Statement by the International Union of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (IJL) in response to South Africa's appeal to the International Criminal Court (ICJ) alleging that Israel is committing genocide

On 29 December 2023, South Africa applied to the International Criminal Court to initiate proceedings, including an urgent interim measures procedure, alleging that Israel's attitude towards the Palestinians in Gaza violated its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and the suppression of the crime of Genocide (the "Genocide Convention").

This baseless charge of "genocide" leveled by South Africa against Israel is a blatant attempt to subvert international law.

The driving force behind the Genocide Convention was a Polish Jew, Raphael Lemkin, whose work to codify the crime of genocide came from personal experience of an actual genocide - that of the Nazis and their collaborators to exterminate the Jewish people. The term "Genocide" he subsequently coined was intended to depict the most heinous atrocity against humanity, the deliberate attempt to exterminate a people.

The attempt to exploit the Genocide Convention to target the very people whose killing gave rise to the Convention shows a growing phenomenon of undermining the right of the Jewish people to have their own state through accusations that compare Israel to the Nazi regime. In practice, it is intended that Israel should not have the right to defend itself against those who seek its destruction.

One would expect that it would be obvious to everyone that the charge of genocide, and the abuse of international law it entails, is a complete and utter falsehood. It is therefore with deep disappointment that we feel compelled, as the International Union of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, founded some 55 years ago by, among others, the French Nobel laureate René Cassin, originator and co-creator of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to publicly respond to a libel so patently untrue that a reply would be unnecessary.

We will do so by stating the obvious: There is no genocide or attempted genocide in Gaza.

Israel is conducting a military operation against Hamas, an internationally designated terrorist organization, which launched a widespread attack on October 7, 2023 inside Israel, taking control of more than twenty towns and villages while killing and injuring thousands of people. For decades Hamas has waged a relentless campaign of terror against Israeli civilians in order to achieve its stated goal of destroying the State of Israel.

However, what happened on October 7 was of unprecedented scale and ferocity, an outburst of violence with murder, torture, rape, mutilation and other atrocities, targeting civilians, babies, children, the elderly, women and men, simply because they were Jewish. . At the same time, over 3.800 rockets were fired that day alone at civilian neighborhoods in Israel. 253 people aged from 9 months to over 80 years were taken hostage. To date, the 132 hostages, who were kidnapped by Israel 90 days ago, and 4 more who were held hostage before October 7, are still being held in Gaza and their whereabouts and fate are unknown. There are well-founded fears for their health, as well as for their psycho-physical condition, and the International Red Cross is not given access to these people. Rocket attacks against Israel also continue indiscriminately with over 13.400 launched since October 7.

Hamas's attacks are linked to a broader plan driven by an Iranian-led axis that includes terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and the Houthis, attacking Israel on all fronts with a publicly stated common goal of extermination of the Jewish State.

Another component of this plan is to incite widespread protests around the world demanding the destruction of Israel, coupled with a wave of rampant anti-Semitism, including violence and threats of violence against Jews. These clearly show the connection between the denial of Israel's right to exist and the denial of the Jewish people's right to exist. This is the rhetoric of Genocide.

The actions of Hamas, accompanied by its clear statements of its intent to destroy Israel while calling for the murder of Jews, meet the definition of Genocide.

It is sad and deeply disturbing that South Africa has chosen to ignore the perpetrators of the genocide and is choosing instead to blame the victim.

The ferocious attacks by Hamas and its allies forced Israel to defend itself by eliminating the threat of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which took advantage of its control over the area and turned it into a massive military complex, with the primary objective of attacking Israel and to bring about his destruction.

The tragically high number of Palestinian civilian casualties and the devastation in Gaza is an unfortunate, but inevitable, consequence of Hamas' modus operandi, which engages its military-terrorist apparatus in the urban environment. This includes launching and conducting military-terrorist activities from within, around and under residential buildings, schools, mosques, even hospitals and UN facilities. Hamas and its leaders have clearly demonstrated that the destruction of Israel is their only motivation and that they see their lives and the lives of Palestinian civilians as a price worth paying to achieve this goal.

Contrary to what South Africa claims in its application, the International Union of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (IJL) points out that the government of Israel and official representatives of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have repeatedly stated that the military operation is directed against Hamas and not against the people of Gaza.

This is clearly seen in the IDF's modus operandi during ground operations in Gaza which include, among others: warnings of civilians in areas where airstrikes and other military operations will take place urging civilians to evacuate, establishing a humanitarian zone in Gaza and cooperation with the international community to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

A major distortion of facts and logic is required to prove "genocidal intent" on the part of Israel
South Africa claims to prove "genocidal intent" by presenting excerpts of inflammatory statements by various Israeli politicians and others (made immediately after the October 7 massacre), none of which constitute an official statement or policy of the Israeli government, nor do they reflect IDF policy and practice. This shows at best, a willful ignorance, or at worst, a willful selective misrepresentation of Israeli policy.

Despite the bitter and protracted conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has never shown any intention of harming the Palestinian people themselves. Imputing such intent to Israel today can only be seen as an attempt to focus international discourse on Israel and away from the horrific and heinous crimes of Hamas.

More generally, by characterizing Israel's defensive war against Hamas as an act of genocide, South Africa effectively strips the term of its meaning. If it is genocide, then many instances of the use of violence in response to an armed attack could easily meet this definition.

In light of the above, the IJL calls on governments, international organizations and the international legal community to denounce and reject the cynical and dangerous abuse of the Genocide Convention.

The International Union of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (IJL), founded in 1969, includes lawyers, judges, judicial officers and legal academics from around the world.
The IJL strives to promote human rights for all, including by combating anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, Holocaust denial and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.

Translation announcement from IJL website