Israel to appear before ICJ to counter South Africa’s Gaza case

(Reuters) – Israel will appear before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague to contest South Africa’s genocide accusations over the war with Hamas in Gaza, an Israeli government spokesman said on Tuesday.

South Africa asked the ICJ on Friday for an urgent order declaring that Israel was in breach of its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention in its crackdown against Hamas.

“The State of Israel will appear before the International Court of Justice at The Hague to dispel South Africa’s absurd blood libel,” spokesman Eylon Levy told an online briefing.

“We assure South Africa’s leaders, history will judge you, and it will judge you without mercy,” Levy said.

South Africa has for decades backed the Palestinian cause for statehood in Israeli-occupied territories. It has likened the plight of Palestinians to those of the Black majority in South Africa during the apartheid era, a comparison Israel strongly denies.

The ICJ, sometimes known as the World Court, is the United Nations venue for resolving disputes between states. Israel’s foreign ministry has said the suit was “baseless.”

Lawyers representing South Africa are preparing for the hearing scheduled on Jan. 11 and 12, Clayson Monyela, a spokesperson for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said in a post on the platform X.

The war was triggered by a cross-border attack by Hamas Islamist militants on Oct. 7, which Israel says killed 1,200 people.

Israel responded with an air and land assault that has killed more than 22,000 people, Palestinian health officials say. While its casualty figures do not differentiate between fighters and civilians, the ministry has said that 70% of Gaza’s dead are women and those under 18. Israel disputes Palestinian casualty figures and says it has killed 8,000 fighters.

Levy listed a series of measures Israel’s military has taken to minimize harm to non-combatants.

He said Hamas bore full moral responsibility for the war it started and was “waging from inside and underneath hospitals, schools, mosques, homes and UN facilities”, Levy said.

He added, without elaborating, that South Africa was complicit in Hamas’ crimes against Israelis.

Hamas denies using Gaza’s population as human shields.

Reporting by Maayan Lubell, additional reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Johannesburg; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Tomasz Janowski and Barbara Lewis