South Africa launched a case at the United Nations’ top court on Friday accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and asking the court to order Israel to halt its attacks.
South Africa’s submission to the International Court of Justice alleges that “acts and omissions by Israel … are genocidal in character” as they are committed with the intent “to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group”.
It also asks the Hague-based court to issue an interim order for Israel to immediately suspend its military operations in Gaza.
A hearing into that request is likely in the coming days or weeks. The case, if it goes ahead, will take years.
South Africa can bring the case under the Genocide Convention because both it and Israel are signatories to the convention.
The Israeli government “rejected with disgust” the South African genocide accusations, calling it a “blood libel”.
A Foreign Ministry statement said the case lacks a legal foundation and constitutes a “vile exploitation and cheapening” of the court.
Israel also accused South Africa of co-operating with Hamas, the militant group whose October 7 cross-border attack in southern Israel triggered the ongoing war in Gaza.
The statement also said Israel is committed to, and operates according to, international law and focuses its military actions solely against Hamas, adding that the residents of Gaza are not an enemy.
It asserted that it takes steps to minimise harm to civilians and to allow humanitarian aid to enter the territory.
Whether the case will succeed in halting the war remains to be seen. While the court’s orders are legally binding, they are not always followed.
In March 2022, the court ordered Russia to halt hostilities in Ukraine, a binding legal ruling that Moscow flouted as it pressed ahead with its devastating attacks on Ukrainian towns and cities.
South Africa has been a fierce critic of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.
Many, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, have compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank with South Africa’s past apartheid regime of racial segregation.
Mr Ramaphosa has accused Israel of war crimes and acts “tantamount to genocide”.
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