The International Court of Justice in The Hague commenced provisional proceedings against Israel on Thursday morning, with lawyers for South Africa explaining to justices why the country has accused the Jewish state of alleged violations under the Genocide Convention.
Opening arguments kicked off at 10 a.m. local time and were expected to last until 1 p.m. Israel’s legal team will be given three hours on Friday morning to refute Pretoria’s accusations.
Thursday’s hearing is focused on South Africa’s request for an interim order calling on Jerusalem to halt its operation against the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip. The proceedings will likely take years, but an interim order could be issued within a matter of weeks.
The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Its seat is at the Peace Palace in The Hague in the Netherlands. It deals with disputes between states, whereas the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutes individuals.
Although the ICJ has no ability to enforce its judgments, a ruling against Israel could add international pressure to wind down combat operations in Gaza.
The diplomatic delegation for South Africa includes former U.K. Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who once described Hamas as his “friends” and whose career has been marred by accusations of antisemitism.
Pushed 15 times to state whether Hamas is a terrorist group in a Nov. 14 interview with British TV host Piers Morgan, Corbyn declined. Hamas is a designated terror group in the United Kingdom.
“I am at The Hague to support South Africa’s case against Israel,” tweeted Corbyn ahead of this week’s court battle, adding: “This is a historic moment for humanity, and a wake-up call for political leaders letting a genocide unfold.”
In a move praised by Hamas, South Africa has charged Israel with violating its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention by intending “to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.”
The 1948 Genocide Convention, to which both Israel and South Africa are signatories, was drafted in the wake of the Holocaust to prevent the destruction, or intent to destroy, “in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
When South Africa made its announcement late last year, Israel’s Foreign Ministry denounced the move, stating, “Israel rejects with disgust the blood libel spread by South Africa and its application to the International Court of Justice.”
The Foreign Ministry noted that Israel makes every effort to avoid harming civilians uninvolved in hostilities and called on the ICJ to “completely reject South Africa’s baseless claims.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the beginning of a Dec. 31 Cabinet meeting, told ministers, “I would like to say a word about South Africa’s mendacious pontificating to the effect that Israel ‘is perpetrating genocide.’ No, South Africa, it is not we who have come to perpetrate genocide; it is Hamas.”
The Biden administration has also criticized South Africa’s filing to the court. “We find this submission meritless, counterproductive, completely without any basis in fact whatsoever,” U.S. National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said last week.
On Wednesday the Biden administration reiterated its opposition to the hearing, calling the accusations against Israel “unfounded.”
“In fact, it is those who are violently attacking Israel who continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Matt Miller.
“Genocide is one of the most heinous acts any entity or individual can commit, and such allegations should only be made with the greatest of care,” he added.
“Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas’s terrorist acts—acts that Hamas has vowed to repeat again and again until Israel is completely destroyed. Israel is operating in an exceptionally challenging environment in Gaza, an urban battlespace where Hamas intentionally embeds itself with and hides behind civilians,” he continued.
Miller also urged Israel to “comply with international humanitarian law” as well as “look for more ways to prevent civilian harm and to investigate credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law when they arise.”
Israel launched its war in retaliation for Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks in the country’s northwestern Negev region, in which 1,200 people, mostly Israeli civilians, were brutally massacred.
On Wednesday, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office launched a new English-language website documenting the sheer brutality of Hamas’s atrocities.
“Tomorrow, we will appear before the court in The Hague,” noted Moshik Aviv, who, as head of the PMO’s National Public Diplomacy Directorate, spearheaded the project.
The online portal shows some of the “terrible atrocities that were carried out against the citizens of Israel on the black Saturday of Oct. 7,” said Aviv. Photos and videos showing murder victims have been blurred to safeguard their privacy.
“This site will assist the State of Israel in its mission of reminding the world that we are the victims of the unprecedented terrorist event that we experienced,” added Aviv.