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Israel, South Africa to face off at UN top court in Gaza genocide case

THE HAGUE: South Africa and Israel face each other at the top UN court on Thursday where judges will hear a South African case accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and requesting an emergency suspension of Israel’s military campaign.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, also known as the World Court, will have two days of hearings this week in a case brought in late December accusing Israel of failing to uphold its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Israel has called the whole case absurd and accused Pretoria of playing “advocate of the devil” for Hamas, the Palestinian group it is waging war against in Gaza.

South Africa and Israel are both parties to the Genocide Convention, which obliges them to not commit genocide and also to prevent and punish it.

The treaty defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

South Africa has asked the court to order a series of emergency measures including a suspension of military action in Gaza while the court hears the case on the merits, which can take years.

Israeli forces launched their offensive after fighters from Hamas-ruled Gaza carried out an Oct. 7 cross-border rampage in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 240 abducted.

Since then, the offensive has laid much of the densely populated Gaza Strip to waste, and nearly all its 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes at least once, causing a humanitarian catastrophe.

Post-apartheid South Africa has long defended the Palestinian cause, a relationship forged when the African National Congress’ struggle against white minority rule was cheered on by Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation.

In November, the now ruling ANC backed a motion in South Africa’s parliament to suspend diplomatic ties with Israel until it agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza.

In its court filings, South Africa cites Israel’s failure to provide food, water, medicine and other essential humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian enclave.

It also points to the sustained bombing campaign which has killed over 23,000 people according to Gaza health authorities.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said ahead of the hearings that Israel “remains committed to and operates in accordance with international law” and stressed all military action is directed against Hamas.

A ruling on the emergency measures is expected later this month.

The court will not rule at that time on the genocide allegations, as it will only rule on those in its final judgment which is likely several years off.

The ICJ’s decisions are final and without appeal but the court has no way to enforce them.