South Africa called on the United Nations’ International Court of Justice to order Israel to end its war on Hamas in the Palestinian territory of Gaza and rule that its military actions constitute genocide.
“Genocide is never declared in advance,” but the court should have enough evidence from the weeks of the campaign, Adila Hassim, a lawyer representing South Africa, said at a hearing in The Hague on Thursday. “Nothing will stop the suffering except an order from this court.”
The Hague-based tribunal’s judgments are binding with no right of appeal. Under the UN Charter, Israel — in case of an adverse ruling — has to do whatever the court rules, but there is no mechanism to enforce any such order and other countries have chosen to ignore, notably Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
The allegations relate to the number of Palestinians killed or displaced during the three-month conflict, which was triggered when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1 200 people.
Israel has denied the accusations, saying the campaign is to defend its own territory and that it has worked to prevent civilian casualties. Authorities controlled by Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, say more than 22,000 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war.
In two days of hearings, the judges will only look into whether they should impose orders on Israel to stop any military operations while the case is pending. The court devoted the first day of hearings on Thursday to the arguments submitted by South Africa. On Friday, Israel will defend.
Genocide is defined as the killing of members of a national, ethnic, racial and religious group, causing them serious bodily harm or deliberately inflicting conditions meant to harm them. However, these acts only count as genocide if they are committed with the intent to destroy the group, in whole or in part.
Without “provisional measures, the atrocities will continue with the Israel Defense Forces indicating that it intends pursuing this force of action for at least a year,” Hassim said. “This killing is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life,” she said.
Pro-Israel and pro-Palestine groups gathered for rallies in The Hague on Thursday. An Israel delegation including the families of hostages abducted on October 7 is set to hold a press conference in the evening.
The court hasn’t yet announced when it will deliver a ruling. In the suit filed by Ukraine under the Genocide Convention after Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, the ICJ in 2022 issued a provisional order in less than ten days.
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