The ICJ will issue its decision about Israel today: will it be based on facts or fiction?

La haye palais paix jardin face. Photo credit: Velvet, Wikipedia
In this column Defending Israel: Facts, not Fiction, we will look at the issues from various perspectives to answer the tough accusations that are often directed at Israel to explain why they are incorrect, and to go deeper to explore why this might be happening in general. Our goal is for the reader to feel empowered and uplifted regarding Israel’s response to the October 7th massacre and military policies in general.

Today (Friday) at 4pm Israel time, the International Court of Justice will issue its decision regarding South Africa’s second attempt to accuse Israel of violating the Genocide Convention. In the hearing last Friday, Israeli Justice Ministry official Dr. Gilad Noam spoke in Israel’s defense. Here are some facts and fiction that Dr. Noam addressed.

Fiction: If Rafah falls, so do the Palestinian people.

Fact: Dr. Noam explained last Friday, that the opposite is true. He said, “South Africa purports to describe Rafah as the last refuge for civilians in Gaza. While many civilians have indeed evacuated to Rafah over the last few months, the fact remains that the city of Rafah also serves as a military stronghold for Hamas which continues to pose a significant threat to the State of Israel and its citizens. South Africa warns this court that, I quote, ‘if Rafah falls, so too does Gaza.’ Once again, however, the reality is exactly the opposite. Only by bringing down Hamas’ stronghold in Rafah will Palestinians be liberated from the clenched grip of a murderous terrorist regime and the road to peace and prosperity may finally be paved.” Dr. Noam further explains, “Israeli hostages are also being held in Rafah by their captors. In fact, Israeli forces managed to rescue two Israeli hostages from Rafah on the 11th of February 2024…Israel is acutely aware of the large number of civilians concentrated in Rafah. It is also acutely aware of Hamas’ efforts to use these civilians as a shield. That is why its (Hamas’) battalions are there, that is why its rockets are there, and hostages are there. Israel is taking steps to try to contend with the massive complexity such a situation presents. That is why there has not been a large-scale assault on Rafah, but rather specific limited and localized operations prefaced with evacuations.”

Fiction: Over 35,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed, 70 percent of whom are women and children. Israel is acting without respect for international law.

Fact: Dr. Noam cautioned that “Statements from such reports should not be accepted automatically, especially in a complex combat reality. These words of caution are particularly significant in the present case. As the materials cited by South Africa have been prepared without access to relevant information including that held by Israel and often without any attempt to access such information. They frequently rely on Hamas sources or on those subject to intimidation. One striking example that gives serious cause for alarm is that even UN OCHA (the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) parroted information generated by Hamas-run agencies in Gaza regarding fatalities has recently started to accept that information coming out of Gaza is flawed. It highlighted that more than 10,000 of the fatalities declared by Hamas are unnamed and thus unverifiable. Concurrently, it revised dramatically the number of verifiable fatalities of women and children to approximately half of what was previously presented and stopped parroting the baseless claim that 70 percent of the fatalities are women and children. It turns out that the data that the UN were using and that South Africa was presenting to this court as true, were wrong…Hamas has been concealing the number of militants in its unverified lists of civilian fatalities. Hamas’ lists also contain persons who died from reasons unrelated to IDF actions such as fire of terrorist organization. There were also many irregularities in reported ages, genders, and ID numbers. In this way, an armed conflict can easily be portrayed as a genocide. As we have stated, every civilian death is a tragedy. Moreover, overall fatality counts in a war are not in and of itself evidence of unlawful conflict under international law.

Fiction: Israel has a policy of intentionally starving the civilian population of Gaza.

Facts: Dr. Noam stated, “South Africa claims that Israel has closed critical border crossings into Gaza while this is untrue. It has claimed that Israel has failed to facilitate the distribution of fuel for maintaining facilities, this is untrue.” He recalled what was stated in an earlier hearing in January, 2024, by counsel for Israel, “A state intent on committing genocide would not undertake the operational and humanitarian efforts that Israel has taken and is taking to mitigate civilian hard. It would not have delayed a ground maneuver for weeks urging civilians to seek safer space and in doing so sacrifice operational advantage. It would not invest massive resources in facilitating humanitarian aid. If anyone should be told enough is enough it is truly South Africa and not Israel.”

Fiction: Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

Dr. Noam stated, “This war, like all wars, is tragic and terrible for Israelis and Palestinians and it has exacted a terrible human price, but it is not genocide. I can only recall once again that Israel has made it clear that if the terrorists were released and Hamas were to lay down its arms, the hostilities would cease and Israel has been engaged intensively in negotiations to that effect.”

Israel’s representatives in the court presented the true facts with statements which were supported by many documents that prove that Israel is not engaged in genocide, is not starving Gazans, is not targeting civilians in Rafah or elsewhere, is providing humanitarian aid, and is following international law. We will see today if the court will issue its ruling based on facts or fiction.

Leah Bowman is a licensed tour guide in Israel and is completing an MA degree in Religion and Politics in the Middle East at Bar Ilan University.


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