In a case challenging Israel’s national identity, South Africa has formally accused the country of committing genocide against Palestinians and appealed to the United Nations’ top court to order an immediate halt to Israeli military operations in Gaza.
Israel, founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust, vehemently denies the allegations and, in an unusual move, has engaged with the court to defend its international reputation. This comes despite Israel’s typical boycott of international tribunals or U.N. investigations, citing unfairness and bias.
During opening statements at the International Court of Justice, South African lawyers argued that the latest Gaza war is part of decades of Israeli oppression of Palestinians. South African lawyer Adila Hassim stated that the court has evidence showing a pattern of conduct amounting to “a plausible claim of genocidal acts.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly criticized the case, vowing to continue fighting Hamas, the militant group responsible for a deadly attack in October.
The case is one of the most significant heard in an international court, addressing the core of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. South Africa seeks preliminary orders to compel Israel to stop its military campaign in Gaza, where, according to the Gaza Health Ministry run by Hamas, more than 23,000 people have died.
A decision on South Africa’s request for provisional measures is expected to take weeks, with the full case likely to last years. Israel launched its massive assault on Gaza after the deadly Hamas attack, displacing nearly 85% of Gaza’s population. With limited supplies entering due to an Israeli siege, a quarter of the territory’s residents now face starvation.
Israel argues that it is battling a fierce enemy and insists on following international law while blaming Hamas for operating in residential areas.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat criticized South Africa’s presentation as “one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy,” calling the legal team “Hamas’ representatives in court.” South Africa insists that Israel committed genocide by design, pointing to the destruction in Gaza and the war’s impact on civilians.
The case raises questions about Israel’s identity as a Jewish state and evokes parallels with South Africa’s history under apartheid. The hearing continues with Israel set to present its defense.
South Africa aims to broaden the case beyond the Israel-Hamas war, emphasizing decades of systematic oppression and violence against Palestinians. The ongoing struggle for basic necessities in Gaza has led to growing concerns of a humanitarian crisis.
While the International Court of Justice’s findings are considered binding, the response from Israel to any order halting fighting remains uncertain. The case against Israel revolves around the genocide convention drawn up in 1948 following World War II, with both Israel and South Africa as signatories. The court will also address Israeli policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a separate hearing next month.