Israel has rejected the accusations brought by South Africa to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that its actions in Gaza amount to genocide, in a second day of a public hearing at the world body in The Hague.
Israel’s legal representatives on Friday claimed South Africa’s case was “unfounded”, “absurd” and amounting to “libel”, and said Israel sought not to destroy a people but to protect its people.
On Thursday, on the first day of hearings, South Africa argued Israel had committed “systematic” acts of genocide in Gaza, where more than 23,500 Palestinians have been killed amid Israel’s military campaign, with at least 70 percent of whom were women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
Israel’s arguments revolved around its “right to self-defence” following the attacks by Hamas on October 7, as well as what it called a lack of evidence of “genocidal intent”.
Christopher Staker, a lawyer representing Israel, said, “The inevitable fatalities and human suffering of any conflict is not of itself a pattern of conduct that plausibly shows genocidal intent.”
Malcolm Shaw, a professor of international law representing Israel, said the case relates only to charges of genocide, which “stands alone among violations of international law as the epitome of evil”. If the charge of genocide is levelled incorrectly, “the essence of this crime would be lost”, he said.
Shaw added that such evidence was lacking in the arguments South Africa presented a day earlier.
Detailing its evidence on Thursday, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, a lawyer for South Africa, said, “The evidence of genocidal intent is not only chilling, it is also overwhelming and incontrovertible.”
Israel’s legal representatives insisted its army has acted in compliance with international law in Gaza and aimed to mitigate civilian harm by warning of impending military actions, including via telephone calls and leafleting.
Omri Sender, another lawyer, argued that Israel’s efforts to facilitate humanitarian assistance to people in Gaza testified to its objective of protecting the civilian population, rather than destroying it.
However, Thomas MacManus, a senior lecturer in state crime at Queen Mary University of London, told Al Jazeera the ICJ is likely to see a “massive disconnect” between the picture Israel painted of its humanitarian concern for Gaza and “the reality on the ground where UN agencies say people are starving, lacking water, and seeing attacks on hospitals, schools, and universities”.
Speaking before the ICJ hearing, Galit Raguan, acting director of the international justice division at Israel’s Ministry of Justice, refuted the claim that Israel had bombed hospitals. She argued Israel had found evidence of Hamas using “every single hospital in Gaza” for military purposes.
Responding to claims that hospitals were used as military bases, Palestinian foreign ministry official Ammar Hijazi told Al Jazeera outside The Hague that Israel’s arguments were not based in fact or law.
“What Israel has provided today are many of the already debunked lies,” he said.
‘Plausible right to self-defence’
The ICJ is set to rule on nine provisional measures effectively seeking the suspension of military operations in Gaza, but a timeline for when that will happen has not been stated. Israel has argued the provisional measures cannot require a state to refrain from exercising a “plausible right to defend itself”.
On the issue of jurisdiction, Israel argued that one of the requirements of the ICJ’s mandate is that the state putting forward the case should try to sort out this problem first. According to Israel, they did not manage to talk to South Africa before they brought this case to the court. In turn, South Africa argued it had reached out to Israel but obtained no response.
The Israeli team did make strong “jurisdictional and procedural arguments”, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara said, but he added that “Israel lost the moral, factual, historical and humanitarian argument because of the way the situation has unravelled in Gaza – with the sheer death and industrial killing there.”
Tal Becker, the legal adviser of Israel’s foreign ministry, told the ICJ hearing that South Africa enjoyed close relations with Hamas and was therefore attempting to put forward a “distorted factual and legal picture”.
South Africa “firmly rejects” that claim, Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller said, reporting from South Africa.
“The South African government has said that it doesn’t have bilateral relations with Hamas and that its stance in terms of supporting the Palestinian struggle against occupation does not equate to the support of Hamas,” she said.
In its presentation on Thursday, South Africa’s lawyers also condemned Hamas’s actions on October 7.
ICJ President Joan Donoghue ended the two-day hearing saying the court will announce its decision in the coming days.