Israel tries to rebut genocide charge by declassifying cherry-picked cabinet decisions

Israel tries to rebut genocide charge by declassifying cherry-picked cabinet decisions

The New York Times reports:

Israel has declassified more than 30 secret orders made by government and military leaders, which it says rebut the charge that it committed genocide in Gaza, and instead show Israeli efforts to diminish deaths among Palestinian civilians.

The release of the documents, copies of which were reviewed by The New York Times, follows a petition to the International Court of Justice by South Africa, which has accused Israel of genocide. Much of South Africa’s case hinges on inflammatory public statements made by Israeli leaders that it says are proof of intent to commit genocide.

Part of Israel’s defense is to prove that whatever politicians may have said in public was overruled by executive decisions and official orders from Israel’s war cabinet and its military’s high command.

The court, the U.N.’s highest judicial body, began hearing arguments in the case this month, and is expected to provide an initial response to South Africa’s petition — in which it could call for a provisional cease-fire — as soon as Friday.

Since October, Israel has pounded Gaza in a campaign that has killed more than 25,000 Gazans, or roughly one in 100 residents of the territory, according to Gazan health officials; displaced nearly two million people; and damaged the majority of the buildings, according to the U.N. The campaign is a response to a Hamas-led assault that led to the deaths and abductions of roughly 1,400 people in Israel, according to Israeli officials.

The Genocide Convention of 1948, which South Africa has accused Israel of violating, does not define genocide solely as killing members of a particular ethnic or national group. Crucially, it says the killings must be committed “with intent to destroy” that group.

“Everything hinges on intent,” said Janina Dill, a professor at Oxford University and co-director of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict.

To that end, both South Africa and Israel are focused not only on what leaders and soldiers have done, but also what they have said. The roughly 400-page defense includes what Israel says is evidence that it sought a legal war with Hamas and not a campaign of genocide against the Palestinians.

Among the declassified Israeli documents are summaries of cabinet discussions from late October, in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered supplies of aid, fuel and water to be sent to Gaza. He also instructed the government to examine how “external actors” might set up field hospitals to treat Gazans, as well as consider mooring a hospital ship off the coast of the territory.

Mr. Netanyahu’s most declarative statements were made in November, according to the released documents.

“The prime minister stressed time and again the need to increase significantly the humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip,” reads one declassified document that Israel’s lawyers said was taken from the minutes of a cabinet meeting on Nov. 14.

“It is recommended to respond favorably to the request of the U.S.A. to enable the entry of fuel,” another document said.

On Nov. 18, according to the declassified minutes of another meeting, Mr. Netanyahu emphasized “the absolute necessity” of allowing basic humanitarian aid to continue.

But the dossier is also highly curated and omits most wartime instructions given by the cabinet and the military. The available documents do not include orders from the first 10 days of the war, when Israel blocked aid to Gaza and shut off access to the electricity and water it normally provides to the territory. [Continue reading…]

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