Patrick Put up/AP
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Accused of committing genocide in opposition to Palestinians, Israel defended its warfare in Gaza on the United Nations’ highest court docket 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 largest instances ever to come back earlier than a world court docket, one which has drawn worldwide consideration and protesters from either side to the courthouse.
South African legal professionals requested the court docket Thursday to order an instantaneous halt to Israeli navy operations within the besieged coastal territory that’s house to 2.3 million Palestinians. A call on that request will in all probability take weeks, although the total case is prone to final years.
“We reside at a time when phrases are low-cost in an age of social media and id politics. The temptation to achieve for probably the most outrageous time period to vilify and demonize has turn out to be, for a lot of, irresistible,” Israeli authorized advisor Tal Becker informed a packed auditorium on the ornate Palace of Peace in The Hague.
He added that South Africa “has regrettably put earlier than the court docket a profoundly distorted, factual and authorized image. The whole thing of its case hinges on a intentionally curated, decontextualized and manipulative description of the truth of present hostilities.”
Israel usually boycotts worldwide tribunals and U.N. investigations, saying they’re unfair and biased. However, in an indication of how significantly they regard the case, Israeli leaders have taken the uncommon step of sending a high-level authorized staff.
On the coronary heart of the case are Israel’s actions in Gaza, the place it launched a large air and floor assault after Hamas militants crossed into Israel on Oct. 7, storming by way of communities and killing some 1,200 folks, primarily civilians. The assailants additionally kidnapped round 250 folks, over half of whom are nonetheless held captive.
Greater than 23,000 folks in Gaza have been killed through the navy marketing campaign, in line with the the Well being Ministry within the territory, which is run by Hamas. Practically 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 decreased to rubble.
South Africa says this quantities to genocide and is a part of many years of Israeli oppression of Palestinians.
“The dimensions of destruction in Gaza, the focusing on of household houses and civilians, the warfare being a warfare on youngsters — all clarify that genocidal intent is each understood and has been put into apply. The articulated intent is the destruction of Palestinian life,” lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi stated in opening statements Thursday.
The case’s “distinctive characteristic” was “the reiteration and repetition of genocidal speech all through each sphere of the state in Israel,” he stated.
Netanyahu dismissed these arguments.
“That is an upside-down world — the state of Israel is accused of genocide whereas it’s combating genocide,” the prime minister stated Thursday in a video assertion. “The hypocrisy of South Africa screams to the heavens.”
As a substitute Israel says it’s appearing in reputable self-defense. Worldwide agreements nonetheless bind international locations to the foundations of warfare, even when responding to an assault, regardless of how severe, and the court docket should determine if Israel’s operations have certainly remained inside these strictures.
Though the court docket’s findings are thought of binding, it was unclear whether or not Israel would heed any order to halt the combating. If it does not, it might face U.N. sanctions, though these could also be blocked by a veto from the USA, Israel’s staunch ally.
The White Home declined to touch upon the way it would possibly reply if the court docket determines Israel dedicated genocide. However Nationwide Safety Council spokesperson John Kirby known as the allegations “unfounded.”
The extraordinary case goes to the core of one of many world’s most intractable conflicts — and for the second day protesters rallied outdoors the court docket. Professional-Israeli demonstrators arrange a desk close to the court docket grounds for a Sabbath meal with empty seats commemorating the hostages nonetheless being held by Hamas. Close by, over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters waved flags and shouted protests.
The case strikes on the coronary heart of Israel’s nationwide id, which is rooted within the nation’s creation as a Jewish state after the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews throughout World Conflict II.
Israel says it’s battling a fierce enemy that carried out the deadliest assault on its territory for the reason that nation was based in 1948. Its leaders insist they’re following worldwide legislation and doing their utmost to keep away from hurt to civilians. Israel blames Hamas for the excessive dying toll, saying the militants function in residential areas.
The case additionally evokes points central to South Africa’s personal id: Its governing social gathering, the African Nationwide Congress, has lengthy in contrast Israel’s insurance policies in Gaza and the West Financial institution to its personal historical past below the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Black folks to “homelands” earlier than ending in 1994.
South Africa sought to broaden the case past the Israel-Hamas warfare.
“The violence and the destruction in Palestine and Israel didn’t start on Oct. 7, 2023. The Palestinians have skilled systematic oppression and violence for the final 76 years,” stated South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
“Moms, fathers, youngsters, siblings, grandparents, aunts, cousins are sometimes all killed collectively. This killing is nothing wanting destruction of Palestinian life. It’s inflicted intentionally. Nobody is spared. Not even new child infants,” stated South African lawyer Hassim.
About two-thirds of the lifeless in Gaza are girls and youngsters, in line with well being officers there. The dying toll doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.
The world court docket, which guidelines on disputes between nations, has by no means judged a rustic to be answerable for genocide. The closest it got here was in 2007, when it dominated that Serbia “violated the duty to stop 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.