12 Jan 2024 3:55 PM GMT
On the second day of the public hearing held by the International Court of Justice, Israel presented its response to a genocide case instituted against it by South Africa. The case was filed against the backdrop of the Israel-Gaza conflict. The heart of Israel's arguments was that it is defending itself against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist organizations....
On the second day of the public hearing held by the International Court of Justice, Israel presented its response to a genocide case instituted against it by South Africa. The case was filed against the backdrop of the Israel-Gaza conflict. The heart of Israel's arguments was that it is defending itself against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist organizations. Besides, Israel also assailed the case by arguing that South Africa had put a 'profoundly distorted factual and legal picture.'
UK's Professor Malcolm Shaw, who appeared for Israel, submitted that South Africa failed to demonstrate prima facie jurisdiction of the Court. He said that international humanitarian law is the appropriate legal framework for this strategic situation.
Denying the allegations of genocide, he said that there was no genocidal intent. Israel's response was legitimate and in consonance with the international law.
“Israel's response was and remains legitimate and necessary. It acted and continues to act in a manner consistent with international law. There is no genocidal intent here. There is no genocide. South Africa tells us only half a story.,” the professor said.
The Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on October 7, 2023, killing around 1200 people. Retaliating this, Israel mounted a deadly military operation in Gaza. The attack has killed around 23,000 Gazan people, including several women and children.
Amidst this Israel-Gaza conflict, South Africa filed an 84-page application against Israel in the World Court last year in December. In this application, it sought to bring Israel's actions under genocide as defined under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948. Pertinently, both South Africa and Israel are parties to the Genocide Convention.
Israel, in its response, completely denied the allegations of genocide. Legal adviser of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tal Becker, in his speech, stated that the genocide intent is lacking. He added that what Israel seeks by operating in Gaza is not to destroy people but to protect people.
“Its people, who are under attack on multiple fronts, and to do so in accordance with the law even as it faces a heartless enemy determined to use that very commitment against it.,” Becker stated.
It may be noted that at this stage, South Africa beseeched for provisional measures, given that the final ruling could probably take years. These provisional measures include urgent suspension of Israel's military operations in Gaza and that Israel takes “all reasonable actions within their power to prevent genocide.” Yesterday, South Africa presented it side of the arguments.
Key Arguments of Today's Hearing
As the arguments commenced, the legal adviser of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tal Becker, briefly spoke about the Convention and that Israel was among the first states to ratify it.
“Given the Jewish people history and its foundational texts, it is not surprising that Israel was among the first state to ratify the Genocide convention without reservation. The application has now sought to invoke this term in the context of Israel conduct in a war it did not start and did not want.”
Moving forward, with his speech, he acknowledged that civilians are suffering, and he blamed Hamas for the suffering.
“A war in which Israel is defending itself against Hamas, Palestinian Ismaic Jihad and other terrorist organizations whose brutality knows no bounds. The civilians suffering in this war, like in all wars, is tragic. It is heartbreaking. The harsh realities of the current hostilities are made specially agonizing for civilians given Hamas's reprehensible strategy of seeking to maximize civilian harm to both Israelis and Palestinians even as Israel seeks to minimize it.”
Bringing to attention the October 7th attack by Hamas, he said:
“Madam President, members of the Court, on 7th October, a Jewish religious holiday, thousands of Hamas and other militants breached Israel sovereign territories by sea, land, and air. Invading over 20 Israeli communities...”
However, he agreed that none of these atrocities would absolve Israel of its obligations under the law. Notwithstanding, he said that these atrocities enable to appreciate certain core aspects.
“As stated, none of these atrocities absolve Israel of its obligations under the law. But they do enable the Court to appreciate three core aspects of the present proceedings.”
Elaborating on this, he said that if there has been an act that may be characterized as genocidal, then they have been perpetrated against Israel. He further said it is in response to the October 7th attack that Israel has the inherent right to take legitimate measures.
Becker called provisional measures against Israel to suspend its military operations as 'astonishing.' He said that the same amounts to an attempt to deny Israel its ability to meet its obligations to the defense of its citizens.
In his turn, Professor Malcolm Shaw spoke about Israel's right to defend itself. He said:
“These atrocities (Hamas attacks) do not justify violations of the law in reply, still less genocide, but they do justify, mandate even, the exercise of a legitimate and inherent right of State to defend itself.”
Speaking about the genocidal act, he said that not every conflict is genocidal. If claims of genocide were to become the common currency of armed conflict whenever and wherever that occurred, the essence of this crime would be diluted and lost., the professor stated.
Moving forward, Professor said that if Israeli forces have transgressed some of the rules of conflict, then the matter will be tacked at the appropriate time by “Israel's robust and independent legal system”. However, he said that there is no intent to destroy the whole or part of a people as such.
He also addressed South Africa's arguments on the statements made by Israeli authorities. Professor stated: “As far as the acts are concerned in this case, there is little beyond random assertions to demonstrate that Israel has, or has had, the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, Palestinian people.” Shaw said that these were random quotes that do not conform to government policy.
Galit Raguan, another representative in Israel's defense team, also told the Court that Urban Warfare will always result in tragic deaths. She said that civilian causalities may be unintended but are lawful results of attacks on lawful military objectives.
“Urban Warfare will always result in tragic deaths, harm and damage. But in Gaza, these are undesired outcomes are exasperated because they are the desired outcomes of Hamas. In urban warfare, civilian causalities maybe be unintended but lawful result of attacks on lawfully military objectives…These do not constitute genocidal acts.”
South Africa, yesterday in the ICJ, averred that at least 23,000 Gazan people, 70% of them being women and children, are estimated to have been killed in Israel's military operations since October 2023. Some 7000 Palestinians are missing, presumed to be dead under the rubble.
During a round three-hour long hearing, South Africa's Counsels also drew the Court's attention to the damage/ destruction of an estimated three hundred and fifty-five thousand Palestinian homes. Thus leaving at least half a million Palestinians with no home to return to.