South Africa attempts to stop Israel’s Rafah offensive at ICJ

Thursday May 16 2024

People gather near the remains of a car at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on May 14, 2024. PHOTO | REUTERS


South Africa will ask the top UN court on Thursday to order a halt to the Rafah offensive as part of its case in The Hague accusing Israel of genocide in the Gaza Strip.

The hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) also known as the World Court, come after South Africa last week asked for additional emergency measures to protect Rafah, a southern Gaza city where more than a million Palestinians are being sheltered.

South Africa also asked the court to order Israel to allow unimpeded access to Gaza for UN officials, organisations providing humanitarian aid, journalists and investigators.

In their submission to the ICJ, Pretoria’s representatives said, "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."

Read: S.Africa asks ICJ to weigh Israel's Rafah attack

Israel "must be ordered to stop," the submission adds.


The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on Wednesday said 600,000 people have fled Rafah since Israel's military operations intensified in the area.

"As the primary humanitarian hub for humanitarian assistance in Gaza, if Rafah falls, so too does Gaza," South Africa said in its ICJ submission.

South Africa said, "in attacking Rafah, Israel is attacking the 'last refuge' in Gaza, and the only remaining area of the Strip which has not yet been substantially destroyed by Israel."

Pretoria stressed its view that the only way for the existing court orders to be implemented was a "permanent cease-fire in Gaza." Their legal representatives on Thursday are scheduled to begin two days of hearings at the Peace Palace, home of the ICJ, imploring judges to order that the war in Gaza stop.

Israel will respond on Friday. The nation has previously highlighted its "unwavering" commitment to upholding international law and described South Africa’s case as "wholly unfounded" and "morally repugnant."

Read: South Africa hails 'decisive victory' at UN court

In previous filings Israel stressed it had stepped up efforts to get humanitarian aid into Gaza as the ICJ had ordered.

Gilad Erdan, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations told Army Radio on Wednesday the short notice the court gave for the hearings did not allow sufficient legal preparation, adding that was "a telling sign."

The Israel-Hamas war has killed nearly 35,000 people in Gaza, according to health authorities in the Palestinian enclave.

Approximately 1,200 people were killed in Israel and 253 taken hostage on October 7 when Hamas launched the attack that started the war, according to Israeli tallies.

South Africa says Israel is committing acts of genocide against Palestinians.

In January, the ICJ ordered Israel to ensure its troops commit no genocidal acts against Palestinians in Gaza, allow in more humanitarian aid and preserve any evidence of violations.

The hearings on May 16 and 17 will only focus on issuing emergency measures, to keep the dispute from escalating. It will likely take years before the ICJ can rule on the merits of the case.

The ICJ's rulings and orders are binding and without appeal. While the court has no way to enforce them, an order against a country could hurt its international reputation and set legal precedent.

In past cases, the ICJ ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine, however President Vladimir Putin's "military operation" in the neighbouring nation continues.