South Africa asks ICJ to halt Israel’s Rafah offensive

South Africa on Thursday urged the UN’s top court to order an end to Israel’s assault on Rafah, accusing Israel of intensifying what it calls “genocide” in Gaza.

The hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague is part of South Africa’s broader case accusing Israel of committing “acts of genocide” against Palestinians in Gaza.

“South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people,” Vusimuzi Madonsela, South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands, told the ICJ.

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

Israel will respond on Friday, the second and final scheduled day of the preliminary hearing. It has denied the accusation and has previously highlighted its commitment to international law. Israel has called South Africa’s case “wholly unfounded” and “morally repugnant.” 

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

What has South Africa requested at the ICJ?

South Africa has asked the ICJ to make three emergency orders while the body continues to hear arguments on the wider genocide accusation.

The first requested measure is for the court to order Israel to “immediately withdraw and cease its military offensive” in Rafah.

Second, Israel should be called upon to take “all effective measures” to allow “unimpeded access” for humanitarian workers, investigators and journalists into Gaza.

The third requested provisional measure is to ensure that Israel reports back on its efforts to adhere to the first two orders.

“As the overwhelming evidence demonstrates, the very manner in which Israel is pursuing its military operations in Rafah, and elsewhere in Gaza, is itself genocidal,” South Africa said in its submission. “It must be ordered to stop.”

How will Israel respond?

Israel is scheduled to respond in another hearing on Friday. Previously, Israel has said it had stepped up efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza as the ICJ had ordered.

However, humanitarian organizations have repeatedly said they have had difficulties accessing border crossings into Gaza — especially through Rafah since Israel began military operations there — and distributing food to those who need it within the enclave. The UN’s World Food Program said Wednesday that its food and fuel stocks “will run out in a matter of days,” as they have not been able to receive aid through the Kerem Shalom border crossing since May 6.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, told Israeli Army Radio on Wednesday the short notice for the court hearings meant there wasn’t enough time for sufficient legal preparation.

The ICJ’s rulings are binding and without appeal, but the court has no way to enforce them. An order against a country is seen as hurting its international reputation and setting a legal precedent.

zc,dh/msh (AFP, Reuters)