On Thursday, at the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, South Africa accused Israel of committing genocide during its conflict in Gaza. This occurred as residents started returning to the northern regions, where Israeli troops have been retreating, leaving behind extensive destruction.
The Israeli assault, lasting three months, has severely damaged the small coastal strip, resulting in over 23,000 fatalities and displacing almost all of the 2.3 million Palestinian residents.
Furthermore, an Israeli-imposed blockade has significantly limited the availability of essential supplies like food, fuel, and medicine, leading to a situation the United Nations characterizes as a humanitarian disaster.
Israel maintains that eliminating Hamas, the Islamist organization governing Gaza, is its only option for self-defense. This stance follows the terrorist attack on October 7, where Hamas militants, who are committed to the destruction of Israel, invaded Israeli communities, killing 1200 individuals and taking 240 people hostage.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for any civilian casualties, citing their operations within civilian areas, a claim Hamas refutes.
The case, initiated by South Africa at The Hague, alleges that Israel breached the 1948 Genocide Convention. This convention, established following the Holocaust's mass extermination of Jews, obligates all nations to prevent the recurrence of such atrocities.
Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy likened the lawsuit to an age-old antisemitic myth that falsely claims Jews engage in the ritual murder of infants: “The State of Israel will appear before the International Court of Justice to dispel South Africa’s absurd blood libel, as Pretoria gives political and legal cover to the Hamas rapist regime.”
Amer Salah, a 23-year-old taking refuge in a UN school in Southern Gaza after evacuating his home, expressed to Reuters that Gazans are hopeful the legal action will finally apply international pressure to compel Israel to stop the war.
“Israel has always been a state above the law. They did what they did in Gaza because they knew they couldn’t be punished as long as America was on their side. It is time to change that,” he said, adding. “We salute South Africa, and we want the war to be stopped and the court can do that.”
The initial hearings this week are set to determine if the court should order Israel to cease fighting while a thorough examination of the case's complete merits is conducted.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country was driven to bring the case by “the ongoing slaughter of the people of Gaza”, motivated by South Africa’s own history of apartheid.
The United States acknowledged that Israel needs to take further steps to minimize civilian casualties, yet described the accusations of genocide against Israel as "unfounded."
“In fact, it is those who are violently attacking Israel who continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews,” said State Department spokesperson Matt Miller.