To win the battle against us in The Hague, possibly an impossible goal in that anti-Israel body, we have to be sure not to say anything they can use against us.
The medieval-style blood libel South Africa unleashed against Israel last week in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was just the opening salvo in the protracted legal battle ahead of us. Although, as in the October 7 Hamas attack, we did not choose the timing or the battlefield, the ability to win or minimize the damage, in Gaza or The Hague, redounds to us.
Certainly, the frustration we feel in the face of the hypocrisy of the international system and the challenges posed by international law is justified. But Israel is not an isolated and remote island in the global sea. It is part of an international system and is obliged to act within that arena according to rules that are not always comfortable. Pretending they don’t exist will hobble our ability to fight and endanger our resilience and survival. The responsibility for mitigating the risk and succeeding in this campaign is in our hands. In this case, a verse from Proverbs is strikingly resonant: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
From the day the war broke out, it was clear that it would soon slide into an international and legal battle as well. Normally, investigations and legal proceedings begin with the cessation of the fighting. This time they arrived sooner than expected. Last Thursday and Friday, the 15-judge bench of the ICJ heard the allegations South Africa leveled against Israel, and Israel’s response. It is clear that behind this lawfare activism stand haters of Israel, who have joined hands to attack the country from the heady legal heights of The Hague.
South Africa claims that Israel is committing genocide, as defined, in the wake of the Holocaust by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention of Genocide. Israel was among the initiators of this convention and regards itself as bound by it. For this reason, Israel also decided to present a defense at the hearing. South Africa has asked the court to rule that Israel is indeed committing this terrible crime, and to issue an order that Israel cease its commission of the crime, that is, the war in Gaza.
Genocide is defined as actions whose purpose is to eliminate, either fully or partially, an ethnic group. In order to prove the heinous crime of genocide, it is necessary to prove, with convincing evidence, that acts have been committed that fall under its definition. But no less than this, it is necessary to prove that these acts were carried out with genocidal intent.
The petition South Africa submitted to the ICJ catalogues Israel’s military operations in Gaza, which it claims have resulted in significant damage to Gaza’s infrastructure and the killing of approximately 23,000 people, this according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, which Hamas controls. To establish Israel’s intention to commit genocide, the South Africans made use of dozens of statements by Israeli ministers, members of Knesset, and other public figures, who in various ways called for “leveling Gaza.” Some asserted that “there are no innocents in Gaza,” and it is therefore necessary to “destroy” them all as the modern-day “Amalek,” as the head of Tel Aviv University said, and so on.
Even if in the Israeli context it is clear that these declarations were little more than emotional gut reactions as the extent of the barbaric October 7th attacks were revealed,. when quoted as part of the South African case and presented to the world, these statements do not sound good, to say the least.
Although the ICJ’s ruling as to whether Israel is guilty of committing the crime of genocide is years away, an interim decision is expected to be handed down in the near future. The evidentiary standard that must be met for the issuance of an interim decision is low, and it is therefore quite possible that Israel will shortly face an ICJ order that limits its freedom of action in Gaza. In this case, Israel will face a cruel dilemma. Complying with the order could pose a security risk; ignoring it could carry a heavy political price.
The campaign that began last week in The Hague is expected to be part of a legal battle that will continue long after the war in Gaza is over. It has already been reported that the UK may launch an investigation against Israel. In addition, there will almost certainly be parties that will make every effort to bring Israel actions to the dock of the International Criminal Court (ICC), also in The Hague.
Even if Israel succeeds in thwarting all these efforts, it is clear that they will trouble us for a long time to come. There is a real possibility that, in the end, Israel’s enemies will be able to score victories against it on the legal front.
All this makes one’s blood boil. It is clear to everyone that international law is in large measure a political weapon in the hands of those who vitriolically hate Israel. Not only that, the countries that are working so assiduously against Israel in this arena are among the most criminal and murderous in the world. By contrast, throughout the years,
and also in the current war, Israel considers itself bound by the laws of war and acts in accordance with them.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency among many, including politicians, to underestimate international law and the challenge it poses to us. Without resorting to the moral question, in a legal-diplomatic sense such an approach is dangerous. Israel’s existence depends on maintaining good international relations and international support from the United States and other major Western powers. All of this requires us to be responsible. First and foremost, the leaders, but also the public figures, the rabbis, and the soldiers on the front lines. Irresponsible and inflammatory statements and crude TikTok videos can be easily weaponized in this tough campaign our enemies are waging against us.