Charting a New Course: SA’s Stand Against Israel

The ANC has a longstanding relationship with the people of Palestine.

So, there’s historical significance in that South Africa (SA) is at the forefront of taking Israel to court.

The ANC used to be a banned liberation movement which led an armed struggle against the racist white apartheid regime in SA, and says it sees echoes of that in the plight of the Palestinians.

Furthermore, former SA president Nelson Mandela had allegiance to former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and famously said South Africa’s freedom would not be complete until the Palestinians were also free.

More than 85% of Gaza’s 2,3 million people have been displaced since 7 October, with aid agencies warning of famine risk amid mounting hunger due to blockages of food and the destruction of essential health services.

Israel has denied the allegations made by South Africa and has defended itself in this suit.

Not only that, but Israel has described the lawsuit as a “despicable and contemptuous exploitation” of the court. So why the International Court of Justice (ICJ)?

The question of jurisdiction is established when countries involved agree that they recognise the court’s power. South Africa and Israel are both parties to the 1948 United Nations (UN) Genocide Convention, and thus subject to the ICJ’s interpretations of it.

ICJ judgements are legally binding and as a result cannot be appealed.

However, the court has no enforcement power per se.

In the event the ICJ rules in favour of SA and Israel does not comply, South Africa can approach the UN Security Council for enforcement of the judgement.

However, at the UN Security Council, the United States (US), who is Israel’s number-one supporter, has veto power as a permanent member.

The US could deter Israel from punishment, as we have seen it do multiple times in this particular war and on many different occasions.

But, if the majority finds Israel to be in violation of international law at the end of the months of deliberations, Tel Aviv would be obliged to do as the ICJ decides.

Even though the outcome of this case is one that is unpredictable, a favourable judgement would put more international pressure on Israel to stop the war.

South Africa wants the ICJ to order Israel to “immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza”. It is, however, probable that Israel will disregard such an order and could not be made to comply.

Legal experts say the full case to prove Israel is guilty of genocide could take years, but the hearing itself is an urgent measure to seek a quick order against Israel in the meantime.

Elline Uusiku

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