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Lawyers for South Africa argued before the World Court in The Hague why Israel was committing genocide in Gaza and why the court must stop them now, reports Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria, Consortium News —

South Africa asked the International Court of Justice on Thursday to order Israel to stop its genocidal rampage against Palestinians in Gaza, saying that the “very reputation of international law … hangs in the balance” in the historic case it has brought.

The South Africans laid out what seems like a difficult case to refute that Israel is violating four sections of Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which Israel ratified, namely that:

“… Genocide means 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.”

South Africa was not arguing on Thursday the merits of the case of whether Israel is or isn’t committing genocide, which will be decided much later, but rather whether there is sufficient evidence at the outset for the Court to issue a “provisional measure” ordering Israel to immediately end its military operation.

Genocidal Intent

South Africa pleading before the judges of the ICJ. (UN TV screenshot)

South Africa pleading before the judges of the ICJ. (UN TV screenshot)

Proving intent is crucial to arriving at a finding of genocide, and the South Africans laid out in great detail the “genocidal rhetoric” of Israeli officials and how it has influenced Israeli soldiers and airmen attacking Gaza. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice referred to an Old Testament genocide implying the same was needed for Gaza.

“The genocidal invocation to Amalek was anything but idle,” said attorney Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. He then showed a video of Israeli soldiers singing in celebration of a victory in Gaza, in which they mention Amalek.

On Oct. 9, Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, Ngcukaitobi said:

“gave a situation update to the Army where he said that 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. Speaking to troops on the Gaza border, he instructed them that he has released all the restraints and that Gaza won’t return to what it was before.

‘We will eliminate everything. We will reach all places. Eliminate everything there, reach all places without any restraints.’

Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu said that Israel must find ways for Gazans that are more painful than death. It is no answer to say that neither are in command of the army. They are ministers in the Israeli government. They vote in the Knesset and are in a position to shape state policy. The intent to destroy Gaza has been nurtured at the highest levels of state. …

Senior political and military officials encouraged without censure, the 95 year old Israeli army reservist Ezra Yachin, a veteran of the Deir Yassin massacre against the Palestinians in 1948, to speak to the soldiers ahead of the ground invasion in Gaza. In his talk, he echoed the same sentiment while being driven around in an official Israeli army vehicle dressed in Israeli army fatigue.

‘I quote the triumphant and finish them off and don’t leave anyone behind. Erase the memory of them. Erase them, their families, mothers and children. These animals can no longer live. If you have an Arab neighbor, don’t wait. Go to his home and shoot him. We want to invade. Not like before. We want to enter and destroy what’s in front of us and destroy houses.’”

The lawyers for South Africa put the current catastrophe in Gaza in historical context of years of violating Palestinians’ rights and pointed out that, “For more than half a century those violations occurred in a world where Israel for years has regarded itself as beyond and above the law.”

Preempting Israel’s Defense

Vaughn Lowe, a British attorney for South Africa, argues that Israel has no right of self-defense in Gaza. (UN TV screenshot).

Vaughn Lowe, a British attorney for South Africa, argues that Israel has no right of self-defense in Gaza. (UN TV screenshot).

The South Africans anticipated Israel’s defense, which will be delivered on Friday. Vaughan Lowe, a British barrister representing South Africa, dismissed Israel’s often repeated argument that it is only targeting Hamas, and not the Palestinian people.

“Months of continuous bombing, flattening entire residential blocks and cutting off food, water electricity and communications to an entire population cannot credibly be argued to be a manhunt for members of Hamas,” Lowe said.

While South Africa condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, “Nothing can ever justify genocide, no matter what some individuals within the group of Palestinians in Gaza may have done,” he said.

Lowe also dismissed the mantra repeated by Israel and its allies, that it has “a right to self-defense” in Gaza. He referred to a 2004 World Court decision against the legality of Israel’s wall, which is built on occupied Palestinian territory.

“In its advisory opinion on the wall case, the court noted that the threat that Israel had argued justified the construction of the wall was not imputed to a foreign state, but emanated from the occupied Palestinian territory over which Israel itself exercises control,” Lowe said.

“For those reasons, the court decided, as a matter of international law, the right of self-defense under Article 51 of the charter, the U.N. Charter, had no relevance in such circumstances,” he said.

Just three weeks ago the U.N. Security Council reaffirmed that Gaza is occupied territory, he said. “The tightness of its grip may have varied, but no one can doubt the continuous reality of Israel’s grip on Gaza,” Lowe said.

“The court’s legal holding from 2004 holds good, and a similar point is to be made here what Israel is doing in Gaza, it is doing in territory under its own control. Its actions are enforcing its occupation. The law on self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter has no application,” he said.


Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, attorney for South Africa, addressing the court. (UN TV screenshot)

Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, attorney for South Africa, addressing the court. (UN TV screenshot)

Irish lawyer Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, representing South Africa, argued why the Court must urgently act to stop Israel. She said:

“There is an urgent need for provisional measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza from the irreparable prejudice caused by Israel’s violations of the Genocide Convention. The United Nations Secretary-General and its chiefs describe the situation in Gaza variously as a crisis of humanity, a living hell, a bloodbath, a situation of utter, deepening and unmatched horror where an entire population is besieged and under attack, denied access to the essentials for survival on a massive scale.

Supplies are inundated by desperate people seeking safety. A public health disaster is unfolding. Infectious diseases are spreading in overcrowded shelters as sewers spill over. Some 180 women are giving birth daily. Amidst this chaos, people are facing the highest levels of food insecurity ever recorded. Famine is around the corner.

Reports of executions and torture and ill treatment are mounting, as are images of decomposing bodies of Palestinian men, women and children left unburied where they were killed. Some are being picked upon by animals. It is becoming ever clearer that huge swathes of Gaza, entire towns, villages, refugee camps are being wiped from the map, as you have heard.

But it bears repeating. According to the World Food Program, four out of five people in the world in famine or a catastrophic type of hunger are in Gaza right now. Indeed, experts warn that deaths from starvation and disease risk significantly outstripping deaths from bombings. The daily statistics stand as clear evidence of the urgency and of the irreparable prejudice on the basis of the current figures.

On average, 247 Palestinians are being killed and are at risk of being killed each day. Many of them literally blown to pieces. They include 48 mothers each day to every hour and over 117 children each day, leading UNICEF to call Israel’s actions a war on children.

On current rates, which show no sign of abating each day over three medics, two teachers, more than one United Nations employee and more than one journalist will be killed, many while at work or in what appear to be targeted attacks on their family homes or where they are sheltering.

And the risk of famine will increase each day. Each day, an average of 629 people will be wounded some multiple times over. As they move from place to place, desperately seeking sanctuary each day. Over ten Palestinian children will have one or both legs amputated, many without anesthetic. Each day on current rates, an average of 3900 Palestinian homes will be damaged or destroyed. …

Repeating a long history of mass forced displacement of Palestinians by Israel, there is no indication at all that Israel accepts responsibility for rebuilding what it has destroyed. Instead, the destruction is celebrated by the Israeli army. Soldiers film themselves, joyfully detonating entire apartment blocks and towns squares, erecting the Israeli flag over the wreckage, seeking to reestablish Israeli settlements on the rubble of Palestinian homes, and thus extinguishing the very basis of Palestinian life in Gaza. …

Despite the horror of the genocide against the Palestinian people being live-streamed from Gaza to our mobile phones, computers and television screens, the first genocide in history where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real time in the desperate, so far vain hope that the world might do something.

The world should be absolutely horrified. The world should be absolutely outraged. There is no safe space in Gaza and the world should be ashamed.”

The hearing continues on Friday.

Judges leaving the courtroom at conclusion of Thursday’s hearing. (UN TV screenshot)

Judges leaving the courtroom at conclusion of Thursday’s hearing. (UN TV screenshot)

Source: Consortium News

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and other newspapers, including The Montreal Gazette, the London Daily Mail and The Star of Johannesburg. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London, a financial reporter for Bloomberg News and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times. He is the author of two books, A Political Odyssey, with Sen. Mike Gravel, foreword by Daniel Ellsberg; and How I Lost By Hillary Clinton, foreword by Julian Assange. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @unjoe

Featured Image: Adila Hassim, attorney for South Africa, addressing the World Court, with the Israel delegation looking on. (UN TV screenshot)


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