Israel rejects genocide claims at ICJ, pans South Africa’s ‘grossly distorted’ charges
The Times of Israel
12 January 2024
By JEREMY SHARON, TOI STAFF and AGENCIES
Protesters waving flags and pictures of the hostages kidnapped during the Oct. 7 Hamas cross-border attack in Israel, attend a protest outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, Jan. 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)
Attorneys argue ministers’ problematic comments cited by South Africa are not impacting war. They highlight Hamas’s use of civilians and IDF efforts to protect innocents.
THE HAGUE — Israel’s legal team launched its response Friday morning to accusations brought by South Africa at the UN’s top court that its war against Hamas in Gaza, in response to Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, was a state-led genocidal campaign aimed at wiping out the Palestinian population.
The legal adviser for Israel’s Foreign Ministry said at the opening of the second day of hearings that South Africa on Thursday brought “a grossly distorted story,” with “curated” allegations.
“If there were acts of genocide, they have been perpetrated against Israel,” Becker said, condemning South Africa’s assertion that Israel does not have the right to self-defense against Hamas.
“If the claim of the applicant is that Israel must be denied the ability to defend citizens, the absurd upshot is that under guise of genocide claims this court is trying to stop Israel defending its civilians against an organization which pursues a genocidal agenda against them,” said Becker.
He said Israel was committed to complying with the law amid the war, “but it does so in the face of Hamas’s utter contempt for the law.”
He argued the “appalling suffering” of civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian, is the result of Hamas strategy of hiding behind innocents.
Speaking after Becker, Prof. Malcolm Shaw noted that civilians suffer in all armed conflicts “especially when a side attacks civilians and is unconcerned” by the welfare of civilians on its own side.
“Not every conflict is genocidal. The crime of genocide in international law and under the Genocide Convention is a uniquely malicious manifestation and stands alone among violations of international law as the zenith of evil, the crime of crimes, ultimate in wickedness,” he said.
A protester stands outside the International Court of Justice, or World Court, prior to a hearing in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, Jan. 12, 2024 (AP Photo/Patrick Post)
“If claims of genocide were to become common currency of armed conflict wherever that occurred, the essence of that crime would be lost.”
Shaw said South Africa presented a “distorted picture” of comments made by Israeli politicians on the war in order to establish genocidal intent by Israel, and pointed out that only the policy decisions by the small Israeli war cabinet and the broader security cabinet are relevant in determining Israeli policy in the war in Gaza.
“To produce random quotes which are not in conformity with government policy is misleading at best,” said Shaw.
He cited IDF standing orders specifying the need to differentiate between military and civilian targets and numerous comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declaring that the goal of the war is to destroy Hamas and that it does not target the Palestinian people.
South Africa, which filed the lawsuit at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in December, asked judges Thursday to impose emergency measures ordering Israel to immediately halt the offensive.
A person waves a palestinian flag while passing a pro-israel protest outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Friday, Jan. 12, 2024 (AP Photo/Patrick Post)
Israel has rejected the accusations of genocide as baseless and said South Africa was acting as an emissary of the Hamas terror group, which seeks to eliminate the Jewish state. It says the Israel Defense Forces is targeting Hamas terrorists, not Palestinian civilians but that civilian casualties in the fighting are unavoidable as terrorists operate from within the population.
South Africa’s allegation that Israel is committing genocide against Gazans is based largely on its assertion that inflammatory comments by senior Israeli cabinet ministers with a say over war policy demonstrate an intent to kill civilians.
However, their case did not introduce evidence of facts on the ground to back up their claim of genocidal intent.
Israel was attempting Friday to combat these arguments by demonstrating any extreme remarks have not impacted war policy and the reality on the battlefield.
Protestors wave Israeli flags and hold photos of the hostages kidnapped during the Oct. 7 Hamas cross-border assault on Israel, during a demonstration outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Jan. 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)
Israel was also expected to present testimonies from the October 7 Hamas-led massacre that started the war, when some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages.
The brutal killings that sparked the war were largely ignored by South Africa, and evidence from the onslaught will be used to demonstrate Israel had no choice but to launch the offensive.
The defense team was also set to highlight efforts made by the IDF to prevent civilian casualties, and evidence that shows Hamas has embedded its military installations and combatants in, around, and under every part of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, thereby using uninvolved Gazans as human shields.
The South African presentation ignored Hamas’s use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes, which Israel has said is the cause of much of the harm to Palestinian civilians, and largely disregarded the existence of an armed conflict in which Hamas is actively fighting in the war against Israeli troops.
Protesters hold signs and wave Israeli flags during a demonstration march outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. (AP/Patrick Post)
Vowing to destroy the terror group after October 7, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza, which the Hamas-run health ministry has said killed over 23,000 people since. These figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 8,500 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.
The 1948 Genocide Convention, enacted in the wake of the mass murder of Jews in the Holocaust, defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
Post-apartheid South Africa has long advocated the Palestinian cause, a relationship forged when the African National Congress’s struggle against white-minority rule was cheered on by Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.
The court is expected to rule on possible emergency measures later this month but will not rule at that time on the genocide allegations — those proceedings could take years.
The ICJ’s decisions are final and without appeal. The court has no way to enforce them but ignoring them could have significant international ramifications.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.
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