International Court of Justice opens hearings in Gaza genocide case, Israel still dismissive

The case has been filed by South Africa, which has accused Israel of "genocide" against Palestinians and acting with intent to "destroy Palestinians"

No caption needed (photo: @azaizamotaz9/ X)
No caption needed (photo: @azaizamotaz9/ X)

NH Digital

On 26 December, South Africa's lawmakers voted to suspend formal ties with Israel and close Israel's embassy in the country. And on 30 December, South Africa accused Israel of "genocide" against Palestinians at the United Nation's top court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, Netherlands.

The case filed with the ICJ alleged that "acts and omissions by Israel […] are genocidal in character". South Africa also accused Israel of acting with the intent to "destroy Palestinians in Gaza as part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group".

Today, on the first of two days of hearings at the ICJ, South Africa's lawyers demanded that the UN's top court order an emergency suspension of Israel's military campaign in the Palestinian territory.

On Wednesday, 24-year-old Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza, who has become something of a cult hero on social media as he documents and disseminates Israel's relentless attacks on Gaza, posted a graphic video — one of many on his feed — of a reported Israeli air raid on what appeared to be a residence in front of Al-Aqsa hospital in Dair Al-Balah, killing and injuring an unspecified number of people, mostly civilians.

'MoTaz', as he calls himself on X, warned viewers of the "horrifying scenes" in the video. We reproduce his tweet below with the same warning to our readers.

On the same day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel "has no intention" of maintaining the occupation of Gaza or displacing civilians, Xinhua news agency reported.

"I want to make a few points absolutely clear — Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population," he said. He added that Israel's bombardments in Gaza are aimed at Hamas militants, "not the Palestinian population, and we are doing so in full compliance with international law".

Netanyahu also said the Israeli army is "doing its utmost to minimise civilian casualties, while Hamas is doing its utmost to maximise them by using Palestinian civilians as human shields".

Many among the international community would appear to differ, as South Africa said Israel's offensive — which has demolished much of the Gaza enclave and killed more than 23,000 people according to Gaza health authorities — aimed to bring about "the destruction of the population" of Gaza.

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, an advocate of the High Court of South Africa, told the ICJ that "the intent to destroy Gaza has been nurtured at the highest level of state", and that Israel's political and military leaders, including Netanyahu, are among "the genocidal inciters".

Expectedly, Israel dismissed the accusations of genocide as false and baseless when the case was filed in end-December 2024, accusing South Africa of "collaborating" with "terrorists".

"South Africa is collaborating with a terrorist group that calls for Israel's destruction," a statement from the Israeli foreign ministry read. "The people of Gaza are not an enemy of Israel, who is making efforts to limit harm to non-combatants."

Israel presumably classifies journalists as combatants, if a statement released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Wednesday is to be believed. describing two men identified as a freelancer and an Al Jazeera journalist killed in a strike in southern Gaza’s Rafah area as members of terrorist organisations.

In a post on X late on Wednesday night, the IDF said: "Confirmed: journalists Hamza al-Dahdouh and Mustafa Thuria were members of Gaza-based terrorist organizations. On Jan 7, an IAF aircraft directed by troops targeted the operators of a drone, posing a threat to our soldiers near Rafah. The operators were later identified as al-Dahdouh and Thuria."

The post also contained an image of a document supposedly of the Al-Quds Brigades, written in Arabic, where two supposed names were underlined in red. Al-Quds Brigades is the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) group.

Dahdouh was the son of Al Jazeera Gaza correspondent Wael Dahdouh and Thuria was a video stringer for AFP who had also worked for Al Jazeera. With their deaths, the number of journalists killed in Gaza in the last three months rose to 79, prompting the International Criminal Court to say it will probe crimes and atrocities against journalists in Gaza.

In its statement, the Israeli army said it had spotted a terror operative piloting a drone that would have injured IDF soldiers. In response, the army attacked and hit a car they were in. The statement also said military intelligence confirmed that that two were actively involved in attacks against IDF forces.

Following the laying out of the charges at today's ICJ hearing, Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said, "We have seen today one of the biggest shows of hypocrisy in history when South Africa became the legal arm of a terror organisation, Hamas."

South Africa, Haiat added, was "failing to mention the reason for what happens in Gaza, failing to mention that Hamas on 7 October... massacred, executed, murdered, burned alive, raped and kidnapped hundreds of Israelis and that Israel is executing its right to self-defense".

The reference here is to the reported cross-border attack by Hamas militants, in which Israeli officials claimed 1,200 mostly civilian Israelis were killed, and 240 taken hostage.

The 1948 Genocide Convention, enacted in the wake of the mass murder of Jews in the Nazi Holocaust, defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group".

Since the start of the Israeli retaliatory attacks, nearly all of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes at least once, a humanitarian catastrophe that the UN and other global agencies have repeatedly been warning about.

"Every day, there is mounting, irreparable loss of life, property, dignity, and humanity for the Palestinian people," Ngcukaitobi's fellow advocate Adila Hassim told the ICJ. "Nothing will stop the suffering, except an order from this court."

South Africa concluded its arguments by requesting emergency measures to stop the war, and the court will listen to Israel's response on Friday.

The ICJ's decisions are final and without appeal, but the downside is that the court has no way of enforcing them. So whatever it decides, it will be left to the rest of the world to implement.

To end with the text of another MoTaz X post, "Israel just killed 4 of my colleagues in the Palestine Red Crescent while they was doing their job by bombing the ambulance they were riding."

Combatants, no doubt.

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