Israel Responds to South Africa's Genocide Accusations

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel has announced it will defend itself in the United Nations’ top court against allegations of genocide of Palestinians in Gaza, officials said Tuesday. This move marks a rare engagement with the world body, which Israel has often criticized for bias against it.

South Africa brought the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, last Friday, asserting that the scale of death, destruction, and humanitarian crisis in Gaza from the Israeli military campaign against Hamas meets the threshold of genocide under international law. South Africa has urged the court to order Israel to cease its attacks in Gaza.

Israel typically dismisses international cases against it as unfair and biased, and it rarely cooperates. However, its decision to respond to these charges indicates the government’s concern about potential damage to its reputation.

Eylon Levy, an official in the Israeli prime minister’s office, accused South Africa on Tuesday of “providing political and legal cover” to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that triggered Israel’s campaign. He stated, “The state of Israel will appear before the International Court of Justice at The Hague to dispel South Africa’s absurd blood libel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the war until Hamas is defeated and the more than 100 hostages held by the militant group in Gaza are freed, a process he has suggested could take several more months.

However, Israel faces increasing international pressure to scale back its offensive, especially with the impending visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has urged Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians. On Monday, Israel announced the withdrawal of thousands of troops from other areas, potentially signaling a shift away from the massive air and ground operations that have devastated the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Nonetheless, heavy fighting continued Tuesday in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza has been unprecedented in the century-old Middle East conflict, resulting in nearly 22,000 Palestinian deaths and the destruction of large parts of the small Mediterranean territory. Throughout the war, Israel has restricted the entry of food, water, medicine, and other supplies to Gaza’s 2.3 million people, with only minimal aid reaching the population, according to the U.N.

Later on Tuesday, Israel’s War Cabinet was scheduled to meet, with discussions reportedly including postwar arrangements for Gaza, a highly contentious issue within Israel.

Up until now, Netanyahu has not presented any plans for Gaza’s future, despite repeated U.S. requests. He has rejected proposals for the Palestinian Authority, which currently administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to undergo reforms and take over administration of Gaza as a step toward Palestinian statehood.

Troop rotations continue amid ongoing combat.

On Monday, the Israeli army announced that five brigades, comprising several thousand troops, would leave Gaza in the coming weeks. Some will return to bases for additional training or rest, while many older reservists will be demobilized. The war has had a significant impact on the economy, preventing reservists from working, running businesses, or continuing their studies.

The military has not publicly stated whether the withdrawal signifies a new phase in the war. However, the move aligns with Israeli leaders’ plans for a low-intensity campaign focusing on remaining Hamas strongholds, potentially lasting for much of the year.

Israel has indicated that it is close to achieving operational control over most of northern Gaza, reducing the need for forces in that area. Nevertheless, intense fighting persists in other parts of the territory, particularly in the south, where many of Hamas’ forces remain active and where most of Gaza’s population has sought refuge.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced late Monday that residents of seven Israeli communities near Gaza could soon return to their homes, indicating the army’s confidence in minimizing the threat of rocket attacks from certain areas of Gaza.

Reports from Palestinians indicate heavy airstrikes and artillery shelling overnight and into Tuesday in Khan Younis and farming areas near the border with Israel. Fighting has also been reported in and around the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.

The army has issued evacuation orders to residents in parts of the Nuseirat camp, near Bureij, through phone calls and leaflet drops.

Even in Gaza City, which has seen a significant exodus of residents and where Israeli ground troops have been engaged in battle for over two months, clashes have been reported in various neighborhoods and the nearby Jabaliya refugee camp.

The Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel resulted in 1,200 deaths and 240 people being taken hostage.

In response, Israel launched a comprehensive air, ground, and sea offensive that has resulted in the deaths of over 21,900 people in Gaza, with two-thirds of them being women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. The Israeli military has reported 173 soldier deaths since the start of the ground operation.

Israel claims that over 8,000 militants have been killed, although it has not provided evidence to support this claim. Israel attributes the high civilian death toll to Hamas militants embedding themselves within residential areas, including schools and hospitals.

The war has displaced approximately 85% of Gaza’s population, forcing hundreds of thousands of people into overcrowded shelters or tent camps in Israeli-designated safe areas, which have nevertheless been targeted by Israeli bombings. Palestinians feel that nowhere is safe.

Genocide case
In its case to the ICJ, South Africa has accused Israel of committing “genocidal” acts with the aim of “destroying Palestinians in Gaza.” South Africa has cited the “indiscriminate use of force and forcible removal of inhabitants,” as well as the Israeli siege, as evidence. South Africa argues that no state attack, even one involving atrocity crimes, can justify violations of the 1948 convention against genocide.

Israel, a signatory to the convention, has vehemently rejected the accusation. National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, “The Jewish people know more than any other what genocide is.”

Last week, South Africa requested the ICJ to issue an interim order for Israel to immediately halt its military operations in Gaza. If the case proceeds, it could take years to reach a conclusion, but an interim order could be issued within weeks.

The ICJ case coincides with a Supreme Court ruling in Israel that struck down a key component of Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul plan. The ruling could benefit Israel’s position at the ICJ and other international tribunals, which consider the independence of a country’s judiciary when deciding whether to intervene.

The impact of an ICJ ruling against Israel is uncertain, but it could lead to political and economic isolation. Barak Medina, a law professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, stated, “Israel can’t afford to ignore this.”

The judicial overhaul itself seems to have been defeated. Netanyahu and his allies are unlikely to revive the initiative during the ongoing conflict. Elections are expected once the fighting subsides, and widespread dissatisfaction in Israel over intelligence and security failures related to the Hamas attack could lead to a poor showing for the current government.

While Netanyahu’s coalition could propose a diluted version of the plan, it would require parliamentary approval, reopening deep divisions within Israeli society and likely generating more criticism of the prime minister, who is already blamed by many for failing to prevent the Oct. 7 attack.

Piers Potter


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