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U.N. Court Hears Genocide Case Against Israel: Live Updates

South Africa on Thursday began making its case that Israel is acting with “genocidal intent” in Gaza, citing as evidence the words of Israeli officials including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said Israel would impose a complete siege on the territory because it was fighting “human animals.”

On the first day of a two-day hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, South African representatives said the statements of Israeli officials like Mr. Gallant communicated the intent to commit genocide. Israel categorically denies the genocide accusation and will present its defense on Friday.

To constitute genocide, there must be a proven intent on the part of perpetrators to physically destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, according to the U.N. genocide convention, to which Israel is a signatory. Intent is often the most difficult element to prove in such cases, however.

As the hearing concluded, South Africa, which brought the case against Israel, asked the court to demand that Israel immediately suspend all military operations in Gaza, including rescinding evacuation orders and allowing food, water, humanitarian aid, shelter and clothing to reach Palestinian civilians.

South Africa’s justice minister, Ronald Lamola, condemned the atrocities committed by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attacks on southern Israel but said the scale of Israel’s military response in Gaza was not justified.

Mr. Lamola told the court, the United Nations’ top judicial body, that the Israeli offensive had created conditions for Gazans that were designed “to bring about their physical destruction.”

“Even an attack involving atrocity crimes cannot provide any justification for or defense to breaches of the convention, whether as a matter of law or morality,” Mr. Lamola said. Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks, he said, “has crossed this line.”

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, another South African attorney making arguments in the case, said the statements of Israeli officials like Mr. Gallant — who said days after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks that Israel would let “no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel” into Gaza — were tantamount to a directive to physically destroy Gazans and “communicated state policy.”

“This admits of no ambiguity,” Mr. Ngcukaitobi said. “It means to create conditions of death of the Palestinian people in Gaza, to die a slow death due to starvation and dehydration or to die quickly because of a bomb attack or sniper, but to die nevertheless.”

The hearings at the court are the first time that Israel has chosen to defend itself in person in such a setting, attesting to the gravity of the indictment and the high stakes for the country’s international reputation and standing.

Following Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks that killed about 1,200 people and led to about 240 being taken hostage, according to Israeli officials, Israel’s airstrikes and ground invasion have killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, many of them women and children, and wounded an unknown number, according to health officials in Gaza, whose count does not distinguish between combatants and civilians. Most of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents have been displaced since the war began, increasing the danger of disease and hunger, according to international organizations.

Adila Hassim, the first of several South African lawyers who on Thursday morning laid out the case against Israel, described Israeli airstrikes and evacuation orders that have resulted in widespread displacement and led to the spread of infectious diseases and a lack of food and clean water.

“Nowhere is safe in Gaza,” Ms. Hassim said.

The genocide allegation by South Africa — whose post-apartheid government has long supported the Palestinian cause — carries a particular significance in Israel. The country was founded in the wake of the near-wholesale destruction of European Jewry during World War II, and soon after that became a haven for Jews expelled by the hundreds of thousands from Arab lands. The hearings on Thursday were broadcast live on most of Israel’s television channels.

Israeli leaders have said that South Africa’s allegations pervert the meaning of genocide and the purpose of the 1948 genocide convention. They point to millions of messages, sent by various means, telling Gaza’s civilians to evacuate to safer areas ahead of bombings, and say they are constantly working to increase the amount of aid entering Gaza.

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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