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Bibi Does Gaza, Again – Then Came the ICJ Genocide Ruling


Dr Can Erimtan
21st Century Wire

On Friday, 26 January 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ, UN) made a most momentous move, an arguably controversial decision just falling short of calling for the immediate cesation of the Israeli violent and deadly assault on the Gaza Strip. The one-time Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted on X that “the ICJ found a plausible risk of genocide in Gaza.” (10:50 pm 27 Jan 2024).

Last year’s Hamas attack (7 October 2023) and Israel’s subsequent brutal assaults on the Gaza Strip have galvanized global public opinion like never before. Popular street protests and other public displays of solidarity with the Palestinian victims of the IDF (or Israel Defense Forces) have suddenly emerged all across the world – from dozens of protesters carrying banners that read “Aid to Israel = Bombing Palestinians” at Washington, DC’s Capitol Hill, over groups of protesters blocking a downtown freeway in Los Angeles, holding a banner calling for a “permanent cease-fire,” to tens of thousands of people in central London’s streets also calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza to similar protests happening all across Europe, in Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands.

The official (as opposed to the popular) reaction was rather different: as expressed by the French journalist Michel Gurfinkiel, “most Western or Western-style governments immediately endorsed Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas.” Even the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, tweeted into the ether that the “Government of Jamaica condemns in strongest terms the attack by the Hamas group on Israel, resulting in the deaths, injury and abduction of Israeli civilians.” The consensus-turned-into-a-mantra that Israel has the ‘right’ to defend itself was parroted across the world. Most notably, by U.S. President Joe Biden, who went on to explain that “Israel has to do everything in its power, as difficult as it is, to protect innocent civilians” (25 October 2023).

The Meaning of Genocide: A Word and its History

Biden’s words uttered last year all but appear to condone the Israeli attempt to wipe out the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip . . . but, do the IDF’s actions amount to genocide, as insinuated by the ICJ’s phrase that “the State of Israel shall . . . take all reasonable measures within their power to prevent genocide” – for merely verbalising such an order all but implies that it is happening (or at the very least, has already happened) on the ground in Gaza. When talking about the famous G-word people usually think of the Armenians and nowadays, the violent excesses perpetrated by the German Empire on the ‘Black Continent’ also figure somewhat in the admittedly German public consciousness. As I explained ten years ago, the Dutch historian Jan-Bart Gewald, matter-of-factly relates that “[b]etween 1904 and 1908 Imperial German troops committed genocide in German South West Africa (GSWA), present-day Namibia.” And in early 2021, the German Parliament (Bundestag) acknowledged that the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II (1888-1918) had “committed genocide during its colonial occupation of what is now Namibia and promised more than $1 billion in development projects in communities descended from victims.” It took Germany a little more than a century to realize that Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) may very well personify the concept of evil, but that the Austrian-turned-German-Führer does not have a monopoly on ‘deutsche Schuld‘ or German guilt.

And these feelings of guilt led the Polish-Jewish scholar, jurist, and consummate neologist Raphaël Lemkin (1900-59) to coin the noun and thereby invent a new crime, namely the “destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group” on 15 November 1943. Lemkin’s new coinage “to denote an old practice in its modern development, is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing), thus corresponding in its formation to such words as tyrannicide, homocide [sic], infanticide, etc.” Following the German invasion of Poland (1 September 1939), Lemkin fled his homeland in 1940 to end up in the U.S. The following year he had become a professor at the Duke Law School and from there, he joined the Roosevelt Administration’s Bureau of Economic Warfare in an advisory capacity. In that role, he composed his magnum opus, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, (counting 712 pages and published by the Columbia University Press during the “Jewish Book Month”). It stands to reason that such a weighty tome was the result of years of painstaking work, as originally Lemkin had actually been investigating the links between colonialism and mass murder. In other words, Lemkin’s coinage was originally intended to condemn Kaiser Wilhelm, not Hitler. The German Empire (or deutsches Reich) had taken possession of German South West Africa (corresponding to present-day Namibia) in 1884. During Wilhelm II’s reign or rule the locals realised somewhat belatedly that they had lost their own land to incoming German settlers, and in addition, they also saw their cattle die in a series of imported epidemics. And the Germans basically abused and mistreated the local tribes, so that on 12 January 1904, an all-out rebellion erupted. Herero warriors killed about 125 German men, sparing their women, children, and missionaries, as well as non-German whites. In October of the same year, another abused ethnic group from the territory south of Hereroland, the Nama, joined the fight. The historians Dr David Olusoga and Casper Erichsen published a detailed study in their 2011 book The Kaiser’s Holocaust, carrying the meaningful subtitle Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism – a book title encompassing all the keywords.

The United Nations (UN) adopted the ‘Genocide Convention’ on 9 December 1948, and that is how we arrive at today’s ICJ verdict regarding Gaza:

The Convention has been ratified by 153 States (as of April 2022). The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has repeatedly stated that the Convention embodies principles that are part of general customary international law. This means that whether or not States have ratified the Genocide Convention, they are all bound as a matter of law by the principle that genocide is a crime prohibited under international law. The ICJ has also stated that the prohibition of genocide is a peremptory norm of international law (or ius cogens) and consequently, no derogation from it is allowed.

Lemkin’s concern with the German Empire’s reaction to the ‘Herero und Hottentottenaufstand‘ (to use the racist jargon employed by the then-German authorities) in what is now Namibia had led to his new coinage. But, in the aftermath of the Second World War (1940-45) and the Holocaust, the Genocide Convention was the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations (9 December 1948). And the Convention’s Article II provides a comprehensive definition:

In the present Convention, 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: Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Hitler’s Long Shadow: Deutsche Schuld or German Guilt

The current IDF onslaught, which amounts to genocide in view of the ICJ, also occurred in response to a desperate act of resistance – a veritable ‘Herero und Hottentottenaufstand’ perpetrated by the Palestinians cooped up inside “the world’s biggest prison” and organised into the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, as the military wing of Hamas (or the Harakat alMuqawima al-Islamiyya, meaning the Islamic Resistance Movement). Keeping in mind Biden’s above-quoted words (and for clarity’s sake, let me repeat them here: “Israel has to do everything in its power, as difficult as it is, to protect innocent civilians”), Europe easily followed Washington’s lead. In fact, already ten days prior to Biden’s above-quoted words, Members of the European Council had issued a “Statement,” explicitly spelling out its partisan position:

The European Union condemns in the strongest possible terms Hamas and its brutal and indiscriminate terrorist attacks across Israel . . . We strongly emphasize Israel’s right to defend itself in line with humanitarian and international law in the face of such violent and indiscriminate attacks.

And early December’s “summit of EU leaders ended with no new conclusions on the Israel-Hamas war, as leaders opted to reiterate previous declarations on Israel’s right to self-defence in line with international law,” as reported by euronews. A number of individual nations – notably, Ireland and Belgium, along with Spain and Slovenia – have led “calls for Israeli restraint and a humanitarian ceasefire to spare innocent civilian lives in Gaza.”

Among EU nations, Germany and the German position appear significant if not idiomatic. For, whatever may happen in Israel, the unholy spectre of antisemitism immediately rears its ugly head and nowhere more effectively than in Germany. History and ways of coping with historical wrongs (eloquently expressed in the German mouthful Vergangenheitsbewältigung) have a way of exerting undue influence on contemporary politics and policies, and particularly with respect to German relations to the state of Israel. In the wake of the horrible Hamas attacks, the German government (or Die Bundesregierung) issued an unequivocal statement, underlining that Germany stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel (“Deutschland steht an der Seite Israels”), though continuing that the German state is equally at pains to engage in efforts to defuse the armed conflict (“Deeskalation”).

A telling illustration of German ambivalence when it comes to Israel and the issue of German guilt was offered by events surrounding the acclaimed Russian American writer Masha Gessen. She was awarded the prestigious Hannah Arendt Prize on 16 December 2023 (“Masha Gessen ist Hannah-Arendt-Preisträger*in für politisches Denken 2023”), but in a somewhat scaled-down ceremony after award sponsors and the city of Bremen withdrew their support. The people behind the Hannah Arendt Prize expressed their reservations when Gessen recently compared Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto in a recent New Yorker article. Her piece even carries the provocative headline “In the Shadow of the Holocaust.”

Berlin never stops reminding you of what happened there. Several museums examine totalitarianism and the Holocaust . . . and the thousands of Stolpersteine, or “stumbling stones,” built into sidewalks to commemorate individual Jews, Sinti, Roma, homosexuals, mentally ill people, and others murdered by the Nazis [are constant reminders, yet] . . . I thought of the thousands of residents of Gaza killed in retaliation for the lives of Jews killed by Hamas. Then I thought that, if I were to state this publicly in Germany, I might get in trouble.

And Masha Gessen did get into some trouble, albeit only in a small way. After all, she still did receive a prestigious prize for her “political thinking,” if only in a minor key. Gessen told Democracy Now‘s Amy Goodman that “the part that really offended the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the city of Bremen . . . is the part . . . where I make the comparison between the besieged Gaza, so Gaza before October 7th, and a Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Europe. I made that comparison intentionally.” When past and present intersect, Vergangenheitsbewältigung can only go that far, it seems. For, the god of the Jews called Yahweh is “a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”

The Hanukkah War and Beyond: Return to Gaza

Though the Hamas attacks took place in early October, the Israeli response has carried on into the Hanukkah season (7-15 December 2023) and way beyond.

But, what is Hanukkah all about?!?? Professor Eyal Regev laconically remarks that it is a “festival [which] is referred to . . . as celebrating ‘the Purification (of the Temple)’.” But this ‘Purification’ was but possible as a result of “Judas Maccabeus’s defeat of the Seleucid army at Beth Zur [in October 164 BCE].” In the year 2024, Bibi is trying very hard to become today’s Judas Maccabeus (d. ca 161 BCE), the priestly Jewish guerrilla leader who defended his country from invasion by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (215-164 BCE). If only, with the small proviso that in the 21st century the Jews represent the imperial power oppressing the local population group – the Palestinians, who are fighting for their freedom, like the Jews were in the 2nd century BCE. But the continuity of the IDF’s ruthless assault also has 21st-century aspects. Nearly ten years ago, “Bibi and his IDF henchmen [we]re happily citing Hamas-built tunnels (used to get hold of much-needed supplies, but arguably also to launch terrorist attacks) as constituting another reason for relentlessly shelling and attacking the tiny Gaza Strip.” And now (2023), the IDF “said it’s found about 1,500 tunnel shafts and underground passages in Gaza since the start of the war,” and adding insult to murder, the IDF even announced that “most tunnels were under schools, hospitals, mosques, United Nations facilities and civilian institutions.” Bibi himself does not shy away from positioning himself on a Biblical (or pseudo-historical) plane, addressing the press in Hebrew, he said: “You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible. And we do remember.” For, according to Jewish lore, the Amalekites, as descendants of Amalek, were an ancient people who were the first to attack the ‘children of Israel’ (or the Jews) after their mythical escape from Egypt into Sinai. For this sin, the Jewish god Yahweh damned the Amalekites, commanding the Jews to wage a holy war to exterminate them. In fact, the Israeli PM was not being flowery or even poetic in this instance, as “[s]ome settler leaders see in the Palestinians the modern-day incarnation of the Amalekites, [whom] the [Jewish] Bible calls Israel’s eternal enemy,” as worded by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker nearly twenty years ago. Bibi was clearly speaking to his constituency – the settlers who forcibly occupy and steal Palestinian land and goods.

The Israeli journalist Oren Ziv tweeted that “in Jerusalem: hundreds of right wing settlers take part in a conference to plan the return to the Gaza Strip” on 28 Jan 2024. At the conference, a “big map show[ing] the locations of the planed settlements, some on top of existing Palestinian towns.” And, Bibi’s Minister Ben Gvir also spoke at the event, proclaiming “we need to encourage [Palestinian e]migration from Gaza.” Adding in tweet, Ziv declares that settler leader Daniella Weiss said the following at the event: “Gaza, the southern gate of Israel, will open, the people of Gaza will move to all around the world.” The News Journalist & Photographer concludes by tweeting: “Personally, the most interesting thing was to see thousands of Israelis dancing and singing, which not very common in Israel after October 7th. But they are, as they see the war as a great opportunity to build settlements in Gaza.” Moreover, “12 Israeli ministers (including from Netanyahu’s Likud party) participated at a conference today about rebuilding Isrseli settlements in Gaza & encouraging displacement of Palestinians from Gaza. Ministers Ben Gvir, Smotrich and several others from Likud gave supportive speeches,” tweeted the political reporter for Axios, Barak Ravid.

Bibi as the new Judas Maccabeus clearly wants to cleanse the Gaza strip by any means possible, in order to placate the settler segment of his constituency (arguably, the only segment he’s left at the moment in view of the continuing protests calling for his resignation), And then he wants to lead the Children of Israel into the promised land of Gaza, which has access to the Marine-1 and Marine-2 gas wells inside the Leviathan field off its coastline. Bibi is apparently trying to secure his political survival in the state of Israel by means of a land grab and a concomitant windfall due to hydrocarbon wealth . . . that could be sold to Europe (or the EU) via Greece (and not Turkey, as had been the plan originally, as long ago as 2013, as I detailed in the now defunct İstanbul Gazette at the time).

All the while, the death toll mounts and the lies stack up: in early January 2024, Gaza’s Health Ministry announced that at least 22,835 Palestinians had been killed and another 58,416 injured (7 January 2024). And the slaughter continues at a rate of just under 250 a day . . . For when Bibi lies, another Palestinian dies.

***
21WIRE special contributor Dr. Can Erimtan is an independent historian and geo-political analyst who used to live in Istanbul. At present, he is in self-imposed exile from Turkey. He has a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans, the greater Middle East, and the world beyond. He attended the VUB in Brussels and did his graduate work at the universities of Essex and Oxford. In Oxford, Erimtan was a member of Lady Margaret Hall and he obtained his doctorate in Modern History in 2002. His publications include the revisionist monograph “Ottomans Looking West?” as well as numerous scholarly articles. In Istanbul, Erimtan started publishing in the English language Turkish press, culminating in him becoming the Turkey Editor of the İstanbul Gazette. Subsequently, he commenced writing for RT Op-Edge, NEO, and finally, the 21st Century Wire. You can find him on Twitter at @TheErimtanAngle. Read Can’s archive here.

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