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Israel not guilty of genocide, says Blinken

12 January 2024

US Secretary of State rejects case filed to ICJ by South Africa


Palestinians collect free food in Rafah, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, on Tuesday

Palestinians collect free food in Rafah, at the southern end of the Gaza Strip, on Tuesday

A LAWSUIT filed by South Africa at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), alleging that Israel is committing “genocidal acts” against Palestinians, is “meritless”, the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said during a visit to the Middle East this week.

An application to the ICJ, filed at the end of last month, was began its first hearing at The Hague on Thursday. In the application, South Africa says that, since the terrorist attacks on 7 October, Israel “has failed to prevent genocide and has failed to prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide”, and that “Israel has engaged in, is engaging in and risks further engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Mr Blinken, who arrived this week for his fourth visit to the region in three months, said at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday that the lawsuit was a distraction from efforts to secure lasting peace and security. “And, moreover, the charge of genocide is meritless. It’s particularly galling, given that those who are attacking Israel — Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, as well as their supporter, Iran — continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.”

After meeting Mr Blinken on Tuesday, the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog, described the lawsuit as “atrocious and preposterous”. He continued: “We will be there at the International Court of Justice and will present proudly our case of using self-defence under our most inherent right under international humanitarian law.”

In his speech in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Mr Blinken said that he had arrived in Israel after meeting political leaders in countries such as Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. “All of those leaders share our concern about the spread of the conflict,” he said. “All of them are committed to using their influence, using the ties that they have to prevent it from escalating, to deter new fronts from opening.
In addition, all expressed grave concern about the dire humanitarian situation and the number of civilians killed in Gaza.”

Mr Blinken said that he had urged Israel’s leaders to allow more food, water, and medicine into Gaza, and to ensure that aid reached the people who needed it. He had also told leaders that “Palestinian civilians must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow. They must not be pressed to leave Gaza.” Some Israeli ministers have called for the resettlement of Palestinians elsewhere.

The Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, issued a prayer on Wednesday, the day before the first hearing at The Hague began. The prayer asked that the ICJ would “say ‘Yes’ to justice and peace, and ‘No’ to violence and conflict. . . We say this war in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon must stop.”

In his Christmas Day sermon in St George’s Cathedral, he said: “There is little doubt that adherents of both sides, in both Gaza and the West Bank, have committed war crimes. There are leaders on both sides, of Hamas and Israel, who have made declarations and statements which either constitute incitement to genocide or will be interpreted as such by their followers.”

He also defended the presence of Hamas leaders at a vigil in the cathedral last month. He quoted Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who had said: “If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” Dr Makgoba continued: “The attitude of many Western countries in their almost unconditional support of Israel, designating Hamas as a terrorist organisation, beyond the pale, is very worrying in its implications. For what will they and Israel do if Palestinians, when finally able to vote in a free and fair election, choose Hamas to represent them?”

On Thursday, as the first hearing in the Hague commenced, the general secretary, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, said: “The proceedings initiated by South Africa present a powerful account of the catastrophic impact of the ongoing Israeli military action in Gaza on the entire Palestinian civilian population of the territory, and rightfully demands an urgent adjudication by the ICJ. The World Council of Churches (WCC) expects all responsible members of the international community to respect and implement the ICJ’s rulings. . .

“The WCC sees the current ICJ proceedings as a critical opportunity to redirect the course of events towards respect for international law, and to the path of peace. It is a moment to lay down arms and engage in meaningful, negotiated resolutions to the longstanding Palestine question, which has remained unresolved for over 75 years.”

Paul Vallely

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