Israel defends against South Africa genocide lawsuit in ICJ by justifying violence

Mohamed Badereldin, Friday 12 Jan 2024

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) wrapped up the two-day hearing into South Africa's case accusing Israel of genocide in its war on Gaza, as Israel rejected accusations and justified the violence as a response to Hamas' operation.

President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) US lawyer Joan Donoghue (2R) confers with colleagues at the court in The Hague on January 12, 2024, prior to the hearing of the genocide case against Israel, brought by South Africa. AFP


Israel's legal team has concluded their oral arguments, and ICJ President Joan Donoghue announced that the court will announce its decision in the coming days.

South African lawyer that "Israel has a genocidal intent against the Palestinians in Gaza, that is evident from the way in which Israel's military attack is being conducted."

Israel's legal team, led by Tal Becker and Malcolm Shaw, presented a defense and justification for the violence being carried out by the Israeli occupation army as a response to Al-Aqsa Flood operation.

They showed the court images attemting to humanize Israeli casualities while disregarding Palestinian deaths as a matter of numbers that can be disputed. 

Becker also questioned the credibility of the reported death toll of over 23,400 Palestinians, dismissing it as unverified statistics provided by Hamas itself.

Israel's team argued that civilian harm in urban warfare is an unintended but lawful consequence of attacks on military targets. 

Christopher Staker, a member of Israel's defense team claimed that Israel's military operation is a legitimate act of "self-defense," claiming that imposing provisional measures would hinder Israel's ability to contend with the security threats it faces, including ongoing attacks by Hamas and the need to rescue captives in Gaza.

Israel's legal team also claimed that Tel Aviv taken steps to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, alleging that the standards required for applying provisional measures, namely "irreparable harm and urgency," have not been met.

However, Both Noam and Staker failed to address rhetoric espoused by Knesset members, where Tally Gotliv, a Knesset member for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, condemned the entry of humanitarian aid and food to Gaza, suggesting that Gazans should be "thirsted and starved," following similar comments invoking the desire to expel Palestinians from Gaza. Moshe Saada, another Knesset member for Netanyahu's Likud Party, has called on all Israelis to support the "destroy all Gazans" and end the "Palestinian matter." 

Furthermore, Israel's team blamed Hamas for the massive destruction of Gaza's infrastructure and civilian buildings. 

Responding to th fact that Israel bombed hospitals in Gaza, Raguan, acting director of the international justice division at Israel's Justice Ministry, also blamed Hamas.

Lawyer Malcolm Shaw, another member of the Israeli legal team, accused South Africa of cheapening the charge of genocide, which he referred to as the "crime of crimes," by applying it to the Israeli offensive, and dismissed South Africa's accusations that Israeli officials displayed genocidal intent, asserting that the statements referenced were emotional wartime rhetoric without legal significance.

Arguing against the ICJ issuing provisional measures to halt attacks on Gaza, Israel's legal team pretended that "the scope and intensity" of Israel's operations have already been decreasing. Israel's legal team says "it is absurd" to suggest that the only way to stop the genocide in Gaza is to halt the military operation as a whole.

They claimed UN court "lacks jurisdiction" to consider the "provisional measure phase of proceedings," calling on the court to dismiss South Africa's request for an order to stop its war on Gaza.

However, over three months into the Israeli war on Gaza, Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant said that Israeli forces would be shifting from “intense manoeuvring” to “different types of special operations.” Gallant, one of three members of Israel’s war cabinet, said that the next chapter in the conflict “will last for a longer time.” 

The Israeli war on Gaza, experts say, now sits among the deadliest and most destructive in recent history. In just over two months, researchers say the offensive has wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol or, proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II.

It has killed more civilians than the U.S.-led coalition did in its three-year campaign against the Islamic State group.

Invoking genocidal comments by the Israeli Prime Minister benjamin Netanyahu, the legal team claims that Netanyahu's Amalek statement was misquoted. 

Netanyahu had previously said in a televised address on 28 October, “You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible. And we do remember.” He referred to it again in a letter to Israeli soldiers on 3 November. These verses of the Torah Netanyahu turned to, have a long history of being used by Jews on the far right to justify killing Palestinians. In these verses God commands King Saul in the first Book of Samuel to kill every person in Amalek, a rival nation to ancient Israel, a clear indication of Genocidal intent. 

South Africa states that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians and has submitted evidence stating that "acts and omissions" by Israel "are genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial, and ethnic group."

South Africa's legal team highlights public rhetoric, including comments Benjamin Netanyahu, as evidence of "genocidal intent." They argue that under international law, genocide is defined as committing acts with the intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.

Pretoria's Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told the court on Thursday that Israel had "crossed the line" and was in breach of the convention.

Following the Israeli defense on Friday, Lamola said Israel failed to respond to the genocide case and it seems unable to condemn the practices of its soldiers.

​"Genocides are never declared in advance," said Adila Hassim, a top lawyer for South Africa.

"But this court has the benefit of the past 13 weeks of evidence that shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention that justifies a plausible claim of genocidal acts."

She said that "For the past 96 days, Israel has subjected Gaza to what has been described as one of the heaviest conventional bombing campaigns in the history of modern warfare.

John Dugard, a member of South Africa's legal team, stressed that the Genocide Convention is “dedicated to saving humanity" and countries that have signed up to it “are obliged not only to desist from genocidal acts but also to prevent them”

Pretoria wants judges to force Israel to "immediately" stop the war.

The ICJ will likely rule within a matter of weeks on South Africa's request. Its rulings are final and legally binding but it has little power to enforce them.

For this emergency proceeding, the court will not rule on the fundamentals of the case -- whether Israel is actually committing genocide -- but on whether the rights of Gazans to exist are at risk.


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