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South Africa Warns ICJ Israel’s Genocide Has “Reached a New and Horrific Stage”

Rafah is the “last stage of total annihilation,” South Africa’s team warned, urging the ICJ to order a ceasefire.

Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela (C), Director-General of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) Zane Dangor (R) and Palestinian Assistant Minister for Multilateral Affairs Ambassador Ammar Hijazi (L) speak following a hearing on South Africa's request for additional provisional measures against Israel at the International Court of Justice in on May 16, 2024.

In an emergency hearing furthering South Africa’s genocide case on Thursday, South Africa warned the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel has begun a new stage of genocide in Gaza that the court must move against with “extreme urgency.”

South Africa’s legal team is seeking provisional measures from the ICJ for Israel to immediately withdraw from Rafah and take every action possible to surge humanitarian aid into Gaza, on top of orders for Israel to comply with provisional orders the court issued in January and March.

“Israel is escalating its attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, and in so doing, is willfully breaching the binding orders of this court,” South African ambassador to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela said in opening remarks.

“South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people,” Madonsela continued. “Instead, Israel’s genocide has continued apace and has just reached a new and horrific stage.”

In oral arguments, the South African delegation stressed the profound danger that Israel’s invasion of Rafah poses for the future of all Palestinians in Gaza, citing Israel’s near-total aid blockade and violent dismantling of nearly all basic infrastructure, including the region’s medical system.

South African lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said that a “Rafah [invasion] is the last stage of the ‘total annihilation’ of Palestinian life. Without Rafah, the possibility to rebuild and reconstruct Palestinian life will be lost forever.”

Ngcukaitobi laid out numerous counts of Israeli leaders displaying “genocidal intent,” especially in regards to repeated warnings from humanitarian groups and world leaders that a Rafah invasion would create a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented magnitude in modern times.

The delegation presented evidence from its document filing for the request for the emergency hearing, including reports that hadn’t previously been brought before the court. These reports highlight the existence of “extermination zones” in Gaza where all Palestinians are considered a target and recent developments like Israel’s closing of the Rafah and Karem Abu Salem crossings in southern Gaza, which has caused severe shortages of basic needs like food.

Israel has continuously defended its bombing and starvation campaign by claiming that it has the right to self defense — but lawyer Vaughan Lowe, representing the South African delegation, pointed out that committing a genocide is not a valid form of self defense.

“First, the right of self-defense does not give a State a license to use unlimited violence,” Lowe said. “Second, nothing, not self-defence or anything else, can ever justify genocide. The prohibition on genocide is absolute, a peremptory norm of international law. Third, the Court ruled in 2004 that there is no right of self-defense by an occupying State against the territory that it occupies.”

It is unclear when the ICJ will make a decision on the request, though South Africa’s team has argued that this may be the ICJ’s last chance to save the lives of countless Palestinians in Gaza. Though the ICJ’s orders are legally binding, Israel has snubbed previous orders to allow more humanitarian access to Gaza and pull back on its genocidal actions, instead intensifying both its blockade and its attacks on Palestinians with no refuge left.

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