Israel officials support Gaza destruction, court hears

Israel’s plan to “destroy” Gaza comes from “the highest level of state”, the UN’s top court has heard.

The claims were made by South African lawyers as it presented its case accusing Israel of genocide at the International Court of Justice.

South Africa also called on the court to order Israel to cease military operations in Gaza.

Israel – which will present its defence on Friday – has vehemently rejected the accusations as “baseless”.

The court will deliver only an opinion on the genocide allegation, although it is being closely watched.

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, a lawyer for the High Court of South Africa, told the ICJ Israel’s “genocidal intent” was evident “from the way in which this military attack is being conducted”.

“The intent to destroy Gaza has been nurtured at the highest level of state,” he said.

* War in Gaza

“Every day there is mounting, irreparable loss of life, property, dignity and humanity for the Palestinian people,” Adila Hassim, also representing South Africa, told the court.

“Nothing will stop the suffering, except an order from this court.”

In its evidence submitted before the hearing, South Africa said Israel’s actions were “intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group”.

Israel will offer its defence on Friday, but has previously said its actions in the Gaza Strip are justified because it is responding to Hamas’s deadly attacks on 7 October.

But speaking in court on Thursday, South Africa’s Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said that no attack “can provide justification for or defend breaches of the [Genocide] Convention”.

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Israel is a signatory to the Genocide Convention of 1948, which defines genocide and commits states to prevent it.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “the hypocrisy of South Africa screams to the heavens” – criticising the country for failing to respond to atrocities in Syria and Yemen committed by “partners of Hamas”.

“Today we saw an upside-down world. Israel is accused of genocide while it is fighting against genocide,” he added.

“Israel is fighting murderous terrorists who carried out crimes against humanity.”

The US, meanwhile, said that it saw no justification for South Africa’s allegation that Israel has committed genocide.

“They are defending themselves against a still viable threat,” said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby.

The ICJ is the United Nation’s highest court, based in The Hague in the Netherlands. Its rulings are theoretically legally binding on parties to the ICJ – which include Israel and South Africa – but are not enforceable.

In 2022, the court ordered Russia to “immediately suspend military operations” in Ukraine, an order that was ignored.

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