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Watch in full: Second day of ICJ case hears Israel's defence against South Africa's genocide claim in Gaza

Watch the second day of the ICJ proceedings as the court hears Israel's arguments against South Africa's case for an emergency order to stop Israeli military action in Gaza
Israeli lawyers and officials attend the International Court of Justice genocide case against Israel, brought by South Africa in the Hague, on 11 January 2024 (Remko De Waal/ANP/AFP)

Israel responded on Friday to South Africa's case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in which it stands accused of failing to prevent genocide in the besieged Gaza Strip. 

In its 84-page written application to the ICJ in December, South Africa said Israel's actions in Gaza were "genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group".

South Africa presented its case at the Hague on Thursday, in a three-hour hearing in which lawyers detailed what they said were clear examples of genocide. They pressed the court to decide on urgent provisional measures to ask Israel to stop its actions.

Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, a lawyer at the hearing, said that South Africa was not alone in drawing attention to Israel's genocidal rhetoric against Palestinians. 

Ngcukaitobi said that at least 15 UN special rapporteurs and 21 members of UN working groups have warned that what is happening in Gaza reflects a genocide in the making.

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He added that genocidal intent is evident in the way Israel's military is conducting attacks, including the targeting of family homes and civilian infrastructure.

"Israel's political leaders, military commanders and persons holding official positions have systematically and in explicit terms declared their genocidal intent,” he added.

Ngcukaitobi said that the "genocidal rhetoric" has become common within the Israeli Knesset, with several MPs calling for Gaza to be "wiped out, flattened, erased and crushed".

During the proceedings, Professor Max du Plessis, a lawyer representing South Africa, said that Israel has subjected the Palestinian people to an oppressive and prolonged violation of their rights to self-determination for more than half a century.

Du Plessis added that based on materials shown before the court, the acts of Israel are plausibly characterised as genocidal. 

"South Africa’s obligation is motivated by the need to protect Palestinians in Gaza and their absolute rights not to be subjected to genocidal acts," he said.

Israel says case is 'false and baseless'

The spokesperson for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs hit out at the case made at the hearing, calling it “one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy” demonstrating “false and baseless claims”.

Lior Haiat added that South Africa is “functioning as the legal arm of the Hamas terrorist organisation” and is seeking to “allow Hamas to commit the war crimes, crimes against humanity and sexual crimes they committed repeatedly on October 7”.

Israel will have three hours to make its case on Friday.

South Africa is 'functioning as the legal arm of the Hamas terrorist organisation'

Lior Haiat, Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The ICJ is the UN’s highest court. Established in 1945, it deals with disputes between countries and provides advisory opinions.

It has 15 judges who are elected for nine-year terms by the UN General Assembly and Security Council. The court can be expanded with the addition of a judge from each side of the case, in this case South Africa and Israel. 

The current judges at the ICJ are from the US, Russia, China, Slovakia, MoroccoLebanonIndia, France, Somalia, Jamaica, Japan, Germany, Australia, Uganda and Brazil.

Several countries have publicly voiced their support for South Africa's case, including Malaysia, Turkey, Jordan, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Maldives, Namibia and Pakistan. The 22-member Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Countries, which represents 57 Muslim-majority nations, has also expressed support.

Most western states have thrown their weight behind Israel, with the US saying South Africa's case is "meritless, counterproductive, completely without any basis in fact whatsoever”.

The hearings - the first step in a lengthy process, should the case go forward - come amid Israel's ferocious offensive on the impoverished territory. It has targeted schools, hospitals and residential areas, killing at least 23,000 people, more than two-thirds of them women and children.

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