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South Africa says Israel’s response to Hamas operation breached Genocide Convention

The screen grab shows South Africa’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, January 11, 2024, as he delivers his opening statement.

South Africa says Israel’s response to the offensive launched by the Palestinian Hamas resistance group on October 7 had breached the Genocide Convention, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague holds a hearing against Israel for Gaza's “genocide” case.

At the top UN court in The Hague on Thursday, South Africa said Israel had breached the UN Genocide Convention by imposing a brutal war on the densely-populated Gaza Strip for more than two months, stressing that the Hamas attack could not justify such military incursion on the besieged Palestinian enclave.

Late last month, Pretoria, in an 84-page suit filed against Israel at the ICJ, asked the top court to urgently declare that the Tel Aviv regime has breached its responsibilities under international law since it launched an ongoing war on the impoverished coastal sliver.

South Africa detailed evidence of brutality being perpetrated in Gaza, making the African nation the first to file a lawsuit against the occupying regime at the ICJ, appealing to the court to force the regime to “immediately suspend” its war on Gaza.

“No armed attack on a state territory no matter how serious... can provide justification for or defend breaches of the convention,” said Ronald Lamola, South Africa’s justice minister, during his opening statement in the case at the ICJ.

“Israel's response to the October 7 attack has crossed this line and given rise to the breaches of the convention,” he stressed, setting out South Africa's case at the top court.

“The Palestinians have experienced systematic oppression and violence for the last 76 years, on October 6, 2023, and every day since October 7, 2023. In the Gaza Strip, at least since 2004, Israel continues to exercise control over the airspace, territorial waters, land crossings, water, electricity, and civilian infrastructure, as well as key government functions,” Lamola added.

South Africa, when faced with such evidence of genocide in Gaza, firmly decided to initiate this case in an attempt to prevent such crimes in the Palestinian enclave as contained in Article 1 of the Convention, the South African justice minister further said at the court.

After Lamola, Adila Hassim, who is an advocate representing South Africa’s case, took the floor.

“South Africa contends that Israel has transgressed Article 2 of the convention by committing actions that fall within the definition of genocide. The actions show systematic patterns of conduct from which genocide can be inferred,” she said.

Hassim went on to say that the “first genocidal act is mass killing of Palestinians in Gaza.”

“Israel deployed 6,000 bombs per week. At least 200 times, it has deployed 2,000-pound (907kg) bombs in southern Gaza, which it designated safe. No one is spared. Not even newborns. UN chiefs have described it as a graveyard for children,” she added.

Other representatives of the South African nation one after the other presented the case against Israel at the top UN court. 

“Israel’s political leaders, military commanders and persons holding official positions have systematically and in explicit terms declared their genocidal intent. These statements are then repeated by soldiers on the ground in Gaza as they engage in the destruction of Palestinians and the physical infrastructure of Gaza,” said South African lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. 

While lawyers inside the ICJ are making the case against Israel, a large number of pro-Palestinian demonstrators had gathered outside the building, demanding justice and a quick end to the brutal war. 

The third representative of South Africa at the ICJ was Vusimuzi Madonsela, who told the court that Pretoria had come forward “to prevent genocide and to do so in the discharge of the international obligation that rests on South Africa and all other states under the convention.” 

“The consequences of not indicating clear and specific provisional measures and not taking steps to intervene while Israel disregards its international obligations before our eyes would, we fear, be very grave indeed,” he added. 

After South Africa’s representatives concluded their arguments, ICJ President Joan Donoghue announced that the sitting was adjourned and that the court would meet again tomorrow to hear Israel’s oral arguments. 

As it is an urgent procedure, the top UN court could rule in a matter of weeks. 

The Israeli regime waged the war on Gaza on October 7 after the Palestinian Hamas resistance group carried out the surprise Operation Al-Aqsa Storm against the occupying entity in response to the Israeli regime’s atrocities against Palestinians. 

Since the start of the US-backed offensive, the Israeli regime has killed at least 23,210 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and injured more than 59,167 others. Thousands more are also missing and presumed dead under the rubble.

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