By Mike Corder and Raf Casert | Related Press
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — In a case that strikes on the coronary heart of Israel’s nationwide id, South Africa formally accused the nation of committing genocide towards Palestinians and pleaded Thursday with the United Nations’ high court docket to order a direct halt to Israeli army operations in Gaza.
Israel, which was based within the aftermath of the Holocaust, has vehemently denied the allegations. As an indication of how significantly they regard the case, Israeli leaders have taken the uncommon step of participating with the court docket to defend their worldwide fame. Israel usually boycotts worldwide tribunals or U.N. investigations, saying they’re unfair and biased.
Throughout opening statements on the Worldwide Court docket of Justice, South African legal professionals stated the newest Gaza struggle is a part of many years of Israeli oppression of Palestinians.
The court docket “has the good thing about the previous 13 weeks of proof that reveals incontrovertibly a sample of conduct and associated intention” that quantities to “a believable declare of genocidal acts,” South African lawyer Adila Hassim informed the judges and viewers in a packed room of the Peace Palace in The Hague.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted the case and vowed to proceed preventing Hamas, the militant group whose fighters stormed by means of Israeli communities on Oct. 7 and killed some 1,200 individuals, primarily civilians.
“That is an upside-down world — the state of Israel is accused of genocide whereas it’s preventing genocide,” he stated in video assertion. “The hypocrisy of South Africa screams to the heavens.”
The case is among the most vital ever heard in a global court docket, and it goes to the core of one of many world’s most intractable conflicts.
South Africa is in search of preliminary orders to compel Israel to cease its army marketing campaign in Gaza, the place greater than 23,000 individuals have died, in line with the Gaza Well being Ministry, which is run by Hamas.
“Nothing will cease the struggling besides an order from this court docket,” Hassim stated.
A call on South Africa’s request for so-called “provisional measures” will in all probability take weeks. The total case is prone to final years.
Israel launched its large air and floor assault on Gaza quickly after the lethal Hamas assault. Three months later, the offensive has pushed almost 85% of Gaza’s inhabitants of two.3 million from their houses. With solely a trickle of meals, water, medication and different provides coming into by means of an Israeli siege, 1 / 4 of the territory’s residents face hunger. And far of northern Gaza, together with Gaza Metropolis, has been decreased to a moonscape.
Though the court docket’s findings are thought of binding, it was unclear whether or not Israel would heed any order to halt the preventing. If it doesn’t, it might face U.N. sanctions, though these could also be blocked by a U.S. veto.
Israel says it’s battling a fierce enemy that carried out the deadliest assault on its territory since its creation in 1948. Israeli leaders insist they’re following worldwide regulation and doing their utmost to keep away from hurt to civilians. The nation blames Hamas for the excessive demise toll, saying its enemy operates in residential areas.
In a submit on X after the listening to, Israeli International Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat referred to as South Africa’s presentation “one of many biggest reveals of hypocrisy” and referred to the authorized staff as “Hamas’ representatives in court docket.” He stated South African legal professionals distorted the truth in Gaza by means of a sequence of “baseless and false claims.” He didn’t elaborate.
That response got here after South Africa insisted Israel dedicated genocide by design.
“The size of destruction in Gaza, the focusing on of household houses and civilians, the struggle being a struggle on youngsters, all clarify that genocidal intent is each understood and has been put into follow. The articulated intent is the destruction of Palestinian life,” stated lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi.
He stated the case’s “distinctive function” was “the reiteration and repetition of genocidal speech all through each sphere of the state in Israel.”
The Oct. 7 attackers additionally kidnapped round 250 individuals, almost half of whom have been launched. Forward of the proceedings, tons of of pro-Israeli protesters marched near the courthouse with banners saying “Deliver them dwelling,” referring to the hostages nonetheless being held by Hamas.
One of many Israeli protesters was Michael Nevy, 42, whose brother was kidnapped by Hamas. “Persons are speaking about what Israel is doing, however Hamas is committing crime towards humanity day by day,” he stated.
At a separate demonstration close by, pro-Palestinians protesters waved flags calling for an finish to “Israeli apartheid” and the adoption of a cease-fire.
Chanting by protesters on the streets across the court docket’s manicured grounds might generally be heard within the courtroom.
The case targets the middle of Israeli id and the nation’s creation as a Jewish state within the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, which killed 6 million Jews.
It additionally evokes points central to South Africa’s personal id: Its governing celebration, the African Nationwide Congress, has lengthy in contrast Israel’s insurance policies in Gaza and the West Financial institution to its personal historical past beneath the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most Blacks to “homelands” earlier than ending in 1994.
The 2-day listening to continues Friday, when Israel, which has despatched a robust authorized staff to make its protection, is scheduled to deal with the court docket.
South Africa sought to broaden the case past the Israel-Hamas struggle.
“The violence and the destruction in Palestine and Israel didn’t start on Oct. 7, 2023. The Palestinians have skilled systematic oppression and violence for the final 76 years,” stated South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
About two-thirds of the lifeless in Gaza are ladies and youngsters, well being officers in Hamas-ruled Gaza say. The demise toll doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.
“Moms, fathers, youngsters, siblings, grandparents, aunts, cousins are sometimes all killed collectively. This killing is nothing in need of destruction of Palestinian life. It’s inflicted intentionally. Nobody is spared. Not even new child infants,” stated South African lawyer Hassim.
Discovering meals, water, medication and dealing loos has turn into a each day wrestle for Palestinians in Gaza. Final week, the U.N. humanitarian chief referred to as Gaza “uninhabitable” and stated Palestinians have been “going through the very best ranges of meals insecurity ever recorded.” Famine is “across the nook.”
The world court docket, which guidelines on disputes between nations, has by no means judged a rustic to be answerable for genocide. The closest it got here was in 2007 when it dominated that Serbia “violated the duty to forestall genocide” within the July 1995 bloodbath by Bosnian Serb forces of greater than 8,000 Muslim males and boys within the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica.
The close by Worldwide Felony Court docket prosecutes people for struggle crimes, crimes towards humanity and genocide.
The case towards Israel revolves across the genocide conference that was drawn up in 1948 following World Warfare II. Each Israel and South Africa have been signatories.
Israel will likely be again on the Worldwide Court docket of Justice’s docket subsequent month, when hearings open right into a U.N. request for an advisory opinion on the legality of Israeli insurance policies within the West Financial institution and east Jerusalem.
Casert reported from Brussels. Related Press journalists Gerald Imray in Cape City, South Africa; Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel; and Aleksandar Furtula in The Hague contributed to this report.