Palestinians apply to join South Africa’s ICJ case against Israel

If the request is granted by the World Court, an ad hoc Palestinian judge could join the panel deliberating genocide claims

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in Ramallah, West Bank, November 23, 2023. (Alaa Badarneh/ Pool via AP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in Ramallah, West Bank, November 23, 2023. (Alaa Badarneh/ Pool via AP)

Palestinian authorities have filed an application with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to join South Africa as a party in its Gaza genocide case against Israel, the court said on Monday.

In a statement, the ICJ, also known as the World Court, said the Palestinians “filed… an application for permission to intervene and a declaration of intervention in the (South Africa v. Israel) case.”

On May 31, the Palestinian authorities officially recognized the authority of the ICJ to resolve all disputes that may arise or have already arisen under Article IX, which paved the way for them to request to join South Africa’s case against Israel as a party.

If granted by the court, the request could allow the Palestinian authorities to also add an ad hoc judge of their choosing to the ICJ panel, which currently has 16 judges, 15 of the court’s regular judges and one Israeli ad hoc judge.

South Africa and Israel have been invited to furnish written observations on the Palestinian application for permission to intervene as a party.

The Palestinians became a signatory to the genocide convention in 2014 after they were granted United Nations permanent observer state status.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) holds a hearing on South Africa’s request that the court order Israel to halt its military operation in Gaza, May 24, 2024. (Nick Gammon/AFP)

The 1948 Genocide Convention is the basis for South Africa’s ICJ case against Israel alleging genocide in Gaza as that treaty grants the court jurisdiction to rule on disputes between signatories about the convention.

Historically, the kind of intervention the Palestinians are seeking as a full-fledged party to the case has been granted only a handful of times by the ICJ since 1945.

Several other states have already signaled they want to intervene in the Gaza genocide case, including Nicaragua, Colombia, Libya, and Mexico.

In December of last year, South Africa filed a case against Israel over the war in Gaza, declaring that Israel was in breach of its obligations under the Genocide Convention.

Last month, the World Court ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians and do more to help civilians, although it stopped short of ordering a ceasefire, as requested by South Africa.

In response to an emergency request filed by South Africa, the ICJ also ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

Displaced Palestinians inspect their tents next to an UNRWA facility west of Rafah city, Gaza Strip, May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Jehad Alshrafi)

Israel has faced increasing international criticism in recent weeks, as it launched a military operation in the southern part of Gaza, where a majority of displaced people from the center and the north of the Strip had escaped to take refuge from the fighting in those areas.

Despite the criticism, the IDF has asserted that Rafah is the last major remaining Hamas stronghold in the Strip, and suggested that many of the remaining hostages captured by the terror group on October 7 could be held in the city.

The war broke out on October 7 with Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel in which terrorists rampaged through the South, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 252 hostages.

In response, Israel launched a ground invasion in the Gaza Strip with the proclaimed objectives of dismantling the terror group and getting the hostages back.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 36,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The toll, which cannot be verified as it does not differentiate between terrorists and civilians, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle.

Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Meanwhile, it is believed that 120 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that.

Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 41 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

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