South Africa Charges Israel with Genocide at The ICJ: Centering Black Liberation for the Liberation of All

Sarah Dajani ’26

Opinion Editor

For weeks, protesters have chanted “Yo Joe Biden you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.” Mainstream Western media, institutions and even academics were predisposed to claiming that Israel’s acts do not constitute genocide and that mass slaughter and the deliberate infliction of bodily harm does not necessarily signal genocide.

In defiance of the white supremacist application of international law and Western nations’ impunity, South Africa instituted proceedings against the State of Israel with regards to its “Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in the Gaza Strip” and requested the court to indicate provisional measures in a hearing on Jan. 11, 2024 at the International Court of Justice. In a stark agreement, the ICJ concluded that Israel’s actions in Gaza are plausibly genocidal and has indicated provisional measures on that basis. But what interest does South Africa have in antagonizing the world’s big bullies?

On the day of the ruling, Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa stated that “We, as South Africans, will not be passive bystanders and watch the crimes that were visited upon us being perpetrated elsewhere. We stand on the side of justice.” As a Palestinian first, and an economics major second, I know it is hard to believe in altruistic human rights pleas, which is exactly why this piece argues to center Black liberation, for the liberation of all.

Drowning in an abundance of diamonds, gold, iron ore, platinum, manganese, chromium, copper, uranium, silver, beryllium and titanium, South Africa was essentially ‘asking for’ the abuses carried out by the Dutch East India Company, and, later, the British rule. One might argue that South Africa was expressing gratitude to the Netherlands by highlighting that it is home for the International Court of Justice in its case against Israel. The Dutch will barely get enough credit for the popularity of South Africa. As after the abolition of slavery, indigenous South Africans were still under racial segregation enforced by law, but after 1948, Hendrik Verwoerd, a Dutch- born politician, rebranded this system and called it ‘apartheid.’ This literally means ‘to set apart,’ making it the country’s policy rather than simply a series of legally binding obligations. Apartheid was the law until 1994, which saw the installation of Nelson Mandela as president. Mandela’s influence extends beyond his fight to dismantle apartheid. Mandela called for transnational solidarity, and an end to authoritarianism and ethnic nationalism. He remains one of the founders of the long South African-Palestinian solidarity that extends well beyond South Africa’s most recent case against Israel in the ICJ. Mandela recognized the existence of an oppressive structure in Palestine analogous to that in apartheid South Africa well before the Human Rights Watch 2021 report “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.” In 1997 while still president of South Africa, Mandela stated that “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

Since this piece highlights the relationship between South Africa and Palestine, it might read like the romance you wish for, but it is much bigger than that. South Africa’s support for Palestine is one out of endless examples that is used to show that anti-Blackness is the strongest fuel for white supremacy. Centering Blackness “acknowledges the historical root of this racial hierarchy that has intentionally placed Black people at the bottom of society and gives us the opportunity to see the world through the lens of the Black experience” (Alicia Walters, 2020).

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  1. 1

    I appreciate your thorough analysis of South Africa’s stance and its historical context. While the “obviousness” of oppression’s pain may seem self-evident, detailing historical parallels, like Mandela’s quote, powerfully underscores the universality of shared struggles for liberation. This emphasizes the article’s key message: true understanding often transcends individual nations’ experiences.

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