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As first day of genocide hearings concludes at The Hague, 'We are fighting terrorists, and we are fighting lies,' says Netanyahu

Case could last for years, likely longer than the war in Gaza itself

South Africa's Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola, lawyer Adela Hassim and the delegation stand as judges at the International Court of Justice to hear a request for emergency measures by South Africa, who asked the court to order Israel to stop its military actions in Gaza and to desist from what South Africa says are genocidal acts committed against Palestinians during the war with Hamas in Gaza, in The Hague, Netherlands, Jan. 11, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen)

The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, convened on Thursday to hear South Africa's prosecution accusing Israel of genocide, the most serious accusation the court can hear. The first hearing lasted about three hours, covering South Africa's claims of genocide. 

Besides the charge of genocide, South Africa is asking the court to grant temporary relief by ordering Israel to stop the war. South African lawyer Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, asking for provisional measures against Israel, said, “Huge swaths of Gaza are being wiped from the map.” 

She continued, “Experts warn that deaths from deprivation and disease risk outstripping deaths from war.” 

According to Ni Ghralaigh, “The condition of urgency is met when acts of exceptional prejudice can occur before the court can make a final decision.” 

South African lawyers claim that Israel is committing genocide by design in the Gaza war.

“The scale of destruction in Gaza, the targeting of family homes and civilians, the war being a war on children, all make clear that genocidal intent is both understood and has been put into practice. The articulated intent is the destruction of Palestinian life,” said South African lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. 

The South African government said this is a pattern of behavior, claiming the war is a culmination of decades of Israeli oppression of Palestinians. 

South African lawyer Adila Hassim said the International Court of Justice (ICJ) “has the benefit of the past 13 weeks of evidence that shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention" which demonstrate "a plausible claim of genocidal acts.” 

South Africa’s Ambassador to the Netherlands Vusi Madonsela called Israel a colonizer and accused the Jewish state of apartheid, occupation and discriminatory laws, policies, and practices. 

The South African legal team accused Israel of several crimes, including: 

  • Targeting Palestinians living in Gaza using weaponry that causes large scale, homicidal destruction, as well as targeted sniping of civilians. 

  • Designating safe zones for Palestinians to seek refuge and then bombing these. 

  • Depriving Palestinians in Gaza of basic needs—food, water, health care, fuel, sanitation, and communications. 

  • Destroying social infrastructure, homes, schools, mosques, churches, hospitals, and killing, seriously injuring, and leaving large numbers of children orphaned. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the claims, saying: "We are fighting terrorists, and we are fighting lies."

"Today, again, we saw an upside-down world, in which the State of Israel is accused of genocide at a time when it is fighting genocide," the premier said.

Netanyahu brought focus to the atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct. 7 which led to Israel's response.

"A terrorist organization carried out the worst crime against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, and now someone comes to defend it in the name of the Holocaust. What brazen gall. The world is upside down," he continued.

"And the IDF, the most moral army in the world, which does everything to avoid harming non-combatants, stands accused – by the representatives of these monsters – of genocide."

"South Africa's hypocrisy screams to the high Heavens."

"Where was South Africa when millions of people were being murdered and uprooted from their homes in Syria and Yemen, by whom? By Hamas's partners. The world is upside down. Where were you?"

"We know where we are. We will continue to fight the terrorists. We will continue to refute the lies. We will continue to uphold our just right to defend ourselves and to ensure our future – until total victory," Netanyahu concluded.

The second hearing is scheduled to take place on Friday morning, in which Israel will seek to repudiate the claims made by South Africa. This hearing is also expected to last around three hours. 

Legal experts have said that South Africa’s charges will be hard to prove, as it must demonstrate intent to commit genocide. 

Israel’s defense is expected to include references to relevant sections of the Geneva Conventions, as South Africa’s claims would likely need to demonstrate Israel is violating those conventions in its military operations in Gaza for the purpose of genocide. 

While Israel has ignored similar attempts to attend hearings at the ICJ, its decision to respond to the charges is seen to be related to its national identity. The Holocaust was the impetus for both the Genocide Convention and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. 

The case will likely take several years, and the request for “provisional measures” could take weeks, potentially leading to a decision being rendered around the same time that active military conflict ends, as long as Israel successfully locates and captures or eliminates Hamas leadership in Gaza. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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