Ahead of Hague genocide hearings, Israeli lawmaker reiterates call to ‘burn Gaza’

Israel is preparing to defend itself against accusations of war crimes on Thursday at the International Court of Justice, with politicians’ statements seen as damaging its case

MK Nissim Vaturi attends a discussion in the Knesset, November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Nissim Vaturi attends a discussion in the Knesset, November 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Likud lawmaker doubled down Wednesday on his assertion that Israel should “burn Gaza” and “lay into them,” while asserting that there were no civilians left in the warzones, defiant in the face of criticism that his comments are aiding those accusing Israeli of genocide in the Strip, a day before the International Court of Justice in The Hague is set to hear the highly charged case against the Jewish state.

Speaking in an interview with ultra-Orthodox radio station Kol BaRama, Deputy Knesset Speaker Nissim Vaturi refused to disavow a November tweet in which he said Israel was being too humane in its war against Hamas and needed to burn Gaza to the ground.

“I don’t regret anything I said,” he told the radio station, saying the tweet had been meant to encourage soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces soldiers in Gaza. “It’s better to burn, bring down buildings than for our soldiers to be harmed.”

When asked Wednesday whether he was considering innocent Gazans who could also be hurt, Vaturi claimed that there were only “100,000 left,” as the rest had evacuated. “We evacuated everyone. We managed to arrange an orderly evacuation of 1.9 million, 100,000 are left. I don’t think there are innocents there now.”

He later clarified to The Times of Israel that he had meant that northern Gaza had been evacuated. Some 900,000 Palestinians are believed to have evacuated at the start of the war at Israel’s urging, moving south. Gaza’s total population is estimated at some 2.1 million. Northern Gaza saw the most intense Israeli air campaign in the war, with international groups assessing that most buildings in the area had been damaged or destroyed. But fighting has also intensified in the south, particularly in Khan Younis, while the IDF has urged civilians to congregate in the Strip’s southernmost city of Rafah, where operations are more limited.

It was not clear where Vaturi had gotten the figure of 1.9 million evacuees.

Vaturi said he had “no mercy” for people who had celebrated when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7.

“We can’t be gentle souls and say ‘Oh, there are innocents there.’ There’s 100,000 left? Who’s left? If there are innocents there we know about them. But those left there need to be wiped out, period,” he said.

He later told The Times of Israel that he was not referring to civilians. “We are against harming innocents of course,” he said.

Israel is set on Thursday to face charges of intentionally targeting innocent civilians in Gaza in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, with South Africa bringing charges of genocide against the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned cabinet ministers Sunday to choose their words with care regarding the war, referring to recent comments by ministers that are viewed as having caused damage to Israel’s international legitimacy.

File: This photo shows an exterior view of the Peace Palace, which houses the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, Netherlands on February 18, 2019. (AP/Peter Dejong)

“Every word has meaning when it comes to diplomacy. If you don’t know — don’t speak,” the prime minister said during Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “We must be sensitive.”

It is unknown whether he conveyed the same message to his party’s lawmakers.

The war began with Hamas’s unprecedented attack which resulted in the deaths of some 1,200 people in Israel, most of them civilians, and with around 240 others taken hostage, of which 136 remain in captivity after a temporary truce that saw the release of 105. At least 24 still in Gaza are believed to have been killed.

In response, Israel launched a war on Hamas with the stated intention of eliminating the terrorist organization and releasing the hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says over 23,000 people have been killed in the fighting, though these figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 8,500 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

At the end of December, South Africa instituted proceedings against Israel in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, charging Israel under the Genocide Convention to which Israel is a signatory.

In its application to the ICJ, South Africa based its accusation both on actions taken by Israel throughout the war and controversial comments made by Israeli officials regarding Palestinians in Gaza and how they should be treated.

In his interview, Vaturi said: “Good for us for being sued in The Hague merely for statements, when [Hamas] actually murdered women and children,” he said. “I’m willing to defend every comment I’ve made.”

Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

Among those singled out by South Africa was Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, who indicated during an interview in November that nuking Gaza was an option and that Israeli hostages who would be killed in such an attack were merely the “price to be paid in war.”

Although there were many calls to dismiss Eliyahu as a minister following his comments, he remained in his position but was temporarily suspended by the prime minister from cabinet meetings.

The same day, MK Yitzhak Kroizer, also from Otzma Yehudit, said that the entire Strip ought to be razed and that everyone in it needed to be sentenced to death.

Another minister named by South Africa was Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter who said the war was “Gaza’s Nakba.” Nakba is the Arabic word for “catastrophe” that many Arabs used to describe the displacement of Palestinians amid the 1948 War of Independence.

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