In a dramatic turn of events at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Israel and South Africa engaged in the first session of arguments as the court opened hearings on a case brought forward by Pretoria, accusing Israel of genocide.
Israel, in response, released a strong statement, accusing South Africa of acting as the "legal arm" of the Palestinian group Hamas.
South Africa accused Israel of genocide at the ICJ, framing its argument around the events following the October 7 massacre. The accusations stirred a diplomatic storm, prompting Israel's foreign ministry to issue a counterstatement.
Israel, which has lambasted South Africa for bringing the case, has promised to defend itself at the court. Senior Israeli officials, including President Isaac Herzog, have called the case “preposterous” and say it constitutes a “blood libel”.
Lior Haiat, spokesperson for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, condemned South Africa's accusations, labelling them as “hypocritical and baseless”. The statement accused South Africa of distorting the reality in Gaza and serving as a supporter of Hamas.
Israel's statement highlighted that South Africa overlooked the infiltration of Hamas terrorists into Israel, engaging in violent acts, including murder, execution, massacre, rape, and abduction of Israeli citizens. The accusation extended to South Africa allegedly facilitating Hamas' return to committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“South Africa, which is functioning as the legal arm of the Hamas terrorist organisation, utterly distorted the reality in Gaza following the October 7 massacre and completely ignored the fact that Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel, murdered, executed, massacred, raped and abducted Israeli citizens, simply because they were Israelis, in an attempt to carry out genocide,” the statement read.
Israel reiterated its commitment to protecting its citizens in accordance with international law.
Emphasising the need to distinguish between Hamas terrorists and the civilian population, Israel accused South Africa of contributing to the potential resurgence of violence.
The statement pointed out the complexities of the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, underscoring the challenges in finding common ground. The recent conflict, particularly the October 7 massacre, were portrayed as instances where Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel with the intent of carrying out genocide against Israelis.
The Israeli actions following the conflict, including a ground assault, airstrikes, and a siege in the Gaza Strip, were acknowledged. The statement also noted the reported casualties, with more than 20,000 Palestinians claimed to be killed, according to Gaza's Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health.
Israel accused Hamas of using the civilian population in Gaza as human shields, operating from within sensitive locations such as hospitals, schools, UN shelters, mosques, and churches. The statement underscored Israel's commitment to distinguishing between terrorists and civilians while alleging that Hamas puts the lives of Gaza residents at risk.
The ICJ proceedings have intensified the already strained diplomatic relations between Israel and South Africa.
Israel will have the opportunity to present its counter-arguments at the ICJ today.