Israel genocide at ‘new, horrific stage’: South Africa to UN Court

South Africa on Thursday appealed to the United Nations’ top judicial body to order a cessation of Israel’s military action in Rafah, saying the assaults on the southern Gaza city “must be stopped” to ensure the survival of the Palestinian people.

South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusimuzi Madonsela, asked judges to order Israel to “immediately, totally and unconditionally, withdraw the Israeli army from the entirety of the Gaza Strip.”

The two days of hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, are part of a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide.

Israel will respond in court on Friday.

“South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people,” said Madonsela.

“Instead, Israel’s genocide has continued apace and has just reached a new and horrific stage,” he added.

Last week, South Africa asked for additional emergency measures to protect Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have been sheltering from Israel’s attacks elsewhere in the enclave.

South Africa also asked the court to order Israel to allow unimpeded access to Gaza for U.N. officials, organizations providing humanitarian aid, journalists and investigators.

Rafah is ‘final stand’

The Rafah campaign is “the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people,” said Vaughan Lowe, a lawyer for South Africa.

“It was Rafah that brought South Africa to the court. But it is all Palestinians as a national, ethnical and racial group who need the protection from genocide that the court can order,” he added.

Gaza is suffering a humanitarian crisis caused by Israel’s unprecedented airstrikes and bombardments that have been raging since Oct. 7, with the U.N. and aid agencies warning of impending famine.

Israel’s offensive has killed more than 35,270 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to local health officials, and almost entirely destroyed the Gaza Strip.

Malnutrition in the enclave is widespread with international aid efforts blocked by Israel’s shutdowns of its Kerem Shalom crossing and the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The latest flare-up of the conflict started after the Palestinian resistance group Hamas’ attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, according to Israel.

Israel’s military campaign has killed tens of thousands of children and women, destroyed civilian infrastructure and starved the population, South Africa’s legal team told the court.

“From the onset, Israel’s intent was always to destroy Palestinian life and to wipe them off the face of the earth. Rafah is the final stand,” Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, one of the legal team, said.

“Israel must be stopped. South Africa is before you again today to respectfully ask the court to invoke its powers … to order a remedy that will stop Israel,” said Adila Hassim, another lawyer for South Africa.

Posting on social media, Israel’s Foreign Ministry made the claims that, “South Africa’s claims are both morally and factually distorted,” and Israel’s military abides by international law. It claimed that Hamas is “using South Africa in their attempt to exploit the International Court of Justice.” It called on judges to reject South Africa’s requests.

Palestinians too starved to flee

South Africa attorney Max du Plessis said Israel’s declared humanitarian zones – areas it ordered Gazans into to avoid military operations – were a “cruel distortion” because people were often too starved to flee. Those strong enough to leave to shelters were sometimes attacked by Israeli forces.

“There is nothing humanitarian about these humanitarian zones,” he said. “Israel’s genocide of Palestinians continues through military attacks and man-made starvation.”

Despite the urgency of the matter, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., argued on Army Radio on Wednesday that the short notice the court had given for this week’s hearings did not allow sufficient legal preparation. That was “a telling sign,” he claimed.

This week’s hearings will only focus on issuing emergency measures and it will likely take years before the court can rule on the underlying charge of genocide.

In January, the court ordered Israel to ensure it does not commit any genocidal acts against Palestinians in Gaza, allow in more humanitarian aid and preserve any evidence of violations.

The ICJ’s rulings and orders are binding and without appeal. While the court has no way to enforce them, an order against a country could hurt its international reputation and set a legal precedent.

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