ISRAEL has rejected accusations of genocide in Gaza by South Africa, claiming it has a right to defend itself following Hamas attacks on October 7.

A team of lawyers for Israel told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Friday that South Africa had presented a “profoundly distorted factual and legal picture". 

Lawyer Tal Becker, the legal adviser of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said if there were acts of genocide “they have been perpetrated against Israel” as he accused Hamas of “systematically and unlawfully” embedding its military operations in Gaza “within and beneath civilian areas”.

On Thursday, South Africa claimed Israeli officials had “systematically declared their genocidal intent” throughout “every sphere of state” and this was being acted upon by soldiers on the ground in Gaza.

South Africa has asked the court to command that Israel stops its military operations in Gaza to “protect against further, severe and irreparable harm to the rights of Palestinian people under the Genocide Convention”.

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Lawyers for Israel argued throughout the hearing on Friday that the provisional measures requested by South Africa “cannot stand” because Israel has the right to defend itself and they would deprive Israel of the ability to contend with a security threat against it.

Becker told the UN’s top court that Hamas committed a “wholesale massacre” on October 7, where it “tortured children in front of parents and parents in front of children” and claimed the “appalling suffering” of civilians in Gaza was a result of the organisation’s “despicable strategy”.

He went on to say the term genocide was being weaponised in the case.

He told the court: “The Genocide Convention was not designed to address the brutal impact of intensive hostilities on the civilian population, even when the use of force raises ‘very serious issues of international law and involves enormous suffering and continuing loss of life’.

“The convention was set apart to address a malevolent crime of the most exceptional severity. The attempt to weaponise the term genocide against Israel does more than tell the court a grossly distorted story.

“It subverts the object and purpose of the convention itself with ramifications for all states seeking to defend themselves against those who demonstrate total disdain for life and for the law.”

He added: “There are many distortions in the applicant's submission. In the applicant's telling, it is almost as if there is no intensive armed conflict taking place, only an Israeli assault on Gaza.

“Israel is in a war of defence against Hamas, not against the Palestinian people."

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The court heard how “undesired outcomes” in Gaza are being exacerbated because they “are the desired outcomes” of Hamas.

Galit Raguan, acting director of the international justice division at Israel’s Justice Ministry, blamed Hamas for the high civilian toll in Gaza and claimed Hamas had been using hospitals for military purposes.

She claimed Israel had not bombed hospitals but that damage and harm had occurred as a “result of hostilities” in the “vicinity” of hospitals, denying that Israel had engaged in genocidal acts.

She said: “Urban warfare will always result in tragic deaths, harm and damage, but in Gaza these undesired outcomes are exacerbated because they are the desired outcomes of Hamas.”

Israel’s legal team also accused South Africa of having ties with Hamas.

Following South Africa’s arguments on Thursday Lior Haiat, spokesman for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accused South Africa of being the “legal arm” of Hamas.

During Friday’s hearing, Becker said it was a matter of public record that South Africa enjoys relations with Hamas, adding it had “long celebrated ties with Hamas figures”.

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Malcolm Shaw, a professor of international law at the University of Leicester in the UK, claimed there was little beyond “random assertions” that Israel has or has had, the specific intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Palestinian people.

He said: “These atrocities [Hamas attacks] do not justify violations of the law in reply, still less genocide. But they do justify, mandate even, the exercise of the legitimate and inherent right of a state to defend itself.

“Not every conflict is genocidal. The crime of genocide in international law and under the Genocide Convention in international law is a uniquely malicious manifestation. It stands alone amongst the violations of international law as the epitome and zenith of evil.

“The court itself emphasised in its order of June 2, 1999 that the threat or use of force cannot in itself constitute an act of genocide.”

He added: “If there has been any genocidal activity in this situation, it was the events of October 7."

Shaw insisted South Africa had been “misleading” in insisting quotes from Israeli officials were genocidal in intent.

“To produce random quotes which are not in conformity with government policy is misleading at best,” he added.

Israel claimed during the hearing it has ensured humanitarian aid enters Gaza and that there has been no restrictions on the amount of water that may enter the Gaza Strip. Lawyer Omri Sender added the intensity of hostilities has been “decreasing”.

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On Thursday, a closing statement by Irish lawyer Blinne Ni Ghralaigh for South Africa was described as “earth shattering” as she detailed how Palestinians were being “blown to pieces” daily, and more than 10 children each day were having legs amputated, sometimes without anaesthetic.

 “Each day yet more desperate people will be forced to relocate from where they are sheltering or will be bombed in places they have been told to evacuate to,” she said.

“Yet more Palestinian children will become WCNSF. Wounded Child, No Surviving Family - the terrible new acronym born out of Israel’s genocidal assault on the Palestinian population in Gaza.”

A decision on provisional measures is expected to take a couple of weeks, but a final decision on whether Israel has violated the Genocide Convention could take years.

Even if the court issues provisional measures – which can be different from those suggested by South Africa - against Israel, it does not necessarily follow that the court will find Israel has violated the Genocide Convention.

While Israel is unlikely to comply with any order from the court to halt operations, it likely fears that any such order would be a blow to its international standing.