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War on Gaza: Israeli MP calls South Africa's genocide case at ICJ a 'privilege'

Likud party member Nissim Vaturi doubles down on earlier comments calling to 'burn down' Gaza
An Israeli soldier operates, amid the ongoing war on Gaza, taken on 8 January 2024. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)
An Israeli soldier operates, amid the ongoing war on Gaza, taken on 8 January 2024 (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

A member of Israel's ruling Likud party said it is a "privilege" for his country to be sued for genocide in the Hague, doubling down on his remarks that there are “no innocent people” left in Gaza and that it should be “burned now”.

Nissim Vaturi's comments on Wednesday came on the eve of the first hearing in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Netherlands, in a case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of committing genocide in its war on the Gaza Strip and breaching the 1948 Geneva Convention.

In its lawsuit, South Africa also accused Israel of making statements of genocidal intent.

“We are grateful that we have the privilege of being sued in The Hague for (such) statements, when they are murdering children and women, and we are only looking to defend ourselves as a nation,” Vaturi said in an interview with Israeli radio Kol Barama.

In its 84-page petition submitted to the ICJ in December, South Africa described Israel’s activities in Gaza as “genocidal in character,” and “intend to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnic group”.

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Vatori said he cannot see anything wrong with statements he made on Wednesday that called for a complete “burn down” of Gaza.

“It is better to burn, to bring down buildings than for soldiers to be hurt,” he said.

'No innocents in Gaza'

Ahead of the Hague hearing, Israel’s attorney general and state attorney issued a joint statement saying that Israel is “obliged to act according to the principles of international law and the laws of war”.

They condemned statements that call for the deliberate harm of civilians, stating they may constitute criminal offences.

Commenting on the statement, Vatori said: “It’s fine. I am ready to confront my every word.”

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He went on to defend his remarks, saying he had made them when he felt “a little weakening in the tasks given to the army” and that it “was more to strengthen our (Israeli) understanding of what we (Israelis) are facing”.

The Israeli MP said his inciting comments come as part of Israel “as a nation that wants to stand up and protect children from such horrible acts of the Holocaust.”

“You must go in with all your might and that’s what we did,” he added.

Vatori had previously claimed that everyone in the northern Gaza Strip had been evacuated in an "orderly" fashion. Israel has forcibly displaced nearly 1.9 million people in Gaza since war broke out on 7 October, with many reports of civilians being shot by Israeli forces as they are forcibly evacuated from the north.

More than 23,000 Palestinians, including at least 9,000 children, have been killed in its relentless bombing campaign, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

"I don't think there are any innocents there [in Gaza] now, not now and not when I said those things," Vatori said.

'Doomsday weapon' 

The Israeli lawmaker’s statements were not the first of their kind to be made by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing party. Other Likud MPs and ministers have also made inflammatory comments about Gaza.

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Last week, lawmaker Moshe Saada said that the widespread calls he had heard from the Israeli public to “destroy all Gazans” had proven that the “right-wing was right about the Palestinian issue”.

In the first few days of the conflict, Likud MP Revital "Tally" Gotliv urged the Israeli army to use a “Doomsday weapon” in Gaza, in what was widely thought to be referring to nuclear weapons. 

In November, Galit Distel Atbaryan, Israel's former public diplomacy minister, called for Gaza to be “erased from the face of the Earth”, saying that the besieged enclave should be “wiped out” by a “vengeful and vicious” Israeli army.

Days later, Israeli Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu floated the possibility of resorting to nuclear weapons in Gaza.

When asked during a radio interview with Kol Barama about a hypothetical nuclear option in the war, Eliyahu responded: “That’s one way.”

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