STATEMENT: South Africa’s ICJ case represents glimmer of hope for justice and peace for Palestine

Jan 18, 2024

The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) welcomes and strongly supports South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza.

APAN, along with almost 31,000 community members, key civil society groups such as the Australian Centre for International Justice, grassroots Labor members, Federal Independent Senators David Pocock and Lidia Thorpe, and the Australian Greens, have implored the Australian Government to offer its support to this case as a gesture of moral and legal integrity, compassion and consistency of commitment to international law.

To date, the Australian Government has not offered this support. Our Foreign Minister has said that Australia’s “support for the ICJ and respect for its independence does not mean we accept the premise of South Africa’s case.” The media has reported that the Prime Minister believes court cases will not help the realisation of peace between Israel and Palestine.

APAN begs to differ and offers the words of the United Nations itself to challenge this assertion:

The links between justice and peace are strong. Properly pursued, accountability for atrocity crimes can serve not only as a strong deterrent, it is also key to successful reconciliation processes and the consolidation of peace in post-conflict societies. Impunity destroys the social fabric of societies and perpetuates mistrust among communities or towards the State, consequently undermining a lasting peace.”

To hear our Prime Minister undermine the significance and effectiveness of international court cases such as this should distress every person on this continent who believes in justice for the oppressed and vulnerable. The Prime Minister’s statement also contradicts this nation’s claim of commitment to an international rules-based order.

How Australia can both commit to upholding international law and maintain support for Israel, while Israel promises to ignore international law – seen most recently in the Israeli Prime Minister’s comment that “Nobody will stop us – not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anybody else” – defies logic.

Israel has enjoyed impunity, offered to it by Western government allies like the Australian Government, for far too long. This court case represents a genuine glimmer of hope for putting an end to that impunity, and demanding that Israel finally be made accountable for its crimes.

South Africa’s case was powerful in its meticulous documentation of disturbing evidence demonstrating genocidal intent on the part of the Israeli Prime Minister, President, key government ministers and occupying force personnel, in its evidence of the genocidal activities committed by Israel and also in the dignified manner in which it was argued.

It was almost stunning to hear the past three months of Israeli violence in Gaza situated so officially, so publicly, within the context of its 75 years of apartheid policy, 56 years of occupation and 16 years of siege on Gaza. This context is one that our political and media establishments continue to conveniently neglect.

Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh’s statement that “this is the first genocide in history where its victims are broadcasting their own destruction in real time in the desperate and so far vain hope that the world might do something,” should have turned the stomachs of every one of us who has seen these scenes of unbridled horror on our handheld screens.

And it should have shamed governments across the globe that have thus far failed to intervene to protect the Palestinian people from this genocidal horror.

We now wait to see whether the ICJ will deliver the provisional measures South Africa has requested, including an end to Israel’s military operations in Gaza and the protection of Palestinians from further harm, unfettered access to adequate food, water, humanitarian assistance and medical supplies and an end to the forced displacement of Palestinians from their homes.

The Australian Government has a history of intervening in and supporting cases at the ICJ. In 2021, the government stated that the ICJ’s consideration of The Gambia’s genocide case against Myanmar was “an important step towards accountability and justice,” and that it “urge[d] Myanmar to engage with the proceedings in good faith.” Last year, the government intervened in support of Ukraine’s ICJ case against Russia stating that “we are stronger when we work together to address shared challenges.” It also “remind[ed] Russia that, as a member of the United Nations, it is legally obliged to comply with decisions of the ICJ in any case to which it is a party.” 

The Australian Government must show that its support for the ICJ is consistent, not selective, and that its willingness and commitment to work with the international community towards “accountability and justice” and address “shared challenges” extends to acting in support of the Palestinian people in this time of great injustice and need. 

APAN urges the government to reconsider its refusal to state a position, intervene or participate in this case and calls upon it to issue a public statement of support to make plain that our nation, alongside the rest of the international community, expects Israel to respect and comply with international law.

APAN also demands that the government takes affirmative action to prevent genocide. It must implement tangible legal, political and economic measures, including sanctions, end its financial and military resourcing of Israel and reassess this nation’s relationship with Israel. 

The Australian Government must work alongside the international community to pressure Israel to immediately end its atrocities in Gaza and commit to a political process for realising justice and self-determination for the Palestinian people.