What to know: South Africa's genocide case against Israel at ICJ

Analysis on Litigation

Israel is defending itself in the United Nations’ highest court Thursday against allegations that it is committing genocide with its military campaign in Gaza.

South Africa asked the International Court of Justice to order Israel to immediately stop the war, alleging it has violated the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was drawn up in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust.

The convention defines genocide as acts such as killings “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

South Africa’s 84-page filing says Israel’s actions “are genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part” of the Palestinians in Gaza.

It asks the ICJ for a series of legally binding rulings declaring that Israel is breaching “its obligations under the Genocide Convention,” and ordering Israel to cease hostilities, offer reparations, and provide for the reconstruction of all it has destroyed in Gaza.

The filing argues that genocidal acts include killing Palestinians, causing serious mental and bodily harm, and deliberately inflicting conditions meant to “bring about their physical destruction as a group.” And it says Israeli officials have expressed genocidal intent.

During opening arguments, South African lawyers said the latest war is part of decades of Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

Many South Africans, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, compare Israel’s policies regarding Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank with South Africa’s past apartheid regime of racial segregation. Israel rejects such allegations.

Israel, which was founded in the aftermath of the Holocaust, has denounced the genocide claim. The Foreign Ministry said South Africa’s case lacks legal foundation and constitutes a “despicable and contemptuous exploitation” of the court.

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