Israel defends itself against genocide charges at World Court

Judges inside the court room. Photo: Remko de Waa ANP

The second day of South Africa’s genocide case against Israel opened at the World Court in The Hague on Friday, with Israeli officials accusing South Africa of distorting the facts and legal reality of its war in Gaza. South Africa has asked judges to order Israel to immediately cease its military campaign, which they say amounts to genocide.

But Israeli legal advisor Tal Becker told judges that the state of Israel is “singularly aware” of why the 1948 Genocide Convention was adopted following the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust.

“’Never again’ is a slogan for many,” he told the 17 judges hearing the case for emergency measures brought by South Africa. “For Israel, it is the highest moral obligation.”

In accusing Israel of genocide, he said, South Africa “has regrettably put before the court a profoundly distorted, factual and legal picture. The entirety of its case hinges on a deliberately curated, decontextualized and manipulative description of the reality of current hostilities.”

South Africa is not offering the court a lens, Israeli lawyers said, but a blindfold.

Israel said South Africa, far from being the guardian of humanity it presented itself as in court, sounded more like Hamas with its “rejectionist rhetoric” that delegitimized Israel’s 75-years as a state. They “erased Jewish history and Palestinian responsibility,” said Becker, “weaponized the word ‘genocide’ and emptied it of meaning.”

South Africa’s minister of justice Ronald  Lamola told judges on Thursday that no armed attack justifies Israeli’s actions, which he said was the culmination of decades of oppression and occupation of Palestinians going back to the formation of Israel in 1948.

“The violence and the destruction in Palestine and Israel did not begin on Oct. 7, 2023,” he said.

You’re committing genocide, not us

But lawyers for Israel argued that If anyone is committing genocide, it is Hamas, whose leaders call time and again for the annihilation of Israel and its Jewish population.

Israel argued it has the right to defend itself following the October 7 attacks, when they said Hamas committed “wholesale massacres, mutilations, rapes and abductions” against as many people as they could find. Family members of some of the 136 hostages still being held in Gaza were in court.

Israel also argued that its war follows international humanitarian law, and all its actions show it has no intention of wiping out Gaza’s Palestinians. The intention to destroy a people in part or whole based on their ethnicity, race, nationality or religion is a pre-requisite to proving genocide.

Israel cited the increased aid it lets into the Gaza strip, the building of field hospitals and a three-week grace period it gave Gazans, warning them to leave before launching its initial offensive. South Africa maintains deporting the population could constitute genocide, but Israel said warning people to leave shows the opposite of genocidal intent.


Israel calls it a “temporary evacuation” and says it’s doing its duty to protect civilians. Urban warfare is brutal, it said, but it’s Hamas fault for using Gaza’s homes, hospitals and clubs to launch attacks against Israel and hide weapons.

More than 23,000 people in Gaza have been killed during the military campaign, according to the health ministry in the territory, which is run by Hamas. Nearly 85% of Gaza’s people have been driven their homes, a quarter of the territory’s residents face starvation, and much of northern Gaza has been reduced to rubble.

South Africa’s lawyers don’t have to prove genocide is being committed, just that there is enough evidence to show that genocide is plausible. If judges don’t order an immediate halt to the bombing, they argued on Thursday, irreparable harm will be done before any case on the merits has a chance to be heard.

But Israel asked judges to dismiss South Africa’s request. It said the court has no jurisdiction because Israel’s war falls under the rules of war and not the Genocide Convention. It argued that there is not the required emergency as they are scaling back their fighting in what they say is the new second phase of the war.

And Israel insists that a court-ordered ceasefire will prevent Israel from its right to self-defense, turning the Geneva Convention into an “aggressor’s charter” as Hamas is free to continue its attacks.

A decision is expected in the next few weeks.

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