CHAREN: Hamas’s useful idiots

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 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 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 Uyghur identity, and too many more to list.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines the word as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such … “

To accuse Israel of this heinous crime 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 Prime Minister Benjamin 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 other gross statements. But these extremists are not part of the war cabinet and have no say over how the war is conducted.

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. 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 Oct. 23. In an interview on Lebanese TV, Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas leader, called for the annihilation of Israel, warning “we will do this again and again … 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.

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.

South Africa’s case against Israel was one-sided. The events of Oct. 7 merit just a paragraph in the 85-page complaint. 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.