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South Africa charges Israel with genocide in Gaza. Israel defends itself at The Hague

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Israel today presents its rebuttal to the charge of genocide it faces in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The case is being brought by South Africa, a longtime critic of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Yesterday, South Africa argued that Israel's response to the Hamas attack of October 7, which, according to Israel, killed 1,200, is directed not just at Hamas militants but at all Palestinians in Gaza. More than 23,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in Israel's response to the Hamas attack, according to Gaza's health ministry.

FADEL: NPR's Rob Schmitz is covering the proceedings from Berlin and joins us now. Good morning, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: So South Africa said yesterday that the, quote, "level of Israel's killing is so extensive that nowhere is safe in Gaza." The case has gotten international attention. What's the reaction been?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. I'll start with reaction outside the court itself in The Hague

(CROSSTALK)

SCHMITZ: And Leila, there were hundreds of people rallying there chanting slogans for both sides. NPR producer Abu Bakr Bashir had a chance to speak to a few of them. He spoke to teacher Shimon Keyes, who had come there from London. Keyes is a Jew, and he does not support Israel's military campaign. When asked about how he thought Israel would respond in court today, here's what he said.

SHIMON KEYES: I assume that they will try and bring up the same methods that they constantly do, which is you have to help us because, you know, the Holocaust, never again. But I think that this line is starting to lose its power.

SCHMITZ: And Leila, Keyes said he agreed with the charge of genocide against Israel, given the widespread destruction throughout Gaza.

FADEL: And how is - I know Israel will be presenting its defense in court today, but how is Israel responding to yesterday's hearing?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Israel started yesterday when the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, responded by saying the hypocrisy of South Africa knows no bounds. Here's his statement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: And Netanyahu is saying here he called the Israel Defense Forces the most moral army in the world. And he said it was doing everything to avoid harming civilians. He went on to say that the state of Israel is accused of genocide at a time when it is fighting genocide, and he reiterated that militants on October 7 committed the worst crimes against Jews since the Holocaust. And this statement is likely a preview of what we are going to hear today when Israel presents its defense to the 17 judges at the International Court of Justice.

FADEL: OK. So as you mentioned, South Africa had its turn yesterday. Israel takes the stand today. I'm assuming, though, a ruling on this will take quite a while.

SCHMITZ: Yeah. It may not come for years. But yesterday, South Africa devoted much of its three-hour testimony to trying to persuade the court to issue what's called the provisional ruling. This is similar to an emergency injunction whereby the court could direct Israel to stop its military campaign in Gaza and allow more aid to reach Palestinians there. Anything that would show that it's not aggravating this dispute. And that provisional ruling could come within weeks.

FADEL: Now, what would a provisional ruling like that actually do? Do nations typically comply?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. You know, I spoke to a legal scholar earlier this week about this who has kept track of the International Court of Justice rulings over the years. And he found that states comply in only half of all provisional rulings. But he also pointed out that because these rulings tend to declare certain values of the international order, if a state refuses to comply, it reminds the rest of the world which side of that international order that they're on, and it can have long-term political consequences. Now, we do not know how the court will rule in this particular case, but it's a good bet we'll have more clarity in the coming weeks.

FADEL: That's NPR's Berlin correspondent, Rob Schmitz. Thanks, Rob.

SCHMITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.