Explanation: What does the ICJ represent and what is the claim made by South Africa against Israel?

The hearings on Thursday in a case that could harm Israel’s reputation are set to commence at the International Court of Justice. It is important to differentiate this court from the International Criminal Court, which focuses on prosecuting individuals for war crimes. As the top court of the United Nations, the ICJ resolves disputes between nations and provides advisory opinions. It consists of 15 judges, to be expanded by one additional judge from each side in the Israel case. These judges are elected by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council for nine-year terms.

In its filing of 84 pages, South Africa accuses Israel of genocide in its operations against Hamas in Gaza. It alleges that Israel has the specific intent to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as part of the broader Palestinian national, racial, and ethnic group. South Africa further claims that Israel has failed to prevent genocide and to prosecute officials who have incited genocide publicly. Additionally, South Africa seeks a provisional measure from the court, compelling Israel to refrain from engaging in genocide and to prevent and punish acts of genocide. The purpose of such temporary measures is to prevent the situation from worsening while the case is being decided.

The genocide convention, ratified by 153 countries including Israel, defines genocide as acts committed with the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. These acts involve killing group members, inflicting serious harm upon them physically or mentally, destroying their living conditions to bring about their destruction, preventing them from reproducing, and forcibly transferring their children to other groups. Determining the intent to commit genocide is the most challenging aspect according to the UN definition.

Following the launch of the case, the Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson strongly rebuked the claims made by South Africa, considering them baseless and referred to them as a “blood libel.” He accused South Africa of cooperating with Hamas, a designated terrorist organization, and affirmed Israel’s commitment to international law.

The hearings, scheduled for two days starting on Thursday, mark the beginning of the full case, which may take several years to conclude. However, an interim measure could potentially be issued within weeks. To obtain the interim measure, South Africa is not required to prove that genocide has already occurred. It only needs to demonstrate that the court holds jurisdiction at first glance, or “prima facie,” and that some of the acts it mentions, such as the death toll and forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza, could fall under the genocide convention.

Even if the court opts not to implement an interim measure, it can still assert its jurisdiction and proceed with the case. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, comprising 57 member states including African and Muslim-majority countries like Turkey and Malaysia, has expressed support for South Africa’s filing.

It is worth noting that the court’s ruling is final and cannot be appealed. However, the court lacks enforcement power, and it remains uncertain if Israel would comply with its decisions. Nonetheless, an unfavorable ruling would have negative implications for Israel’s reputation and establish legal precedent.

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