South Africa urges ICJ to pressure Israel to halt Rafah assault

South Africa urges ICJ to pressure Israel to halt Rafah assault
South Africa urged the UN's top court to place more legal pressure on Israel to halt a threatened offensive against the densely crowded Gaza city.
3 min read
14 February, 2024
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, wearing a Palestinian keffiyah at a friendly football match on February 11 [Getty]

South Africa's government said Tuesday it had lodged an “urgent request” with the UN's International Court of Justice to consider whether Israel’s military operations targeting the southern Gaza city of Rafah are a breach of provisional orders the court handed down last month in a case alleging genocide .

South Africa has asked the court to weigh whether Israel’s intention to launch a ground offensive in Rafah — where 1.4 million Palestinians have fled in an attempt to escape fighting — represents a "further imminent breach of the rights of Palestinians in Gaza".

Israel has already launched a series of strikes on the city on the border with Egypt, which along with other regional neighbors has warned that an offensive on Rafah would bring disaster.

South Africa alleges Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian people in its war in the Gaza Strip and lodged a case with the world court. The court handed down a preliminary ruling last month.

Among its six orders, it said Israel must do all it can to prevent the deaths of Palestinians and the destruction of Gaza. South Africa had asked the court to order a ceasefire by Israel, but the justices stopped short of that.

South Africa is now asking the court to consider further provisional measures against Israel, according to Tuesday's statement released by the office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

"The South African government said it was gravely concerned that the unprecedented military offensive against Rafah, as announced by the State of Israel, has already led to and will result in further large scale killing, harm and destruction," the statement said.

"This would be in serious and irreparable breach both of the Genocide Convention and of the Court’s Order of 26 January 2024."

South Africa said it was asking the court that the matter be dealt with urgently "in light of the daily death toll in Gaza."

Israel's assault has wrought destruction in Gaza, with more than 28,000 people killed, over 70% of them women and minors, according to local health officials in the besieged enclave.

Around 80% of the population has been displaced and the UN says a humanitarian catastrophe has pushed more than a quarter of Palestinians in Gaza toward starvation.

The 7 October attacks on southern Israel led to the killing of about 1,200 people and 250 were taken hostage, which followed months of deadly Israeli raids in the West Bank.

South Africa has previously accused Israel of breaching the world court's orders.

Days after the court's ruling, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said the continued killing of civilians in Gaza showed Israel's disregard for its orders.

"Israel believes it has license to do as it wishes,” Pandor said.

South Africa's legal efforts are rooted in issues central to its identity: Its governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Blacks to “homelands” before ending in 1994.

Israel's military assault in Gaza was described last week as “over the top” by US President Joe Biden, perceived by some as strong criticism from a close ally.

The White House said Biden has also warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel should not conduct a military operation in Rafah without a “credible and executable” plan to protect civilians.