The Book on Genocide
Axis Rule in Occupied Europe is a tome of a book at 730 pages and doesn’t make for light reading. It was written in 1944 and few have heard of it but it’s an important book because it introduced the world to the term genocide.
Its author, Polish lawyer Raphäel Lemkin, realised the world needed to label the murderous behaviour that targeted a particular group of people based on religion, race, or ethnicity. While he witnessed such behaviours by the Nazis first-hand, he was aware others had also suffered – the Indigenous Americans, the Congolese, the Armenians.
Motivated to hold future perpetrators to account, Lemkin took the Greek prefix genos, meaning race or tribe, and the Latin suffix cide, meaning killing, to coin the term genocide, which was introduced in his 1944 book.
Lemkin spent the rest of his life relentlessly campaigning to legally criminalise genocide under international law. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (General Assembly resolution 260) was approved in December 1948, and came into force in January 1951, but ratification by member states was painfully slow. The US initially refused to be a signatory, claiming the resolution could leave them vulnerable to prosecution for the destruction of the Indigenous Americans.
Lemkin had won a hollow victory. Fifteen years after the publication of his book, he died of a heart attack in 1959 in New York – seven people attended his funeral.
The US did eventually become a signatory of the Genocide Convention in November 1988 after a bizarre U-turn by the then President Reagan.
South Africa, Israel, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ)
The International Court of Justice is the United Nations’ highest court. It consists of fifteen judges, of whom no two can be from the same country. The judges are elected by the UN and serve nine-year terms. Four of the judges will be stepping down in February 2024 (Jamaica, Morocco, Russia, and the United States), and while the ICJ has mechanisms in place to deal with such changes, this pending event should ensure the speedy dispensation of the law with cases being currently heard.
While the ICJ’s rulings are legally binding they are not enforceable by the court. Lack of compliance would need to be escalated to the UN.
On December 29th 2023, South Africa petitioned the ICJ for provisional measures against the state of Israel, alleging it was enacting a genocide against the Palestinian people in Ghazzah. The hearing lasted two days, the decision on provisional measures is expected to take approximately three weeks, and the full case could take multiple years to conclude. The genocide case against Serbia lasted almost a decade. The initial ICJ ruling is on the need for provisional measures, not on whether Israel has committed genocide. That will be ruled on at the full case hearing.
During the provisional measures hearing this week, South Africa provided over 500 citations in support of its claim that Israel is committing a genocide. These consisted of text, image, and video material attributable to Israel, as well as field reports and witness statements from Ghazzah.
Censorship, X (formerly Twitter) and Tik Tok
Since October 7th 2023, Israel has operated a highly aggressive censorship programme in order to control the narrative about its Ghazzah and West Bank assaults. Foreign journalists are required to sign a document agreeing to comply with Government Press Office guidelines, which dictate what can be broadcast or printed. No journalist is allowed into Ghazzah, and those there prior to October 7th 2023 are being assassinated at an unprecedented rate. Then there are the rolling internet blackouts frequently silencing Ghazzah. It all seems a well-managed gagging campaign – except for the government itself.
South Africa didn’t need to look far for its citations on Israel’s intent to unleash genocide in Ghazzah. President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir are all on public record, often social media platforms, boasting of their genocidal ambitions.
They aren’t alone. The Israeli Occupying Force (IOF) have also wasted no time taking to TikTok to showcase a militia emboldened by the lawlessness of its government.
Where Are the Western Governments?
Shortly after South Africa filed its petition at the ICJ, several countries came out in support. By the time of the hearing on January 11th and 12th, a total of twenty-one countries had aligned themselves with South Africa’s petition. The countries were from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central America. Shamefully, not a single western, white-majority nation supported South Africa’s case for provisional measures against Israel.
The reason for such immoral behaviour probably stems from continued US dominion over nations, western government policies skewed by inherit racism and othering, a continued belief in the colonial framing of the world, and the understanding that a judgement in South Africa’s favour could lead to a full trial that would put many western governments in the dock.
The full case, if triggered, would examine not only the severity of Israel’s response – that is the alleged genocide – but whether any response is legal. And there is precedence on this issue – in 2004 the ICJ delivered an advisory opinion in which it rejected Israel’s entitlement to invoke the right to self-defence in an occupied territory. Both Ghazzah and the West Bank were deemed occupied territories.
For too long we have seen Israeli aggression as individual episodes, truncated and discrete. This is a deliberate manipulation of events intended to confuse and muddle the context in which these murderous transgressions occur. In the full case we would be required to see them as a whole, as a continuation from the 1917 Balfour Declaration to the current day, and each episode would be scrutinised for its legality. That is worrying to western governments whose fingerprints are not only on the rockets and missiles falling on Ghazzah today, but also on the illegal scheming and colluding that facilitated land theft, occupation, persecution and yes, genocide against the Palestinian people.
The absence of western support for South Africa’s petition confirmed what we suspected – Israel is an illegal settler garrison, a depraved colonial enforcer for the 21st century.