Weaponising the crime of genocide

January 5, 2024 by  
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All too often, the murder of people begins with the murder of language… writes Daniel Taub.

Daniel Taub

The evil process that led to the Nazi Holocaust began with an assault on words. Deportations to concentration camps were described as “resettlement”, gas chambers as “showers”, and the diabolical project to annihilate an entire people was branded as “the final solution”. The emptying of language of its simple meaning was critical to making the unthinkable possible.

It was in response to this deliberate attempt to neuter language that a young Polish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, suggested that a new legal term was required to unflinchingly describe the most severe atrocity that could be imagined, one which, in the language of the United Nations “shocks the conscience of mankind”. The term he proposed, which was adopted by the international community, was the crime of genocide.

It is all the more shocking, therefore, that, in living memory of the atrocities that gave birth to the term genocide, we are witness to a cynical attempt to pervert the meaning of the word itself.

The recent application to the International Court of Justice alleging genocide on the part of Israel is precisely such an effort.

The term ‘genocide’ is, in fact, relevant to the current conflict. The unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th, including the murder, torture, rape and mutilation of 1200 Israelis, and the taking hostage of 240 more, were indeed acts in pursuit of a genocidal agenda.

Hamas, whose charter calls for the murder of Jews everywhere, not only celebrated the murder of every victim, exultantly filming and circulating the atrocities, but their plan was to advance still further into Israeli territory, murdering everyone in their path.  Since then, Hamas leaders have proudly insisted that their intention and hope is to commit the atrocities of October 7th “again and again and again”.

No state would stay passive in the face of such barbaric attacks and a declared intent to repeat them. No state would remain idle as 130 hostages, including infants, the sick and the elderly, are still held captive by terrorists. Yet, in the current proceedings, it is not Hamas that is charged with genocide for its massacres but Israel for defending itself.

Confronting the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza is fraught with excruciating dilemmas. Over the past 16 years since it seized control, Hamas has created an unimaginably horrific reality. Not only language been divested of meaning, but nothing sacred has been spared. Hospitals are not hospitals, schools, not schools and mosques, not mosques.  Rather, they are camouflaged and covered for missile launchers and weapons depots. Terrorists emerge from tunnels below children’s beds and shelter in hospitals, gunmen fire from within schools, recordings of babies crying are played to lure Israeli forces into death traps.

Under these horrifying conditions, Israel makes extraordinary efforts to minimise the damage caused to the lives of the Palestinian civilians that Hamas disdains. These efforts include hundreds of thousands of messages and phone calls urging civilians to evacuate areas of terrorist entrenchment and aborting attacks where disproportionate non-combatant casualties are likely. Western militaries have acknowledged that they might not take many of the measures undertaken by Israel in similar circumstances.

Hamas would not be able to advance the grotesque inversion in which Israel’s actions to defend itself are framed as ‘genocide’ while its own acts of murder, rape, and kidnapping are ignored or even celebrated without the complicity of willing partners. Sadly, South Africa has eagerly stepped forward to play this role.

South Africa’s eagerness to file the genocide case against Israel has little to do with the suffering of Palestinians. It has never raised its voice in relation to the murder of tens of thousands of Palestinians in Syria nor indeed their persecution by Hamas in Gaza. Nor is it a response to recent events. As far back as 2007, South Africa invited a Hamas delegation on an official visit. It has hosted Hamas terrorist leaders, just as it hosted Omar Al Bashir following his indictment for the commission of genocide in Darfur.

On October 8th, the day following the worst atrocities committed against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, South African leaders called senior Hamas leaders to express their solidarity and, before Israel had even begun to defend itself, blamed Israel for the “new conflagration”.

Far from being motivated by any humanitarian concern, the South African initiative is a brazen attempt to weaponise a term coined to describe the worst crime committed against the Jewish people themselves and use it against the Jewish state in order to deprive it of the ability to defend itself.

Seventy-five years after the adoption of the genocide convention, there are still survivors of the Holocaust among us. One, Yaffa Adar, lived through the horrors of the Shoah and is now a mother of three, grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of seven children. She was taken hostage on October 7th and spent 49 days in Hamas’ brutal captivity. Her eldest grandson, Tamir Adar, a father of two, remains in the hands of Hamas.

After all that Yaffa has been through, in the Holocaust 78 years ago and at the hands of Hamas today, it is hard to fathom that she has to bear witness to a grotesque attempt to weaponise the crime of genocide itself.

Daniel Taub is an Israeli diplomat, international lawyer and writer of British origin who served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2011 to 2015. He is director of strategy and planning at the Yad Hanadiv Foundation in Jerusalem.


2 Responses to “Weaponising the crime of genocide”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    When you consider the atrocities committed in the Balkans in the name of the “Just War” back in mid nineties……..
    For those who know their history but never referred too.

  2. mosckerr says:

    Talk to the Turks.

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