Israel faces accusations that it is subjecting Palestinians in Gaza to genocidal acts, as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) commenced a hearing on South Africa’s genocide case against it on Thursday.
Amid Israel’s ongoing three-month war in Gaza, more than 23,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed, lawyers told the top United Nations court. Most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has been displaced, and an Israeli blockade severely limiting food, fuel and medicine has caused a humanitarian “catastrophe”, according to the UN.
South Africa’s case in The Hague argues that Israel violated the 1948 genocide convention, established in the aftermath of the Holocaust, which mandates that all countries prevent the recurrence of such crimes. It filed an 84-page document with the court detailing acts it says amount to genocide in Gaza.
Adila Hassim, a lawyer representing South Africa, told the ICJ that Israel had breached Article II of the Genocide Convention, which included the “mass killing” of Palestinians in Gaza.
“Israel deployed 6,000 bombs per week … No one is spared. Not even newborns. UN chiefs have described it as a graveyard for children,” she said.
“Nothing will stop the suffering, except an order from this court,” she added. South Africa has demanded that the ICJ order Israel to suspend its military campaign.
Also called the World Court, the ICJ is the highest UN legal body that can adjudicate issues between member states.
Alanna O’Malley, a professor of UN and international history, told Al Jazeera that South Africa’s case was a “historic” one.
“We see from the invocation of the various articles of the Genocide Convention by the South African legal team the ways in which they are going to structurally present this case,” she said outside the court in The Hague, calling it “extremely compelling”.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his nation was pursuing the case of what it called “the ongoing slaughter of the people of Gaza”.
Israel will respond to the allegations made by South Africa on Friday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that hypocrisy and lies had been presented to the UN’s top court, adding that South Africa’s accusation against Israel of genocide in Gaza could only happen in a world turned upside-down.
“We are fighting terrorists, we are fighting lies,” Netanyahu said. “Today we saw an upside-down world. Israel is accused of genocide while it is fighting against genocide.”
“Israel is fighting murderous terrorists who carried out crimes against humanity: They slaughtered, they raped, they burned, they dismembered, they beheaded – children, women, elderly, young men and women,” he said. “The hypocrisy of South Africa screams to the heavens.”