Hamas’s Useful Idiots
South Africa’s accusation of genocide against Israel is a travesty of justice.
WE ALL SAW IT. A genocidal government launched a staggeringly savage massacre against civilians. Now, the International Court of Justice in the Hague has taken notice—but in a twist worthy of Kafka, the party in the dock is not the perpetrator but the victim.
The ICJ, an arm of the United Nations, is not really a court (courts require the power of nation states to enforce their rulings), but a simulacrum, where cases are brought and lawyers present arguments but verdicts are essentially advisory opinions. Even when the court enacts sanctions, the ICJ’s rulings can be overridden by permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. That is not to say the court’s actions are unimportant. Though the United States tends to ignore the UN’s pronouncements, much of the world pays attention, and the UN, despite its many moral failures, continues to enjoy prestige. The decision by South Africa to bring the charge of genocide against Israel provides legal gloss and legitimacy to calumny.
The court, which in its present form dates to 1945, has never held that a nation committed genocide (though it did once rule that a state had violated its obligation to prevent genocide). So, nothing about the Khmer Rouge’s systematic slaughter of ethnic and religious minorities from 1975 to 1979 (along with millions of fellow Cambodians); the Rwandan genocide in which up to 800,000 Tutsis were killed in 1994; Ethiopia’s “Red Terror” that took the lives of as many as a million people from 1976 to 1978; China’s murder of 1.2 million Tibetans since the 1950s and ongoing attempt to erase of Uighur identity; the Serbian massacre of Bosnian Muslims from 1992 to 1995; the 25,000 Rohingya killed by Myanmar since 2018; nor many other cases too numerous to list.
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The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines the word as follows:
Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
That could have been written with reference to what Russia is doing in Ukraine right now. On February 25, 2022, Ukraine filed a complaint at the ICJ against Russia, not for committing genocide (this was before the discovery of Russian atrocities at Bucha, Irpin, and elsewhere) but for using a fake genocide as an excuse for aggression.
Israel is in the dock for the genuine article. This is a moral inversion, not because Israel is blameless in the current conflict, but because South Africa has presented no evidence of genocide and because Israel was attacked by a government that is explicitly, proudly genocidal.
Have some Israeli leaders made statements that were grotesque? Yes, regrettably, and Netanyahu shares blame for elevating some of these fanatics to his coalition. One minister said that dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza was “one way” of dealing with the threat from Hamas. Netanyahu suspended him from the government. Other ministers have made gross statements calling for the resettlement of Gaza by Israelis, or, in the case of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, suggesting that Palestinian civilians bore responsibility for the October 7 attack. These extremists are not part of the war cabinet and have no say over how the war is conducted. Herzog later rebuked Israelis who were calling for the displacement of Palestinians in Gaza, saying “It is not the position of the Israeli government, or the Israeli parliament, or the Israeli public.”
South Africa’s lawyers cited other statements by officials that they claimed proved genocidal intent, but as the Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg has explained, these were wrenched from their context and misrepresented. For example, the prosecution quoted Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as saying “We are fighting human animals,” and “Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything.”
But these quotes omitted key words. According to a video of his comments to soldiers, Gallant actually said, “Gaza will not return to what it was before. There will be no Hamas. We will eliminate it all.” Clearly he was referring to eliminating Hamas, not the entire population of Gaza.
There were other misrepresentations as well. Netanyahu was reported to have said that he was considering “a scenario of surrender and deportation” of residents of the Gaza strip. But when Rosenberg read the original Hebrew reporting, it revealed that Netanyahu, in discussions with the hostages’ families, had expressed openness to the surrender and deportation of Hamas’s senior leadership in exchange for the remaining captives.
Oddly, while twisting the words of some Israelis, South Africa completely ignored the genocidal language that is part of Hamas’s charter and that was repeated by Hamas leaders as recently as October 23. In an interview on Lebanese TV, Ghazi Hamad, using Hamas’s operational name for the October 7 attacks, “Al-Aqsa Flood,” was frank:
We must remove that country because it constitutes a security, military and political catastrophe to the Arab and Islamic nation and must be finished. We’re not ashamed to say this with full force. We must teach Israel a lesson, and we will do this again and again. The Al-Aqsa flood is just the first time. There’ll be a second, a third, a fourth.
Asked if he was calling for the annihilation of Israel, he said yes and continued, “Nobody should blame us for the things we do. On October seventh, October tenth, October the millionth, everything we do is justified.”
EVEN IF THE KEY DECISION-MAKERS in Israel had made the statements they were accused of making—and they did not—that wouldn’t amount to genocide or even come close. It requires acts.
Has Israel gone into Gaza and indiscriminately murdered civilians in order to “destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”?
War is ghastly, and many civilians have obviously suffered horribly in Gaza. And it’s widely acknowledged that the Israel Defense Forces have relaxed their rules of engagement for this war compared to previous operations. But if Israel had intended genocide, there would be far more deaths than the (Hamas supplied) figure of 25,000. In fact, if Israel had intended genocide, it needn’t have deployed ground forces at all, but could have rained down destruction with missiles and bombs alone.
Nor, if it intended mass death, would Israel have sacrificed military advantage by warning civilians to leave areas that were to be targeted. Of course being forced from one’s home and having one’s home destroyed is a catastrophe for civilians. But it is not genocide.
If Israel intended the maximum number of Palestinian deaths, it would not have provided humanitarian relief (much of which is stolen by Hamas) or humanitarian pauses in the fighting. If Israel intended genocide, why are water and electricity currently flowing from Israel into Gaza?
Again, war is horror, and it’s certainly possible that Israel has made some bad targeting decisions or committed crimes in its pursuit of Hamas. But South Africa presented no evidence along those lines, relying instead on general statements about the large number of civilian casualties including children. “The scale of destruction in Gaza, the targeting of family homes and civilians, the war being a war on children, all make clear that genocidal intent is both understood and has been put into practice. The articulated intent is the destruction of Palestinian life.”
South Africa’s case against Israel was bizarrely one-sided. The events of October 7 merit just a paragraph in the 85-page complaint. Compare the description of Israel’s actions (“Across Gaza, Israel has targeted the infrastructure and foundations of Palestinian life, deliberately creating conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of Palestinian people”) to the passive voice used to describe the Palestinian terrorist groups, “Rockets continue to be fired from Gaza into Israeli territory.” There is no acknowledgment of who started the war, which is usually regarded as a key factor in the United Nations, where every nation’s right to self-defense is supposedly honored. Nor is there any recognition of the special burdens involved in fighting an enemy that purposely places its military assets under schools, mosques, homes, and hospitals. When you fight an enemy that regards its own civilian deaths as a moral victory, you are in new territory not previously found in human conflict.
The ICJ is slated to issue a preliminary ruling on Friday. Perhaps reason will prevail, but that this case was even entertained is a travesty.