Palestinians in West Bank rally in support of South Africa over ‘genocide’ case

Crowd gathers at statue of Mandela in Ramallah ahead of first hearing in The Hague; PA’s Abbas, Jordan’s Abdullah and Egypt’s Sissi meet, call for pressure on Israel to stop war

People raise flags and placards as they gather around a statue of late South African president Nelson Mandela to celebrate a landmark 'genocide' case filed by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 10, 2024. (Marco Longari/AFP)
People raise flags and placards as they gather around a statue of late South African president Nelson Mandela to celebrate a landmark 'genocide' case filed by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 10, 2024. (Marco Longari/AFP)

Dozens of Palestinians gathered Wednesday in front of the statue of Nelson Mandela in the West Bank city of Ramallah to thank South Africa for bringing a “genocide” case against Israel over its war with Hamas in Gaza, as the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt called for pressure to be exerted on Israel for a ceasefire.

The crowd waved Palestinian flags, listened to speeches, and held signs saying “Stop the genocide” and “Thank you South Africa.”

Hearings at the UN’s top court will begin on Thursday with South Africa hoping the judges will compel Israel to halt its bombardment.

“It’s very important to show appreciation to the people who understand our pain,” Ramallah Mayor Issa Kassis told AFP after addressing the crowd.

“We feel that South Africa listens to our heart.”

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has long supported the Palestinian cause, often linking it to its own struggle against the apartheid government, which had cooperative relations with Israel.

People raise Palestinian and South African flags as they celebrate a landmark “genocide” case filed by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 10, 2024. (Marco Longari/AFP)

Mandela famously said South Africa’s freedom would be “incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Mvuyo Mhangwane, South Africa’s representative to the Palestinians, said his countrymen had not forgotten Mandela’s words.

“The message is to remind [Palestinians] that we are friends of Palestine forever, for better or for worse, and to say that Palestine is not alone,” he said.

While the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) makes binding decisions, it has little ability to enforce them.

Nonetheless, Israel and the United States have reacted furiously to the case.

On Tuesday, top US diplomat Antony Blinken dismissed the case as “meritless” and said it was “particularly galling” because Hamas, Iran and others had the stated aim of wiping Israel from the map.

Last week, Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy said South Africa was giving “political and legal cover” for the massacre launched by Hamas on October 7.

“South Africa has made itself criminally complicit with Hamas’s campaign of genocide against our people,” said Levy, accusing the country of “abetting the modern heirs of the Nazis.”

The logo of the International Court of Justice, left, and that of the UN, right, are seen on the judges bench at the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, Netherlands, Oct. 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Israel denies targeting civilians and says it makes every effort to avoid harming them, blaming the high death toll on the fact that Hamas fights in densely populated urban areas and embeds itself deliberately among civilians who are used as human shields.

Israel is a signatory to the Genocide Convention adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and is therefore subject to the jurisdiction of the ICJ, a UN organ, and its rulings. Under the terms of the convention, Israel is obligated to send representatives to the court following the submission of a filing against it.

In its application to the ICJ, South Africa based its accusation both on actions taken by Israel throughout the war and controversial comments made by Israeli officials regarding Palestinians in Gaza and how they should be treated.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned cabinet ministers Sunday to choose their words with care regarding the war, referring to recent comments by ministers that are viewed as having caused damage to Israel’s international legitimacy.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Wednesday for pressure to be maintained for a ceasefire and to protect Palestinian civilians.

The three leaders had gathered for a summit in the city of Aqaba, on Jordan’s Red Sea coast, to discuss the three-month-old war.

A royal palace statement issued after the meeting said they had “reiterated the need to maintain pressure to push for ending the Israeli aggression on Gaza, and protecting unarmed civilians.”

They also “highlighted the need to ensure the sustainable delivery of sufficient relief and humanitarian aid to alleviate the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza,” the statement said.

A handout picture released by the Jordanian Royal Palace shows Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, meeting in Aqaba, Jordan, on January 10, 2024. (Chris Setian/Jordanian Royal Palace/AFP)

The trio “warned against attempts to re-occupy parts of Gaza or establish ‘safe zones’ in the Strip, stressing the need to enable Gazans to return to their homes,” the statement added.

They also “reaffirmed their rejection of any Israeli plans to displace Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, urging international denouncement and rejection of these plans.”

In recent weeks, cabinet ministers, including National Security Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, have called for encouraging the departure of Gazans from the territory and the resumption of Israeli settlement.

There is no indication this is official Israeli policy and a draft cabinet plan for postwar Gaza rejected any place for Israeli civilians in the coastal territory. Israel withdrew from Gaza and removed its settlements in 2005.

The royal palace statement said the three leaders also agreed to “maintain coordination with Arab states and active players” to reach a peace agreement based on a two-state solution.

The summit coincided with a Middle East tour by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met King Abdullah on Sunday in Amman and Abbas in Ramallah, the seat of the PA in the West Bank, on Wednesday.

While meeting with Abbas, Blinken said that Washington supported “tangible steps” towards the creation of a Palestinian state — a long-term goal that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government has opposed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, during his weeklong trip aimed at calming tensions across the Middle East, in the Muqata’a, in Ramallah in the West Bank on January 10, 2024. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/Pool/AFP)

The war began with Hamas’s unprecedented attack, which resulted in the deaths of some 1,200 people in Israel, most of them civilians, and with around 240 others taken hostage, of which 132 remain in captivity after a temporary truce that saw the release of 105. At least 25 still in Gaza are believed to have been killed.

In response, Israel launched a war on Hamas with the stated intention of eliminating the terrorist organization and releasing the hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says over 23,000 people have been killed in the fighting, though these figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 8,500 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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