South Africa’s ICJ genocide case aimed at defending Hamas, Israel claims

Israel on Friday attacked South Africa’s case against it in the international court of justice as an “obscene exploitation” of the genocide convention, claiming it aimed not to protect Palestinian civilians but to defend Hamas militants.

Israel’s representatives told the court their country was fighting a war of self-defence it “did not want and did not start”. They said Israel had made “extraordinary” efforts to protect civilians, and had complied with orders from the court to let more aid into Gaza.

“There is a tragic conflict going on, but no genocide,” Israel’s justice ministry official, Gilad Noam, told the court. He asked judges to throw out South Africa’s request that the court order a halt to the military offensive in Rafah and impose a ceasefire across Gaza.

The hearing in The Hague came as all G7 countries apart from the US sent a joint letter urging Israel to comply with international law in Gaza and address the devastating humanitarian crisis there, Reuters reported. Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland also signed.

The US has warned that Gaza faces an “imminent famine”, and the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said this week he had not seen a credible plan to protect civilians in Rafah before a planned Israeli attack.

The population of the southern Gaza town have swollen to about 1.5 million people over seven months of war as Palestinians fled Israeli ground offensives elsewhere. More than 600,000 people have now fled north again, but hundreds of thousands of others do not have the means to leave, or fear they will not find food or shelter.

Trucks of aid began moving into Gaza off a US-built floating pier on Friday. But it is expensive and inefficient, the UN and humanitarian organisations said, and even at maximum capacity would provide less than a third of the 500 trucks a day Israel and the US have set as an unofficial target.

Map of floating pier and reception area for aid near Gaza City

In northern Gaza, around the Jabaliya refugee camp, fierce battles underlined the challenges Israeli troops face more than half a year into the war. Israel had claimed control of the area months previously, but militants still operate there.

South Africa had presented its case to the court on Thursday, saying Palestinians had nowhere safe to flee because intense bombing and ground campaigns had reduced the rest of Gaza to a famine-stricken wasteland without shelter or services.

Noam said the attack on Rafah was essential because battalions of Hamas fighters were hiding there. Israel has vowed to destroy the group after its cross-border attacks on 7 October, which killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, with 254 people taken hostage. Hamas leaders have said they want to repeat that attack.

“Israel is acutely aware of the large number of civilians that are concentrated in Rafah. It is also acutely aware of Hamas’ efforts to use these civilians as a shield,” he said. He added that Israel had ordered evacuations to protect civilians, and accused South Africa of exploiting civilian suffering to protect militants.

“South Africa … has a clear ulterior motive when it asks you to order Israel to stay away from Rafah and to withdraw all its troops from Gaza,” Noam told the court. “It does so in order to obtain military advantage for its ally, Hamas.”

Why genocide is so hard to prove – video

The ICJ only hears cases between states, so it has no jurisdiction over Hamas. That means any ceasefire order would bind only one party, depriving Israel of the right to self-defence, its lawyers said.

In January the court found in an interim judgment that there was a risk of violation of the rights of the Palestinian people to protection from genocide.

It ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power” to desist from killing Palestinians in contravention of the genocide convention, to prevent and punish the incitement of genocide, and to facilitate provision of “urgent basic services”, but stopped short of imposing a ceasefire.

In March, a panel of judges ordered Israel to allow unimpeded access of food aid into Gaza, in a unanimous decision that warned famine was setting in.

Tamar Kaplan-Tourgeman, one of Israel’s legal team, said Israel had complied with those orders. She detailed measures to protect civilians, including dropping leaflets ordering evacuations, and listed steps to expand aid, including new entry points in northern Gaza.

Israeli official heckled in court as Israel denies genocide taking place in Gaza – video

However, these crossings have not been opened to UN agencies, which provide the majority of food aid in Gaza. Their supplies must pass through Rafah, which has been closed for more than a week now, and Kerem Shalom, where supplies have been reduced to a trickle.

Between 6 and 15 May, only 33 trucks entered the strip through Kerem Shalom, UN data shows. Kaplan-Tourgeman told the court 330 trucks had entered the crossing on Thursday, but the UN said that figure did not reflect aid available for Palestinians.

“We don’t yet have full data for trucks entering Gaza yesterday but I can tell you it is certainly not 330,” said Juliette Touma, communications director at Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. “I would add that something entering Kerem Shalom does not equate to entering Gaza.”

Kaplan-Tourgeman also referred to deliveries by air and by sea, but these are more expensive and less efficient, and are usually used where geographical challenges or control of terrain by militants make road delivery impossible – not to avoid restrictions imposed by an ally.

At the end of the hearing, Judge Nolte asked Israel to provide more information about conditions in designated evacuation zones, provision of food and shelter, and how it would ensure safe passage for evacuees.


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