‘This is no genocide’: Israel calls South Africa’s charges on Gaza war ‘grossly distorted’

Israel tells International Court of Justice it is acting to defend itself against Hamas and calls on court to dismiss case as groundless

Israel has rejected a claim that it is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, arguing instead that Hamas on October 7th showed itself to be a terror group with a publicly declared genocidal agenda – specifically, the annihilation of the Israeli state.

“If there have been genocidal acts, they have been perpetrated not by but against Israel,” judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) were told on the second day of a legal action by South Africa seeking an emergency ruling ordering Israel to end its military campaign.

“If provisional measures are granted in the form of such an order, Israel will be left defenceless against Hamas, an organisation that has openly vowed to repeat the atrocities of October 7th,″ said Tal Becker, a legal adviser to the Israeli foreign ministry, who opened Israel’s case.

Israel launched its war in Gaza after a cross-border attack on October 7th by Hamas militants in which, according to Israeli officials, 1,200 people were killed and 240 were taken hostage, of whom some 136 remain imprisoned in Hamas’s underground tunnels.


Since then, Israel’s air and ground offensives have destroyed much of Gaza’s infrastructure and killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, according to figures from the Gaza health ministry

Asking the court to dismiss both the substantive claim of genocide and the request for provisional measures, Mr Becker pointed out that there could be no equivalent injunction against Hamas because it was not a state and therefore not subject to the court’s jurisdiction.

“Such a ruling would leave us with no right to self-defence and no right to rescue our hostages abducted by Hamas in a war we did not start and did not want.

“In such a context, South Africa’s lofty claim to have taken this action as guardians of humanity on behalf of Gaza rings very hollow indeed.”

If such a claim were to succeed, Mr Becker added, it would turn the 1948 genocide convention into “an aggressors’ charter”.

Another member of Israel’s team, Malcolm Show KC, described Israel’s military campaign as “wholly legitimate, necessary and consistent with international law”.

“There is no genocidal intent,” he argued. “There is no genocide.”

South Africa told the court on Thursday that Israel’s aerial and ground offensive aimed to bring about “the destruction of the population” of Gaza.

Pro-Palestine supporters watched the court’s proceedings on a large TV screen outside the Peace Palace where the ICJ is located. As members of the Israeli delegation spoke inside they chanted, “Liar, Liar”.

Israeli supporters held a separate meeting with family members of hostages held by Hamas, some of whom were also in the courtroom.

Israel’s deputy attorney general, Gilad Noam, closed its case by maintaining that South Africa had failed to demonstrate the prima facie jurisdiction of the ICJ.

He warned that its “grossly distorted” claims threatened to turn the genocide convention – an instrument to prevent barbarism – into “a weapon for terrorists with no concern for humanity or the law”.

The ICJ’s rulings are final and without appeal but the court has no means of enforcing them.

The court’s president, judge Joan Donoghue, said a decision on the application for provisional measures would be issued “as soon as possible” and would be delivered in open court.

However, a decision on the substantive claim of genocide could take years.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court