Israel says it’s only protecting itself

President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) US lawyer Joan Donoghue (2R) confers with colleagues at the court in The Hague on January 12, 2024, at the hearing of the genocide case against Israel, brought by South Africa. Picture: Remko de Waal / ANP / AFP

President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) US lawyer Joan Donoghue (2R) confers with colleagues at the court in The Hague on January 12, 2024, at the hearing of the genocide case against Israel, brought by South Africa. Picture: Remko de Waal / ANP / AFP

Published Jan 13, 2024


It is plainly inconceivable that Israel can be said to be committing genocide. What Israel is doing in Gaza is not to destroy civilians, but to protect its people, counsel for Israel said yesterday in response to South Africa’s application for it to immediately seize military operations in Gaza.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) sitting at The Hague in the Netherlands was told that Israel had no choice but to protect itself and its people from the “terrorist organisation Hamas.”

During Israel’s arguments, the court was told that in allowing South Africa’s request that Israel immediately stopped its military operation in the Gaza strip, would mean that Israel will not be able to defend its citizens. This, it said, while Hamas would be able to continue with its “terror” .

Malcolm Shaw KC argued that “allegations have been made that verge on the outrageous.”

“There is no genocidal intent here. South Africa only tells us half the story,” Shaw said.

He told the court that armed conflict is by its nature brutal and it costs lives, especially where the armed militia is unconcerned about taking lives.

Shaw, however, said not every conflict is genocidal.

In rejecting South Africa’s accusations against Israel, its legal team called on the court to reject South Africa’s request. The court was told that if it was granted, it would leave them totally defenceless.

Israel’s foreign ministry’s legal advisor, Tal Becker, told the court that if there were acts of genocide, they have been perpetrated against Israel by Hamas.

It was said that Israel’s war in Gaza followed Hamas’ actions on October 7 when it attacked Israel leaving 1 200 people dead and 240 civilians who were taken hostage. The court was told about horror killings of people by Hamas at the time - including children and entire families, while soldiers filmed these atrocities.

It was further said that Hamas vowed to continue with its deeds against the Israeli people. Counsel questioned how Israel can be ordered to stop its defence in Gaza, under the guise of genocide, as claimed by South Africa.

Hamas was accused of using civilians in Gaza as human shields and using hospitals and other infrastructure to store its weapons.

Israel's legal team said Hamas is a lawless terrorist organisation who is causing destruction in Gaza, yet South Africa barely mentioned the organisation in its arguments.

Galit Raguan, Director of the International Justice Division of Israel, argued that South Africa does not consider the extent to which Hamas uses civilian infrastructure in its fight in Gaza. She showed pictures to the court of arms found in hospitals and even in incubators.

She admitted that the infrastructure in Gaza had been caused by the war, but she said it was mostly at the hands of Hamas.

Israel is doing all it can to prevent harm to the civilians in Gaza and while there can be no question that many civilians in Gaza are suffering, Israel is trying to mitigate this.

The court was told that the Israeli armed forces gave civilians prior notice of bombings and air strikes and they even told them where to relocate to and how. This is sometimes done days in advance, to the detriment of the Israeli armed forces, she said.

Israel is also doing all it can to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza to assist the wounded and to provide food and water. The court was told that since last month many trucks carrying food were entering Gaza, the water network had mostly been restored and several bakeries delivering two million loaves of bread a day are up and running.

Gilad Noam, Deputy Attorney General for International Law in Israel meanwhile argued that Israel’s legal system ensures accountability and that Israel is definitely not guilty of any genocidal acts.

He said there is accountability and violations of humanitarian acts are investigated.

He said the war in Gaza is occurring within the framework of a war instigated by Hamas and do not fall within the ambit of the Genocide Convention as claimed by South Africa against Israel.

The court was told that war is tragic for civilians on both sides, but to classify Israel’s actions as genocide is not only unfounded in law but, but will have a negative impact far beyond this case. Israel argued that this will only weaponise terrorist groups, as the enemy is hiding behind civilians.

“The faith placed in international law is too cherished to be squandered. We appeal to the court not to go down that dangerous road, Noam said. He asked the court to reject the relief for interim measures to be placed on Israel to stop its military operation in Gaza and to rather remove South Africa’s application from the roll.

The court meanwhile indicated that it would deliver its verdict as soon as possible in open court. Both parties were asked to be available if the court in the meantime needed more information.

Pretoria News

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