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Israel defends itself on the U.N.’s prime courtroom towards allegations of genocide towards Palestinians

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Israel’s Legal Counselor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tal Becker, lawyer Malcolm Shaw, and Gilad Noam, Deputy Attorney-General for International Affairs, attend the International Court of Justice (ICJ) previous to the listening to on the genocide case towards Israel, introduced by South Africa, in The Hague on January 11, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AFP

Accused of committing genocide towards Palestinians, Israel defended its struggle in Gaza on the United Nations’ highest courtroom Friday, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the allegations as hypocrisy that “screams to the heavens.”

Israel, which was based within the aftermath of the Holocaust, has vehemently denied the accusations introduced by South Africa in one of many greatest instances ever to come back earlier than a global courtroom, one which has drawn worldwide consideration and protesters from each side to the courthouse.

South African attorneys requested the courtroom Thursday to order a direct halt to Israeli navy operations within the besieged coastal territory that’s house to 2.3 million Palestinians. A choice on that request will in all probability take weeks, although the total case is prone to final years.

“We live at a time when words are cheap in an age of social media and identity politics. The temptation to reach for the most outrageous term to vilify and demonize has become, for many, irresistible,” Israeli legal advisor Tal Becker told a packed auditorium at the ornate Palace of Peace in The Hague.

He added that South Africa “has regrettably put before the court a profoundly distorted, factual and legal picture. The entirety of its case hinges on a deliberately curated, decontextualized and manipulative description of the reality of current hostilities.”

Israel usually boycotts worldwide tribunals and U.N. investigations, saying they’re unfair and biased. But, in an indication of how significantly they regard the case, Israeli leaders have taken the uncommon step of sending a high-level authorized crew.

At the center of the case are Israel’s actions in Gaza, the place it launched an enormous air and floor assault after Hamas militants crossed into Israel on Oct. 7, storming via communities and killing some 1,200 folks, primarily civilians. The assailants additionally kidnapped round 250 folks, over half of whom are nonetheless held captive.

More than 23,000 folks in Gaza have been killed through the navy marketing campaign, based on the the Health Ministry within the territory, which is run by Hamas. Nearly 85% of Gaza’s folks have been pushed their houses, 1 / 4 of the territory’s residents face hunger, and far of northern Gaza has been lowered to rubble.

South Africa says this quantities to genocide and is a part of many years of Israeli oppression of Palestinians.

“The scale of destruction in Gaza, the targeting of family homes and civilians, the war being a war on children — all make clear that genocidal intent is both understood and has been put into practice. The articulated intent is the destruction of Palestinian life,” lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi stated in opening statements Thursday.

The case’s “distinctive feature” was “the reiteration and repetition of genocidal speech throughout every sphere of the state in Israel,” he stated.

Mr. Netanyahu dismissed these arguments.

“This is an upside-down world — the state of Israel is accused of genocide while it is fighting genocide,” the Prime Minister stated Thursday in a video assertion. “The hypocrisy of South Africa screams to the heavens.”

Instead, Israel says it is acting in legitimate self-defence. International agreements still bind countries to the rules of war, even when responding to an attack, no matter how serious, and the court must decide if Israel’s operations have indeed remained within those strictures.

Although the court’s findings are considered binding, it was unclear whether Israel would heed any order to halt the fighting. If it doesn’t, it could face U.N. sanctions, although those may be blocked by a veto from the United States, Israel’s staunch ally.

The White House declined to comment on how it might respond if the court determines Israel committed genocide. But National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby called the allegations “unfounded.”

The extraordinary case goes to the core of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts — and for the second day protesters rallied outside the court. Pro-Israeli demonstrators set up a table near the court grounds for a Sabbath meal with empty seats commemorating the hostages still being held by Hamas. Nearby, over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters waved flags and shouted protests.

The case strikes at the heart of Israel’s national identity, which is rooted in the country’s creation as a Jewish state after the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews during World War II.

Israel says it is battling a fierce enemy that carried out the deadliest attack on its territory since the country was founded in 1948. Its leaders insist they are following international law and doing their utmost to avoid harm to civilians. Israel blames Hamas for the high death toll, saying the militants operate in residential areas.

The case also evokes issues central to South Africa’s own identity: Its governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Black people to “homelands” before ending in 1994. South Africa sought to broaden the case beyond the Israel-Hamas war.

“The violence and the destruction in Palestine and Israel did not begin on Oct. 7, 2023. The Palestinians have experienced systematic oppression and violence for the last 76 years,” said South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.

“Mothers, fathers, children, siblings, grandparents, aunts, cousins are often all killed together. This killing is nothing short of destruction of Palestinian life. It is inflicted deliberately. No one is spared. Not even newborn babies,” said South African lawyer Hassim.

About two-thirds of the dead in Gaza are women and children, according to health officials there. The death toll does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

The world court, which rules on disputes between nations, has never judged a country to be responsible for genocide. The closest it came was in 2007, when it ruled that Serbia “violated the obligation to prevent genocide” within the July 1995 bloodbath by Bosnian Serb forces of greater than 8,000 Muslim males and boys within the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.

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