Israel-Gaza War Israel defends itself against genocide charges: "We want to protect Gaza, not destroy it"

This Friday, Israel had a double and difficult mission at the International Court of Justice in The Hague: to demonstrate that it is not committing genocide in Gaza and to prove that the world court lacks jurisdiction in the matter. The Dutch city hosted the second and final day of hearings regarding one of the most momentous cases in its history. In a few days he will rule on the precautionary measures and urgent demands by South Africans to stop the war in the Strip.

South Africa’s legal team accused Israel on Thursday of carrying out an intentional and calculated genocide in Gaza. This Friday, it was Tel Aviv’s time to hit back. Israeli lawyers harshly attacked the complaint presented by the Africans in the UN court, which they described as “distorted”, “manipulated” or an “insult”. The Hebrew defense shield pivots on three key points: Israel did not want this war, but it has been dragged by Hamas; Her Army acts with “proportionality”, trying to minimize harm to civilians and her commitment to the Holocaust ‘never again’ would prevent her from committing genocide.

South Africa accuses Israel of violating the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948. Genocide is the father of all crimes of humanity, since its objective is the annihilation of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group . Therefore, for it to exist, it is imperative that there is intentionality. Its magnitude, its complexity and its implications make it extremely sensitive to declare it. In fact, the court has never done so. Thus, one of the assets of the Israeli defense has revolved around the maxim that ‘if everything is genocide, nothing is genocide’.

“Not all conflicts are genocidal. The crime of genocide is an especially terrible crime. It is the crime of crimes. If reports of genocide became the normality of armed conflicts at any time and place, the essence of this crime would be diluted and lost,” warned Israeli lawyer Malcolm Shaw. “The measures taken by the Israeli Army in order to mitigate harm to the civilian population, sometimes exceeding the requirements of international humanitarian law, are proof, according to South Africa, of Israel’s intention to commit genocide. When in reality it demonstrates exactly the opposite,” argued Justice Minister Galit Raguan.

The other big argument had a legal fit. Tel Aviv maintains that the court in question lacks jurisdiction over the conflict. “South Africa unilaterally decided that a dispute existed and failed to demonstrate the court’s prima facie jurisdiction,” Shawn said. The ICJ is the largest UN court to settle disputes between States. Both countries are members and are therefore obliged to comply with their sentences. Something that in the Israeli case does not apply to the International Criminal Court, which tries individuals for crimes, since the country is not part of it. What is being decided in the case in question is whether the State of Israel has intentionally carried out genocide. He rejects the African complaint, warning that it presents “a deeply distorted factual and legal image and a deliberately curated, decontextualized and manipulative description of reality.”

If during Thursday’s day, The Hague witnessed videos of Israeli soldiers dancing on the ruins of the destroyed Gaza, this Friday Israeli lawyers have shown clips of the massacres in a kibbutz on October 7, the day with the most murders of Jews since World War II, or photographs of hostages held captive by Hamas. “If there were acts of genocide, they have been perpetrated against Israel,” added representative Tal Becker. Another of the strong points of the South African accusation was to bring to the fore inflammatory statements by the Government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, such as that of Minister Amichai Eliyahu suggesting launching a nuclear bomb on Gaza. “Choosing random phrases, which are not part of the Government’s policy, is at best a deception,” defended the Hebrew State.

If South Africa’s great challenge is to demonstrate the genocidal intention of senior Israeli officials, that of the Jewish State is to justify the brutal impact of its offensive on the civilian population, as well as the blockade of water, food, fuel or medicine, a crime prohibited by International Law. The Israeli delegation insisted that it has tried to avoid a “humanitarian disaster” in the Strip and that it respects the “principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attacks to reduce collateral damage.” “What Israel is doing in Gaza is not destroying the people there, but protecting them. Israel is at war against Hamas, not against the Palestinian people,” Becker said.

Tel Aviv assures that it is allowing access to food and essential goods, but blames Hamas militiamen for stealing these goods and hiding in homes or hospitals. It also guarantees that it will comply with its international obligations by allowing the future return of Palestinians to northern Gaza. But on the ground, the drastic humanitarian situation returns another picture. The UN denounced this Friday that Israel is blocking the entry of aid into the north of the Strip. 85% of the population is displaced. More than 23,000 people have died in these three months, 70% are women and children. Nearly a thousand minors have been murdered in what has become the cruelest conflict with children in the world.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement minutes after the end of the hearing emphasizing that the charges brought are only “indications of a moral war like there has never been.” “South Africa itself undermines the accusation of genocide by supporting the terrorist organization Hamas, which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel,” he added. For his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assured that he will provide additional documents to the court to support the South African complaint. “I think Israel will be condemned,” he said in statements reported by Reuters.

It will take years for The Hague to issue a ruling on whether or not there is a genocide underway in Gaza. However, at the end of this month he will rule on the precautionary and urgent measures that Pretoria demands to force Israel to stop the war. Tel Aviv asks that it be dismissed, arguing that it would come into direct conflict with the right to defend its people and the hostages captured by Hamas.