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South Africa outlines genocide case against Israel at International Court of Justice

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, South Africa outlined its case against Israel for committing genocide against the Palestinian people. It was the first day of a two-day hearing at the court. NPR Berlin correspondent Rob Schmitz reports.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: In nearly three hours of testimony, lawyers and experts on behalf of South Africa started by condemning the Hamas attack, which, according to Israel, killed 1,200 and then presented evidence that Israel's three-month-long military campaign in Gaza has gone beyond a war with Hamas and now includes all 2 million-plus Palestinians who reside in Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADILA HASSIM: The level of Israel's killing is so extensive that nowhere is safe in Gaza.

SCHMITZ: South African lawyer Adila Hassim.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HASSIM: As I stand before you today, 23,210 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, at least 70% of whom are believed to be women and children.

SCHMITZ: Addressing the 17 judges that make up the United Nations court, Hassim seemed said more than 1,800 families in Gaza have lost multiple family members, and 85% of all Gazans have been forced to flee their homes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HASSIM: This killing is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life. It is inflicted deliberately. No one is spared, not even newborn babies.

SCHMITZ: South Africa's delegation insisted that genocidal intent is shown not only by the way Israel has launched its military campaign but by comments from leaders like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In late October, in an address to Israeli forces, Netanyahu invoked the story of Amalek, a figure in the Hebrew Bible who tried to destroy the Jewish people. South African legal scholar Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said this reference was meant to justify genocide.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TEMBEKA NGCUKAITOBI: This refers to the biblical command by God to Saul for the retaliatory destruction of an entire group of people.

SCHMITZ: Before the hearing, Israel's President Isaac Herzog dismissed South Africa's case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ISAAC HERZOG: There's nothing more atrocious and preposterous than this claim. Actually, our enemies, the Hamas, in the charter call for the destruction and annihilation of the State of Israel, the only nation-state of the Jewish people.

SCHMITZ: A ruling in this case may take years. In the interim, South Africa has asked the court for a provisional ruling, similar to an emergency injunction, that would force Israel to stop its military campaign in Gaza immediately. Israel will defend itself in The Hague tomorrow. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.