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Germany backs Israel in ICJ case

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In the latest development in South Africa’s legal bid before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, against Israel for what it said were “genocidal” acts in Gaza, Germany has announced that it would intervene in the case in support of Israel.

A Palestinian man holds a portrait of late Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat and South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela before raising the South African flag outside the municipal building in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on January 12. Picture: Ahmad Gharabli, AFP

IN THE latest development in South Africa’s legal bid before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, against Israel for what it said were “genocidal” acts in Gaza, Germany has announced that it would intervene in the case in support of Israel.

The ICJ this week heard emotive arguments from South Africa and Israel in SA’s bid to have Israel immediately withdraw its military operations in Gaza.

Both sides have concluded their submissions and the ICJ said it would deliver its judgment in the urgent application as soon as possible.

The federal government of Germany, however, has now announced its intention to intervene in the case.

Federal government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit announced in a media statement that it rejected South Africa’s accusations of genocide against Israel.

“Hamas terrorists brutally ambushed, tortured, killed and kidnapped innocent people in Israel. Hamas’s goal is to wipe out Israel. Since then, Israel has been defending itself against Hamas’s inhumane attack,” Hebestreit said.

He added that in view of Germany’s history and the crime against humanity of the Holocaust, the federal government saw itself as particularly committed to the Convention against Genocide.

“This convention is a central instrument of international law to implement the ‘never again’. We resolutely oppose political instrumentalisation.”

Hebestreit said Germany knew that different countries assessed Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip differently. “However, the German government firmly and explicitly rejects the accusation of genocide that has now been brought against Israel before the International Court of Justice. This accusation is completely unfounded.”

He said the German government supported the International Court of Justice in its work, and has done for many decades.

He said Germany intended to intervene as a third party in the case.

At this stage South Africa is only asking for certain provisional measures to be implemented against Israel, which include that the latter immediately withdrawing its troops from Gaza.

The ICJ application related to alleged violations by Israel of its obligations under the Genocide Convention. South Africa argued that “Israel has engaged in, is engaging in and risks further engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza”.

Adila Hassim, part of South Africa’s legal team, on Thursday told the court that for the past 96 days Israel had subjected Gaza to what had been described as one of the heaviest conventional bombing campaigns in the history of modern warfare.

Palestinians in Gaza were being killed by Israeli weapons and bombs from air, land and sea. They were also at immediate risk of death by starvation, dehydration and disease as a result of the ongoing siege by Israel, the destruction of Palestinian towns, insufficient aid being allowed through to the Palestinian population, and the impossibility of distributing this limited aid while bombs fell.

She said it was not necessary for the court to come to a final view on the question of whether Israel’s conduct constituted genocide. It was necessary to establish only whether at least some of the acts alleged were capable of falling within the provisions of the convention regarding genocide.

She said that as the UN secretary-general explained five weeks ago, the level of Israel’s killing was so extensive that “nowhere is safe in Gaza”.

“As I stand before you today, 23,210 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during the sustained attacks over the last three months, at least 70% of whom are believed to be women and children. Some 7,000 Palestinians are still missing, presumed dead, under the rubble.”

Hassim said Palestinians in Gaza were subjected to relentless bombing, wherever they went. They were killed in their homes, in places where they seek shelter, in hospitals, in schools, in mosques, in churches, and as they try to find food and water for their families.

Israel argued that it was inconceivable that Israel could be said to be committing genocide.

Member of the Bar of England and Wales and a representative of Israel’s legal team, Christopher Staker, argued that the provisional measures South Africa asked for were not to prevent a genocide in terms of the Genocide Convention, but to stop Israel’s military operations, which he calls “unwarranted and prejudicial” to Israel.

According to Staker, it is “absurd” to suggest that the “only way to observe the Genocide Convention is to prevent the action to be conducted at all”.

“Provisional measures would prevent Israel from doing anything. Suspension of military activities would allow Hamas to commit more atrocities and use hostages as bargaining chips,” said Staker, adding it would also stop Israel from defending its citizens.

Malcolm Shaw KC argued that “allegations have been made that verge on the outrageous.”

“There is no genocidal intent here. South Africa only tells us half the story,” Shaw said.

He told the court that armed conflict was by its nature brutal and cost lives, especially where the armed militia was unconcerned about taking lives.

Canadian foreign minister Mélanie Joly issued a statement on Friday (January 12) in which she said Canada continued to strongly and unequivocally condemn Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel.

“Hamas is a listed terrorist entity that continues to explicitly call for the elimination of Jews and the destruction of the state of Israel. Israel has the right to exist and to defend itself from terrorist attacks in accordance with international law. In defending itself, Israel must respect international humanitarian law.”

She said Canada remains deeply concerned by the scale of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and ongoing risks to all Palestinian civilians.

“Safe and unimpeded humanitarian access must be increased and sustained. Canada supports urgent international efforts towards a sustainable ceasefire. This cannot be one-sided. Hamas must release all hostages, stop using Palestinian civilians as human shields and lay down its arms.”

She added that Canada’s unwavering support for international law and the ICJ did not mean the country accepted the premise of the case brought by South Africa.

Countries supporting South Africa’s legal bid include Malaysia, Turkey, Jordan, Bolivia, Maldives, Namibia and Pakistan, among others.

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