Why a British lawyer and Jeremy Corbyn are involved in South Africa's genocide case against Israel

A number of international political figures will appear in South Africa's delegation. Credit: PA/AP

A legal battle over whether Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza amounts to genocide opens on Thursday at the United Nations’ top court.

Two days of preliminary hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will examine South Africa’s call for judges to order an immediate suspension of Israel’s military actions.

Israel stringently denies the genocide allegation.

Here, ITV News explains who the key players are that will represent the governments at international court.

Who will South Africa be represented by in court?

A team of at least nine lawyers representing South Africa will present three hours of arguments in the wood-panelled Great Hall of Justice at the world court on Thursday.

A number of international political figures will also appear in South Africa's delegation, including former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

He has been a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause and a critic of Israel.

Who will Israel be represented by in court?

Israel's legal team will have three hours on Friday morning to refute the allegations made by South Africa.

British professor and lawyer Malcolm Shaw will make the defence alongside three other lawyers.

He is a leading expert on territorial disputes and a published author on the law of genocide.

Mr Shaw has a long history of representing national governments in international courts and has appeared before the European Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Justice, the Court of Final Appeal (Hong Kong), the High Court of Ireland, and the UK Supreme Court, in addition to the ICJ.

He has represented the United Arab Emirates at the ICJ, and Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Ireland, Malaysia and Cameroon in other courts, his Essex Court Chambers biography says. 

Why is South Africa involved in the case?

South Africa’s involvement in the case is largely based on its national identity. The country's ruling African National Congress party has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule.

The ICJ case revolves around the genocide convention that was drawn up in 1948 in the aftermath of World War II and the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. Both Israel and South Africa are signatories.

In a detailed, 84-page document launching the case late last year, South Africa alleges that Israel has demonstrated an intent to destroy a group of people.

Israel’s offensive has killed more than 23,200 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. About two-thirds of the dead are women and children, health officials say.

In the October 7 attack, in which Hamas stormed through several communities, Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and took some 250 others hostage.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry statement called South Africa’s case a “despicable and contemptuous exploitation” of the court.

The world court, which rules on disputes between nations, has never adjudged a country to be responsible for genocide. 

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