Israel at the ICJ

Munjed Jadou, Tuesday 16 Jan 2024

South Africa’s legal action against Israel at the International Court of Justice offers a ray of hope in holding it accountable for Palestinian genocide, writes Munjed Jadou in Ramallah

Israel at the ICJ
The statue of Mandela, an icon for all freedom fighters, stands in the middle of Ramallah


Palestinians perceive South Africa’s attempt to prosecute Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as a significant step towards holding it accountable for its acts of genocide against the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip during the current war on Gaza.

Hundreds of Palestinians have held vigils in Bethlehem, Nablus, and the town of Yatta in southern Hebron in recent days, expressing their appreciation of South Africa’s move to file a lawsuit against Israel at the ICJ accusing it of committing the crime of genocide in Gaza.

Despite the acknowledgement that a condemnation of Israel may not halt its aggression and war crimes, many, including people from across the political spectrum, view the move as a progressive one.

They see it as a great step forward in the light of the international community’s silence and the inaction of international organisations and governments worldwide regarding the severe violations and grave crimes committed by the Israeli army against civilians in Gaza.

Expressing their support for South Africa’s initiative, Palestinians have organised various events in different cities. A notable example was the mass rally in Ramallah that culminated at the Nelson Mandela monument in the city. Participants raised South African and Palestinian flags alongside images of Palestinian and South African leaders Yasser Arafat and Nelson Mandela.

The symbolic gesture aimed to convey gratitude to the only country in the world taking practical steps to hold Israel accountable for its acts of genocide. The legal submission to the court and the practical endeavour to halt the ongoing aggression, now in its 102nd day, targeting civilians, including children and women, was highlighted in the submitted appeal.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohamed Shtayyeh said that “Israel stands accused of committing genocide against our people in Gaza, and it is being prosecuted by South Africa. Thank you, South Africa. On behalf of the Palestinian people’s leadership, various factions, and our people, I salute you as defenders of human dignity and human rights and as those who defeated the Apartheid system.”

“Israel today stands accused before the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. It is accused on the streets of South Africa, London, Paris, Berlin, Washington, Madrid, and Brussels. Israel is accused by every free and honourable Arab and every African and every free human being.”

“Isn’t killing 23,000 people in Gaza and cutting off water, electricity, and medical supplies an act of genocide? Isn’t attempting to kill 60,000 people, causing injuries and demolishing 271,000 homes, an act of genocide? Some in this world refuse to see this. Those who encourage Israel to kill are criminals, and those who kill for the sake of killing are criminals. Israel is accused by every free Arab, every honorable Arab, and every free person.”

“South African President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, using the ink of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, signed the indictment against Israel. Colonialism, settlement, and the Apartheid system that lasted from 1640 to 1994 in South Africa were defeated. In Palestine, we face genocide, home demolitions, the uprooting of trees, settler terrorism, Apartheid, claims of racial superiority, forced displacement attempts, land annexation, and military occupation. Despite all this, we will prevail and obtain our right to self-determination.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs hailed the South African lawsuit as a historic step in the shared struggle of the Palestinian and South African peoples against injustice and genocide.

Amal Jadou Shukha, Palestine’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, described holding Israel, the illegitimate occupying power, accountable through legal means as the main focus of Palestine’s legal strategy. She emphasised that this strategy is integral to diplomatic and international efforts.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, she expressed concerns about the lack of concrete steps towards accountability and the enforcement of international resolutions in the war on Gaza.

She criticised certain countries and international organisations for complicity in Israel’s commission of genocide through UN vetoes and through providing Israel with various weapons and political support. This was instead of taking responsibility to prevent and punish the crime of genocide, she said, and it had emboldened Israel to commit such atrocities.

She said she was confident in South Africa’s legal advocacy against Israel, acknowledging its principled legacy in the struggle against colonisation and Apartheid. She highlighted South Africa’s qualification to defend international law and its institutions against injustice and aggression and to prevent and punish the crime of genocide.

The step was crucial because the international system had failed to assume its responsibilities to maintain international peace and security and its obligations to prevent the crime of genocide, she said, adding that millions of people have taken to the streets around the world in support of the Palestinians.

The Palestinian people in Gaza and beyond draw hope from the affirmation that humanity, moral courage, and consistency can prevail over racism, warmongering, and double standards and that there is still political, legal, and moral conviction to stand up against genocide.

“Our long and deep friendship, founded on a mutual commitment to freedom, equality and justice, shall remain an inspirational example of active solidarity and principled partnership in pursuit of these noble objectives. We salute South Africa and all peace-loving nations and peoples around the world who are standing with the Palestinian people in their time of greatest need.”

The move of South Africa to lodge a complaint with the ICJ in The Hague is a crucial step, particularly should a decision condemning the killing of Palestinian civilians be issued.

Palestinian political analyst Najib Faraj emphasised that South Africa’s move comes within the framework of the international campaign against Israel. He said that South Africa’s initiation of legal action against Israel was highly significant, as it is neither an Arab nor an Islamic state, but one that dares to take a step that no Arab or Islamic country has ventured to take.

The aim of the complaint is to “expose Israel.” Demonstrations are taking place in Cape Town, the capital of South Africa, to support the country’s stance, he said, in which the participants raise Palestinian flags condemning Israel’s crimes.

Faraj further stated that as Palestinians, we should appreciate this action as it is the first time Israel has been put on trial. It contributes to exposing Israel and highlighting that it continues to commit crimes and acts of terrorism in the Gaza Strip, despite the awareness that a major power, the US, is providing protection to it.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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