Officials in Israel on Friday denounced the International Court of Justice’s order seeking to prevent genocidal acts in its offensive against Hamas in Gaza but also expressed relief the court did not order it to halt its military campaign.
Israeli officials had feared the judges would order an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, as South Africa had requested in its initial petition. The U.N. court ultimately ordered Israel to act to ensure that its soldiers and leaders were adhering to the 1948 U.N. genocide convention, but stopped short of demanding an end to the war.
Israel has strongly rejected the accusation that it is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. After the interim ruling on Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at the court.
“The very notion that Israel is perpetrating genocide is not only false, it is outrageous, and the court’s willingness to discuss it is a mark of shame that will last for generations,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
But he said the court order had upheld Israel’s right to protect itself after the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7 prompted it to go to war in Gaza.
“Like any state, Israel has the basic right of self-defense. The court justly rejected the disgraceful demand to nullify that right,” Mr. Netanyahu said.
Raz Nizri, a former Israeli deputy attorney general, said Israel was already taking most of the actions the court has ordered it take, such as ensuring the provision of humanitarian aid into Gaza and punishing statements that could incite genocide.
“And there was no injunction to stop the fighting,” he said. “It’s extremely important that no such order was given.”
Many Israelis think South Africa’s charge of genocide amounts to a reversal of reality. They accuse Hamas, the Palestinian armed group that ruled Gaza, of committing genocide in its Oct. 7 assault, which killed about 1,200 people in Israel, the authorities say. Another 240 were taken hostage by Hamas and other militant groups, many of whom are still captive in Gaza.
“There has certainly been attempted genocide of the Jewish people by Hamas, the barbaric Nazis,” said Bezalel Smotrich, the far-right Israeli finance minister.
Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, said Israel did not need “to be lectured on morality” by the court. The justices had noted some of Mr. Gallant’s previous comments — including that Israel was at war with “human animals” — when discussing whether Israeli officials had used genocidal rhetoric.
In their ruling, the U.N. court’s judges pronounced themselves “gravely concerned” about the fate of the hostages and called for their immediate release.
Israel’s military campaign in Gaza has killed more than 25,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials in the enclave. Most of Gaza’s more than two million residents have fled their homes fleeing Israel’s airstrikes and ground invasion.