Most war criminals are caught because of a failure to cover up their crimes. The Holocaust probably provides the grimmest example of this, because Nazi Germany exterminated millions of European Jews, Poles, Roma and others but failed to hide the evidence. Extermination camps existed alongside labour camps where inmates were mistreated and starved. All of this was a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. As the fortunes of the Second World War changed, the Nazis accelerated the “Final Solution” and set about destroying much of the evidence in an attempt to conceal their crimes.
However, contemporary documents including Holocaust train schedules, aerial images and film of the liberation of the death camps provided the evidence needed by post-war prosecutors to charge the war criminals at the Nuremberg trials held between 20 November 1945 and 1 October 1946. Tens of thousands of eyewitnesses and survivors also gave testimony identifying the Germans who supervised and otherwise took part in mass murder. Their excuse at the time was that they were “just following orders.”
Aside from material evidence which can still be seen today, including photographs of the horrific mass graves of the Holocaust victims, lawyers also had vital circumstantial evidence to hand, such as the fact that 2.7 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kulmhof extermination camp, and the Operation Reinhard camps never to be seen or heard from again.
Concealing the evidence of genocide is something which has also concentrated the minds of the Myanmar military regime since it set about the mass murder of Rohingya people. The fact that nearly one million fled their homes in 2014 is evidence that they feared for their lives before a genocidal enemy. Parts of the countryside are still forbidden to media or human rights activists. According to a human rights monitoring group, however, in February 2018 the Myanmar regime bulldozed the site of a mass grave in an effort to destroy the evidence of a massacre committed by soldiers a year earlier.
In 2017, former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic was convicted of genocide and persecution, extermination, murder and the inhumane act of forcible transfer in the area of Srebrenica in 1995. He was also found guilty of persecution, extermination, murder, deportation and the inhumane act of forcible transfer in municipalities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, and of murder, terror and unlawful attacks on civilians in Sarajevo.
His crimes surfaced when the remains of around 8,000 Muslim men and boys were discovered in the Srebrenica enclave between 10 and 19 July 1995. The atrocity was the “biggest single mass murder in Europe” since World War Two; investigators found a landscape filled with human remains and mass graves
In South America, a mass grave at a former military base in the Ixil region of Guatemala contained the remains of a man with an ID photo and a family portrait in his pocket. His widow identified herself as one of the people in the photograph, which had been taken 30 years earlier. Her late husband was one of an estimated 200,000 people who were killed or went missing during the civil war in Guatemala, a 36-year conflict between the US-backed military and leftist guerrillas that came to an end in 1996.
There are other examples of genocide because, sadly, the “never again” war crimes of the Nazis have happened again; time and time again, in fact, to the eternal shame of the international community and so-called world order. This was brought home to me the other day when watching a YouTube interview between Mick Napier, the co-founder of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and Dutch diplomat Erik Ader.
Israel, it seems, has found a way of covering up its own war crimes. It has been helped in this by a charity, the Jewish National Fund (JNF). Crimes against Palestinians have been covered up by planting forests at the crime scenes; these forests have been given the names of heroes of the 20th century, including Ader’s parents.
The heroic Aders hid Jews from the German occupying forces in the Netherlands during the Holocaust. Bastiaan Jan Ader and his wife Johanna are believed to have helped at least 200 Jews escape during World War Two. However, their son was horrified to discover that his father’s name was placed on a monument built on the site of a Palestinian village destroyed by Zionists and now hidden beneath a young forest.
Erik Ader told Napier that the monument is a gross abuse of his father’s memory and that his family name has been exploited to cover up “an [Israeli] act of ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. The former Netherlands ambassador to Norway told Dutch public broadcaster NOS that although he cannot ask his father what he would have thought about “his name being connected to this injustice” — he was executed by the Nazis in 1944 for helping Jews to escape from the Holocaust — it is not difficult to guess, “knowing what he stood for”.
Mick Napier explained that the JNF-built monument sits in a forest planted on the ruins of Bayt Natiff, a Palestinian village about 13 miles south-west of Jerusalem which was destroyed by the nascent Israel Defence Forces (IDF) during the Zionist state’s “War of Independence” in 1948.
“The JNF exists to facilitate a huge crime, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people,” said Napier. “In this case, however, it manages a double outrage: drawing a veil over the Zionist ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians from their homes in Bayt Natiff and, as part of this effort, trying to co-opt the legacy of Reverend Bastiaan Ader, a man who died opposing the racist oppression and murder of Jews.”
In addition to asking for his father’s name to be removed from the monument, Ader has gifted 1,100 olive trees for a new forest, which will be named after his father, near a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank. This is his way of trying to make amends for the similar number of pine trees planted by the JNF in his family’s name to conceal the remains of Bayt Natiff.
The village, said Napier, was “wiped off the face of the earth” during Operation Ha-Har, an Israeli military campaign against villages in the area launched at the end of October 1948. Nestled on a hilltop and surrounded by olive groves, Bayt Natiff had sat for centuries on an ancient road connecting Jerusalem and the Arab village of Bayt Jibrin (which was also destroyed by the Zionists), near Hebron. It dates back at least to the Roman era.
Bayt Natiff was once home to between 2,150 and 2,400 Palestinians living in 350 homes, which were all destroyed. None of the villagers were allowed to return; they became refugees in Jordan or the West Bank, where many of their descendants still live. Israel also denies them their legitimate right to return to their land.
According to the Dutch diplomat, what really angered him was the way that funds were raised from Dutch Jews to plant the trees that cover up the fact that the remains of a Palestinian village lie beneath their roots. He claimed that donors were deceived and did not know what their money was used for. He also criticised the Dutch government, which took part in the original dedication ceremony of the forest, and according to Ader must have known about the village hidden beneath the trees. This, he said, was a scandal. “These trees served both as a way to prevent the refugees from returning to their homes and to conceal the act of ethnic cleansing that was committed against them in 1948. The fact that they used the name of my father, who paid with his life for upholding human rights, to carry this out makes it all the more shameful. They have made him complicit in the village’s ethnic cleansing.”
Bastiaan Jan Ader was a priest of the Dutch Reform Church and resistance fighter who lived and worked in the village of Drieborg from 1938. During the war, his vicarage became a place of sanctuary for Jews who hid in the attic of the large house. The Nazis arrested him in July 1944 and he was taken to a prison in Amsterdam. After being interrogated, he was executed.
The JNF has expressed its respect for the actions of the Aders, and said that the monument was constructed legally on state-owned land. That is one of the euphemisms used by the occupation state to describe land stolen from the Palestinians. The forest hiding Bayt Natiff is not the only such “impudence”, as Napier calls it. Today, “a popular picnicking spot for Israelis” is called Canada Park. It was built upon the ruins of Beit Nuba, another Palestinian village destroyed by Israel, in this case in 1967. The excuse given to the residents driven from their homes on that occasion was that the land was declared to be a “military zone”. The ethnic cleansing remains ongoing after more than 70 years.
“The pro-Israel lobby is working in the UK to smear anti-racist politicians, academics and cultural figures as racists for their support for Palestinian rights and its opposition to Zionism, but it still takes the breath away to see the JNF seeking to harness the legacy of Rev. Ader to the wagon of racial supremacy and dispossession of the Palestinian people,” added Mick Napier. “Erik Ader, taking the stand he has, might help others to see the deep racism and criminality which the JNF embodies and promotes.”
How can a charity help to cover up Israel’s war crimes? That’s a good question, and one perhaps that should be answered by Britain’s charity regulator, the Charity Commission, with which the “JNF Charitable Trust” is still registered. It claims to raise funds “for environmental and humanitarian causes in Israel”. The parent fund still acquires land for the exclusive use of Jews. It is an example of Israel’s apartheid in action.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.