The definition of genocide is simple: a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part. Its determination is much more complex. The legal threshold is high.
Nonetheless, judges at the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague could issue an interim ruling on the charges against Israel within weeks. A decision on which of the provisional measures requested by South Africa should be taken requires only that they find its case plausible, not proven, or that they believe there is a risk of genocide occurring. Resulting orders might not mean ordering a ceasefire, but restoring water supplies or punishing inciting statements.
The evidence of war crimes – ranging from indifference to the mass killing of civilians to using starvation as a weapon – has mounted by the day. So have the inflammatory and dehumanising statements made by Benjamin Netanyahu, his ministers and others. Israel will lay out its case to the UN’s highest court on Friday. However, its immediate response was not to contest the evidence, but to attack South Africa as acting as “the legal wing of Hamas” and committing “blood libel”. There is a widespread belief in Israel that it is obscene to use the genocide convention, created in response to the Holocaust, against the nation that arose from that horror, and following the 7 October attack by Hamas. Yet as South Africa made clear, self-defence can never justify action that amounts to genocide. [Continue reading…]