As South Africa gears up to present its case today against Israel before the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – SA has accused Israel of genocide – the US has doubled down on its claim the matter is “meritless”. That is according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week during a media briefing. 'Submission distracts the world from all of these important efforts' “We believe the submission against Israel to the ICJ distracts the world from all of these important efforts and, moreover, the charge of genocide is meritless,” Blinken…
As South Africa gears up to present its case today against Israel before the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – SA has accused Israel of genocide – the US has doubled down on its claim the matter is “meritless”.
That is according to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week during a media briefing.
‘Submission distracts the world from all of these important efforts’
“We believe the submission against Israel to the ICJ distracts the world from all of these important efforts and, moreover, the charge of genocide is meritless,” Blinken said.
“It’s particularly galling given those who are attacking Israel – Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, as well as the support of Iran – continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.”
The war started when Hamas launched its unprecedented 7 October attack, which resulted in about 1 140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally, based on official figures.
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Militants of Hamas, considered a “terrorist” group by the United States and European Union, also took about 250 hostages. Israel says 132 of them remain captive, 25 of them believed to have been killed.
Israel has responded with a relentless military campaign that has killed at least 23 210 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Blinken said facing an enemy which embedded itself among civilians, “who hides in and fires from schools and hospitals, makes this incredibly challenging”.
“But, the daily toll on civilians, particularly children, is far too high,” said Blinken.
‘Meritless, counterproductive and completely without any basis in fact’
On 3 January, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby was the first to condemn the application, saying: “This submission is meritless, counterproductive and completely without any basis in fact…”
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US relations with South Africa have already been shaken over Pretoria’s refusal to join Western pressure on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
The US ambassador last year publicly accused South Africa of sending a ship of weapons to Russia, claims later walked back by the state department.
SA and Israel have three hours to make their case
The ICJ announced yesterday SA and Israel would have three hours to make their case, instead of the traditional two hours, following a request from Israel.
Israel has angrily rejected the accusation, with the foreign ministry calling it “blood libel”, a reference to ancient anti-Semitic conspiracies.
Advocate and former acting high court judge James Grant did not believe the argument Hamas combatants hid among civilians held a lot of water.
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“I think the argument of Israel, that it’s difficult to distinguish combatants from civilians, won’t be accepted as relieving them of the duty to try,” Grant said. “I can say that it does not seem as if Israel is even trying to distinguish.”
Israel relying on the doctrine of an ‘accumulation of acts of terror’
Grant said Israel seemed to be relying on the doctrine of an “accumulation of acts of terror” launched from another state.
“However, at most – as a matter of practice in the international community – this sort of intrusion into another state seems to require still that the response, of course, at least attempts to distinguish combatants from civilians, and that the force used in ‘response’ is limited to what is reasonable relative to the attacks.”
Grant believed SA’s application to the ICJ was a serious indictment of the conduct of Israel.
“It makes the argument, thoroughly well-referenced, that Israel has acted disproportionately, with the necessary intention to act disproportionately.
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“When I say thoroughly wellreferenced, I mean not only is the application well-referenced quantitatively but also qualitatively.
“The references are to incontrovertible facts, or … to the opinions of people whose opinions matter.”
Israel failed to observe the requirement of international humanitarian law
He said the application argues, “again, thoroughly well-referenced”, that Israel had failed to observe the requirement of international humanitarian law, of “distinction” – and that it has done so intentionally.
All involved in the armed conflict must distinguish between … combatants [who may be targeted] and civilians [who must be protected].
“In addition, the principle requires that combatants must distinguish themselves from civilians,” Grant noted.
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“[A] combatant state acting in self-defence, cannot ignore the principle and must actively work to make the distinction and then may only target combatants.
“The application makes the argument that Israel has not only ignored the distinction but it/they have deliberately refused to take account of the distinction between combatants and civilians. In this way, so the argument goes, Israel deliberately targeted civilians,” Grant said.
“It seems that Israel has a case to answer.”
Additional reporting by AFP