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Israel denies genocide allegations at ICJ, says it is taking 'extraordinary' measures to avoid civilian harm

Israel's response was heard at the top court after South Africa requested it to order a halt in the devastating military offensive in Gaza to protect Palestinians sheltering in Rafah. Israel argued that it has done all it can to protect the lives of civilians by allowing humanitarian aid.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee The Hague (Netherlands) Updated on: May 18, 2024 9:16 IST
Israel, International Court of Justice, ICJ, World Court, South Africa, Israel hamas war
Image Source : REUTERS The International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearing South Africa's request for new emergency measures over Israel's attacks on Rafah,

The Hague: Israel on Friday defended its military offensive in the besieged Gaza Strip at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), asking judges to throw out a plea lodged by South Africa to order it to halt the operation in Rafah and withdraw from the Palestinian enclave. Israel asserted that it was doing its best to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza and strongly denied allegations of genocide.

The International Court of Justice wrapped up a third round of hearings on emergency measures requested by South Africa, which says Israel's military incursion in the southern city of Rafah threatens the “very survival of Palestinians in Gaza” and has asked the court to order a ceasefire. South Africa urged that attacks on Rafah "must be stopped" to ensure the survival of Palestinians as it demanded the "immediate, total and unconditional" withdrawal of Israeli troops.

Tamar Kaplan-Tourgeman, one of Israel's legal team, defended the country's conduct, saying it had allowed in fuel and medication to the beleaguered enclave. “Israel takes extraordinary measures in order to minimise the harm to civilians in Gaza,” she told the court, as she was briefly interrupted by a protester shouting "Liars".

'South Africa's case a mockery of genocide'

Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam called South Africa's case, which accuses Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, "completely divorced from facts and circumstances". "(The case) makes a mockery of the heinous charge of genocide," Noam said. He called it "an obscene exploitation of the most sacred convention," referring to the international treaty banning genocide, agreed after the Holocaust of European Jews in the Second World War.

"There is a tragic war going on, but there is no genocide" in Gaza, Noam added. In the past rulings, ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against the Palestinians, while stopping short of ordering it to halt the assault. Israel's operation in Rafah, which it had promised for weeks, caused international alarm and flared tensions with its closest ally, the United States.

The court has already found that there is a “real and imminent risk” to the Palestinian people in Gaza by Israel's military operations. “This may well be the last chance for the court to act,” said Irish lawyer Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, who is part of South Africa's legal team. Last week, South Africa asked for additional emergency measures to protect Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians have been sheltering.

What has South Africa requested?

Ahead of Israel's presentation, several dozen pro-Israeli protesters gathered outside, displaying photographs of hostages taken by Hamas fighters on October 7 and demanding their release. However, the South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.

South Africa's ambassador to the Netherlands, Vusimuzi Madonsela, requested the court to order Israel to "immediately, totally and unconditionally, withdraw the Israeli army from the entirety of the Gaza Strip". Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, one of the legal team, said that Israel's intent was always "to destroy Palestinian life and to wipe them off the face of the earth". 

South Africa has asked the court to order Israel to allow unimpeded access to Gaza for UN officials, organisations providing humanitarian aid, journalists and investigators. This came as Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip has killed more than 35,000 people, destroyed civilian infrastructure and starved the population, triggering a severe humanitarian crisis.

The ICJ's rulings and orders are binding and without appeal. While the court has no way to enforce them, an order against a country could hurt its international reputation and set a legal precedent. Israel's foreign ministry on Thursday accused South Africa of making "biased and false claims" that rely on "unreliable Hamas sources" in response to the case brought before the World Court. 

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | 'Israel must be stopped': South Africa urges UN World Court to order ceasefire in Gaza

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