'Enough Is Enough': South Africa Urges ICJ to Halt Israeli Assault on Rafah

South African legal adviser Cornelius Scholtz (L) and South African Ambassador to the Netherlands Vusi Madonsela attend a hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Israel's incursion in Rafah, Gaza, in The Hague on May 16, 2024.

(Photo: Lina Selg/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

'Enough Is Enough': South Africa Urges ICJ to Halt Israeli Assault on Rafah

Israel's assault on Rafah provides "evidence of the crime of genocide," one legal expert said. "This attack is the final blow that is intended to destroy the Palestinian group in Gaza."

South African officials on Thursday made their case before the International Court of Justice to stop Israel's brutal invasion of Rafah, warning once again that Israeli officials have displayed clear "genocidal intent" and "genocidal conduct" in their military campaign in Gaza.

The case for the ICJ to stop the attack on Rafah was made by a number of lawyers, legal experts, and ambassadors, with the South African representatives outlining the bare facts of Israel's military campaign, blocking of humanitarian aid, and statements of intent, just as they did when the court heard South Africa's original claim that Israel is committing genocide.

That case, argued in January, resulted in a preliminary ruling in which the court said South Africa had made a "plausible" case and ordered Israel to prevent genocidal acts by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

On Thursday, South Africa urged the ICJ to see that Israel has not followed that order.

"It is difficult to imagine that the situation could get worse" than it was in January, international law professor John Dugard told the court. "But unfortunately, it has... Israel has now commenced its long-threatened assault on Rafah. It has ordered the evacuation of Palestinians in Rafah to the barren sand dunes of Al-Mawasi. It has closed critical border crossings to humanitarian aid, medical supplies, goods, and fuel, upon which the population depends."

"Israel's actions are in violation of fundamental international humanitarian law, but in addition, they provide evidence of the crime of genocide," Dugard continued. "This attack is the final blow that is intended to destroy the Palestinian group in Gaza."

Watch the livestream of the ICJ hearing below:

The South Africans made their case as the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said Thursday that an estimated 600,000 people have now been forcibly displaced from Rafah by Israel.

Despite tepid warnings from the U.S.—the biggest international funder of the IDF—for Israel to avoid attacking "population centers," the IDF this week has moved into dense residential neighborhoods in central Rafah.

The U.S. has also called for Israel to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, but the IDF's seizure of the Rafah crossing between the enclave and Egypt last week led the World Food Program (WFP) on Thursday to warn that food and fuel rations "will run out in a matter of days." Dozens of Palestinians have been starved to death so far by Israel's blocking of relief shipments.

"The threat of famine in Gaza never loomed larger," said the WFP as South Africa made its case in The Hague.

Three months after giving a 22-minute speech detailing the numerous statements of genocidal intent made by top Israeli officials since the Gaza assault began in October, South African lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi during Thursday's hearing, used the more recent words of Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who publicly described the aim of the Rafah invasion as "total annihilation."

In his presentation before the court, Ngcukaitobi invoked Smotrich's language by arguing that the Rafah incursion "is the last stage of 'total annihilation' of Palestinian life."

"For Palestinians to be able to continue to exist as a protected group under the Genocide Convention, they need a place from which to rebuild," he continued. "Rafah is that place, the last stand... Without Rafah, the possibility to rebuild will be lost forever."

In her speech, Irish lawyer Blinne Ni Ghralaigh outlined other developments in Gaza since the ICJ issued its preliminary ruling that illustrate the need for the court's "invaluable intervention."

Ni Ghralaigh detailed the destruction of hospitals like Al-Shifa, where mass graves have been found with the remains of women, children, and medical workers, and warned that "the same fate now awaits Rafah's remaining hospitals, doctors, and medics."

She also pointed to evidence that the IDF is treating evacuated areas as "extermination zones," where soldiers are ordered to kill any remaining people, and its use of an error-prone AI system to target Palestinians.

The South African legal team said the court must order Israel "to immediately take all effective measures to ensure the access of persons able to investigate ongoing atrocities," and called on the ICJ to "at least modify its provisional measures" from March, when it demanded that Israel allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

"The court has the power to modify or make an explicit order for Israel to cease its military operations in Rafah, Gaza, and to withdraw from the Gaza Strip," said Ni Ghralaigh, pointing out that the provisional measure from March could only take full effect if a cease-fire agreement was reached.

"No such resolution is in place. The court must itself, therefore, create the circumstances necessary for its provisional measures to take full effect. It must order Israel to cease its military operations system finally," she said. "Enough is enough."

Israel is expected to address the ICJ at a second day of hearings on Friday.

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