Israel Presents Declassified Documents to Counter Genocide Accusations by South Africa at the International Court of Justice

In a significant development, South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza, prompting Israel to counter the charge by declassifying over 30 secret orders made by its government and military leaders. The move is aimed at refuting the allegations and demonstrating Israeli efforts to minimize civilian casualties among Palestinians. This comes in the backdrop of a petition filed by South Africa at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which contends that Israel violated the Genocide Convention of 1948.

Declassified Documents:

Israel’s legal team has presented declassified documents, reviewed by The New York Times, as part of its defense against the genocide accusation. The documents include summaries of cabinet discussions held in late October, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the dispatch of aid, fuel, and water to Gaza. These documents also highlight efforts to explore options for external actors to establish field hospitals and consider deploying a hospital ship off the coast of Gaza.

Israel’s Defense Strategy:

One crucial aspect of Israel’s defense is to demonstrate that public statements made by Israeli leaders, which South Africa cites as proof of intent to commit genocide, were overridden by executive decisions and official orders from the war cabinet and military high command. The Genocide Convention specifies that killings must be committed “with intent to destroy” a particular group, emphasizing the crucial role of intent in determining genocide.

Hamas-Led Assault and Israeli Response:

The current conflict between Israel and Gaza began in October, with Israel’s response to a Hamas-led assault that resulted in casualties and abductions in Israel. Since then, Israel has conducted a campaign in Gaza, leading to significant casualties, displacement, and damage to infrastructure, according to health officials and the United Nations.

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International Court of Justice Proceedings:

The ICJ, the highest judicial body of the United Nations, initiated hearings on the case this month. South Africa’s petition seeks to hold Israel accountable for genocide, relying on inflammatory public statements made by Israeli leaders. The court is expected to provide an initial response, possibly calling for a provisional cease-fire, as early as this week.

Genocide Convention and Intent:

The Genocide Convention of 1948 forms the basis of South Africa’s accusation against Israel. It is crucial to note that genocide, according to this convention, is not solely defined by killing members of a specific ethnic or national group; it requires the killings to be committed with the intent to destroy that group. Legal experts, such as Janina Dill from Oxford University, emphasize the centrality of intent in determining genocide.

Israel’s Efforts to Counter Genocidal Intent:

Israel’s defense strategy includes presenting evidence that it sought a legal war with Hamas and not a campaign of genocide against Palestinians. The declassified documents reveal instances where Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized the need for increased humanitarian aid in Gaza, responding favorably to requests for fuel, and highlighting the absolute necessity of allowing basic humanitarian aid to continue.

Selective Declassification and Omissions:

However, critics argue that the declassified dossier is highly curated and omits wartime instructions given by the cabinet and military, particularly during the first 10 days of the war when aid to Gaza was blocked, and access to electricity and water was cut off. The court must consider the completeness of the dossier in assessing Israel’s plans and motives.

Provisional Measures and Plausibility:

While the court may take years to reach a verdict, it could impose “provisional measures” this week. These measures might include a symbolic request for Israel to cease its attacks while the court deliberates. To do so, the judges need to find it plausible that Israel intentionally killed residents of Gaza with the deliberate goal of destroying Palestinians as a group.

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South Africa’s Evidence and Israel’s Counterarguments:

South Africa has presented more than 50 comments and statements made by Israeli leaders as evidence of genocidal intent. Israel, in response, has submitted emails between military officers and aid workers, emphasizing its efforts to supply Gaza with food, medicine, and vaccinations in collaboration with the United Nations. The court will likely consider these as part of the broader picture.

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