Israel is facing accusations of genocide in its war in Gaza at the World Court. The first residents have returned to northern areas where Israeli forces have begun withdrawing, leaving behind scenes of total devastation.
According to Reuters, three months of Israeli bombardment have laid much of the narrow coastal enclave to waste, killing more than 23,000 people and driving nearly the entire population of 2.3 million Palestinians from their homes. An Israeli blockade has sharply restricted supplies of food, fuel, and medicine, creating what the United Nations describes as a humanitarian catastrophe.
Israel claims that its only choice to defend itself is by eradicating Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, whose fighters sworn to Israel’s destruction stormed through Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and capturing 240 hostages. Israel blames Hamas for all harm to civilians for operating among them, which the fighters deny.
The case, brought by South Africa at the International Court of Justice in the Hague, accuses Israel of violating the 1948 genocide convention, enacted in the wake of the mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust, which mandates all countries to ensure such crimes are never repeated.
In response to the lawsuit, Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy compared it to a centuries-old antisemitic conspiracy theory falsely accusing Jews of killing babies for rituals. He said, “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, 23, who is sheltering in a UN school in the southern Gaza Strip after fleeing his home, told Reuters Gazans hoped the case would at last bring international pressure on Israel to end the conflict.
The preliminary hearings this week will consider whether the court should order Israel to stop fighting while it investigates the full merits of the case.
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 history of apartheid.
The United States called the genocide allegations “unfounded” and said Israel must do more to reduce civilian casualties. State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said, “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.”
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri urged the court to reject all pressure and take a decision to criminalise the Israeli occupation and stop the aggression on Gaza. He said, “A failure to achieve justice, a failure in the role of the court, would mean that the occupation will continue its war of genocide against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”