by Amy Goodman at DemocracyNow!
The second day of South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice at The Hague saw Israel take the stand, defending against accusations that its government is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. South Africa is demanding an emergency suspension of Israel’s aerial and ground assault on Gaza in front of the United Nations’ highest court. From The Hague, we hear from Diala Shamas, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, the organization that sued President Biden in November, accusing him of failing to prevent genocide in Gaza. Shamas recaps the two days of hearings and discusses other avenues for holding Israel accountable. “Whether it’s at the ICJ or whether it’s in federal court in the United States, we’re really looking to government to do everything that they can to uphold their duty to prevent an unfolding genocide,” says Shamas.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Today, Israel defended itself against accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In one of the biggest cases ever to come before the United Nations’ high court, South Africa accused Israel of acts of genocide against Palestinians and demanded an emergency suspension of Israel’s aerial and ground assault on Gaza. A decision on that request will probably take weeks, though the full case will likely last years. Israel often boycotts international tribunals and U.N. investigations, calling them unfair and biased, but this time, for the first time, they attended the hearing, sent a high-level legal team to defend against the accusations of genocide.
The two-day hearings at what’s called the Peace Palace in The Hague began Thursday with South Africa laying out its case against Israel, saying its three-month assault on Gaza is being conducted with the intent to bring about the destruction of Palestinians as a group. Israel defended itself today against the accusations. At the hearing, Israeli legal adviser Tal Becker criticized South Africa for accusing Israel of genocide.
TAL BECKER: The applicant has now sought to invoke this term in the context of Israel’s conduct in a war it did not start and did not want, a war in which Israel is defending itself against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations whose brutality knows no bounds. …
The applicant has regrettably put before the court a profoundly distorted factual and legal picture. The entirety of its case hinges on a deliberately curated, decontextualized and manipulative description of the reality of current hostilities.
South Africa purports to come to this court in the lofty position of a guardian of the interest of humanity. But in delegitimizing Israel’s 75-year existence in its opening presentation yesterday, that broad commitment to humanity rang hollow. And in its sweeping counterfactual description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it seemed to erase both Jewish history and any Palestinian agency or responsibility.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to another clip of the Israeli legal adviser Tal Becker, who talked about the October 7th attack by Hamas, saying Israel had a right to defend itself.
TAL BECKER: First, that if there have been acts that may be characterized as genocidal, then they have been perpetrated against Israel. If there is a concern about the obligations of states under the Genocide Convention, then it is in relation to their responsibilities to act against Hamas’s proudly declared agenda of annihilation, which is not a secret and is not in doubt. …
Astonishingly, the court has been requested to indicate a provisional measure calling on Israel to suspend its military operations. But this amounts to an attempt to deny Israel its ability to meet its obligations to the defense of its citizens, to the hostages and to over 110,000 internally displaced Israelis unable to safely return to their homes. …
Madam President, members of the court, the hostilities between Israel and Hamas have exacted a terrible toll on both Israelis and Palestinians. But any genuine effort to understand the cause of this toll must take account of the horrendous reality created by Hamas within the Gaza Strip. …
Madam President, members of the court, the nightmarish environment created by Hamas has been concealed by the applicant, but it is the environment in which Israel is compelled to operate. Israel is committed, as it must be, to comply with the law, but it does so in the face of Hamas’s utter contempt for the law. It is committed, as it must be, to demonstrate humanity, but it does so in the face of Hamas’s utter inhumanity. …
It is respectfully submitted that the application and request should be dismissed for what they are: a libel, designed to deny Israel the right to defend itself according to the law from the unprecedented terrorist onslaught it continues to face, and to free the 136 hostages Hamas still holds.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now at The Hague by Diala Shamas. She’s a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. In November, CCR sued President Biden, accusing him of failing to prevent genocide.
Diala, thank you so much for being with us. I know it’s very noisy outside. There’s a major pro-Palestinian rally outside the International Court of Justice. This is historic, this two days. Yesterday South Africa accused Israel of genocide. Today Israel defended itself. Can you talk about their major arguments, saying this is an existential battle, they are simply engaging in self-defense?
DIALA SHAMAS: Thank you for having me.
Yes, it really is a historical moment. And I would have preferred to start…