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Israel on trial: Historic days in The Hague

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Picture: Mahmoud Elenani – Thousands gathered outside Peace Palace to watch the proceedings in the ICJ against Israel. Egyptian journalist Mahmoud Elenani was in The Hague when South Africa presented its case against Israel to the ICJ, this is his account of those days when history was made.

By Mahmoud Elenani

With legal precision, South African legal team presented the grounds and evidence for their accusation that Israel is committing genocide in the Gaza Strip, before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

The team demanded that urgent measures be taken to stop the war before deliberating on the truth of their accusations against the Israeli occupation of deliberately killing, targeting, and besieging Palestinians in Gaza – denying food, water, medicine, fuel, and humanitarian aid, which are necessarily “genocidal acts”.

Outside the court, the noise of protesters broke the calm and routine of The Hague. The presence of police on the side of the road and the diversion of public transportation lines were the beginning of an attempt by the police to disperse protesters in front of the gates of the Peace Palace in Carnegie Square, where the sessions are held.

The police informed the protesters that it was illegal to gather around a screen in the square before they shut down the internet that was broadcasting the screen. A woman volunteered to turn on the internet from her mobile phone. With the arrival of a large number of activists from several European cities, in addition to those who responded to the calls of Palestinian solidarity groups in the Netherlands, the police began to direct the protesters to a demonstration point away from the Peace Palace on the grounds that there was no permit to demonstrate in front of the palace.

This is in spite of the fact that a few meters away, a number of supporters of Israel were allowed to demonstrate in front of the gates of the court. In the end, the efforts of the police resulted in two pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the usually cold and calm city of The Hague.

In front of the palace, the protesters followed the court session, with a sense of the historical importance of the moment. The long legal proceeding, began in a context of 100 days of continued killing and destruction, in a land that has faced five bloody wars since 2008 that have exhausted the people, who are mostly displaced and fled to Gaza during the Nakba.

The five deadly Israeli wars on Gaza that happened along with siege and starvation were the starting points of South Africa’s lawsuit, as, despite Pretoria’s recognition of Hamas’s crime against Israeli civilians on October 7, the series of measures that Israel has taken against Gaza over the years confirms the deliberate targeting of the population.

After the legal team of South Africa presented its arguments to the court and the world, the South African Minister of Justice, Ronald Lamola, and the Palestinian assistant Minister of Multilateral Affairs, Ammar Hijazi, held a press conference on the steps of the Peace Palace, to reiterate and emphasise what was presented by the legal team, especially the need to implement urgent measures to protect the civilians who are targeted and killed by Israel.

At that moment, and in front of the cameras, South Africa was regaining its strategic position in the Global South in this historic moment, standing alone in the defence of justice and rights of the Palestinians, in a moment of great difficulty that the Palestinian cause is experiencing. This difficulty is even expressed in the participation of neighbours in denying even the entry of any aid to the victims or medicines for the wounded and injured or even fuel to operate hospitals, which are already suffering from the collapse of its infrastructure.

Despite the historicity of the event, no international media network, except Al Jazeera, broadcast the proceedings of the first hearing. Only a few reports here and there were given time to comment on the evidence that South Africa presented accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinians.

However, the second hearing session, in which Israel presented its defences, was broadcast live on most of those networks and given the space in coverage to show the global audience half of the story. But this is what the mainstream media has been doing since the beginning of the aggression on Gaza: hours of continuous coverage of the psychological effects of the war on Israeli citizens, while the headlines of the killing of Palestinians by the Israeli army are written in the passive voice, and their suffering is completely ignored.

In their speech, the defenders of Israel did not present anything that refutes the accusation, and rather recycled Israeli discourse since October 7. They began by using the ready-made templates to blackmail the world with the crime of genocide that the Jews were subjected to, by using the name of the Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who created the term “genocide”.

Israel’s lawyer declared that what Raphael defined in his definition does not apply to Israeli operations, ignoring the “fact” that the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention itself called the International Criminal Court in October to indict Benjamin Netanyahu for the crime of Genocide in light of the siege and bombardment of Gaza and the many expressions of genocidal intent!

As the demonstrators outside the court chanted their condemnation and denunciation of the Israeli responses to what South Africa presented, the Israeli team’s attempt to downplay the significance of the official Israeli statements calling for genocide seemed extremely desperate.

The enormous number of officials statements calling for genocide cannot be dismissed as a slip of the tongue or a misinterpretation of statements. If the defence tries to justify a tweet from Netanyahu’s account, how do they justify a statement by a minister in his government demanding to strike the Gaza Strip with a nuclear bomb?

With information from more than six hours of hearings, the court is expected to issue a decision that is appropriate for the scale of the tragedy that the world is witnessing for the first time in history live on air.

After more than 100 days failure of all international bodies in their responsibilities and commitments to protect human lives and rights, all those who have been let down by these bodies are looking with hope that these steps will at least help to stop the ongoing massacre and be a beginning to the restoration of the rights of the Palestinians, launched by our beloved South Africa.

Mahmoud Elenani is an Egyptian Independent Documentary Producer and Investigative Journalist. His work has been featured in AlJazeera, Amazon Prime, DW, and AlAraby TV Network.

This article was published on Peoples Dispatch