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South Africa Prosecutes Israel for Genocide at The Hague

A key element of the crime of genocide is intent. Prosecutors must show that those who carried out mass killings did so with the conscious intent to wipe out a people in whole or part. South Africa has compiled statements from Israeli leaders that it believes prove, when coupled with Israel’s actions, genocidal intent against the Palestinian people of Gaza. Last week, it argued its case at the International Court of Justice.
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Interior of the ICJ. Via the International Court of Justice.

January 20, 2024 06:22 EDT
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On January 11–12, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the Netherlands, held public hearings for the case of South Africa v. Israel. South Africa brought the case against Israel under the Genocide Convention of 1948. The first provisional measure South Africa has asked of the court is to order an immediate end to the Israeli bombing of Gaza, which has already killed at least 25,000 people — not accounting for all of the countless victims still undiscovered in the rubble. Most of the victims are women and children. Israel is trying to blow Gaza into oblivion and scatter the terrorized survivors across the earth, meeting the convention’s definition of genocide to the letter:

[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Since countries engaged in genocide do not publicly declare their real goal, the greatest legal hurdle for any genocide prosecution is to prove the intention of genocide. But in the extraordinary case of Israel, whose cult of biblically ordained entitlement is backed to the hilt by unconditional US complicity, its leaders have been uniquely brazen about their goal of destroying Gaza as a haven of Palestinian life, culture and resistance.

Evidence of genocidal intent

South Africa’s 84-page application to the ICJ includes ten pages (starting on page 59) of statements by Israeli civilian and military officials that document their genocidal intentions in Gaza. They include statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, five other cabinet ministers, senior military officers and members of the Knesset. Reading these statements, one finds it hard to see how a fair and impartial court could fail to recognize the genocidal intent behind the death and devastation Israeli forces and American weapons are wreaking in Gaza.

The Israeli +972 Magazine spoke to seven current and former Israeli intelligence officials involved in previous assaults on Gaza. They explained the systematic nature of Israel’s targeting practices and how the range of civilian infrastructure that Israel is targeting has been vastly expanded in the current onslaught. In particular, it has expanded the bombing of civilian infrastructure, or what it euphemistically defines as “power targets,” which have comprised half of its targets from the outset of this war.

Israel’s “power targets” in Gaza include public buildings like hospitals, schools, banks, government offices, and high-rise apartment blocks. The public pretext for destroying Gaza’s civilian infrastructure is that civilians will blame Hamas for its destruction, and that this will undermine its civilian base of support. This kind of brutal logic has been proved wrong in US-backed conflicts all over the world. In Gaza, it is no more than a grotesque fantasy. The Palestinians understand perfectly well who is bombing them — and who is supplying the bombs.

Intelligence officials told +972 Magazine that Israel maintains extensive occupancy figures for every building in Gaza and has precise estimates of how many civilians will be killed in each building it bombs. While Israeli and US officials publicly disparage Palestinian casualty figures, intelligence sources told +972 Magazine that the Palestinian death counts are remarkably consistent with Israel’s own estimates of how many civilians it is killing. To make matters worse, Israel has started using artificial intelligence to generate targets with minimal human scrutiny, and is doing so faster than its forces can bomb them.

Israeli officials claim that each of the high-rise apartment buildings it bombs contains some kind of Hamas presence, but an intelligence official explained, “Hamas is everywhere in Gaza; there is no building that does not have something of Hamas in it, so if you want to find a way to turn a high-rise into a target, you will be able to do so.” As Yuval Abraham of +972 summarized, “The sources understood, some explicitly and some implicitly, that damage to civilians is the real purpose of these attacks.”

Two days after South Africa submitted its Genocide Convention application to the ICJ, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich declared that Israel should substantially empty the Gaza Strip of Palestinians and bring in Israeli settlers. “If we act in a strategically correct way and encourage emigration,” Smotrich said, “if there are 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs in Gaza, and not two million, the whole discourse on “the day after” will be completely different.”

When reporters confronted US State Department spokesman Matt Miller about Smotrich’s statement and similar ones by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, Miller replied that Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have reassured the United States that those statements don’t reflect Israeli government policy. 

But Smotrich and Ben-Gvir’s statements followed a meeting of Likud Party leaders on Christmas Day where Netanyahu himself said that his plan was to continue the assault until the people of Gaza have no choice but to leave or to die. “Regarding voluntary emigration, I have no problem with that,” he told Danny Danon, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN. “Our problem is not allowing the exit, but a lack of countries that are ready to take Palestinians in. And we are working on it. This is the direction we are going in.”

Israel is repeating a terrible pattern

We should have learned from America’s failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that bombings and mass killings rarely lead to political victory or success. More often, they only feed deep resentment and desires for justice or revenge that make peace elusive and conflict endemic.

Although most of the martyrs in Gaza are women and children, Israel and the United States politically justify the massacre as a campaign to destroy Hamas by killing its senior leaders. In his book Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, Irish journalist Andrew Cockburn described how, in 200 cases studied by US military intelligence, the US campaign to assassinate Iraqi resistance leaders in 2007 led in every single case to increased attacks on US occupation forces. Every resistance leader they killed was replaced within 48 hours, invariably by new, more aggressive leaders determined to prove themselves by killing even more US troops. 

But that is just another unlearned lesson as Israel and the United States kill Islamist resistance leaders in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Iran, risking a regional war and leaving themselves more isolated than ever.

If the ICJ issues a provisional order for a ceasefire in Gaza, humanity must seize the moment to insist that Israel and the United States must finally end this genocide and accept that the rule of international law applies to all nations, including themselves.

While the case will not be decided soon, we might expect a ruling on the provisional measures by next month or sooner.

[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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