Israel claims South Africa's Gaza genocide case is "totally divorced" from facts

The Hague, Netherlands - Israel lashed out Friday at South Africa's case before the UN's top court, describing it as "totally divorced" from reality, as Pretoria urges judges to order a ceasefire in Gaza.

From l. to r.: Israel's Deputy Attorney General for International Law Gilad Noam, Principal Deputy Legal Adviser of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tamar Kaplan Tourgman, and Legal Adviser at the Israeli Embassy to the Netherlands Avgail Frisch Ben Avraham attend hearings before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
From l. to r.: Israel's Deputy Attorney General for International Law Gilad Noam, Principal Deputy Legal Adviser of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tamar Kaplan Tourgman, and Legal Adviser at the Israeli Embassy to the Netherlands Avgail Frisch Ben Avraham attend hearings before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.  © Nick Gammon / AFP

"South Africa presents the court for the fourth time with a picture that is completely divorced from the facts and circumstances," top lawyer Gilad Noam told the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Pretoria has urged the ICJ to order a stop to the Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah, where many displaced Palestinians have been forced to seek refuge.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Rafah offensive in defiance of US warnings that more than a million civilians sheltering there could be harmed.

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Netanyahu argued Wednesday that "we have to do what we have to do" and insisted that the mass displacement of people in Rafah had averted a much-feared "humanitarian catastrophe."

Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday that the operation in Rafah "will continue as additional forces will enter" the area.

On Thursday, judges heard a litany of allegations against Israel from lawyers representing Pretoria, including mass graves, torture, and deliberate withholding of humanitarian aid.

"South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people," said top lawyer Vusimuzi Madonsela.

"Instead, Israel's genocide has continued apace and has just reached a new and horrific stage," added Madonsela.

South Africa pushes for end to Israel's Rafah invasion

Legal advisor of South Africa Cornelius Scholtz (l.) and South African Ambassador to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela are pictured after presenting their arguments before the International Court of Justice.
Legal advisor of South Africa Cornelius Scholtz (l.) and South African Ambassador to the Netherlands Vusimuzi Madonsela are pictured after presenting their arguments before the International Court of Justice.  © Nick Gammon / AFP

In a ruling that made headlines around the world, the ICJ in January ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent genocidal acts and enable humanitarian aid to Gaza.

But the court stopped short of ordering a ceasefire, and South Africa's argument is that the situation on the ground – notably the operation in the crowded city of Rafah – requires fresh ICJ action.

The Rafah campaign is "the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people," argued Vaughan Lowe, a lawyer for South Africa.

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"It was Rafah that brought South Africa to the court. But it is all Palestinians as a national, ethnical, and racial group who need the protection from genocide that the court can order," he added.

The orders of the ICJ, which rules in disputes between states, are legally binding, though the court has little means to enforce them.

It has ordered Russia to halt its invasion of Ukraine, to no avail.

South Africa seeks more provisional measures against Israel

A Palestinian boy holds a pot of food as people leave a camp in Rafah, bound for central Gaza, as Israel bombs and prepares to invade the city.
A Palestinian boy holds a pot of food as people leave a camp in Rafah, bound for central Gaza, as Israel bombs and prepares to invade the city.  © AFP

South Africa wants the ICJ to issue three emergency orders – "provisional measures" in court jargon – while it rules on the wider accusation that Israel is breaking the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

It wants the court to order Israel to "immediately" cease all military operations in Gaza, including in Rafah, enable humanitarian access, and report back on its progress on achieving these orders.

The arrival of occasional aid convoys has slowed to a trickle since Israeli forces took control last week of the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing. Israeli settlers have also staged attacks on humanitarian assistance bound for the occupied territory.

Israel's military has conducted a relentless bombardment from the air and a ground offensive inside Gaza that has killed at least 35,303 people, mostly civilians, according to the local health ministry.

The rest of Gaza's besieged population faces the dire threat of starvation and famine, UN experts have repeatedly warned.

Cover photo: Nick Gammon / AFP

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