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Smoke billows over the southern Gaza strip during Israeli bombings on Jan. 2.-/Getty Images

The International Court of Justice has agreed to hold a hearing next week to discuss South Africa’s request for an urgent ruling on genocide charges against Israel for its military offensive on Gaza.

Israel announced on Tuesday that it will appear before the court in The Hague to dispute the genocide accusation.

The hearing is scheduled for Jan. 11 and 12 at the United Nations court, sometimes known as the World Court. “Our lawyers are currently preparing for this,” said Clayson Monyela, a spokesperson for South Africa’s international relations department, in a social-media post on Tuesday.

Last week, South Africa submitted an 84-page application to the UN court, seeking an urgent order to declare that Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza and its siege of the Palestinian territory is “genocidal in character” and a violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention.

The full case could take years to resolve, but the court has the power to order “provisional measures” against Israel. In 2022, it issued a provisional order that Russia must halt its invasion of Ukraine.

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Israeli soldiers take up positions near the Gaza Strip border, in southern Israel.Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press

Such orders are considered binding under the UN Charter, but the court has no means of enforcement, and Russia simply ignored the ruling. Enforcement of its rulings is dependent on decisions by the UN Security Council, where veto power is held by countries such as Russia and the United States.

In the Israel case, South Africa is asking the court to issue a provisional order requiring the immediate halt of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and the restoration of sufficient supplies of food, water, medicine and other humanitarian aid.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy, in a statement on Tuesday, said the government will appear before the International Court of Justice “to challenge South Africa’s absurd blood libel.”

South Africa is “giving political and legal cover” to the Gaza-based Hamas militant group for its Oct. 7 massacre of Israelis, he said.

“How tragic that the Rainbow Nation that prides itself on fighting racism will be fighting pro bono for anti-Jewish racists,” Mr. Levy said. “History will judge South Africa for abetting the modern heirs of the Nazis.”

Canada has not commented on the case so far, although it has often turned to the same international court in support of human-rights cases against Russia and other countries. The Globe and Mail has sent queries about the case to Global Affairs Canada, but it had not responded by Tuesday evening.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, with 57 member states, has praised the South African application. The Foreign Ministry of Malaysia issued a statement on Tuesday, welcoming the South African case. “The legal action against Israel before ICJ is a timely and tangible step toward legal accountability for Israel’s atrocities in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territory at large,” the ministry said.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the Israeli military and state attorney’s office are worried that the International Court of Justice will charge Israel with genocide. A senior legal expert, who is dealing with the issue, has warned Israel’s military commanders that “there is real danger that the court will issue an injunction calling on Israel to halt its fire,” the newspaper said.

Israel-Hamas war

As of Jan. 2

Rocket strikes by Hamas

Israeli air strikes

Military base

Clashes

Closed bordercrossings

DEAD

INJURED

Israel

Gaza

West Bank

Lebanon

1,381

22,185

324

117

8,787

57,035

3,800

Mediterranean

Sea

4

SYRIA

WEST

BANK

Tel Aviv

Jerusalem

ISRAEL

EGYPT

JORDAN

50 KM

Mediterranean Sea

ISRAEL

2

3

Zikim

Israeli ground advances

Kfar Aza

Evacuation zone

Nahal Oz

Be’eri

GAZA

STRIP

1

Re’im

Kisufim

Magen

Sufa

EGYPT

1

Gaza: Israel Defense Forces withdraws five brigades, mainly reservists, in shift to more targeted operations against Hamas. Some withdrawn troops to be redeployed to Lebanon border

2

Mediterranean Sea: Aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford will return to U.S.

3

Israel: Evacuated communities four to seven kilometres north of Gaza Strip will return. Israel will defend itself against accusations of genocide brought by South Africa at international court

4

Syria: Israel Defense Forces strikes Syrian Army positions also manned by Hezbollah

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC

NEWS; OPENSTREETMAP; REUTERS

Israel-Hamas war

As of Jan. 2

Rocket strikes by Hamas

Israeli air strikes

Military base

Clashes

Closed border crossings

DEAD

INJURED

Israel

Gaza

West Bank

Lebanon

1,381

22,185

324

117

8,787

57,035

3,800

Mediterranean

Sea

4

SYRIA

WEST

BANK

Tel Aviv

Jerusalem

ISRAEL

EGYPT

JORDAN

50 KM

Mediterranean Sea

ISRAEL

2

3

Zikim

Israeli ground advances

Kfar Aza

Evacuation zone

Nahal Oz

Be’eri

GAZA

STRIP

1

Re’im

Kisufim

Magen

Sufa

EGYPT

1

Gaza: Israel Defense Forces withdraws five brigades, mainly reservists, in shift to more targeted operations against Hamas. Some withdrawn troops to be redeployed to Lebanon border

2

Mediterranean Sea: Aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford will return to U.S.

3

Israel: Evacuated communities four to seven kilometres north of Gaza Strip will return. Israel will defend itself against accusations of genocide brought by South Africa at international court

4

Syria: Israel Defense Forces strikes Syrian Army positions also manned by Hezbollah

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS;

OPENSTREETMAP; REUTERS

Israel-Hamas war

As of Jan. 2

Rocket strikes by Hamas

Israeli air strikes

Military base

Clashes

Closed border crossings

Ashkelon

Mediterranean

Sea

4

SYRIA

Mediterranean Sea

ISRAEL

2

3

Zikim

WEST

BANK

Tel Aviv

Jerusalem

Sderot

Israeli ground advances

Kfar Aza

Evacuation zone

Nahal Oz

ISRAEL

Netivot

Be’eri

GAZA

STRIP

1

Re’im

Kisufim

EGYPT

JORDAN

Ofakim

50 KM

Magen

DEAD

INJURED

Sufa

Israel

Gaza

West Bank

Lebanon

1,381

22,185

324

117

8,787

57,035

3,800

EGYPT

8 KM

1

3

Gaza: Israel Defense Forces withdraws five brigades, mainly reservists, in shift to more targeted operations against Hamas. Some withdrawn troops to be redeployed to Lebanon border

Israel: Evacuated communities four to seven kilometres north of Gaza Strip will return. Israel will defend itself against accusations of genocide brought by South Africa at international court

2

4

Mediterranean Sea: Aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford will return to U.S.

Syria: Israel Defense Forces strikes Syrian Army positions also manned by Hezbollah

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: GRAPHIC NEWS; OPENSTREETMAP; REUTERS

Haaretz quoted legal experts saying that Israel cannot take the ICJ case lightly, since the court’s rulings can shape international law and can influence the world’s opinion of Israel.

Israel has repeatedly rejected the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, a separate court in The Hague that is investigating alleged war crimes by Israelis and Palestinians. But as a signatory of the genocide treaty, Israel would have difficulty in ignoring the ICJ case.

Haaretz also reported that Israel is considering recruiting the famed U.S. lawyer Alan Dershowitz as one of its advocates at the ICJ hearing. It is also considering adding a judge to the panel of 15 justices who would consider the ICJ case. South Africa also has the right to add a judge.

A key issue in the court case will be whether South Africa can establish that Israel had “genocidal intent” in its military offensive in Gaza. In support of this claim, South Africa’s legal argument cites a long list of statements by Israeli officials, including some who described Hamas supporters as “human animals” who deserve “hell.”

South Africa’s international relations department, explaining why it filed the application to the ICJ, said South Africa is a state party to the Genocide Convention and has “a treaty obligation to prevent genocide from occurring.”

South Africa is also a long-standing critic of Israel and a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause. In November, its parliament voted to suspend diplomatic relations with Israel and close Israel’s embassy in Pretoria, although the government hasn’t taken this action yet. Officials of its ruling party, the African National Congress, held meetings with a Hamas delegation during its visit to South Africa last month.

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