Israel is only defending itself

GS Paper II

News Excerpt: South Africa recently filed an application with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) instituting proceedings against Israel, alleging that Israel is committing a “Genocide.”

What is Genocide? 

  • The definition of genocide was coined in 1944 by a Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who was a key figure in the establishment of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948. 
  • Often seen as the “crime of crimes”, genocide is defined by the special intent to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”.
  • According to ICJ, the use of force, even on a significant scale “cannot in itself constitute an act of genocide”.

What is the International Court of Justice (ICJ)?

  • The ICJ, also called the World Court, is the highest United Nations legal body that can adjudicate on issues between member states. 
  • The ICJ comprises 15 judges appointed for nine-year terms through elections at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the Security Council (UNSC). 
  • The court’s rulings are binding and cannot be appealed by member states, but it depends on the UNSC to enforce the decisions.

Background of the recent Israel-Palestine conflict: 

  • In early October 2023, war broke out between Israel and Hamas (Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2006).
  • Hamas fighters fired rockets into Israel and stormed southern Israeli cities and towns across the border of the Gaza Strip on 7 October 2023, killing more than 1,300 Israelis, injuring 3,300, and taking hundreds of hostages. 
  • One day after the October attack, the Israeli Cabinet formally declared war against Hamas.
  • Since then, the two sides have traded daily rocket fire, and Israel ordered more than one million Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza to evacuate ahead of a ground invasion. 
  • Israeli forces have encircled Gaza City, cutting it off from southern Gaza and squeezing Hamas.

Main Israeli-Palestinian Issues:

  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict revolves around the following key issues such as: 
    • The two-state solution: It proposes creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel, but Hamas rejects it. 
    • Settlements: Settlements built on land occupied by Israel in 1967, are considered illegal by most countries, causing perpetual tension. 
    • Jerusalem: Jerusalem is a contentious point, with Palestinians wanting East Jerusalem as their capital, while Israel insists on its sovereignty over the entire city. 
    • The refugee issue: It involves millions of Palestinians, descendants of those who fled in 1948, 
      • Palestinians have long demanded that refugees should be allowed to return, along with millions of their descendants. Israel says any resettlement of Palestinian refugees must occur outside of its borders.

South Africa’s Claim: 

  • On December 29, 2023, South Africa filed the application with ICJ, basing its case on two claims: 
    • The first is the scale of civilian death and destruction in Gaza.  
      • There is no doubt that the war in Gaza has been devastating for the civilian population, but this does not indicate the occurrence of genocide.
    • The second one is about various statements issued by Israeli officials or former officials, which they claim prove the necessary special intent of committing genocide.  
      • But, they do not reflect Israel’s actions in practice, and are a very selective collection of cherry-picked statements, ignoring numerous other statements.
  • South Africa has accused Israel of committing the crime of genocide in Gaza in violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention, which both countries are party to.
  • South Africa’s filing has been welcomed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, whose 57 members include many African and Muslim-majority countries such as Turkey and Malaysia, which have also made separate statements of support.
  • Israel’s Response: Israel rejects South Africa’s claim, stating that it lacks both a factual and a legal basis, and constitutes a despicable and contemptuous exploitation of the court.” 
  • Palestinians gathered in Nelson Mandela Square in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, for a rally in appreciation of South Africa’s genocide case

Way Forward: 

  • The key to resolving the conflict lies in both sides’ willingness to accept each other and make compromises for peace in the region.
  • It will take a collective effort from both Israelis and Palestinians to bring an end to this long-standing conflict. This will require compromise, empathy, and a willingness to put aside past grievances in order to build a better future for all involved.
  • South Africa wants it to implement a provisional measure that would oblige Israel “not to engage in genocide, and to prevent and to punish genocide”. Such temporary measures are meant to prevent a situation from worsening while the case is decided.
  • Significance: The court’s ruling is final and cannot be appealed against. However, it cannot enforce its decisions and it is not clear that Israel would comply with it. However, an adverse ruling would be detrimental to Israel’s reputation and set a legal precedent.

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