South Africa becomes the first country to take de facto action by filing a “genocide lawsuit” against Israel

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South Africa has filed a lawsuit against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing it of committing genocide against the Palestinian people. This is the first time that a country has taken such a legal action against Israel, which has faced widespread criticism for its policies and practices in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The lawsuit, which was submitted on December 29, 2023, claims that Israel has violated the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as well as other international human rights and humanitarian law instruments. It cites evidence of Israel’s systematic and intentional killing, injuring, displacing, and persecuting of Palestinians, as well as its destruction of their homes, lands, and infrastructure.

South Africa’s move comes after a series of reports and statements by various international organizations and experts, which have accused Israel of committing crimes of apartheid and persecution against the Palestinians. In April 2021, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report titled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution”³, which examined Israel’s treatment of Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territories. The report concluded that Israel’s policies and actions amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, as defined by international law.

Similarly, in May 2021, during the escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, several experts and advocates raised the question of whether Israel’s actions constitute genocide. Genocide is defined by the 1948 Convention as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. Some argued that Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on Gaza, which killed around 14,000 people and displaced 1.5 million more, according to the UN⁴, showed an intent to destroy the Palestinian people. Others, however, disputed this claim, saying that Israel’s actions were motivated by self-defense and did not target Palestinians as a group.

The lawsuit by South Africa is likely to face several legal and political challenges, as Israel is not a party to the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction, and may refuse to cooperate or recognize its verdict. Moreover, Israel has the support of some powerful allies, such as the United States, which have veto power at the UN Security Council and can block any enforcement measures. Israel has also rejected the accusations of genocide, apartheid, and persecution, and has defended its actions as necessary and legitimate to protect its security and sovereignty.

The lawsuit by South Africa, however, may also have some positive impacts, such as raising awareness and pressure on the international community to address the plight of the Palestinians and to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law. It may also inspire other countries and groups to take similar legal actions against Israel, or to support the efforts of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is currently conducting a preliminary examination of the situation in Palestine. The lawsuit by South Africa may also signal a shift in the global public opinion and solidarity with the Palestinian cause, which has been growing in recent years, especially among the younger generations and civil society movements.

The lawsuit by South Africa is a bold and unprecedented step in the long and complex history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been marked by violence, injustice, and suffering for decades. It may not be the final or definitive solution to the conflict, but it may be a catalyst for change and a hope for peace and justice.

(1) A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid …. https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution.
(2) Experts, advocates deeply divided on question of ‘genocide’ in Gaza …. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/genocide-gaza-debate-1.7042809.
(3) Israel – Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel.
(4) Is What’s Happening in Gaza a Genocide? Experts Weigh In. https://time.com/6334409/is-whats-happening-gaza-genocide-experts/.


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