SOUTH Africa has launched a case at the International Court of Justice 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 United Nations’ top court in The Hague 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”.

A hearing into that request starts today (January 11). 

READ MORE: ICJ: We're live blogging South Africa's genocide case against Israel

South Africa can bring the case under the Genocide Convention because both it and Israel are signatories to the convention.

What is the Genocide Convention?

Under the Genocide Convention, genocide is defined as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.

This includes killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Why South Africa?

South Africa has been a fierce critic of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

Many, including President Cyril Ramaphosa (below), have compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank with South Africa’s past apartheid regime of racial segregation.

Ramaphosa has accused Israel of war crimes and acts “tantamount to genocide”.

The National:

South Africa’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the country is “gravely concerned with the plight of civilians caught in the present Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip due to the indiscriminate use of force and forcible removal of inhabitants”.

The ministry added that there are “ongoing reports of international crimes, such as crimes against humanity and war crimes, being committed as well as reports that acts meeting the threshold of genocide or related crimes as defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, have been and may still be committed in the context of the ongoing massacres in Gaza”.

How has Israel responded?

Israel will defend itself against the charges, a rare engagement with the world body, which Israel often denounces as biased against it.

Its decision to respond signals that the government is concerned about the potential damage to its reputation.

The National: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

Eylon Levy, an official in the Israeli prime minister’s office, on Tuesday accused South Africa of “giving political and legal cover” to the October 7 attack by Hamas that triggered Israel’s campaign.

“The state of Israel will appear before the International Court of Justice at the Hague to dispel South Africa’s absurd blood libel,” he said.

Could it end the war?

Likely not, and not anytime soon – as the case will take years. And 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.