Israel rebukes genocide allegations at ICJ News
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Israel rebukes genocide allegations at ICJ

Israel delivered a fiery response on Friday to South Africa’s claim before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that its ongoing conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip constitutes an act of genocide.

Following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israeli civilians, Israeli forces have launched a full-blown military campaign in the Gaza Strip. Last month, South Africa filed complaint with the ICJ accusing Israel of having violated the Genocide Convention. “The acts and omissions by Israel complained of by South Africa are genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnical group … in the Gaza Strip,” South Africa alleged in its complaint. Though South Africa is not engaged in the conflict, it has jurisdiction to file suit against Israel in the ICJ given that both it and Israel are members of the United Nations, and that both states are party to the Genocide Convention.

On Thursday hearings began, the first two days of proceedings being dedicated to a determination of whether the ICJ should impose provisional measures aimed at protecting the rights of the Palestinians of Gaza, pending the outcome of the genocide complaint. In its opening arguments, South Africa’s legal team accused Israel of killing tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, causing serious mental and bodily harm, causing the forced evacuation and displacement of some 85 percent of the population in the Gaza Strip, failing to provide adequate humanitarian protections, causing widespread dehydration and starvation, and imposing measures intended to prevent Palestinian births in the region, according to the complaint.

Responding to the complaint and South Africa’s opening arguments, representatives of Israel blasted the complaint for failing to spotlight the entirety of the issue, relying on questionable statistics, and failing to properly apply the relevant laws.

“The applicant is essentially asking the court to substitute the laws of armed conflict between a state and a lawless terrorist organization with the lens of a so-called genocide of a state against a civilian population. But it is not offering the court a lens; it is offering it a blindfold,” Tal Becker, legal advisor to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said in his opening remarks.

Among the “many distortions” presented in South Africa’s complaint, Becker said the most egregious was its minimization of the fact that the ongoing conflict involves two parties, not a lone aggressor. “In the applicants’ telling, it is almost as if there is no armed conflict taking place between two parties at all. No grave threat to Israel and its citizens. Only an Israeli assault on Gaza. The court is told of widespread damage to buildings, but it is not told, for example, how many thousands of those buildings were destroyed because they were booby-trapped by Hamas. How many became legitimate targets because of the strategy of using civilian sites and protected objects for military purposes.”

He also cast doubt on the casualty figures cited by South Africa, stating that they were proffered by Hamas itself, which he described as “hardly a reliable source.” Every civilian casualty in this conflict is a human tragedy that demands our compassion. But the court is not told how many thousands of casualties are in fact militants; how many were killed by Hamas fire; how many were civilians taking direct part in hostilities; and just how many were the result of legitimate and proportionate use of force against military targets, even if tragic.”

Becker argued that the core element of the crime of genocide — the intent to destroy a people in whole or in part — was absent from Israel’s military response.

“What Israel seeks by operating in Gaza is not to destroy a people, but to protect a people — its people — who are under attack on multiple fronts, and to do so in accordance with the law even as it faces a heartless enemy determined to use that very commitment against it,” Becker said.

In closing, Israel’s legal representatives requested that the court reject South Africa’s request for provisional measures and remove the case from its docket.

It is not yet clear when the court will render its decision on the provisional measures request.