The Team
March 29, 2024

What will happen to South Africa's genocide case against Israel

Four months ago, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu referred to the concept of "Amalek" from the Torah, citing 1 Samuel 15:3 to justify the killing of Palestinians. 

The verse commands: "Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." Essentially, in the Old Testament, God commanded King Saul to annihilate every person in Amalek (which, according to Netanyahu, applies to Palestine), including men, women, children, infants, and animals. It carries a very genocidal nature, doesn't it?

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, one of the lawyers involved in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), highlighted this among other points while representing South Africa in the genocide case against Israel. Let's delve into what the genocide case entails and explore potential developments.

What is a genocide case? 

The term "genocide" was coined by Raphael Lemkin in direct response to the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

In a genocide case, a country is accused of intentionally harming a specific group of people based on their race, religion, ethnicity, or nationality. These accusations are taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the primary legal branch of the United Nations.

For a case to be filed, the involved countries must be members of the Genocide Convention (both South Africa and Israel are). This international treaty was adopted in 1948 and officially defines and condemns genocide. The genocide Convention was established to address the horrific crimes against humanity witnessed during World War II.

Why South Africa filed the genocide case against Israel? 

Another member of the South African legal team, Adila Hassim, strongly highlighted the atrocities committed by Israel — "Israel deployed 6,000 bombs per week, including 2000 pounds bombs in southern areas of Palestine designated as ‘safe’, and in the north, including ‘refugee camps’. These 2000-pound bombs are some of the biggest and most destructive weapons available. Israel has caused an unparalleled and unprecedented number of civilian casualties."

In an 84-page document, South Africa argues that Israel has violated the 1948 genocide convention, which mandates all countries to prevent the recurrence of such crimes.

Attorney Tembeka Ngcukaitobi stated that Israel explicitly conveyed a "genocidal intent,'" and referenced several statements from political figures and military commanders. 

Beyond a moral duty, South Africa draws parallels with its own history of apartheid, occupation, and colonialism repression, which mirrors the challenges faced by Palestinians today. Notably, Israel supported South Africa's apartheid government by providing weapons and maintaining secret military ties until the mid-1980s, even after publicly denouncing apartheid. While the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the African National Congress (ANC) mutually supported their anti-colonial struggles, exchanging weapons and resistance tactics in enthusiastic cooperation. 

In Nelson Mandela's words: "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."

It’s not about win or lose

The ICJ didn't grant South Africa's main request for Israel to suspend military airstrikes in Gaza or call for a permanent cease-fire. It did ask to prevent Israeli troops from committing genocide against Palestinians. The ICJ didn't decide on the merits of the genocide allegations, a process that could take years, similar to the more than 10 years it took for the Serbia case to conclude. In response, Israel rejected the genocide allegations, accusing South Africa of providing legal cover for Hamas.

Source: ICJ

This ruling had no immediate effect on Israel, as Prime Minister Netanyahu stated, "We will continue to do what is necessary." The ICJ lacks mechanisms to enforce its orders. South Africa could potentially escalate the matter to the U.N. Security Council, which has more powers than the ICJ, such as imposing sanctions. However, the likelihood of meaningful action is low due to the veto power held by the United States.

Despite all this, the case has significantly tarnished Israel's public image. Countries, organizations, or political parties will need to be more careful if they are supporting a country that commits “genocide”. Israel or even the US and UK will find themselves more isolated than ever. Ultimately, mounting public pressure will compel lawmakers to refrain from supporting Israel in any manner.