In the hearing that began this Thursday before the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the South African representative Tembeka Ngcukaitobi defended that “incitement to genocide emanates from the highest level” of the Israeli government. The petition presented by South Africa includes public statements made by ministers, deputies, military personnel and even artists since the beginning of the war following the Hamas attack on October 7.
One of them is by Nissim Vaturi, member of the Israeli Parliament, where he is Deputy Speaker. Although, according to Israeli TV Channel 12, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in recent days called on politicians to choose “their words carefully” so as not to give ammunition ahead of the hearing in The Hague, Vaturi on Wednesday reaffirmed his calls to “wipe Gaza off the face of the earth,” and added: “Gaza must be burned.” “I stand behind my words... It is better to burn down buildings rather than have [Israeli] soldiers harmed. There are no innocents there,” he said in a radio interview before calling for the “elimination” of the estimated 100,000 Palestinians left in northern Gaza. “I have no mercy for those who are still there. We need to eliminate them,” added Vaturi, who belongs to Likud, the right-wing party led by Netanyahu.
The Minister of Finance, the ultranationalist Bezalel Smotrich, did not bite his tongue either in recent days. Last Sunday he assured that in Gaza there are two million — that is, almost the entire population — “Nazis.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu himself appears in South Africa’s lawsuit for mentioning, in more than one speech, Amalek, the enemy nation of the Israelites in the Bible and which God asked King Saul to exterminate: “You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible. And we do remember.” It is a reference used until now by Israel’s most radical religious nationalism. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is also quoted in the suit: “We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.”
According to national television channel 12, Israel will attempt to play down these types of phrases during their presentation at the ICJ Friday. According to Israel, some of them, because they were said by people without relevant positions. The rest, because they have been misinterpreted.
Shortly after October 7, the country’s president, Isaac Herzog, originally from Labor, considered that “an entire nation” in Gaza “is responsible” for not having rebelled against Hamas, which has ruled the Strip with an iron fist since 2007. Minister of Heritage Amihai Eliyahu floated the idea of dropping an atomic bomb on Gaza, for which Netanyahu kicked him out of meetings of the Council of Ministers — but kept him in office.
“There are no innocents there”
Several members of Parliament of different political stripes have publicly stated that “there are no innocents” or “uninvolved” (civilians) in Gaza, among them Avigdor Lieberman, former Minister of Defense. Lieberma is in the opposition, as is Meirav Ben-Ari, from the Yesh Atid, who said in Parliament that “the children of Gaza have brought this upon themselves.”
Tally Gotlib, from Likud, has called for “merciless bombing from the air” so as not to endanger the soldiers and to stop “feeling sorry for the uninvolved Gazans” because “there are none.” Galit Distel Atbaryan, former Public Diplomacy Minister and also from Likud, called for the Israeli army to behave in a “vengeful and cruel” manner, following the Hamas attack. “There is only one solution to curing a cancer and it is the evisceration of the cancerous cells,” said U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan.
Netanyahu issued a statement Thursday to stress that Israel will “continue to reject the lies and will fight terrorists until total victory” in a “world turned upside down” in which it is accused “of genocide while it is fighting genocide.” His statements reflect how the majority of the country views having to defend itself from a crime whose term was coined precisely by a Jewish jurist, the Pole Raphael Lemkin, during the Holocaust.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry has defined the hearing as “one of the greatest shows of hypocrisy in history, compounded by a series of false and baseless claims,” and has called South Africa “the legal arm of the Hamas terrorist organization.” Israel defends that any civilian deaths it causes in Gaza are not intentional, but the result of Hamas “using the population as human shields.” Proving the crime of genocide involves proving “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
Politicians, commentators and the public all agree that the accusation is an affront and a sign of double standards. Even more so when the lawsuit analyzes the facts (23,000 Palestinians killed, mostly children and women, in Israeli bombings that have left much of the Gaza Strip in rubble) since the Hamas attack, which is usually framed in Israel precisely with respect to the Holocaust. Hamas members are often described as “Nazis” or “worse than Nazis,” and their attack — which left 1,200 Israelis dead, mostly civilians — as the biggest slaughter of Jews in a single day since the Nazi extermination.
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