“O What Israel seeks when operating in Gaza is not to destroy a people, but to protect a people, its own people, attacked on multiple fronts,” said Tal Becker, one of Israel’s lawyers before the ICJ.
Becker described the accusations of genocide made against Israel as “totally distorted” and considered that they do not reflect the reality of the conflict in the Gaza Strip.
South Africa “unfortunately presented the court with a completely distorted factual and legal framework”, Becker told the ICJ, in The Hague, Netherlands, cited by the French agency AFP.
In December, the South African state presented an urgent request to the ICJ to order Israel to “immediately suspend military operations” in the Gaza Strip.
The claim was formalized in the first of two days of hearings at the ICJ on Thursday, by the prosecution’s lawyers.
The war between Israel and Hamas was triggered by an unprecedented attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on Israeli soil on October 7, which caused around 1,400 deaths, according to authorities.
In retaliation, Israel promised to annihilate Hamas, in power in Gaza, and launched an offensive in Palestinian territory that caused another 24,000 deaths, according to Hamas data.
South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola argued to the ICJ on Thursday that not even the Hamas attack could justify alleged violations of the UN Convention on Genocide, signed in 1948 in the wake of the Holocaust.
“We live in a time when words are cheap, in the age of social media and identity politics. The temptation to use the most outrageous term [genocídio] to defame and demonize has become, for many, irresistible,” Becker argued.
With the help of videos and images, Israel’s defense lawyer gave magistrates a picture of the horrors he believes were committed during the Hamas attack.
Hamas members “tortured children in front of their parents, parents in front of their children, burned people” and were guilty of rape and mutilation, he said, cited by AFP.
The lawyer said that Israel’s response was an act of self-defense and did not target civilians, and that “Israel is engaged in a war of defense against Hamas and not against the Palestinian people.”
In these circumstances, “there could not be a more false or malicious accusation than the accusation of genocide against Israel”, he added, before a packed auditorium at the Peace Palace in The Hague.
Israel frequently boycotts international courts and UN investigations, saying they are unfair and biased.
But, in a sign of the seriousness with which it takes the case under consideration at the ICJ, it took the rare step of sending a high-level legal team, noted the US agency AP.
South Africa said the Israeli response to the Hamas attack amounts to genocide and is part of decades of Israeli oppression of Palestinians.
“The articulated intention is the destruction of Palestinian life,” lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said in opening statements on Thursday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected these arguments in a video statement.
“This is a topsy-turvy world: the State of Israel is accused of genocide while fighting against genocide,” he said.
“South Africa’s hypocrisy screams to the heavens”, he considered, quoted by AP.
[Notícia atualizada às 11h31]
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