Israel told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the United Nations' (UN) top court, that South Africa “grossly distorted” the story of genocide against the Palestinians while defending its military actions in Gaza.
“If there were acts of genocide, it has been perpetrated against Israel,” Becker, the legal advisor to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said.
The ICJ—the UN's judicial arm—was hearing South Africa’s case against Israeli actions in Gaza. South Africa on January 11 said Israel had “genocidal intent” against the Palestinians living in Gaza.
The hearing comes at a crucial time even as Israel continued attacking Gaza taking the death toll to more than 23,000 casualties since October 7, 2023, when the conflict began.
Civilian casualty “tragic”; but Israel facing genocide, not Palestine: Israel to ICJ
Tal Becker told the 17-judge panel that the civilian suffering was “tragic”, however, asking Israel to stop its military action would be akin to shedding its responsibility against its people.
“This is a war in which Israel is defending itself against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist organisations whose brutality knows no bounds. The civilians’ suffering in this war, like in all wars, is tragic. It is heartbreaking,” Becker said.
Israel said South Africa did not present the complete picture and how the conflict on October 7, 2023, began because of Hamas’ actions which claimed the lives of more than 1,200 Israelis. To underscore this point, Israel presented a chilling audio/visual video of the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel.
Hamas, which has been internationally recognised as a terror outfit, has sought “to maximise civilian harm to both Israelis and Palestinians, even as Israel seeks to minimise it”, Becker said.
“They tortured children in front of parents and parents in front of children, burned people, including infants alive, and systematically raped and mutilated scores of women, men and children," Becker said.
British advocate Professor Malcolm Shaw, representing Israel, submitted that context must be given to Israeli military action.
“Not every conflict is genocidal, he said adding, “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”
“If claims of genocide were to become the common currency of armed conflict wherever that occurred, the essence of that crime would be lost,” Shaw added.
Criticising South Africa’s contentions to “immediately” suspend its military campaign, Israel said if that happens then it will give Hamas time to regroup and not only come back with more force but also use the more than 100 Israeli hostages as a bargaining chip, the Jewish state submitted.
Dr. Galit Raguan, another lawyer for Israel, listed out the state’s numerous efforts to facilitate humanitarian aid that included ambulances, hospital incubators, supply of food, water, and medicine, and the establishment of hospitals (four field hospitals and two floating). Hamas, on the other hand, steals this humanitarian aid she said totally undermining efforts and creating the notion that Israel sought to destroy the Palestinians in Gaza.
In his closing arguments, advocate Dr. Gilad Noam said, if one were to accept South Africa’s request for provisional measures, it “would signal to terrorist groups that they can commit war crimes and crimes against humanity and then seek the protection of this court.”
“Entertaining South Africa’s request would weaken efforts to punish genocide and instead of this court, being an instrument to prevent terrorist horrors, would turn it into a weapon in hands of terrorist groups who have no regard for humanity and rule of law,” Noam said.
Israel has “genocidal intent” against Palestine: South Africa to ICJ
On the first day of the two-day hearing, South Africa said Israel has “genocidal intent” against Palestine. Pretoria underscored their submission with powerful concise arguments forwarded by the lawyers representing the country.
South Africa’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola justified his country’s move against Israel by recalling Nelson Mandela’s December 4, 1967 statement: “In extending our hands across the miles to the people of Palestine, we do so in the full knowledge that we are part of a humanity that is at one”, and that it was bounden by the fact that it was a signatory to the 1948 Geneva Convention.
South Africa—which has been hailed as the voice of the global South—began their arguments by sharing the latest statistics from the Israel-Palestine War. The arguments were further supplemented with audio/visual media of mass graves from Gaza and videos of Israeli soldiers celebrating the destruction of Palestinian homes.
“As I stand before you today, 23,210 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during the sustained attacks over the last three months, at least 70 per cent of whom are believed to be women and children. Some 7,000 Palestinians are still missing, presumed dead under the rubble,” advocate Adila Hassim, one of the lawyers representing South Africa said.
Hassim said, “Hundreds of multigenerational families have been wiped out, with no remaining survivors” while another advocate Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh said, “yet more Palestinian children will become ‘WCNSF’: ‘Wounded Child – No Surviving Family’ — the terrible new acronym borne out of Israel’s genocidal assault on the Palestinian population in Gaza,”
“The (Israel’s) actions show systematic patterns of conduct from which genocide can be inferred”, Hassim said adding, “The level of Israel’s killing is so extensive that nowhere is safe in Gaza”.
“No one—including newborns—was spared,” she said against a backdrop of a picture of mass graves in Gaza.
Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, another advocate for South Africa, argued Israel’s political leaders, military commanders and persons in official positions could not claim ignorance of troop actions on the ground since they have “systematically and in explicit terms declared their genocidal intent.”
Recalling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s October 28 comments where he was seen urging troops preparing to enter Gaza to “remember what Amalek has done to you,” Ngcukaitobi explained, “This (Amalek) refers to the biblical command by God to Saul for the retaliatory destruction of an entire group of people”.
“Israel is aware of its destruction of Palestinian life and infrastructure. Despite this knowledge, it has maintained and indeed intensified its military activity in Gaza,” Ngcukaitobi told the panel of 17 judges.
Gaza has become a place of “death and despair”, he said in conclusion.