THE HAGUE: Israel on Friday rejected as “grossly distorted” accusations brought by South Africa at the UN’s top court that its military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide campaign against the Palestinian population.
It called on judges to dismiss South Africa’s request to halt its offensive, saying it would leave it defenseless.
South Africa, which filed the lawsuit at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in December, asked judges on Thursday to impose emergency measures ordering Israel to immediately halt the offensive.
It said Israel’s aerial and ground offensive — which has laid waste to much of the narrow coastal enclave and killed more than 23,000 people according to Gaza health authorities — aimed to bring about “the destruction of the population” of Gaza.
South Africa’s interpretation of events was “grossly distorted,” Israel’s foreign ministry’s legal adviser Tal Becker told the court.
“If there were acts of genocide, they have been perpetrated against Israel,” adding: “Hamas seeks genocide against Israel.”
Israel launched its all-out war in Gaza after a cross-border rampage on Oct. 7 by militants from Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction. Israeli officials said 1,200 people were killed, mainly civilians, and 240 taken hostage back to Gaza.
“The appalling suffering of civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian, is first and foremost the result of Hamas’ strategy,” Becker said, adding that Israel had a right to defend itself. Hamas denies Israeli allegations that its militants hide among civilians.
“Israel is in a war of defense against Hamas, not against the Palestinian people, to ensure that they do not succeed,” Becker said, adding: “The key component of genocide, the intent to destroy a people in whole or in part, is totally lacking“
Palestinian backers with flags marched through The Hague and planned to watch proceedings on a giant screen in front of the Peace Palace. As Becker spoke, they chanted: “Liar! Liar!“
Israeli supporters were holding a separate gathering of family members of hostages taken by Hamas.
By asking the court to order the halt of the Gaza military operation “the applicant seeks to thwart Israel’s inherent right to defend itself… and render Israel defenseless,” Becker said.
“The application and request (by South Africa) should be rejected for what they are, a libel,” Becker said.
Israel has said South Africa was acting as a mouthpiece for Islamist Hamas, which is widely designated as a terrorist group in the West. South Africa has rejected that accusation.
The ICJ’s decisions are final and without appeal — but the court has no way to enforce them.
The 1948 Genocide Convention, enacted in the wake of the mass murder of Jews in the Nazi Holocaust, defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
Since Israeli forces launched their offensive, nearly all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes at least once, causing a humanitarian catastrophe.
Post-apartheid South Africa has long advocated the Palestinian cause, a relationship forged when the African National Congress’ struggle against white-minority rule was cheered on by Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization.
The court is expected to rule on possible emergency measures later this month, but will not rule at that time on the genocide allegations — those proceedings could take years.