The Israel Foreign Ministry accused South Africa on Thursday of acting as the “legal arm of the Hamas terrorist organization,” as two days of preliminary hearings kicked off at the U.N.’s top court in The Hague.
“Today, we were witness to one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy in history, compounded by a series of false and baseless claims,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lior Haiat said in a statement shared on X.
South Africa “utterly distorted the reality in Gaza following the Oct. 7 massacre and completely ignored the fact that Hamas terrorists infiltrated Israel, murdered, executed, massacred, raped and abducted Israeli citizens… in an attempt to carry out genocide,” added Haiat.
Pretoria’s case at The Hague “seeks to allow Hamas to return to commit the war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual crimes they committed repeatedly on Oct. 7, as its leaders have stated,” he charged.
The Israeli rebuke came after lawyers for South Africa demanded that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) order an immediate end to the Israel Defense Forces’ operation against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.
“Israel has transgressed article two of the [Genocide] Convention, committing acts that fall within the definition of genocide. The actions show a systematic pattern of conduct from which genocide can be inferred,” attorney Adila Hassim claimed on Thursday morning.
“Nothing will stop the suffering except an order from this court,” Hassim charged in her opening arguments.
“The violence and the destruction in Palestine and Israel did not begin on Oct. 7, 2023. The Palestinians have experienced systematic oppression and violence for the last 76 years,” South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told the court, referring to the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948.
As the hearing got underway, thousands of Dutch joined a protest in support of Israel. Participants in the march, which was organized by local Jewish and Christian groups, waved flags and carried pictures of Israelis taken hostage or murdered on Oct. 7.
The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. Its seat is at the Peace Palace in The Hague in the Netherlands. It deals with disputes between states, whereas the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutes individuals.
Israel’s legal team will be given three hours on Friday morning to refute Pretoria’s accusations.
The proceedings will likely take years, but an interim order could be issued within a matter of weeks. Although the ICJ has no ability to enforce its judgments, a ruling against Israel could add international pressure to wind down combat operations in Gaza.
In a move praised by Hamas, South Africa has charged Israel with violating its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention by intending “to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group.”
The 1948 Genocide Convention, to which both Israel and South Africa are signatories, was drafted in the wake of the Holocaust to prevent the destruction, or intent to destroy, “in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
In a statement released just hours before Thursday’s hearing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that “the IDF is doing its utmost to minimize civilian casualties, while Hamas is doing its utmost to maximize them by using Palestinian civilians as human shields.”
“Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists, not the Palestinian population, and we are doing so in full compliance with international law,” he added in the video message.
The prime minister noted that the Israel Defense Forces drops leaflets and makes phone calls urging civilians to leave war zones, “providing safe passage corridors, while Hamas prevents Palestinians from leaving at gunpoint and often with gunfire.”
“Our goal is to rid Gaza of Hamas terrorists and free our hostages,” he said. “Once this is achieved, Gaza can be demilitarized and de-radicalized, thereby creating a possibility for a better future for Israel and Palestinians alike.”