World / Middle East

Israel is facing a genocide case in international court. Could it halt the war in Gaza?

A woman (R) mourns her husband, killed when the tent where the Salah and Abu Hatab families were sheltering was hit by Israeli bombardment, at the morgue of the Nasser medical centre in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 4, 2024, as battles between Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants continue. (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

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CNN  — 

Israel is appearing before the International Court of Justice in a high stakes case that could change the course of the brutal war in Gaza.

It is an unprecedented case. Experts say it is the first time that the Jewish state is being tried under the United Nations’ Genocide Convention, which was drawn up after the Second World War in light of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

The South African government, a successor to the apartheid regime that was made a pariah on the international stage three decades ago, brought the case against Israel, accusing it of being in breach of its obligations under the convention in its war on Hamas in Gaza.

Israel has firmly rejected the claim, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it a “false accusation.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said on Tuesday that his country will present a case “using self-defense” to show that it is doing its “utmost” under “extremely complicated circumstances” to avert civilian casualties in Gaza.

Eliav Lieblich, a professor of international law at Tel Aviv University, told CNN the case is significant politically and legally. “An allegation of genocide is the gravest international legal allegation that can be made against a state,” he said.

Here’s what we know about this case.

What is South Africa saying?

South Africa has taken Israel to the ICJ, also known as the World Court, on claims that it is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and failing to prevent genocide.

On the first of two days of hearings, South Africa on Thursday told the court that Israel’s leadership had “declared their genocidal intent” in public comments surrounding the war, and that the actions of its military showed a “pattern of genocidal conduct.”

South Africa’s representatives argued that “the publicly available evidence of the scale of the destruction resulting from the bombardment of Gaza, and the deliberate restriction of food, water, medicines and electricity available to the population of Gaza, demonstrates that the government of Israel… is intent on destroying the Palestinians in Gaza as a group.”

“The acts in question include killing Palestinians in Gaza, causing them serious bodily and mental harm, and inflicting on them conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction,” South Africa added in its 84-page filing to the court.

More than 23,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza.