ICJ genocide case: Israeli legal team plays self-defence card

The two-day legal showdown between South Africa and Israel has concluded at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) pending a ruling by the highest court in the world.

The case centres around the deadly conflict that erupted on October 7, 2023 when Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, launched attacks on Israel.

In December, the South African government brought Israel before the ICJ, accusing it of committing genocide in Gaza.

This is an allegation that goes against the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, a treaty to which both nations are signatories.

During the proceedings on Thursday, South Africa’s legal team argued that Israel violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by exhibiting genocidal intent in its military actions in Gaza.

The South African team contended that Israel’s military attack led to genocidal consequences, a claim vehemently denied by Israel.

In a counter argument presented at the ICJ on Friday, Israel’s legal team asserted that the state acted in self-defence.

The team argued that civilian casualties that occurred during the conflict were an unfortunate consequence of warfare and not evidence of genocidal intent.

Tal Becker, the Israeli foreign affairs legal advisor, criticised South Africa’s portrayal of events as distorted and accused South Africa of weaponising the term ‘genocide.’

Becker argued strongly against provisional measures to halt the conflict, asserting Israel’s right to self-defence.

He instead called for provisional measures against South Africa, alleging close ties with Hamas.

“It is impossible to understand the armed conflict in Gaza without appreciating the nature of the threat that Israel is facing and the brutality and lawlessness of the armed force confronting it,” Becker said.

October 7 attacks

In October, Hamas militants launched a major attack on Israel from Gaza, resulting in 1 200 casualties and the taking of 240 hostages.

In response, Israel carried out air strikes on Gaza and launched a ground offensive, leading to over 21 000 casualties in Gaza.

The casualities continue to rise as the bombardment intensifies.

A temporary truce in November saw the release of some hostages by Hamas and the exchange of Palestinian prisoners by Israel.

Since the initial attack in October, Israeli military has continued air strikes and ground operations in Gaza.

The legal proceedings at the ICJ have been marked by complex arguments. Professor Malcolm Shaw challenged South Africa’s approach, stating that it is not merely a “dispute.”

Shaw questioned South Africa’s claim of attempting to start a dialogue, asserting that Israel initiated bilateral talks and suggesting that if South Africa had accepted, there might have been no need for this case.

“South Africa did not give Israel a reasonable opportunity to engage with it on the matter under consideration before filing its no doubt long-prepared application,” said Shaw.

According to Shaw, South Africa is only telling half the story, “There is no genocidal intent here, this is no genocide.

 “South Africa has given support to Hamas. Absolutely.”  

Dr Galit Raguan, during her testimony, blamed Hamas for civilian casualties in Gaza, emphasising the challenges of urban warfare and Hamas’ strategy of embedding itself among civilians.

She argued that urban warfare inherently results in civilian harm. “Urban warfare will always result in civilian harm,” said Raguan.

“[They] may be the unintended, but lawful result of attacks on military targets. They do not constitute genocidal acts”.

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