South Africa has lodged an urgent appeal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to force Israel to “immediately suspend” its military operations in Gaza.
Robed officials from both countries will go head-to-head in the Great Hall of Justice in the Peace Palace in The Hague, a world away from the devastation seen in Israel and Gaza since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks.
As a fellow signatory to the treaty, South Africa can take Israel to the ICJ, which rules on disputes between countries and is often described as the “World Court”.
South Africa has acknowledged the “particular weight of responsibility” of accusing Israel of genocide and “unequivocally” condemned the Hamas attacks that touched off the war in Gaza.
But in an 84-page submission to the court, Pretoria charged that Israel’s bombing and invasion of Gaza is “intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group”.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog lashed out at the accusations and laid out his country’s likely defence.
“There’s nothing more atrocious and preposterous than this claim,” said Herzog.
“We will be in the International Court of Justice and we will present proudly our case of using self defence… under international humanitarian law,” he said.
He said the Israeli army was “doing its utmost under extremely complicated circumstances on the ground to make sure that there will be no unintended consequences and no civilian casualties”.
As it is an urgent procedure, the ICJ could rule in a matter of weeks.
Its rulings are final and cannot be appealed. However, countries do not always follow the court’s verdicts — the ICJ has ordered Russia to stop its invasion of Ukraine for example.
Cecily Rose, assistant professor of public international law at Leiden University, said the court does not have to rule on the fundamentals of the case at this stage — that issue will likely take years.
“Instead, the court would only be evaluating whether there is a risk of irreparable prejudice to rights held under the Genocide Convention, in particular the right of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts that threaten their existence as a group,” Rose told AFP.