During a hearing at the International Court of Justice, Israel strongly rejected South Africa’s accusations of genocide in Gaza and its calls for an ordered ceasefire.

Israel lashed out Friday at South Africa’s case before the UN’s top court, describing it as “totally divorced” from reality, as Pretoria urges judges to order a ceasefire in Gaza.

A top lawyer for Israel painted the South Africa case as a “mockery” of the UN Genocide Convention that it is accused of breaching.

“South Africa presents the court for the fourth time with a picture that is completely divorced from the facts and circumstances,” Gilad Noam told the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Pretoria has urged the ICJ to order a stop to the Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah, which Israel says is key to eliminating Hamas militants.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted Thursday that the ground assault on Rafah was a “critical” part of the army’s mission to destroy Hamas and prevent any repetition of the October 7 attack.

“The battle in Rafah is critical… It’s not just the rest of their battalions, it’s also like an oxygen line for them for escape and resupply,” he said.

Netanyahu ordered the Rafah offensive in defiance of US warnings that more than a million civilians sheltering there could be caught in the crossfire.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday that the operation in Rafah “will continue as additional forces will enter” the area.

Friday in the Hague, Noam told the court that “Israel is acutely aware of the large number of civilians concentrated in Rafah. It is also acutely aware of Hamas efforts to use these civilians as a shield.”

Noam said there had been no “large-scale” assault on Rafah but “specific and localized operations prefaced with evacuation efforts and support for humanitarian activities.”

‘New and Horrific Stage’

On Thursday, judges heard a litany of allegations against Israel from lawyers representing Pretoria, including mass graves, torture and deliberate withholding of humanitarian aid.

“South Africa had hoped, when we last appeared before this court, to halt this genocidal process to preserve Palestine and its people,” said top lawyer Vusimuzi Madonsela.

“Instead, Israel’s genocide has continued apace and has just reached a new and horrific stage,” added Madonsela.

But Noam said that South Africa’s accusations made a “mockery of the heinous charge of genocide.”

“Calling something a genocide again and again does not make it genocide. Repeating a lie does not make it true,” he said.

“There is a tragic war going on but there is no genocide,” he said.

‘Protection From Genocide’

South Africa wants the ICJ to issue three emergency orders—”provisional measures” in court jargon—while it rules on the wider accusation that Israel is breaking the 1948 UN Genocide Convention.

It wants the court to order Israel to “immediately” cease all military operations in Gaza, including in Rafah, enable humanitarian access and report back on its progress on achieving these orders.

The arrival of occasional aid convoys has slowed to a trickle since Israeli forces took control last week of the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing.


Richard Carter, with AFP