Israel rejected allegations of genocide against Palestinians in Gaza as false and “grossly distorted” on the second day of hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday.
South Africa, in line with its long-standing commitment to the Palestinian cause, brought the genocide case against Israel to the ICJ. Israel is accused of committing acts of genocide against a civilian population, in particular children, and of committing acts of mass displacement and destruction.
Israel argued that it was acting in self-defence, targeting the armed Palestinian group Hamas and not the Palestinian population as a whole. It urged the ICJ to dismiss the case as unfounded and reject South Africa’s request to stop the ongoing Israeli offensive on Gaza.
“If there have been acts of genocide, they have been committed against Israel,” Tal Becker, legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told the court. “Hamas is seeking genocide against Israel.”
On Thursday, South Africa told the court that Israel’s air and ground offensive, which has devastated much of Gaza and left nearly 24,000 dead according to Gaza health officials, aimed to “destroy the population” of Gaza.
The court is expected to rule later this month on South Africa’s request to order Israel to halt the offensive. But the genocide allegations, which could stretch over several years, will not be decided at that time. The ICJ’s rulings are final and not subject to appeal, but the court lacks the mechanisms needed to enforce those rulings.