On 11 and 12 January, as Israeli bombs continued to fall on Gaza, the 15 judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) gathered at the Peace Palace in The Hague to hear South Africa’s historic genocide case against Israel.
Israel’s actions, South Africa’s 29 December filing argued, "are genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent… to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group.” (The Progressive International has prepared a fact sheet setting out the details of South Africa’s case, which you can download here.)
South Africa’s decision to bring Israel before the ICJ was met with an overwhelming show of support from around the world. On Monday 8 January, over 1,000 popular movements, trade unions, political parties, and other organizations from 90 countries launched an open letter urging states to support South Africa at the ICJ.
Since then, more than sixty countries have spoken out in support of South Africa’s case, including Brazil, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Colombia, Bolivia, Jordan, Iran, and the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Countries.
During the first day of the hearings, South Africa’s lawyers stressed the severity of Israel’s assault on Gaza — and the unique features of this violence. “This is the first genocide in history, where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real time, in the desperate, so far in vain, hope that the world might do something," Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh said at the hearing.
To witness the historic trial and testify to its importance, the Progressive International was on the ground with a delegation that included France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon, England’s Jeremy Corbyn, Spain’s Ada Colau, and others.
“This is not a case of South Africa vs. Israel. It is not even a case of Israel vs. Palestine,” the Progressive International’s co-General Coordinator Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla said at a joint press conference held with the government of South Africa. “It is a test of the humanity of the world — and whether the institutions we’ve built to protect it — today, this court in The Hague — withstand the test of Western impunity.”
Indeed, the outcome of the case will be a critical litmus test of the suitability of global institutions for the coming multipolar order. Will the Global South succeed in reconfiguring these institutions to serve those they promised to serve: the oppressed and wretched of the earth? Or will these institutions remain beholden to imperialist influence and sabotage?
We should know the outcome of the ICJ hearing in the next ten days. Whatever the judges decide, one thing is clear: South Africa has already won. It has asserted humanity at an institution that has long been used as an imperialist bludgeon. It has further dented Israel’s prestige on the international stage. And it has exposed Israel’s lies to all the world.
As Gerardo Pisarello said at the press conference, South Africa honored “Nelson Mandela’s legacy — of people's solidarity against repression.” Pisarello then invoked the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi in reminding us of the sacred obligation to stand on the side of humanity: “if not us, who? If not now, when?”
The River Festival
This week, the Mathare Social Justice Center in Kenya held the River Festival, commemorating the gains and efforts the Mathare Ecological Justice Campaign members have made in conserving the Mathare River and establishing community parks along it. You can read more about the event here.
Art: Judy Ann Seidman is a US-born artist and activist based in South Africa who, for over forty years, worked with anti-apartheid and revolutionary forces in South Africa and beyond, helping develop the iconography of their struggle. Seidman was a member of the influential Medu Art Ensemble. Her poster of freedom fighter Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu carries a message that resonates in South Africa today: “Tell my people that I love them and that they must continue the struggle.”