The Genocide Case Against Israel
You likely haven't heard about this, but the International Court of Justice this week is weighing whether Israel is culpable of genocide for its actions in Gaza.
The mere utterance of these three syllables conjures scenes of sheer horror, anguish, and suffering. For many, the word is rightfully synonymous with the unimaginable atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews in the Holocaust during World War II—the targeted killings, massacres, death camps, gas chambers, and extermination of millions upon millions of innocent people.
In the wake of that brutality, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a treaty known as the Genocide Convention to prevent such horrors from ever happening again, and punish perpetrators. Currently, more than 150 member states are a party—though because of these obligations’ standing as norms of international customary law, all states are legally bound to its mandates.
As the civilian death toll from the ongoing Israeli assault on Gaza and the West Bank tops 23,000 with nearly 60,000 injured—the majority women and children—this gruesome word is once again being tossed about amid images of shell-shocked families digging through rubble for missing loved ones, tormented parents screaming in agony, and bombed-out refugee camps, hospitals, and ambulances.
Yet what acts rise to the threshold of genocide? And what are the ramifications for those that commit, and enable such heinous atrocities?
The convention outlines five chief acts as qualifications:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a)Killing members of the group;
(b)Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c)Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d)Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e)Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
These are among the assertions levied by South Africa in an 84-page filing before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in its current devastation of Gaza and the West Bank in response to the savage massacres Hamas carried out against Israelis on Oct. 7.
Proceedings are taking place this week, with potentially dire consequences for Israel and its war should the court find it culpable.
Why We Covered This Topic
We’ve been planning to do an episode about the International Criminal Court (ICC)—which is separate from the ICJ—for some time. Just like us, you’ve probably never even heard of the ICJ or the Genocide Convention (weird how oftentimes some of the most important events and entities somehow never make it into history books in certain countries, huh?). South Africa’s filing changed that, and after interviewing one of the foremost experts on these subjects, we decided to hold off on a larger drop for now to get this distilled version out as soon as we could.
We honestly consider this a public service.
We believe everyone should know about these bodies and laws, and everyone should read South Africa’s filing—set forth by a country that knows all too well the horrors of apartheid, a system of discrimination and repression residing at the very core of Israel’s illegal occupation. (Another episode, for sure.)
Another truth that we hope you listeners glean from this episode is that barbarism does not need to claim the lives of several million people in order to be classified as genocide. Horrifically, such atrocities can happen any day, any hour, any moment, and it’s critical they’re called out as such, condemned, and obviously halted. Though you might not know this, there have been dozens of conflicts classified as genocides throughout history, and even since the end of World War II. Here’s a partial list, and another.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), known as the World Court, is hearing a case brought by South Africa against Israel to determine legal culpability for the crimes of genocide against the Palestinian people. Should the court find in the affirmative for South Africa, it can order Israel cease and desist its ongoing war, and potentially result in a vote before the United Nations General Assembly to do so. Such a finding would also implicate the United States as aiding and abetting such atrocities. (The U.S. State Department has perhaps unsurprisingly dubbed South Africa’s accusations “meritless.”)
The Genocide Convention is an international treaty obligating all states to prevent genocide and punish perpetrators.
Who We Interviewed & What They Said
Francis Boyle is a human rights attorney and professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law. He is the first lawyer to win orders under the Genocide Convention of 1948 from the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Boyle won an order for the Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina against Yugoslavia to cease and desist from committing all acts of genocide during the Bosnian War of the 1990s. He is the author of several books, including ‘Foundations of World Order: The Legalist Approach to International Relations, 1898–1922.’
“In the Bosnian case, I had the entire world behind me. And the international court knew it and everyone knew it. The political dynamics here are very different. South Africa and the Palestinians are up against the United States government, the Israelis, the British, many European governments and Zionist forces all over the world. So it will be an incredible battle.”
Listen to our previous episode about the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict titled “9/11 Redux: Will the Israel-Hamas Conflict Lead to a Renewed War on Terror?” and check out the accompanying Substack piece.
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