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Peace and Conflict

UK backs Israel in the Hague | Update 12th January 2024

UK backs Israel in the Hague via BICom

What’s happening: South Africa presented their case to the International Court of Justice on Thursday, accusing Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.

  • Their claim appeared to be based partly on bellicose rhetoric, including from extremist, peripheral members of the Israeli government that the South African lawyers argued are key figures in determining Israeli policy.
  • Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman condemned South Africa’s initiative as “completely unjustified and wrong….legal action does not serve the cause of peace. The UK government stands by Israel’s clear right to defend itself within the framework of international law.”
  • Similarly, the US has said there were no grounds to accuse Israel of committing genocide in Gaza. US State Department spokesman Matt Miller said that “allegations that Israel is committing genocide are unfounded. In fact, it is those who are violently attacking Israel who continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews… Genocide is one of the most heinous acts any entity or individual can commit, and such allegations should only be made with the greatest of care. Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas’ terrorist acts — acts that Hamas has vowed to repeat again and again until Israel is completely destroyed. Israel is operating in an exceptionally challenging environment in Gaza, an urban battlespace where Hamas intentionally embeds itself with and hides behind civilians.”
  • This morning Israel will make the case for the defence.
    • They will explain that Israel is a fighting a defensive war, after Hamas initiated their brutal massacre on October 7.
    • Since then Israel has conducted their military campaign in line with international law.
    • IDF’s air strikes in the Gaza Strip are based on accurate intelligence information targeting legitimate military targets.
    • Israel operates a policy of distinction and avoids harming Gazan civilians as much as possible.
    • As part of the campaign, Israel made significant efforts to encourage civilians to leave the war zone, so as not to be caught in the fighting.   
    • The defence will also emphasise that Israel allows supplies of water, food, and medicine into the Gaza Strip based on the capacity of the border crossings.
  • Israel’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lior Haiat described the hearing as “one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy in history, compounded by a series of false and baseless claims.”

Context: The charge of genocide is offensive and inaccurate. Israel perceives this as a political trial with South Africa serving as a proxy for Hamas.

  • In a bitter irony, it was Hamas who acted with clear intent to commit genocide on October 7, had they not been stopped by the IDF.
  • Inside Gaza, they continue to use their civilian population as human shields and operate military infrastructure from within hospitals, schools, UN shelters, mosques and churches.
  • Almost 100 days since the war began, 136 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, denied access to Red Cross representatives and medical care.
  • According to Hamas, over 23,000 Palestinians have been killed. Whilst Israel regrets innocent deaths, the death toll alone as part of an intense and complex war does not equate to genocide. Furthermore, Israel’s current assessment is that out of these fatalities at least 8,000 were combatants.
  • The ICJ was set up after the Holocaust. Genocide is defined in Article II of the Genocide Convention of 1948 as committing various acts with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part. The Israeli government has repeatedly stated that its objective is to destroy Hamas.
  • The ICJ is the United Nation's highest court, its rulings are theoretically legally binding, but not enforceable.
  • Unlike the International Criminal Court (ICC), the ICJ cannot prosecute individuals for genocide, but its opinions could influence foreign governments policy and international institutions.
  • The panel of judges selected by the UN General Assembly includes judges from France, Germany, Australia, India, Slovakia, Jamaica, Japan, Brazil, Russia, China, Morocco, Somalia, Lebanon and Uganda.
  • As part of the protocol, both South Africa and Israel also have a representative on the panel of judges. Israel sent former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak.
  • Barak, a child survivor of the Holocaust, escaped the Kovno ghetto in a sack of hay, before becoming a world renowned jurist. In Israel there is hope that his influence among the other judges during the consultation process will limit the damage.     
  • Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the Labour party was in the Hague yesterday, supporting the South African and Palestinian case.
  • Although the South African claims appear unfounded, Israel faces internal criticism over the government’s message discipline, with the prime minister accused of not having reigned in extremist ministers and for failure to articulate a diplomatic vision for Gaza.

Looking ahead: In the first instance South Africa is appealing for the court to issues an injunction demanding the end of the war.

  • The court could declare a whole range of options:
    • It could absolve Israel of guilt.
    • It could also side with South Africa and issue an immediate call to end the war.
    • It could also include recommendation for range of actions.
    • A call to expand humanitarian aid, (Israel already appears open to this).
    • Insisting Gazans should be allowed return to their homes in north Gaza. Israel has so far conditioned their return on the release of hostages.  
    • Support for more international organisations to enter Gaza.

via BICom