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Roving Periscope: No ‘genocide’ in Gaza, Israel claims after 36,000 Palestinians’ deaths

Roving Periscope: No ‘genocide’ in Gaza, Israel claims after 36,000 Palestinians’ deaths

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Virendra Pandit

New Delhi: Israel on Friday defended its all-out military offensive in the besieged Gaza Strip at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), asking judges to throw out a South African plea that urged the court to order the Jewish state to halt the operation in Rafah and withdraw from the Palestinian enclave.

On its part, Israel claimed that it was doing its best to ‘avoid’ civilian casualties in Gaza and strongly denied allegations of genocide.

The ongoing war in the Gaza Strip started after the Gaza Strip-ruling Hamas terrorists invaded South Israel on October 7, 2023, killed nearly 1,200 Israelis, and fled back to the enclave with some 250 hostages. The Israeli counteroffensive has since claimed the lives of nearly 36,000 Palestinians and most of the 2.3 million residents are starving and suffering.

The ICJ concluded the third round of hearings on emergency measures requested by South Africa, which said Israel’s military incursion in the southern city of Rafah, bordering Egypt, threatens the “very survival of Palestinians in Gaza” and urged the court to order a ceasefire.

South Africa stressed 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, the media reported.

Tamar Kaplan-Tourgeman, one of Israel’s legal team, defended his country’s conduct, saying it had allowed in fuel and medication to the beleaguered enclave. “Israel takes extraordinary measures to minimize the harm to civilians in Gaza,” she told the court, amid a brief interruption by a protester shouting “liars.”

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.”

“ It (the case) makes a mockery of the heinous charge of genocide,” Noam said, calling 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, ICJ ordered Israel to prevent acts of genocide against the Palestinians, while stopping short of ordering it to halt the assault. Israel’s latest operation in Rafah to flush out Hamas terrorists hiding amongst the displaced people, which it had promised for weeks, caused international alarm and flared tensions with its closest ally, the United States.

The ICJ 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.

Ahead of Israel’s presentation, dozens of pro-Israeli protesters gathered outside the ICJ in The Hague, 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 ICJ to order Israel to “immediately, totally and unconditionally, and withdraw the Israeli army from the entirety of the Gaza Strip.”

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, a member of the South African 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 urged the court to order Israel to allow unimpeded access to Gaza for UN officials, organizations providing humanitarian aid, journalists, and investigators. This came as Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip has killed over 36,000 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.

Responding to the case in the ICJ, Israel’s foreign ministry on Thursday accused South Africa of making “biased and false claims” that rely on “unreliable Hamas sources.”


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