Following is a transcript of the opening statement from South Africa in the case it’s brought to the International Court of Justice alleging Israel has engaged in genocide in its ongoing assault on Gaza.
The statement was delivered a short time ago by Adila Hassim SC, a South African human rights lawyer with the Thulamela Chambers in Johannesburg.
The ICJ case is being held on January 11 and 12, with Israel expected to file its response tomorrow. New Matilda will have on going coverage of the case, as it unfolds.
Opening Address – South Africa
South Africa contends that Israel has transgressed article 2 of the convention by committing actions that fall within the definition of genocide. The actions show a systematic pattern of conduct from which genocide can be inferred.
Gaza is one of the two constituent territories of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, occupied by Israel since 1967. It is a narrow strip of approximately 365 sqkm…. Israel continues to exercise control over the space, territorial waters, land crossings, water, electricity, electromagnetic sphere, and civilian infrastructure in Gaza, as well as over key governmental functions….
Entry and exit by air and sea to Gaza is prohibited, with Israel operating the only two crossing points.
Gaza, which is one of the most densely populated places in the world, is home to approximately 2.3 million Palestinians, almost half of them children.
For the past 96 days Israel has subjected Gaza to what has been described as one of the heaviest conventional bombing campaigns in the history of modern warfare.
Palestinians in Gaza are being killed by Israeli weaponry from air, land and sea.
They are also at immediate risk of death by starvation, dehydration and disease, as a result of the ongoing siege by Israel, the destruction of Palestinian towns, the insufficient aid being allowed through to the Palestinian population, and the impossibility of distributing this limited aid while bombs fall.
This conduct renders essentials to life unobtainable.
At this provisional measures stage… it is not necessary for the court to come to a final view on the question of whether Israel’s conduct constitutes genocide. It is necessary to establish only whether at least some of the acts alleged are capable of falling within the provision of the convention.
On analysing the specific and ongoing genocidal acts complained of, it is clear that at least some if not all of these acts fall within the Convention’s provisions. These acts are documented in detail in South Africa’s application, and confirmed by reliable… UN sources. It’s unnecessary and impossible for me to recount all of them. I will highlight only some, in order to illustrate the pattern of genocidal conduct.
The UN statistics that are relied upon are up to date as of 9 January, 2024.
In South Africa’s oral submissions we will illustrate the facts that we rely on with limited use of audio-visual material. We do so with restraint and only where necessary, and always with respect to the Palestinian people.
Against this background, I move now to demonstrate in turn how Israel’s conduct violates 2a 2b 2c and 2d of the Convention.
Israel’s first genocidal act
The first Genocidal act committed by Israel is the mas killing of Palestinians in Gaza, in violation of article 2a of the Genocide Convention.
As the UN Secretary General explained five weeks ago, the level of Israel’s killing is so extensive that nowhere is safe in Gaza. As I stand before you today, 23,210 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during the sustained attacks over the last three months, at least 70 percent of whom are believed to be women and children. Some 7,000 Palestinians are still missing, presumed dead under the rubble.
Palestinians in Gaza are subjected to relentless bombing where-ever they go. They are killed in their homes, in places where they seek shelter, in hospitals, in schools, in mosques, in churches, and as they try to find food and water for their families.
They have been killed if they failed to evacuate in the places to which they have fled, and even while they attempted to flee along Israeli-declared safe routes.
The level of killing is so extensive that those bodies found are buried in mass graves, often unidentified.
In the first three weeks alone following 7 October Israel deployed 6,000 bombs per week. At least 200 times, it has deployed 2,000 pound bombs in southern areas of Palestine designated as safe. These bombs have also decimated the north, including refugee camps.
Two thousand pound bombs are some of the biggest and most destructive bombs available. They are dropped by lethal fighter jets that are used to strike targets on the ground by one of the world’s most resourced armies.
Israel has killed an unparalleled and unprecedented number of civilians, with the full knowledge of how many civilian lives each bomb will take.
More than 1,800 Palestinians families in Gaza have lost multiple family members, and hundreds of multi-generational families have been wiped out with no remaining survivors – mothers, fathers, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, cousins, often all killed together. This killing is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life. It is inflicted deliberately. No-one is spared. Not even newborn babies.
The scale of Palestinian child killings in Gaza is such that UN chiefs have described it as a graveyard for children.
The devastation, we submit, is intended to, and has laid waste to, Gaza beyond any acceptable, legal, let alone, humane justification.
Israel’s second genocidal act
The second genocidal act identified in South Africa’s application is Israel’s infliction of serious bodily or mental harm to Palestinians in Gaza in violation of Article 2b of the Genocide Convention.
Israel’s attacks have left close to 60,000 Palestinians wounded and maimed. Again, the majority of them, women and children. This in circumstances where the healthcare system has all but collapsed. I‘ll return to this later in my speech.
Large numbers of Palestinians civilians, including children, are arrested, blind-folded, forced to undress, and loaded onto trucks taken to unknown locations. The suffering of the Palestinian people, physical and mental, is undeniable.
Israel’s third genocidal act
Turning to the third genocidal acts under article 2c, Israel has deliberately imposed conditions in Gaza that cannot sustain life, and are calculated to bring about its physical destruction.
Israel achieves this in at least four ways. First, by displacement.
Israel has forced the displacement of about 85 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza. There is nowhere safe for them to flee too. Those who cannot leave or refuse to be displaced have either been killed, or are at extreme risk of being killed in their homes.
Many Palestinians have been displaced multiple times, as families are forced to move repeatedly in search of safety.
Israel’s first evacuation order on 13 October, required the evacuation of over 1 million people, including children, the elderly, the wounded, and infirm. Entire hospitals were required to evacuate, even newborn babies in intensive care.
The order required them to evacuate the north to the south within 24 hours. The order itself was genocidal. It required immediate movement, taking only what could be carried. while no humanitarian assistance was permitted, and fuel, water and food and other necessities of life had been deliberately cut off.
It was clearly calculated to bring about the destruction of the population.
For many Palestinians the forced evacuation from their homes is inevitably permanent. Israel has now damaged or destroyed an estimated 350,000 Palestinian homes, leaving at least half a million Palestinians with no home to return to.
The Special Rapporteur o the Human Rights of Internally Displace Person explains that Housing and infrastructure “have been razed to the ground, frustrating any realistic prospects for displaced Gazans to return home, repeating a long history of mass forced displacement of Palestinians by Israel.
There is no indication at all that Israel accepts responsibility for rebuilding what it has destroyed. Instead, the destruction is celebrated by the Israeli army.
Soldiers film themselves joyfully detonating entire apartment blocks and town squares, erecting the Israeli flag over the wreckage, seeking to re-establish Israeli settlements on the rubble of Palestinians homes, and thus extinguishing the very basis of Palestinian life in Gaza.
SECOND, together with the forced displacement, Israel’s conduct has been deliberately calculated to cause widespread hunger, dehydration and starvation. Israel’s campaign has pushed Gazans to the brink of famine. An unprecedented 93 per cent of the population iN Gaza is facing crisis levels of hunger. Of all the people in the world currently suffering catastrophic hunger, more than 80 per cent are in Gaza.
The situation is such that the experts are now predicting that more Palestinians in Gaza may die from starvation and disease than airstrikes. And yet Israel continues to impede the effective delivery of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, not only refusing to allow sufficient aid in, but removing the ability to distribute it through constant bombardment and obstruction,.
Just three days ago, on 8 January, a planned mission by UN agencies to deliver urgent medical supplies and vital fuel to a hospital and medical supply centre was denied by Israeli authorities. This marked the fifth denial of a mission to this centre since 26 December, leaving five hospitals in northern Gaza without access to lifesaving supplies and equipment.
Aid trucks that are allowed in are seized upon by the hungry. What is provided is simply not enough.
Madam president, members of the court, this is an image of an aid truck arriving in Gaza.
THIRD, Israel has deliberately inflicted conditions in which Palestinians in Gaza are denied adequate shelter, clothes or sanitation. For weeks, there have been acute shortages of clothes, bedding, blankets and critical non-food items. Clean water is all but gone, leaving far below the amount required to safely drink, clean and cook.
Accordingly, the WHO has stated that Gaza is experiencing soaring rates of infectious disease outbreaks. Cases of diarrhea in children under five years of age have increased 2,000 per cent since hostilities began. When combined and left untreated, malnutrition and disease create a deadly cycle.
THE fourth genocidal act under article 2b is Israel’s military assault on Gaza’s healthcare system, which renders life unsustainable.
Even by 7 December, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health noted that the healthcare infrastructure in the Gaza strip has been completely obliterated.
Those wounded by Israel in Gaza are being deprived of lifesaving medical care. Gaza’s healthcare system, already crippled by years of blockade and prior attacks by Israel, is unable to cope with the sheer scale of injuries.
Israel’s fourth genocidal act
Finally, the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls, has pointed to acts committed by Israel that would fall under the fourth category of genocidal acts, in Article 2d of the Convention.
On 22 November she expressly warned the following:
“The reproductive violence inflicted by Israel on Palestinian women, newborn babies, infants and children, could be qualified as acts of genocide under Article 2 of the genocide convention, including imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group.”
Israel is blocking the delivery of lifesaving aid, including essential medical kits for delivering babies, in circumstances where an estimated 180 women are giving birth in Gaza each day. Of these 180 women, the WHO warns that 15 percent are likely to experience pregnancy or birth-related complications and need additional medical care. That care is simply not available.
In sum Madam president, all of these acts individually and collectively form a calculated pattern of conduct by Israel indicating a genocidal intent.
This intent is evident from Israel’s conduct in specially targeting Palestinians living in Gaza; using weaponry that causes large-scale homicidal destruction, as well as targetted sniping of civilians; designating safe zones for Palestinians to seek refuge, and then bombing these; depriving Palestinians in Gaza of basic needs – food, water, healthcare, fuel, sanitation and communications; destroying social infrastructure, homes, schools, mosques, churches, hospitals; and killing, seriously injuring and leaving large numbers of children orphaned.
Genocides are never declared in advance, but this court has the benefit of the past 13 weeks of evidence that shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention that justifies a plausible claim of genocidal acts.
In the Gambia-Myanmar case, this court did not hesitate to impose provisional measures in relation to allegations that Myanmar was committing genocidal acts against the Rohingya within the Rakhine state.
The facts before the court today are sadly even more stark, and like the Gambia-Myanmar case, deserve and demand this court’s intervention.
Every day there is mounting irreparable loss of life, property, dignity and humanity for the Palestinian people.
Our news feeds show graphic images of suffering that has become unbearable to watch. Nothing will stop the suffering except an order from this court.
Without an indication of provisional measures, the atrocities will continue, with the Israeli Defence Force indicating that it intends pursuing this course of action for at least a year.
In the words of the UN Under Secretary General on 5 January 2024, I quote:
“You think getting aid into Gaza is easy? Think again. Three layers of inspections before trucks can even enter. Confusion and long queues. A growing list of rejected items. A crossing point meant for pedestrians not trucks. Another crossing point where trucks have been blocked by desperate, hungry communities. A destroyed commercial sector. Constant bombardments, poor communications, damaged roads, convoys shot at, delays at checkpoints, a traumatised and exhausted population crammed into a smaller and small sliver of land, shelters which have long exceeded their full capacity. Aid workers themselves displaced, killed. This is an impossible situation for the people of Gaza and for those trying to help them. The fighting must stop.”
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