ICJ kicks off hearings in ‘genocide’ case against Israel

Israeli Foreign Ministry accuses South Africa of acting as the “legal arm of the Hamas terrorist organization.”

By Israel Today Staff | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Palestinian activists gather outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, ahead of the hearing on a suit filed by South Africa against Israel for genocide in Gaza. EPA-EFE/REMKO DE WAAL
Palestinian activists gather outside the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, ahead of the hearing on a suit filed by South Africa against Israel for genocide in Gaza. EPA-EFE/REMKO DE WAAL

The Israel Foreign Ministry accused South Africa on Thursday of acting as the “legal arm of the Hamas terrorist organization,” as two days of preliminary hearings kicked off at the UN’s top court in The Hague.

“Today, we were witness to one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy in history, compounded by a series of false and baseless claims,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lior Haiat said in a statement shared on X.

South Africa “utterly distorted the reality in Gaza following the Oct. 7 massacre and completely ignored the fact that Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel, murdered, executed, massacred, raped and abducted Israeli citizens… in an attempt to carry out genocide,” added Haiat.

Pretoria’s case at The Hague “seeks to allow Hamas to return to commit the war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual crimes they committed repeatedly on Oct. 7, as its leaders have stated,” he charged.

The Israeli rebuke came after lawyers for South Africa demanded that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) order an immediate end to the Israel Defense Forces’ operation against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

“Israel has transgressed article two of the [Genocide] Convention, committing acts that fall within the definition of genocide. The actions show a systematic pattern of conduct from which genocide can be inferred,” attorney Adila Hassim claimed on Thursday morning.

“Nothing will stop the suffering except an order from this court,” Hassim charged in her opening arguments.

“The violence and the destruction in Palestine and Israel did not begin on Oct. 7, 2023. The Palestinians have experienced systematic oppression and violence for the last 76 years,” South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told the court, referring to the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948.

As the hearing got underway, thousands of Dutch joined a protest in support of Israel. Participants in the march, which was organized by local Jewish and Christian groups, waved flags and carried pictures of Israelis taken hostage or murdered on Oct. 7.

The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Its seat is at the Peace Palace in The Hague in the Netherlands. It deals with disputes between states, whereas the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutes individuals.

Although the ICJ has no ability to enforce its judgments, a ruling against Israel could add international pressure to wind down combat operations in Gaza.

The diplomatic delegation for South Africa includes former UK Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who once described Hamas as his “friends” and whose career has been marred by accusations of antisemitism.

Pushed 15 times to state whether Hamas is a terrorist group in a Nov. 14 interview with British TV host Piers Morgan, Corbyn declined. Hamas is a designated terror group in the United Kingdom.

“I am at The Hague to support South Africa’s case against Israel,” tweeted Corbyn ahead of this week’s court battle, adding: “This is a historic moment for humanity, and a wake-up call for political leaders letting a genocide unfold.”

In a move praised by Hamas, South Africa has charged Israel with violating its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention by intending “to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.”

The 1948 Genocide Convention, to which both Israel and South Africa are signatories, was drafted in the wake of the Holocaust to prevent the destruction, or intent to destroy, “in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

When South Africa made its announcement late last year, Israel’s Foreign Ministry denounced the move, stating, “Israel rejects with disgust the blood libel spread by South Africa and its application to the International Court of Justice.”

The Foreign Ministry noted that Israel makes every effort to avoid harming civilians uninvolved in hostilities and called on the ICJ to “completely reject South Africa’s baseless claims.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the beginning of a Dec. 31 Cabinet meeting, told ministers, “I would like to say a word about South Africa’s mendacious pontificating to the effect that Israel ‘is perpetrating genocide.’ No, South Africa, it is not we who have come to perpetrate genocide; it is Hamas.”

The Biden administration has also criticized South Africa’s filing to the court. “We find this submission meritless, counterproductive, completely without any basis in fact whatsoever,” US National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby said last week.

On Wednesday the Biden administration reiterated its opposition to the hearing, calling the accusations against Israel “unfounded.”

“In fact, it is those who are violently attacking Israel who continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews,” said US State Department spokesman Matt Miller.

“Genocide is one of the most heinous acts any entity or individual can commit, and such allegations should only be made with the greatest of care,” he added.

“Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas’s terrorist acts—acts that Hamas has vowed to repeat again and again until Israel is completely destroyed. Israel is operating in an exceptionally challenging environment in Gaza, an urban battlespace where Hamas intentionally embeds itself with and hides behind civilians,” he continued.

Miller also urged Israel to “comply with international humanitarian law” as well as “look for more ways to prevent civilian harm and to investigate credible allegations of violations of international humanitarian law when they arise.”

Israel launched its war in retaliation for Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks in the country’s northwestern Negev region, in which 1,200 people, mostly Israeli civilians, were brutally massacred.

On Wednesday, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office launched a new English-language website documenting the sheer brutality of Hamas’s atrocities.

“Tomorrow, we will appear before the court in The Hague,” noted Moshik Aviv, who, as head of the PMO’s National Public Diplomacy Directorate, spearheaded the project.

The online portal shows some of the “terrible atrocities that were carried out against the citizens of Israel on the black Saturday of Oct. 7,” said Aviv. Photos and videos showing murder victims have been blurred to safeguard their privacy.

“This site will assist the State of Israel in its mission of reminding the world that we are the victims of the unprecedented terrorist event that we experienced,” added Aviv.

 

Netanyahu: ‘Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza’

Ahead of the hearings, Netanyahu issued an English-language statement stressing that Israel does not intend to occupy Gaza permanently nor to displace its civilian population.

“Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists, not the Palestinian population, and we are doing so in full compliance with international law,” he added in a video message. “The IDF is doing its utmost to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas is doing its utmost to maximize them by using Palestinian civilians as human shields.”

The prime minister noted that the Israel Defense Forces drops leaflets and makes phone calls urging civilians to leave war zones, “providing safe passage corridors, while Hamas prevents Palestinians from leaving at gunpoint and often with gunfire.”

“Our goal is to rid Gaza of Hamas terrorists and free our hostages,” he said. “Once this is achieved, Gaza can be demilitarized and de-radicalized, thereby creating a possibility for a better future for Israel and Palestinians alike.”

Earlier in the day, John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council of the White House, was asked in a press briefing about US President Joe Biden’s statement that he is “quietly” working with the Israeli government to get out of Gaza.

“With these words, is he signaling for a ceasefire? And does the administration still support Israel’s position that a ceasefire can only be possible if Hamas is eliminated,” a reporter asked.

“Nothing has changed about our view here that we don’t support a ceasefire at this time, and there’s no change to that because we don’t believe that that benefits anybody but Hamas right now,” Kirby said.

“We do continue to support humanitarian pauses but not a general ceasefire right now,” he added. “The president wasn’t signaling any change at all. In fact, he was signaling very much this—a very consistent view that he has had since the beginning of the conflict.”

With reporting by JNS.