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Palestinians and Israelis react to International Court of Justice proceedings

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As fighting continues between Israel and Hamas, Israelis and Palestinians are also looking north to Europe and The Hague. That's where the United Nations' highest court is hearing allegations that Israel is committing genocide with its military campaign in Gaza. NPR's Lauren Frayer is watching the proceedings with Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. And she joins us from Ramallah. Hi, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How closely are Palestinians following this, and what's their view of the International Court of Justice?

FRAYER: So this case was brought by South Africa, and there are banners in the West Bank, where I am, that read, thank you, South Africa. Palestinian officials plan tomorrow to raise the South African flag over a municipal building in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem. Today it's been pouring rain outside. People have huddled in cafes, sipping tea and watching the proceedings at the International Court live on TV. Some folks I talked to have been kind of startled and impressed to see so many foreigners making legal arguments on their behalf at this international court. I talked to a father and son. Their names are Mohammed and Jassir Ghafri.

MOHAMMED GHAFRI: (Speaking Arabic).

FRAYER: That's the father, Mohammed Ghafri. And he says he hopes that this ICJ case stops the war and brings more sympathy for Palestinians. But his son, Jassir Ghafri, chimed in with a little bit of skepticism.

JASSIR GHAFRI: (Speaking Arabic).

FRAYER: He says, "you know, with so many thousands of people killed in Gaza, what can a court case do?" He and others I've spoken with say they doubt that Israel would abide by any legal outcome anyway and whether the U.S. would pressure it to do so. This case could last years at the court.

SHAPIRO: What has Israel's response been to the ICJ proceedings?

FRAYER: The Israeli government strongly denies allegations of genocide. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just issued a statement calling the ICJ proceedings evidence of an upside-down world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAYER: He says it's an upside-down world in which Israel is accused of genocide when it's actually fighting genocide by militants who reject Israel's right to exist and, on October 7, committed the worst crimes against Jews since the Holocaust. You know, it's worth noting the modern definition - the legal definition of genocide came out of the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust against Jews in Europe. Netanyahu said South Africa's, quote, "hypocrisy screams to the high heavens." And Israel's Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing South Africa of functioning as the legal arm of Hamas.

SHAPIRO: And what is the U.S. position on this?

FRAYER: So Secretary of State Antony Blinken has actually been in the region for the past week. And in a speech Tuesday in Tel Aviv, he called the genocide case against Israel meritless. Legal experts say the burden is on South Africa to prove intent that Israel isn't acting out of self-defense but is intentionally committing genocide.

SHAPIRO: And meanwhile, the fighting continues in Gaza. What is the latest there?

FRAYER: Gaza health officials say hundreds of people have been killed in recent days in Khan Younis, an area of southern Gaza. The Israeli military has issued photos and video of its soldiers going house to house there, firing from windows. But, Ari, it's not just Gaza. Palestinian officials say people have been killed here in the West Bank, in Israeli military operations here in recent days. And there is another front we're watching, and that's the Israel-Lebanon border. There's been fighting there, too, since October 7.

Today air raid sirens went off across northern Israel. The Israeli military says it responded to Hezbollah rocket fire there today with artillery. Most of the casualties on that border, though, have been on the Lebanese side because most Israeli civilians have been evacuated from the border area. And actually, a U.S. envoy, an American diplomat is in Lebanon today, talking to officials there and trying to stop this conflict from widening into a regional war.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in Ramallah. Thank you.

FRAYER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Frayer
Lauren Frayer covers South Asia for NPR News. In 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.