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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Israel’s Defense Against Genocide Allegations in Gaza at the UN’s Top Court


THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Israel’s defense against allegations of genocide in Gaza has sparked a heated debate at‍ the ⁤United Nations’ highest court. Accused of committing genocide against ‌Palestinians, Israel insisted ⁢that its war in Gaza was a legitimate‍ defense of its ​people⁣ and that it was Hamas militants who were guilty ‌of genocide.

Israel described the allegations leveled by South Africa as hypocritical‌ and said one of the‌ biggest cases ⁤ever to come before an⁣ international court reflected a world turned upside down. Israeli⁤ leaders defend ​their air ⁢and ground offensive in Gaza as a legitimate response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, when militants stormed through Israeli communities, killing ‌some 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage.

Israeli legal adviser Tal⁢ Becker ⁣told a packed auditorium at the ornate Palace of‍ Peace ⁣in The Hague that the country is fighting a “war it did not start⁤ and did not want.”

“In⁢ these circumstances, there can hardly be a charge more false and more malevolent than the⁤ allegation against ⁤Israel of genocide,” he added, noting that the horrible suffering of ‍civilians ⁢in war was not enough to level that ‌charge.

Nations speak out

On Friday afternoon, Germany said it wanted to intervene in the proceedings on Israel’s behalf, saying there was “no basis whatsoever” for an accusation ⁢of genocide against Israel.

“Hamas terrorists brutally ‌attacked, tortured, killed and kidnapped ‌innocent people⁢ in Israel,” German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said in a statement. “Since then, Israel ‍has been defending itself against the inhumane attack by Hamas.”

He acknowledged that various⁤ countries view Israel’s actions in Gaza differently but that Germany expressly rejects the accusations of genocide.

While the​ legal implications ⁣of German’s announcement were not immediately clear, its support for Israel carries some symbolic significance given Germany’s Nazi history.

Hebestreit said Germany ⁤”sees itself as particularly committed to the Convention ⁣against Genocide.” He added:‌ “We⁤ firmly oppose political instrumentalization.”

Israeli⁤ Prime⁢ Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the announcement, saying the ​gesture “touches all of Israel’s citizens.”

South ​Africa’s ‌Allegations

South‍ African lawyers asked the court Thursday to ​order an immediate halt to Israeli military operations in the besieged coastal territory that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians. A decision on that request will probably take weeks, and the full case is likely to last⁢ years — and⁤ it’s unclear if Israel would follow any court orders.

On Friday, Israel focused on the brutality⁢ of the Oct. 7 attacks, presenting chilling‌ video and audio to a hushed audience.

“They tortured children in front of parents and parents in front of children, burned people, including infants⁣ alive, and systematically ​raped and mutilated scores of ​women,​ men and children,” Becker⁤ said.

‘Words are cheap’

South Africa’s request for an immediate halt to the Gaza ‍fighting, ⁤he said, amounts to an attempt to ​prevent Israel from defending itself against that⁤ assault.

Even ⁣when acting in self-defense, countries are required by international law to follow the rules of war, and⁢ judges must decide if Israel has.

As two days of hearings ended Friday, ICJ President Joan E. Donoghue said the court would rule on the‍ request for urgent measures “as soon as possible.”

There can hardly be a charge more false‌ and more malevolent than the allegation against Israel of genocide.

–Tal Becker, Israeli legal adviser

Israel often boycotts international tribunals and U.N. investigations, saying they are⁤ unfair and biased. But this time, Israeli leaders took the rare step of sending‍ a high-level legal team — a sign of how seriously they⁤ regard‍ the case‍ and likely their fear that any court order ​to ‌halt operations would be a major blow⁢ to the country’s international standing.

Still, Becker dismissed the accusations as crude and attention-seeking.

“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,” he said.

In a statement ​from New York, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan called the case a “new moral low”‍ and said⁣ that by⁢ taking it⁣ on, “the U.N. and its institutions have become weapons in⁣ service of terrorist organizations.”

Becker said the​ charges Israel is facing should be leveled at‍ Hamas, which‍ seeks‌ Israel’s destruction and which the U.S. and Western allies consider⁢ a terrorist group.

“If there have been acts that may be characterized ⁢as genocidal, then they have been​ perpetrated against Israel,” Becker said.

More than 23,000 people in Gaza have been killed during Israel’s military campaign, according ⁢to the Health Ministry ⁢in the Hamas-run territory. That toll does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Nearly 85% of Gaza’s people have been driven from their homes, a quarter of the enclave’s residents face starvation, and much of northern Gaza has been reduced ​to rubble.

South Africa says⁢ this amounts to genocide and is part of decades 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,” said lawyer ‍Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, adding that several​ leading politicians had made dehumanizing comments about people in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry welcomed the case, saying in a written statement that South Africa “delivered unequivocal ⁢evidence that‌ Israel is deliberately and ‌systematically violating its obligations under the Genocide Convention.”

Malcolm Shaw, an international​ law expert on Israel’s legal team, rejected ‍the accusation of genocidal intent and called the remarks Ngcukaitobi⁢ referenced “random quotes not in conformity with government policy.”

Israel also says that it takes measures to protect civilians,⁤ such as ‌issuing evacuation orders ahead of strikes. It blames Hamas for the high civilian death toll, saying the ‍group uses residential areas to stage‍ attacks‍ and for other military purposes.

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.

–Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, lawyer

Israel’s critics⁤ say that such ‌measures have done little⁣ to⁤ prevent the high toll and that⁢ its bombings are so powerful that they often amount to ⁢indiscriminate ‍or disproportionate ‌attacks.

If the court issues an order to halt⁢ the fighting and Israel doesn’t comply, ‌it could face⁤ U.N. sanctions, although those may be blocked ⁢by a veto from the United States, Israel’s ‌staunch ally. In Washington, National Security Council spokeman John Kirby called the allegations‍ “unfounded.” ​The White House declined to comment on how it might respond if the ICJ determines Israel has committed genocide.

‘We are missing them’

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. “We want to symbolize ​the empty chairs because we are missing them,”​ said Nathan Bouscher from ⁤the Center for ⁤Information and Documentation on Israel.

Nearby, over 100 pro-Palestinian protesters waved flags and⁢ shouted protests.

The case ‌also strikes at the ⁣heart of both⁤ Israel’s and South Africa’s national identities.

Israel was founded as a Jewish state in the wake of the Nazis’ slaughter ‍of 6 million Jews during World War II. South Africa’s governing party, meanwhile, ​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.”

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” in the ​July 1995 ​massacre by‌ Bosnian Serb forces of more⁣ than 8,000 Muslim men and boys in ​the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.

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  1. Israel’s right to defend itself should never be questioned. The UN must recognize the complexities of the situation and the constant threat faced by Israel. #SupportIsrael

  2. Disagree: Israel’s defense cannot justify the alleged genocide in Gaza. The UN should thoroughly investigate the situation and hold responsible parties accountable.

  3. Disagree: The allegations of genocide should be taken seriously and fully investigated at the UN’s top court for justice and accountability.


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