Criminal silence over genocide

By: Zahid Hussain

THE genocide being carried out by Israeli forces in Gaza has entered its fourth month with, on average, a child being killed every 10 minutes and almost the entire population of the occupied enclave becoming homeless. Nowhere and no one is safe in the face of relentless bombardment that has killed over 23,000 Palestinians.

More than two million besieged people are facing the catastrophe of famine with barely any food trickling in. But the international community has failed to stop the worst genocide in recent history. Israel unabatedly continues with ethnic cleansing in the enclave.

While the United States is fully backing the extermination of the occupied population the silence of the Arab countries over Israel’s war crimes is deafening. Many of them are not even willing to endorse a case filed by South Africa against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing the Jewish state of crimes of genocide against Palestinians.

Their shameful capitulation seems to have encouraged Israel not only to continue its military operation on Gaza but it has also taken the war to Lebanon and other surrounding countries. Israel’s prime minister has made his plan clear to push out the entire population from their homes and to resettle Palestinians outside Gaza. The Israeli government has ignored the resolution passed by more than 150 nations at the UN General Assembly calling for a ceasefire.

The South African case will help mobilise world public opinion against Israel’s genocidal actions.

It’s apparent that American patronage and the inaction of the Arab countries has given the Jewish state complete impunity. The latest Israeli military action inside Lebanon has already widened the war beyond Gaza and the West Bank. The threat of regional conflagration is looming large with the increasing American military presence in the Middle East in aid of Israel.

Ironically, it has not been any Arab or Muslim country that has taken up the genocide case to the ICJ but it is South Africa that has challenged the Israeli atrocities. The top UN court will hear this week an application from South Africa alleging that Israel is breaching the 1948 Genocide Convention and seeking measures including the immediate suspension of its military operations in Gaza.

Israel has enjoyed impunity for its crimes against Palestinians for almost four months. But this situation seems to have changed after South Africa on Dec 29, 2023, submitted an 84-page charge sheet against the Jewish state at the ICJ. A well-documented petition filed by the country’s legal team maintains that Israel “has reduced and is continuing to reduce Gaza to rubble, killing, harming and destroying its people, and creating conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction as a group”.

It further alleges that “acts and omissions by Israel … are genocidal in character, as they are committed with the requisite specific intent … to destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a part of the broader Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group” and that “the conduct of Israel — through its State organs, State agents, and other persons and entities acting on its instructions or under its direction, control or influence — in relation to Palestinians in Gaza, is in violation of its obligations under the Genocide Convention.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has compared Israel’s policies in Gaza and the occupied West Bank with his country’s past apartheid regime of racial segregation imposed by the white-minority rule that ended in 1994.

Several human rights organisations have said that Israeli policies towards Palestinians amount to apartheid. South Africa’s appeal includes a request for the court to urgently issue legally binding interim orders for Israel to “immediately suspend its military operations in and against Gaza.”

There are several other countries that have referred to genocide committed by Israel in Gaza. These countries include Algeria, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Iran, Palestine, Turkiye, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Egypt, Honduras, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Malaysia, Namibia, Pakistan, and Syria. But it is not yet clear whether they would become a party in the South African case.

It was expected that particularly Arab and Islamic countries would become a party to South Africa’s petition, especially since the procedures followed by the ICJ allow it. But barring a few, none of these countries have backed South Africa’s appeal. Among the Muslim countries only Turkiye, Jordan and Malaysia have supported the South African case. The Jordanian government said that it’s preparing a legal file to follow up on the case.

What is most perturbing is the dubious role played by Saudi Arabia, one of the most powerful Muslim countries. The kingdom has not even publicly declared the Israeli action of killing of women and children in Gaza as genocide. Saudi Arabia is also among the Muslim countries that had reportedly opposed any punitive action against Israel by the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC).

Although Pakistan has called Israel’s actions in Gaza as genocide, sadly it has not yet given any indication of joining the South African petition. Islamabad needs to play a much more active role in mobilising the international community to end the destruction of Gaza and killing of children by Israeli forces. Some of the recent statements by the caretaker prime minister on Israel’s war against Gaza have added to our policy confusion on the issue.

Meanwhile, Israel has mounted a concerted campaign to prevent the ICJ from concluding that it has indeed committed genocide in the Gaza Strip. Last week the Israeli foreign ministry instructed its embassies to pressure politicians and diplomats in their host countries to make statements opposing South Africa’s case at the ICJ. Israel is also expected to challenge the jurisdiction and seek throwing the case out before lawyers start arguing.

It’s going to be a lengthy process of legal battle on the issue and there is no indication that it could prevent the genocide of Palestinians in the occupied territory. But the South African case will help mobilise public opinion across the world against Israel’s genocidal actions in Gaza and colonisation of Palestine. The international community, particularly the Arab and Muslim countries, need to do more to stop the killing of women and children by Israeli forces before it’s too late.

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