As UN Court Prepares To Hear Genocide Claim Against Israel, Canada Still Hasn't Taken A Position | CBC News

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The Canadian government still hasn’t taken a stance on South Africa’s claim that Israel’s military action in Gaza is “genocidal in character” as the United Nations’ main judicial body prepares to hear arguments on the case.

Israeli president calls South Africa’s genocide claim ‘atrocious and preposterous’

Darren Major · CBC News

· Posted: Jan 10, 2024 7:50 PM EST | Last Updated: 3 hours ago

Palestinians evacuate wounded after an Israeli strike hit a building next to the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, Jan 10, 2023. (Adel Hana/The Associated Press)The Canadian government still hasn’t taken a position on South Africa’s claim that Israel’s military action in Gaza is “genocidal in character” as the United Nations’ main judicial body prepares to hear arguments on the case.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is expected to start hearing arguments from South Africa on Thursday, followed by arguments from Israel on Friday.

CBC News asked Global Affairs Canada (GAC) if the government would be taking a stance on the case but wasn’t given a response by time of publication. A department spokesperson told CBC News earlier this week that the government is “following the situation closely.”

Israel launched a military campaign in Gaza following Hamas’s brutal Oct. 7 attack that left roughly 1,200 Israeli citizens dead. The military response has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

In its submission to the court, South Africa alleges that Israel is violating the UN Genocide Convention by failing to provide essential food, water, medicine, fuel, shelter and other humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip over the past three months. It also points to the sustained bombing campaign, which has destroyed much of the enclave and forced the evacuation of some 1.9 million Palestinians.

Mona Abuamara, chief representative of the Palestinian General Delegation to Canada, called on Canada to back South Africa’s case at the ICJ.

“We have seen the normalization of such atrocities, that the human value of life for a Palestinian became a lesser interest to the international community than it should be,” she said earlier Wednesday.

Mona Abuamara, chief representative of the Palestinian General Delegation to Canada, called on the government to back South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)The Israeli government has vigorously condemned South Africa’s submission to the ICJ.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog vowed earlier this week that Israel would “proudly” present its case before the court and would argue that it is “using self-defence under our most inherent right under international humanitarian law.”

“There is nothing more atrocious and preposterous than this claim,” Herzog said Monday during a news conference in Tel Aviv alongside U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Blinken also criticized South Africa’s ICJ submission and called the claim of genocide “meritless.” 

“I want to make a few points absolutely clear:
Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population.
Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists, not the Palestinian population, and we are doing so in full compliance with international law. pic.twitter.com/amxFaMnS0P

—@IsraeliPMSome Israeli cabinet ministers recently called for the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and the re-establishment of Israeli settlements in the territory. But on the eve of the ICJ hearings, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rejected his own officials’ statements.

“Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population. Israel is fighting Hamas terrorists, not the Palestinian population, and we are doing so in full compliance with international law,” he said Wednesday.

Rieaz Shaik, South Africa’s envoy to Canada, told CBC’s Power & Politics that Israel has a right to protect its citizens, but also has an obligation to protect civilians in Gaza.

“We’ve condemned [the Oct. 7] attacks and we said Hamas should be investigated for war crimes,” Shaik told host David Cochrane. “But the actions of Hamas is not a justification to continue what we’re seeing on a daily basis [in Gaza].”

WATCH | International Court of Justice to hear genocide case against Israel:

International Court of Justice to hear genocide case against IsraelThe United Nations’ top court is preparing to hear South Africa’s claim that Israel is committing genocide in its Gaza offensive. Power & Politics speaks to South Africa’s High Commissioner Rieaz Shaik about their claim.

Irwin Cotler, a former justice minister and Canada’s former special envoy for combating antisemitism, said in a separate interview on Power & Politics that South Africa’s allegations amount to “false charges.”

“I don’t understand South Africa’s weaponization … of international law, which not only ends up being defamatory of Israel, not only incentivizing antisemitism, but effectively undermining the whole rules-based international legal order,” he told Cochrane.

Cotler said he doesn’t discount the devastation happening in Gaza but argued that Israel has attempted to minimize civilian deaths. He also blamed Hamas for using Gaza’s population as “human shields.”

WATCH | Irwin Cotler: Nelson Mandela would not support genocide charge against Israel:

Irwin Cotler: Nelson Mandela would not support genocide charge against IsraelPower & Politics speaks to former justice minister and special envoy for combating antisemitism Irwin Cotler about South Africa’s claim that Israel is committing genocide in its Gaza offensive.

South Africa has asked the ICJ to determine if it has jurisdiction to issue “provisional measures,” a sort of temporary injunction to stop Israel’s actions against Palestinians in Gaza while the case is ongoing.

The court’s decisions are binding but it doesn’t have its own ability to enforce its rulings. The UN Security Council would decide what measures, if any, need to be taken to enforce an ICJ judgment.

Abuamara said that even if an ICJ ruling doesn’t result in any concrete action, it would put political pressure on the international community.

“It will make it harder for liberal democracies and nations in general to do business as usual,” she said.

The International Court of Justice is based at the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)South Africa’s submission to the ICJ has split Canada’s governing Liberal caucus. 

Liberal MP Salma Zahid has said she wants her government to support South Africa’s application. She said Canada must “give meaning” to its calls for all parties to respect international law.

She pointed out that some humanitarian agencies say Israel’s conduct is limiting access in Gaza to the necessities of life, and has caused mass displacement of Palestinians living there.

“These accusations deserve to be heard in the proper legal forum,” Zahid wrote in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter.

In a joint statement, Liberal MPs Marco Mendicino and Anthony Housefather argued the court claim is “baseless and unconscionable” because Israel is trying to prevent Hamas militants from repeating their gruesome October attack.

Mendicino and Housefather point to an opinion piece written by retired Supreme Court justice Rosalie Abella and published in the Globe and Mail recently. In it, she said South Africa’s claim “represents an outrageous and cynical abuse of the principles underlying the international legal order that was set up after the Second World War.”

Abella denounced what she called a “perverse situation” where Israel must defend itself from genocidal attacks mounted by Hamas while also defending itself from genocide allegations.

NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson wrote to Joly on Tuesday asking her “not to intervene in opposition to this case, and to support the decision of the court.” She noted that’s the position France has taken.

WATCH | The U.S. says South Africa’s genocide claim against Israel is without merit: 

Canada still hasn’t taken a position on ICJ Israeli genocide caseAs South Africa prepares to present its genocide case against Israel tomorrow at the International Court of Justice, Canadian members of Parliament are divided. Individual Liberal MPs are speaking against and in support of Israel’s case, but the government itself has yet to weigh in.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC’s Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email at darren.major@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press and Nick Logan

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