
“The first genocidal act is the mass murder of Palestinians in Gaza,” she declared. “As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has explained, the level of killing is so extensive that no one is safe in Gaza. To date, 23,210 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces. At least 70% are believed to be women and children .In addition, 7,000 Palestinians are missing, presumed dead under rubble.”
Hassim used a series of images in his presentation to illustrate the accusations he was making. Photos and videos showed Palestinian bodies bagged, homes turned into rubble. “Palestinians are killed in their homes, in places where they seek shelter, in hospitals, in schools, mosques, churches, and trying to get food and water for their families. The level of killing is so intense that they are buried in mass graves, often without identification”, said the lawyer.
“Israel’s attempted genocide is rooted in the belief that the enemy is not just the military wing of Hamas, nor Hamas in general, but the Palestinian people in Gaza. On October 7, in a televised speech, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war on Gaza”, said another South African defender, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi.
“The language of systematic dehumanization is evident,” declared the lawyer. “People are treated like animals.”
His colleague Adila Hassim also argued that genocide can be seen in the way Israel forced the displacement of Palestinians, under the argument of giving them the chance to save their lives in places that would be bombed and invaded by Israeli troops, supposedly to search for and eliminate Hamas fighters.
“Many Palestinians have been displaced many times, as families have been forced to move repeatedly,” she said, reiterating that this practice was imposed even on sick people and people with mobility difficulties. “Entire hospitals were forced to evacuate their occupants, including newborns in intensive care,” she explained: “It was all calculated to bring about the destruction of the population.”
The lawyer also mentioned that 355,000 homes were destroyed, and that the destruction was often celebrated by the military, who “raised the Israeli flag over the rubble.”
In addition to deaths, displacement and destruction, she mentioned other causes that could significantly increase death statistics from now on. “Experts point out that more Palestinians may die from hunger and disease than from bombings, and yet Israel makes humanitarian aid difficult.” She illustrated her speech with a video of a humanitarian aid truck that could barely move due to the number of people climbing on top of it in a desperate attempt to obtain basic necessities that are in short supply in Gaza.
The Israeli side
Although it usually says that it considers the United Nations and international courts to be unfair and biased, Israel sent a robust legal team to defend its military operation launched against Palestine. Israel denies allegations of genocide and is unlikely to comply with any court order to halt its operations, but it likely fears that such an order would further damage its international reputation.
Israel’s lawyers will speak out this Friday (11). It is believed the case will last for years.
With information from AFP.
Editing: Nicolau Soares