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Old video of child eating grass unrelated to current conflict in Gaza and South Africa’s genocide case against Israel

South Africa has accused Israel of genocide over its actions against the Palestinian people in Gaza and taken the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. But a video circulating on social media of a child eating grass has nothing to do with the case – it's been online since at least early 2022.

Note: This fact-checking report is about a developing news story. Information was, as far as possible, correct at the time of publication but may change rapidly.

“A Palestinian child is seen eating grass. This is why South Africa took the US backed Israel to court.” That’s the caption of a video doing the rounds on social media in January 2024.

The nine-second clip shows a boy holding a bunch of grass and taking big bites out of it.

The video is overlaid with images of the flag of Palestine and blocks of Arabic text. A machine translation of the text reads: “Look at this Palestinian child eating the herbs of the earth due to his intense hunger. May God be with you, Muslims.”

The claim can also be seen here, here and here.

But the video’s origins are uncertain. 

What we do know is that it’s at least two years old. So it predates the current human catastrophe in the Gaza Strip that prompted South Africa to charge Israel with genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations (UN) world court.


The Israel-Gaza war and South Africa’s genocide case

The Gaza Strip is a small and densely populated Palestinian territory in the Middle East. It shares most of its land border with Israel, the world’s only Jewish state.

The majority of UN member states recognise Gaza and the larger West Bank to the east as the state of Palestine.

Israel and Palestine have been in conflict for decades.

Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, has ruled Gaza since 2007.

The current Israel-Gaza war, or Israel-Hamas war, began after the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October 2023, in which 1,139 people were killed.

Israel responded to the attack with airstrikes on Gaza, a total blockade of the territory and a ground invasion. The blockade has also cut off the supply of essential goods such as food, water, medicine and fuel.

According to Gaza’s health ministry, by 7 January 2024 at least 22,835 people in the strip had died as a result of the war. The death toll in Gaza increases daily as the war continues. Another 7,000 people were missing at time of publication.

By the end of 2023, about 1.9 million of Gaza’s estimated 2.1 million people had fled their homes for safety. This is according to estimates by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

On 29 December 2023 South Africa filed an accusation of genocide against Israel at the ICJ.

The application claims that Israel’s actions in Gaza violate its commitments as one of the states that have signed the UN’s 1948 Genocide Convention. The treaty came out of the European holocaust that killed 6 million Jewish people.

It defines genocide as acts intended to destroy a “national, ethnical, racial or religious group” by, for example, killing or seriously harming its people and inflicting “conditions of life” aimed at causing those people’s “physical destruction”.

Hearings for the case of South Africa versus Israel were held at the ICJ on 11 and 12 January 2024. The court is expected to make a ruling within a few weeks.

Same video, different locations

A Google Lens reverse image search of frames from the video led us to several longer versions posted online in early 2022.

In February and March of that year, it was shared on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and YouTube with two different claims: that the child was from Ukraine, and Syria.

In August the location shifted to Pakistan, and in September to the region of Kashmir.

Africa Check has found no evidence that the boy is from Gaza, or even that he was eating grass because he was starving. Children do sometimes eat non-food items such as grass, a condition known as pica.

In any case, the video predates the Israel-Gaza war by many months, so it can't be an example of why South Africa accused Israel of genocide.

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