South Africa contends that Israel, in its Gaza war, violated its commitments to the Genocide Convention. Photo: Reuters

By Omar Abde-Razek

When the International Court of Justice (ICJ) convenes on Thursday to deliberate on a case brought South Africa's accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, it will resurrect a chapter of African solidarity with Palestine and the complex relations between the former Apartheid regime and Israel.

This move has sparked numerous questions in the Arab World. Why would a non-Muslim, non-Arab country, situated thousands of miles from the shores of Gaza, take on the responsibility of confronting Israel?

Connected to this inquiry is the contemplation of whether the war on Gaza has rekindled African solidarity with the Palestinian cause - a sympathy believed by many to have waned due to the normalisation of relations between several Arab countries and Israel.

South Africa's application and claims at the ICJ are grounded in the Genocide Convention, the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations in 1948, to which both Israel and South Africa are signatories.

Originating in response to the atrocities committed during World War II, particularly against Jews, the convention imposes obligations on State Parties to prevent and punish genocide.

At least 23,210 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Photo: Others

Israel and the US have dismissed the case with the Israeli foreign ministry labelling it "absurd blood libel," while the White House spokesperson, John Kerby, deemed it "meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever." Nonetheless, Israel chose to go to court to "dispel" the accusations.

Recalling the past

Reflecting on the past, the deliberation of the case may extend for years before reaching a final verdict.

It is conceivable that the court could issue a provisional ruling, prompting Israel to suspend its military operations within weeks while the hearing continues.

So, why is Israel, a nation historically dismissive of international tribunals, defending itself this time? The heart of the answer lies in the nature of the accusation and its source.

Accusing Israel of genocide, a crime associated with the Holocaust, is seen as a "shameful" matter for the legacy of its foundations.

Despite this, Israel has never felt ashamed of its past association with the racist regime of South Africa, leading some to draw parallels between the two regimes.

Looking back to November 29, 1947, when the United Nations General Assembly voted for the partition plan for Palestine, only four African members existed among the 58 international organization members.

South Africa and Liberia voted for the resolution; the former was a Nazi-supporting apartheid regime, while the latter's ambassador complained about Zionist lobby threats to cut aid if the plan was rejected.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Israel's relations with apartheid South Africa were intricate. Israel criticised South Africa's racial policies publicly at the UN, but secretly continued developing bilateral relations with the Afrikaner regime supportive of Nazi policies until the end of the WW II.

In 1961, when Israel denounced a speech by South African Foreign Minister Eric Louw at the UN, a sharp retort came from the South African Prime Minister, Hendrik Verwoerd: "Israel is not consistent in its new anti-apartheid attitude... they took the land away from the Arabs after the Arabs lived there for a thousand years. In that, I agree with them. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state."

The conflict has led to the destruction of more than 330,000 Palestinian homes in Gaza. Photo: Reuters 

In the 1960s, Israel focused on establishing diplomatic ties with newly independent African countries, but most severed ties after the 1973 war.

Israel found a key ally in the racist regime of South Africa, culminating in the 1976 visit of John Vorster, the apartheid prime minister, marking the peak of their strategic alliance.

The common struggle

Both black South Africans and Palestinians shared a similar political trajectory during the 1950s and 1960s, highlighting the parallel nature of their struggles.

The armed resistance in the 1960s united both national liberation movements, a connection underscored by all South African leaders in its post-apartheid era.

Even today, approximately two decades after the end of apartheid, South Africa views itself as a global symbol of self-determination.

The suffering of Palestinians under Israeli occupation is consistently likened to the challenges faced by black South Africans during apartheid. Prominent figures draw this comparison whenever discussing Israeli policies of occupation and segregation in the West Bank and Gaza.

In doing so, they echo the sentiments shared by most of their people and many African countries toward the West. The nations that once supported and protected the apartheid regime in South Africa are now the same ones providing support to Israel.

Both Israel and apartheid South Africa asserted to represent "Western civilisation and democracy" in troubled regions filled with adversaries.

Judging by past cases, such as Gambia versus Myanmar on the Rohingya ordeal and Ukraine versus Russia regarding their ongoing war, one might conclude that a final verdict from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) could be delayed or not fully respected, as seen in the case against Russia.

However, the mere application itself serves as a protest, highlighting the potential for public hearings and media coverage as a cry against the injustices embedded in the United Nations voting system and the unwavering support Israel receives.

It also reveals that the memories of colonialism and apartheid persist, with the Palestinian people still suffering from these practices, though few come to their defence.

The author, Omar Abdel-Razek, is a sociologist and former editor at BBC Arabic. He lives and works in London.

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.

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