Israel has said South Africa has distorted the truth in its case at the International Court of Justice, where it is accusing Israel of genocide.
South Africa had presented “a sweeping counter-factual description” of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Israeli lawyer Tal Becker told the ICJ.
South Africa says Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians in its war in Gaza.
It is also asking the court to order Israel to halt its military activity.
The ICJ is the United Nations’ highest court. Its rulings are theoretically legally binding on parties to the ICJ – which include Israel and South Africa – but are not enforceable.
Israel delivered its defence to the court a day after South Africa presented its case.
Outside the legal battleground of the ICJ, police created cordons to ensure rival groups were kept far apart.
On one side, Palestinian flags were waved beneath a big screen streaming a live feed from the courtroom. Banners were unfurled showing images of Nelson Mandela, referencing parallels drawn by South Africa’s legal team between the situation in Gaza and the former apartheid era in South Africa.
A few hundred metres away, a symbolic Sabbath table had been laid. Photographs were attached to the back of empty chairs. These show some of the more than 130 Israelis who are still being held hostage by Hamas, which is banned as a terrorist group in the US, UK, EU and elsewhere.
South Africa asserts that Israel is in violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention, to which both states are signatories, and which commits parties to prevent genocide from happening.
Israel has been waging a war against Hamas, Gaza’s ruling group, since 7 October, when hundreds of Hamas gunmen invaded Israel, killing about 1,300 people and taking some 240 others back to Gaza as hostages. Members of the hostages’ families were in the ICJ courtroom to hear Israel state its case.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 23,350 people – mostly women and children – have been killed by Israel in the war.
In his opening remarks on Friday, Tal Becker told the court that while the civilian suffering was “tragic”, Hamas sought “to maximise civilian harm to both Israelis and Palestinians, even as Israel seeks to minimise it”.
South Africa, he said, “has regrettably put before the court a profoundly distorted factual and legal picture, [and] the entirety of its case hinges on a deliberately curated, decontextualised and manipulative description of the reality of current hostilities”.
Mr Becker accused South Africa of making “an attempt to weaponise the term genocide against Israel”.
He said South Africa was also seeking “to thwart Israel’s inherent right to defend itself” by trying to get the court to order Israel to stop its military operation against Hamas.
On Thursday, the court’s 17 judges heard advocate of the High Court of South Africa Tembeka Ngcukaitobi describe how Israel’s “genocidal intent” was evident “from the way in which [its] military attack is being conducted”.
Israel had a plan to “destroy” Gaza, he said, which “has been nurtured at the highest level of state”.
Adila Hassim, also representing South Africa, told the court that “every day there is mounting, irreparable loss of life, property, dignity and humanity for the Palestinian people”.
“Nothing will stop the suffering, except an order from this court.”
In its evidence submitted before the hearing, South Africa said Israel’s actions were “intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group”.
The German government issued a statement on Friday, saying it “expressly rejects the accusation of genocide” against Israel, and that the accusation had “no basis whatsoever”.
“In view of Germany’s history and the crime against humanity of the Shoah [Holocaust], the Federal Government sees itself as particularly committed to the Convention against Genocide… We firmly oppose [its] political instrumentalisation.”
Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Germany would speak at the main hearing at the ICJ.
A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Mr Sunak believed South Africa’s case was “completely unjustified and wrong.”
“The UK government stands by Israel’s clear right to defend itself within the framework of international law,” he said.
What the ICJ will deliver on the genocide allegation will be only an opinion, although it is being closely watched.
A final ruling on this could take years, although the court could rule more quickly on South Africa’s request for Israel to suspend its military campaign.