Israel has responded to South Africa’s grave accusations of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza on the second day of the public hearing on the issue at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) yesterday.
The case was filed against the backdrop of the Israel-Gaza conflict since 7 October 2023.
The gist of Israel’s response was that it is defending itself against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist organisations.
Besides, Israel said the case by South Africa simply painted a “profoundly distorted factual and legal picture”.
United Kingdom’s Professor Malcolm Shaw, who appeared for Israel, said South Africa failed to demonstrate prima facie jurisdiction of the court.
He said international humanitarian law is the appropriate legal framework for this strategic situation.
Denying the allegations of genocide, Shaw said there was no genocidal intent.
Israel’s response was legitimate and in consonance with the international law, he added.
“Israel’s response was and remains legitimate and necessary. It acted and continues to act in a manner consistent with international law. There is no genocidal intent here. There is no genocide. South Africa tells us only half a story,” he said.
The conflict started after Hamas’ attack on Israel on 7 October 2023 killed more than 1 200 people.
In retaliation, Israel mounted a deadly military operation in Gaza.
The blitz has killed around 23 000 people, including several women and children.
Amid this Israel-Gaza conflict, South Africa filed an 84-page application against Israel in the World Court, accusing it of perpetrating genocide.
In its application, South Africa sought to hold Israel responsible for genocide as defined under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948.
Pertinently, both South Africa and Israel are parties to the Genocide Convention.
In its response to South Africa’s charges, Israel denied the allegations of genocide.
Legal adviser of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tal Becker said the genocide intent is lacking in South Africa’s case.
He said Israel’s mission in Gaza is not to destroy people, but to protect them.
Key Arguments at the Hearing: “As the hearing commenced, Becker briefly spoke about the convention and that Israel was among the first states to ratify it.
“Given the Jewish people history and its foundational texts, it is not surprising that Israel was among the first state to ratify the genocide convention without reservation.
“The application has now sought to invoke this term in the context of Israel conduct in a war it did not start and did not want,” he said.
He however acknowledged civilians are suffering in the process, but blamed Hamas for that.
“A war in which Israel is defending itself against Hamas, Palestinian Ismaic Jihad and other terrorist organisations whose brutality knows no bounds.
Civilians are suffering in this war, like in all wars, and this is tragic. It is heartbreaking. The harsh realities of the current hostilities are made specially agonising for civilians given Hamas’s reprehensible strategy of seeking to maximise civilian harm to both Israelis and Palestinians even as Israel seeks to minimise it.”
Focusing on the 7 October 2023 Hamas attack, he said:
“Madam President, members of the court, on 7th October, a Jewish religious holiday, thousands of Hamas and other militants breached Israel sovereign territories by sea, land, and air. Invading over 20 Israeli communities.”
“As stated, none of these atrocities absolve Israel of its obligations under the law. But they do enable the Court to appreciate three core aspects of the present proceedings.”
He said if there has been an act that may be characterised as genocidal, then they have been perpetrated against Israel. He further said it is in response to the 7 October attack that Israel has the inherent right to take legitimate measures to defend itself.”
Becker said South Africa’s call for provisional measures for Israel to suspend its military operations is “astonishing”.
“These atrocities (Hamas attacks) do not justify violations of the law in reply, still less genocide, but they do justify, mandate even, the exercise of a legitimate and inherent right of State to defend itself,” he said.
“As far as the acts are concerned in this case, there is little beyond random assertions to demonstrate that Israel has, or has had, the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, Palestinian people.”
Tel Aviv says Pretoria is distorting the Gaza conflict.
Israel frames the issue this way:
Foundation and Ideology: The Hamas charter, influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood, presents an unchanging radical Islamic worldview, framing the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a religious conflict over sacred Islamic land.
Denial of Israel’s Existence: It categorically denies Israel’s right to exist, advocating relentless jihad and rejecting any recognition of Israeli sovereignty.
Jihad as a Core Principle: The charter views jihad as the essential means to destroy Israel and reclaim “Palestine,” considering terrorism as a crucial part of this holy war.
Anti-Semitism and Violence: It employs severe anti-Semitic rhetoric, legitimising a total holy war against Jews and promoting suicide bombing as a strategic tactic.
Depiction of Jews: Jews are portrayed as meriting humiliation, involved in global conspiracies, and responsible for major historical and contemporary conflicts.
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