Israel's Gaza rhetoric shifts following South Africa's ICJ genocide case

Israel's Gaza rhetoric shifts following South Africa's ICJ genocide case
Israeli officials are now saying that Israel does not target Gaza's civilians and does not want to expel them, contradicting earlier rhetoric.
3 min read
11 January, 2024
Netanyahu and other Israeli officials appear to have changed their tone on the war in Gaza [Getty/file photo]

Some senior Israeli figures appear to have slightly toned down their rhetoric on Gaza ahead of South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

On Wednesday, the eve of the first day of the public hearings at the ICJ at The Hague, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video message that "Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population".

Netanyahu claimed that the Israeli military is "fighting Hamas terrorists and not the Palestinian population" and was doing "its utmost to minimise civilian casualties" in the war, in which more than 23,000 people, mostly women and children have been killed 7 October.

The Israeli PM made the claims despite the Israeli military targeting schools, homes, hospitals and places of worship and flattening huge swathes of Gaza. The Israeli army is also accused of arbitrary executions and torture of detainees, among other suspected war crimes.

Military spokesperson Danny Hagari on Thursday echoed Netanyahu, claiming that Israeli forces are "committed to making vast efforts minimising harm to civilians".

Hagari said Israel "cares more about Gazans than Hamas does", and is "prepared to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid" into the territory.

Israel has routinely blocked aid convoys to Gaza during the war, exacerbating suffering in the Palestinian territory that had already suffered a 16-year Israeli siege before the start of the war.

Israel’s military onslaught has displaced at least 1.9 million people in the Gaza Strip, amid multiple calls for the mass expulsion of Palestinians from the territory by several high-profile Israeli lawmakers.

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Netanyahu, and other senior members of the Israeli government and cabinet members, had regularly espoused a rhetoric widely described as genocidal.

Early on in the war Israeli premier appeared to describe Palestinians as the "children of darkness" in a post on X. "This is a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle," it read.

The tweet was deleted following a deadly strike on the Al-Ahli Baptist hospital, which killed over 500 people and drew international condemnation.

Using a Biblical reference, he later compared the population of Gaza to Amalek, a people who the Bible commands the ancient Israelites to destroy. This reference was later brought up by South Africa in its case at the ICJ accusing Israel of "genocidal acts".

Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, also used dehumanising language at the beginning of the war.

"We are fighting against human animals, and we are acting accordingly," he said, before announcing a complete siege of the territory depriving Gazans access to water, fuel and food.

Earlier this month, far-right Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir called for the exodus of Gazans while urging for the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the territory, calling them "the order of the hour".

Fellow far-right politician Bezalel Smotrich also encouraged the so-called "wilful migration" of Gaza’s population to neighbouring countries. 

Other Israeli officials have called for the "complete destruction and annihilation" of Gaza, adding that the territory must suffer the same fate as the cities of Dresden and Nagasaki, during World War II.

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Israel has denied the accusations of genocide brought against it, with former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett describing the case as "the Dreyfus affair of the 21st century" and " a shameful display [of] hypocrisy and blatant antisemitism".