26 January 2024

Genocide case outrageous says Netanyahu, and vows Israel will press ahead

26 January 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will “continue to do what is necessary” to defend itself, following a ruling from the top UN court that harshly criticised Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The International Court of Justice stopped short on Friday of ordering a ceasefire in Gaza in a genocide case filed by South Africa.

But it demanded that Israel try to contain death and damage in its military offensive.

After the ruling, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the fact that the court was willing to discuss the genocide charges was a “mark of shame that will not be erased for generations”, and he vowed to press ahead with the war.

“Like every country, Israel has the basic right to defend itself. The court in the Hague rightfully rejected the outrageous request to take that away from us.”

“We will continue to do what is necessary to defend our country and defend our people,” he said.

The case goes to the core of one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, and South Africa had asked the court to order Israel to halt its operation.

In the highly anticipated decision made by a panel of 17 judges, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decided not to throw out the case and ordered six so-called provisional measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza.

Many of the measures were approved by an overwhelming majority of the judges. An Israeli judge voted in favour of two of the six.

“The court is acutely aware of the extent of the human tragedy that is unfolding in the region and is deeply concerned about the continuing loss of life and human suffering,” Joan E Donoghue, the court’s president, said.

Friday’s decision is only an interim one; it could take years for the full case brought by South Africa to be considered.

Israel rejects the genocide accusation and had asked the court to throw the charges out.

While the case winds its way through the court, South Africa had asked the judges “as a matter of extreme urgency” to impose provisional measures.

Top of the South African list was a request for the court to order Israel to “immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza”.

But the court declined to do that.

South Africa also asked for Israel to take “reasonable measures” to prevent genocide and allow access for desperately needed aid.

The court ruled that Israel must do all it can to prevent genocide, including refraining from killing Palestinians or causing harm to them.

It also ruled it urgently needs to get basic aid to people in Gaza and that Israel should prevent and punish any incitement to genocide, among other measures.

The court said Israel should submit a report on measures taken within a month.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki welcomed “the significant order”.

He said that the judges “ruled in favour of humanity and international law”.

The South African minister for international relations, Naledi Pandor, said outside the court that Israel cannot effectively implement the measures ordered without a ceasefire.

On Thursday, Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy had said that Israel expected the court to throw out the “spurious and specious charges”.

Israel often boycotts international tribunals and UN investigations, saying they are unfair and biased.

But this time, it took the rare step of sending a high-level legal team – a sign of how seriously it regards the case and likely the fear that any court order to halt operations would be a major blow to the country’s international standing.

Israel launched its massive air and ground assault on Gaza after Hamas militants stormed through Israeli communities on October 7 killing some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and abducting another 250.

The offensive has decimated vast swathes of the territory and driven nearly 85% of its 2.3 million people from their homes.

More than 26,000 Palestinians have been killed, the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run enclave said on Friday.

The ministry does not differentiate between combatants and civilians in its death toll, but has said about two-thirds of those killed were women and children.

The Israeli military claims at least 9,000 of those killed in the nearly four-month conflict are Hamas militants.

UN officials have expressed fears that even more people could die from disease, with at least one-quarter of the population facing starvation.

Provisional measures by the world court are legally binding, but it is not clear if Israel will comply with them.

How the US, Israel’s top ally, responds to any order will be key, since it wields veto power at the UN Security Council and thus could block measures there aimed at forcing Israel’s compliance.

The US has said Israel has the right to defend itself but has also spoken about the need for the country to protect civilians in Gaza and allow more aid in.

The genocide case strikes at the national identity of Israel, which was founded as a Jewish state after the Nazi slaughter of six million Jews during the Second World War.

South Africa’s own identity is key to it bringing the case.

Its governing party, the African National Congress, has long compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the West Bank to its own history under the apartheid regime of white minority rule, which restricted most black people to “homelands” before ending in 1994.

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