South Africa v Israel is 'remarkable moment' whatever the ruling is over war in Gaza, say campaigners

Cautious anticipation hovers over the cluster of South African communities that have consistently organised on behalf of Palestinians in the months of lethal Israeli military assault on Gaza that followed Hamas's 7 October attacks.

An interim ruling from the United Nations' International Court of Justice on South Africa v Israel is imminent, with a decision expected to come from the Hague at midday on Friday.

It is a pivotal moment and the case could secure an interim ceasefire and increased humanitarian aid to Gaza if ruled in South Africa's favour.

South Africa alleges Israeli forces have carried out genocidal acts including killing Palestinians in Gaza, causing serious mental and bodily harm, and deliberately inflicting conditions meant to "bring about their physical destruction as a group".

Israel has vehemently taken issue with South Africa's claims, arguing that it is acting in self-defence against what it calls the genocidal threat to its existence posed by Hamas.

"In general, this is just a hugely profound moment looking at the history of both Israel's support for the apartheid government in South Africa and the ongoing solidarity between anti-apartheid movements globally for South Africa and for Palestine," says Jo Bluen, an international relations scholar and organiser at South African Jews for a Free Palestine.

South African Jews for a Free Palestine have been at the forefront of Johannesburg's protests decrying Israel's actions in Gaza.

At a gathering for the Jewish New Year of the Trees, an ecological awareness day in Israel, she told Sky News that the moment has been marked - no matter the outcome.

"Whatever the ruling is and whatever Israel decides to do with that - because powerful actors very rarely comply with legal rulings - it is a remarkable moment. South Africa has really pushed the law to its limits," Ms Bluen said.

Images of Nelson Mandela in a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf and moments of him side-by-side with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat flooded the internet as South Africa's legal team laid out their argument.

After the case had been made, crowds of Palestinians rejoiced at the Nelson Mandela statue in Ramallah in the West Bank.

The enduring solidarity between South African and Palestinian liberation movements has been well-documented over the years but scholars here also stress the historic links between Israel and South Africa's apartheid government.

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Professor Salim Vally, director for the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg, says: "Most South Africans also recognise Israel's complicity in our own oppression.

"For example, Israel was an important arms supplier to apartheid South Africa, despite the international arms embargo. As late as 1980, 35% of Israel's arms exports were destined for our country."

"When the global anti-apartheid movement forced countries to impose sanctions on the apartheid regime, Israel imported South African goods and re-exported them to the world as a form of inter-racist solidarity," he adds.

"Israel was loyal to the apartheid state and clung to this friendship when almost all other relationships dissolved."

Anti-apartheid veterans active at the time agree with this assessment.

Reverend Frank Chikane was a key figure in South Africa's anti-apartheid movement and was detained and tortured on multiple occasions between 1977 and 1982.

I asked him why the links are so strong between South African and Palestinian liberation movements.

"Because we were in the trenches together," he responded, matter-of-factly.

"There were colonialists in Kenya and Zimbabwe and other places here [in Africa] but the colonialists here became settlers. The Afrikaners became part of South Africa and they don't have the home to go to.

"They created an apartheid system, including Bantustans, where you can govern yourself but have no powers to be a state and then you couldn't also have a passport outside."

He says he saw restrictions enforced on Palestinian civilians on his recent trip to the occupied Palestinian territories with a global religious delegation.

"The PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, found itself in the ANC [African National Congress] and when we grew up, we grew up knowing that the PLO were comrades. I mean, it's as simple as that. There was no debate."