Why Egypt has joined South Africa’s ICJ genocide case against Israel

Why Egypt has joined South Africa’s ICJ genocide case against Israel
Mark Seddon

On 16th May, South Africa’s legal team presented its arguments for additional emergency provisional measures against Israel at the International Court of Justice - in an open hearing. The arguments centred around Rafah in Gaza, and the alleged non-compliance by Israel to previous ICJ orders not to conduct activities that could be described as ‘genocide’, a lack of humanitarian access at scale and the rights of Palestinians as a group. This new development followed fast moving events on the ground, as Israeli forces first moved to surround Rafah, which is currently home to over a million and a half displaced internal refugees, then closed the vital Rafah crossing and then proceeded to move the military into first eastern Rafah and then the centre of the city. This followed continued criticism and pleas from the Biden Administration not to attack Rafah, followed by a suspension of US military hardware and then only for it to be re-commenced. 

According to the United Nations, crossings into Gaza have been closed, unsafe to access or not logistically viable. Aid distribution has become impossible with no regular fuel imports, unstable telecommunication and ongoing fighting. The impact, said the UN, is devastating for 2 million people. Once again aid agencies and others are calling the actions being undertaken by the Israelis as being ‘genocidal’. 

And now Egypt, alarmed by the impossibly situation at Rafah, has taken its own steps. On May 12, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that Egypt had joined South Africa’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) genocide case against Israel. “The significance of this move is that it is sending a signal that Egypt is not happy with what’s happening in Gaza and how Israel is behaving,” said Nancy Okail, an expert on Egypt and the president and CEO of the Center for International Policy. But Egypt is also claiming that Israel’s actions in Rafah run counter to what was agreed by Egypt and Israel at the Camp David Accords in 1979. Egypt had already drawn its own red-lines earlier in the current war, making it clear that any attempts by Israel to force Palestinian refugees across the border and into Sinai was unacceptable, and of course Egypt has been keeping up the pressure to keep vital aid routes open, while also hosting peace talks in Cairo, the latest round of which were most likely sabotaged by the Netanyahu government, determined as they are to break Hamas militarily. 

Some may dismiss Egypt’s support of South Africa at the International Court of Justice as little more than ‘gesture politics’, but that would probably be a mistake. For while public opinion across the Arab World and the Maghreb is demanding much stronger action against Israel, the message Egypt is sending is that Israel’s actions threaten to unravel relations between the countries. And so isolated is Israel in the World just now, that the various moves towards ‘normalisation’ of relations with other Arab countries have been determinedly put on hold and sent into the diplomatic equivalent of the deep freeze. 


*Mark Seddon is a former Speechwriter to UN Secretary-General Ban ki moon & former Adviser to the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly

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