South Africa has formally accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in a hearing at the United Nations’ International Court of Justice.
During opening arguments, a lawyer for South Africa said the latest war is part of decades of Israeli oppression.
Adila Hassim told a packed room at the Peace Palace in The Hague that evidence from the past 13 weeks “shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention” that amounts to “a plausible claim of genocidal acts”.
Israel has vehemently denied the accusations. It usually boycotts international tribunals or UN investigations, but in a move which signifies how seriously it is taking the case, Israeli leaders have taken the rare step of engaging with the court and defending themselves.
In its defence, Israel has focused attention on the 7 October attack, when Hamas fighters killed approximately 1,200 people and abducted around 250. Nearly half of those hostages have now been released.
South Africa is hoping the two-day hearing will end with Israel being given a preliminary order compelling it to stop its military campaign in Gaza.
It has insisted Israel is committing genocide by design. Lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said: “The scale of destruction in Gaza, the targeting of family homes and civilians, the war being a war on children, all make clear that genocidal intent is both understood and has been put into practice. The articulated intent is the destruction of Palestinian life.”
His comments sparked a response from Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat, who called South Africa’s presentation “one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy,” in a post on X.
The court was shown footage of Israeli soldiers dancing in Gaza, while singing: “I’m coming to occupy Gaza and beat Hezbollah… We know our slogan, there are no ‘uninvolved civilians’.”
Groups of protestors from both sides made themselves heard outside the court with some chants audible inside the hearing.
Pro-Israel protesters marched with banners saying ‘Bring them home’ in reference to the people still being held hostage by Hamas.
At a separate demonstration, a group of pro-Palestinian protestors waved flags calling for a ceasefire and an end to “Israeli apartheid”.
‘Famine around the corner’ in Gaza, says UN
More than 23,000 people in Gaza have died in the ongoing Israeli attacks, according to the Gazan health ministry, which is run by Hamas.
About two-thirds of the dead are women and children, health officials say.
Last week, the UN humanitarian chief called Gaza “uninhabitable” and said famine is “around the corner”.
Meanwhile, tensions in the Middle East are continuing to rise and this afternoon, the Iranian navy seized an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman.
Israel will address the court, which is comprised of 15 judges elected for nine-year terms, on Friday. A decision on provisional measures is predicted to take weeks – while the whole case is likely to take years.
Any court order from the International Court of Justice – which is the UN’s highest court – would be considered legally binding, but it’s unclear if Israel would comply.
If it doesn’t, it could face UN sanctions – though there’s a chance a US veto could block these.