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Based on the experience in Bosnia, Israel must be held accountable for the genocide in Gaza

January 9, 2024 at 9:19 am

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators carrying Palestinian flags and banners gather at the “End the Year with Ending Genocide” rally in Chicago, United States on December 31, 2023 [Jacek Boczarski/Anadolu Agency]

If we start from Hegel’s thought that all significant historical events and persons repeat themselves, “first as a tragedy and then as a farce”, it seems that the Israeli government has made the effort to provide us with both on today’s global geopolitical stage.

The Holocaust against the Jews in Europe was the impetus for the creation of the Genocide Convention. Moreover, Rafael Lemkin, the Polish-American jurist known for coining the term “genocide”, was one of the drafters of the Convention, and he had Jewish origins.

Seventy-five years later, it is the self-styled Jewish State of Israel that stands accused of violating the Genocide Convention. It will defend itself at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 11 and 12 January about its responsibility for the ongoing genocide against the Palestinians.

Does this make a mockery of the historic claim of “never again”? And the exact opposite of what the world should have learned from the Jewish experience in World War Two?

Sadly, this is not the first time that “never again” has been exposed as having little real meaning. Bosnian Serbs led by Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic committed genocide against Bosniaks in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. It is a paradox that Serbs were undoubtedly victims of persecution and an extermination policy by the fascist Independent State of Croatia, which was formed in 1941 with the support of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

Criminals Karadzic and Mladic and their numerous collaborators were found guilty of genocide before the International Tribunal for War Crimes in the Territory of the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and other national and international courts. Their trials provided an opportunity for the world to learn the truth about the “crime of all crimes” in Bosnia, and to punish the criminals.

However, the Bosnian case also ended up before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which will deliberate for the first time this week on the claim that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.

READ: Former US Defence official, ex-diplomat condemns US stance on Gaza as ‘indefensible’

In February 2007, following an application by Bosnia and Herzegovina, the ICJ found Serbia guilty of violating the Genocide Convention because it did not prevent the genocide in Srebrenica, punish the perpetrators of the “crime of all crimes” or extradite them to The Hague. It was the first trial against a country accused of violating the UN Convention on Genocide, although — despite extensive evidence, and under strange and inexplicable diplomatic-political circumstances — Serbia was not directly proclaimed guilty of the extermination policy against Bosniaks.

As happened in the Bosnian case, we can expect a similar marathon trial and big “power games” given the potential impact on the system of international law in the proceedings initiated on 29 December by the Republic of South Africa against Israel alleging breaches of the Genocide Convention in Gaza. It would be a huge boost for the credibility of international law if the outcome is positive for the Palestinians.

If provisional measures are also adopted, the demand will be that Israel must cease its military operations in Gaza, which have already claimed the lives of more than 23,000 Palestinians, mostly children, women and the elderly, while 60,000 have been wounded. Moreover, civilian infrastructure, including homes, hospitals, schools, places of worship and essential facilities, has been destroyed. The same thing happened in Sarajevo in 1992 and Mostar in 1993, when Croatian forces demolished the famous Old Bridge, the centuries-old symbol of Ottoman architecture. The world is now witnessing indescribable culturicide every day, in the third decade of the 21st century.

Will the International Court of Justice live up to this historic opportunity?

Francis Boyle, the first representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina before the ICJ, and one of the world’s leading lawyers from the US, with whom I have communicated recently, believes that South Africa has a chance to win the case against Israel.

Based on his “knowledge, judgment and experience,” he even predicted on the popular American show “Democracy Now!” that South Africa would win a court order against Israel to “cease and desist from committing all acts of genocide against the Palestinians.” Referring to his experience with Bosnia and Herzegovina, he believes that an order can be expected within a week of the hearing on 11 and 12 January 2023.

If this really happens, the entire international community will face a huge test to stop the genocide that we have witnessed for more than three months, and to make sure that criminals in the Israeli government, military and political structures finally face justice.

Who are they? Those who referred to Palestinians as “human animals”. Those who make fun of their victims, like the Nazis did to the Jews in Europe. Those who have imposed “living conditions calculated for the physical destruction” of the Palestinians. Those who have systematically denied the “blocked and isolated” residents of Gaza access to food, water, medicines, fuel, shelter and other humanitarian aid”. Those who have bombarded the enclave relentlessly for weeks. Those who have forcibly evicted 1.9 million people, or 85 per cent of Gaza’s population, from their homes. Those who pushed the expelled people to a small area in the south of the Gaza Strip without proper shelter, supposedly for safety, only to continue killing them there as well.

READ: Israel starving 2.2m people in Gaza: Israeli rights group

The Bosnian experience is important for this case; it is important to know that there can be no peace without justice. Without taking responsibility before the representatives of the civilised world, it is impossible to put an end to the ideology that considers it to be legitimate to kill children, women and the elderly, destroy their homes, and expel them from their own country. Any concession made to such ideologues will create new conflicts and new injustices.

Without justice, there can be no catharsis for the Jews in Israel, at least for those who understand that the war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime has led them to the edge of the abyss, just as Ihsan Aktas has written in the Daily Sabah.

Richard Goldstone, a South African lawyer and the first prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide: “It is important for the victims, for all people… and ultimately for the whole world, that… they think about their moral obligation to support all efforts to bring war criminals to justice and make sure that the committed genocide does not happen ever again.”

This is why the case that was initiated by the Republic of South Africa and supported by the Republic of Turkey is a moral “golden bridge” for the salvation of today’s world.

If the International Court of Justice does not accept the arguments that are more than obvious, and if the Court finds itself under pressure from the powers such as the US, the EU and others, it will give the green light for even greater horrors to come; even greater than those which have been imposed on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip since 7 October.

OPINION: South Africa seeks justice for Gaza

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.