Lawyers representing South Africa on Thursday said that Israeli soldiers interpreted a biblical reference made by Benjamin Netanyahu during a November speech to troops as a justification to kill Palestinians. The claim, which specifically called out Netanyahu’s invocation of Amalek as well as footage showing IDF soldiers chanting “wipe off the seed of Amalek,” was made during the first day of public hearings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where South Africa formally accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza.
“This refers to the biblical command by God to Saul for the retaliatory destruction of an entire group of people,” Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, a member of South Africa’s legal team, said, Al Jazeera reports.
Netanyahu’s use of Amalek, a rival nation to Israel in the Old Testament, and to “remember” it as Israeli troops invaded Gaza sparked international outrage. As my colleague Noah Lanard wrote at the time, the rhetoric was widely seen as an open call for Israeli soldiers to kill Palestinians in response to Hamas’ brutal attack on October 7. “You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible,” Netanyahu said during the broadcast. “And we do remember.”
The biblical context of Netanyahu’s speech from Noah:
As others quickly pointed out, God commands King Saul in the first Book of Samuelto kill every person in Amalek, a rival nation to ancient Israel. “This is what the Lord Almighty says,” the prophet Samuel tells Saul. “‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'”
Since October 7, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health estimates that Israel has killed at least 23,200 people in Gaza. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday called the civilian death toll “far too high,” though he reiterated the US’s support for Israel as the country fights to ensure that another October 7 “never happens again.” Meanwhile, in The Hague, South African officials are urging United Nations officials to take action and completely end Israel’s military presence in Gaza.
Israel will have a chance to respond to South Africa’s accusations on Friday.