Israeli representatives attend a hearing at the International Court of Justice

Israeli representatives attend a hearing at the International Court of Justice regarding South Africa's claim that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza on May 17, 2024 in The Hague, Netherlands.

(Photo: Mouneb Taim/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Critics Denounce Israel's Defense Against Genocide Charges as 'Dishonest Talking Points'

"The problem for Israel is that the world has seen what they've done," said one observer.

The arguments presented by Israeli representatives at the International Court of Justice on Friday were not unexpected, as the government faced a new set of hearings on the Israel Defense Forces' assault on Gaza, but observers said the legal team's defense of the country's actions in the Palestinian enclave were "hard to stomach" in light of mounting reports about the lack of humanitarian aid and the rising death toll.

Tamar Kaplan Tourgeman, principal deputy legal adviser of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Gilad Noam, the deputy attorney general for international law, presented Israel's arguments against South Africa's claim that the ICJ must stop the IDF's invasion of Rafah, from which 630,000 Palestinians have been forced to flee since Israel seized a border crossing there and began moving troops into residential neighborhoods.

More than 1 million people have been forcibly displaced to Rafah since October as Israel has decimated cities across Gaza in what it claims is an effort to target Hamas fighters—but which has killed at least 35,303 people, two-thirds of whom have been women and children. The World Food Program and the U.S. Agency for International Development have both said in recent weeks, following months of warnings from humanitarian groups, that famine has taken hold in parts of Gaza due to Israel's near-total blockade on humanitarian aid.

Tourgeman claimed that South Africa—which launched the genocide case against Israel in December—has turned "a blind eye to Israel's remarkable effort" to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza residents and said Israel has taken "proactive steps" to ensure medical care is still being provided. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) disputed the claims at a press briefing shortly after the hearing.

"The last medical supplies that we got in Gaza was before May 6," WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said at a U.N. press briefing, referring to the date Israel seized the Rafah crossing. "We don't have fuel. We have hospitals under evacuation order. We have a situation where we cannot move physically."

Al Jazeera journalist Tareq Abu Azzoum reported Friday that U.N. officials had confirmed no aid has come through either the Rafah or Karem Abu Salem crossings in recent days.

"That reflects how much Israel is working to erase truth and change the facts on the ground as it continues its relentless bombardment of Rafah and the Jabalia refugee camp," Abu Azzoum said.

Marc Owen Jones, associate professor of Middle East studies and digital humanities at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, accused Israel of using the ICJ hearing to promote "dishonest talking points" to the international community.

"This is why a lot of what it says comes across as completely dishonest—because it is completely dishonest," Jones told Al Jazeera. "There is a difference between the reality on the ground and what Israel is trying to present to the international community... The aid situation is desperate."

Kate Stegeman, a policy and advocacy consultant in South Africa, said it was "particularly hard to stomach" Israel's denial that civilians and medical staffers were killed by the IDF at Al-Shifa Hospital, one of the facilities where multiple mass graves have been found containing hundreds of bodies, including those of women and children.

Tourgeman also focused part of her defense on statements made by Israeli officials about their objectives in Gaza. She claimed that when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Gaza must not pose a threat to Israel and when Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the military operates "neighborhood by neighborhood" and will reach every location in Gaza, they were speaking expressly about Hamas.

The legal adviser did not mention Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich's recent call for the "total annihilation" of Rafah and other cities, Gallant's statement that he had "released all the restraints" on the military, or a former intelligence chief's comment in October that "the 'noncombatant population' in the Gaza Strip is really a nonexistent term," among other statements.

While the Israeli representatives claimed the country "has been and remains committed to acting in accordance with its international legal obligations," said one critic, "the problem for Israel is that the world has seen what they've done."

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