The “highest level” of the Israeli state nurtures the intent to destroy Gaza, South Africa told the International Court of Justice on Thursday.

South Africa has filed a genocide case against Israel for its military action in Gaza that started in October 2023. The International Court of Justice, the legal body of the United Nations, settles disputes between states and gives advisory opinions on international legal issues. It has begun hearing the case.

Over 23,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7, amid Israel’s war on the besieged region. The war was triggered after the attack on southern Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas. The militant group’s attack on Israel had killed 1,200 people and the group had taken more than 200 hostages.

On Thursday, South Africa told the court that Israel has violated the 1948 genocide convention created in the aftermath of the Holocaust – the mass slaughter of European Jews during World War II. The convention states that genocide is a crime under international law and mandates that all countries will prevent its recurrence.

“Israel has deployed 6,000 bombs per week,” Adila Hassim, one of the lawyers representing South Africa, told the court. “No one is spared. Not even newborns. UN chiefs have described it as a graveyard for children.”

South Africa urged the court to order Israel to suspend its military campaign in the Palestinian territory.

“Genocides are never declared in advance, but this court has the benefit of the past 13 weeks of evidence that shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention that justifies as a plausible claim of genocidal acts,” the lawyer said.

Hassim said that for the past 96 days, Israel has subjected Gaza to one of the heaviest conventional bombing campaigns in the history of modern warfare. Palestinians in Gaza are being killed by weaponry and bombs from air, land and sea, she said.

In its evidence submitted before the court, South Africa said that Israel’s actions were “intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group”.

Israel will present its arguments in the case on Friday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday accused South Africa of being a hypocrite for not responding to violence committed by the partners of Hamas in Syria and Yemen.

“A terrorist organization carried out the worst crime against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and now someone comes to defend it in the name of the Holocaust,” Netanyahu said. “What brazen gall. The world is upside down.”

Netanyahu also claimed that Israel has no intention of occupying Gaza and is only fighting Hamas in the region.