Why the Kuala Lumpur Tribunal’s genocide verdict against Israel sets a key precedent
Until now, Israel has been getting away with anything it likes. A series of revolutions and counter-revolutions in the Arabic world has driven it into chaos, and seems to have pushed the Palestinian issue off the international agenda for good.
And yet Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim country, has now called a tribunal for war crimes and produced a genocide ruling – against whom?
Not against Assad, as one might have expected, but against Israel, the state that considers itself to be beyond the jurisdiction of any court or tribunal.
In Hamlet, the message that the king killed his brother to marry his widow and seize the throne is delivered by the murdered king’s spirit – which literally means by someone who cannot testify in court. As a result, Prince Hamlet spends a long time tormenting himself about whether he should believe the spirit and avenge his father. After that, he undertakes a smart move – asking a troupe of actors to stage a play reenacting his father's murder, while he watches the murderer’s reaction. At the end of the play, everyone dies, but Hamlet has gotten his revenge.
That’s how people’s justice usually works – it takes a long time, it’s messy and ultimately useless from a rational viewpoint. It would have been much more rational for Prince Hamlet to pay due honor to the new king and his new wife, Hamlet’s mother, pray for his deceased father, marry Ophelia and have lots of children, then inherit the throne in due time and just keep on living…
The spectators watch how the prince’s world and values are shattered to the ground. The father’s spirit has its word. The actors have played out their play, and the murderer has been betrayed by his reaction.
For the first time, an international war crimes tribunal has charged the State of Israel of genocide, an unprecedented event, as so far no international court or tribunal has ever delivered a verdict against Israel to date.
The International Tribunal convened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Israel refused to send any representatives. The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal has no official ties to the UN and acknowledges that it has not authority to deliver punishment. Opinions differ on the subject of its jurisdiction, and the only sanction it has in its power is to enter the name and title of the party found guilty in the Tribunal’s registry and announce it publicly to the world. In 2011, the tribunal found George Bush and Tony Blair guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.
It seems that one could just as well ignore this tribunal; much like Israel ignores the condemning UN resolutions, protests, severed diplomatic relationships and all other kinds of protests against the military actions and acts of violence applied against the Palestinians on a daily basis. However, a detailed trial like this indicates that the mechanism has been set in motion, which will have consequences for the entire world, not just for Israel or the Middle East.
The International Tribunal is part of the Kuala Lumpur Commission on War Crimes; however, these two institutions are not part of Malaysia’s judicial system, even though they employ judges and prosecutors of Malaysian background. Israel has no agreements signed with this or any other international court. Yet the Tribunal acts on the basis of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, which was signed and ratified by Israel. And this very signature, Israel’s membership in the UN and the fact that Israel owes its very existence to the UN and to the condemnation of genocide against Jews in the course of the World War II – all this at the very least gives us the right to challenge and discuss whether Israel’s own actions could fall into the category of genocide.
Interestingly, the USA has been refusing to sign this document for 37 years, having reasonable fears that many lawyers would want to charge the USA itself with genocide of the Indians and African slaves, as well as the Japanese, the Koreans, the Vietnamese and many others. Israel, it its turn, did not foresee that the very convention it pushed the world to adopt after the war will one day be used against it. The very formation of the State of Israel was made possible by the agreement of the victorious powers to acknowledge that Jews were victims of genocide carried out by Nazi Germany and that only having a nation state of its own can guarantee them proper protection.
“The victims of genocide became themselves the source of it.” This is how Hedi Epstein sees the essence of the ruling against Israel. A German Jew who survived WWII, she lost her parents to a concentration camp. Epstein was a prosecution witness in the Nuremberg Trials. And in 1982, she learned that the Israeli Army occupied Lebanon and provoked mass executions in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps. From that moment on, Epstein and hundreds of other Jews embarked on an anti-military and anti-Zionist campaign. However, Israel has refused to listen to their voices. They were labeled “self-hating” Jews and banned from the country which, incidentally, announced itself to be the homeland of all Jews in the world. Israel remained deaf to their warning that the Jews who survived genocide do not wish Israel to be committing genocidal crimes against the Palestinian people in their name.
Israel was convinced that the US would never cease to provide it with military and political assistance, so it had nothing to worry about. The Jewish “weirdos” are free to organize as many useless marches and “freedom flotillas” as they wish; no one will dare to find Israel guilty.
And now Israel has received its first wake-up call.
The hearings on the genocide lawsuit started in August 2013. But the news soon faded into the background as the media extensively covered the mass shooting of hundreds of Egyptians who disagreed with President Morsi’s arrest and the growing tensions around Syria due to a possible American missile strike.
On November 20-25, the final stage of the proceedings took place, initiated by a group of Palestinians, who reported a number of incidents.
The first one involved Israeli soldiers who killed 29 members of the extended Samouni family in the Zeitoun neighborhood of the Gaza Strip during the 22-day Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009.
This is the most notorious crime against Palestinians over the last few years. Judge Goldstone incorporated it into his report, which he submitted to the UN after the operation was over.
The Samounis were a large family of peaceful farmers. None of them had ever participated in armed resistance. They were some of the few Palestinians who got on well with the Israeli settlers and they were frustrated by the removal of the settlements from the Gaza Strip.
In January 2009, an Israeli helicopter landed on their field. A few gunmen demanded that the Samounis turn in the Hamas militants to them. The next thing they did was bring the whole family under one roof and shoot them down dead, including the infants. Those who survived were found under the bodies of their relatives.
One of the survivors was the children’s mother. She repeatedly tried to get a criminal case started in various courts of law, but failed to get any compensation or apologies from Israel.
The second story revolved around the mass shooting of women and children in the Sabra and Shatila camps in Lebanon in 1982.
Other incidents included:
- lethal firing of teargas canisters and rubber bullets by Israeli Defense Forces that resulted in the deaths of unarmed civilians during the Intifada campaigns and subsequent protests;
- intensive, indiscriminate aerial bombing and artillery shelling of civilian quarters in the Gaza Strip in 2008;
- a university student who was shot without warning at a peaceful protest by an Israeli sniper, firing a fragmentary bullet that caused extensive and permanent damage to his internal organs;
- a Christian resident of the West Bank who was repeatedly imprisoned and tortured on grounds of subversion;
- a female resident of Nablus who suffered mental anxiety due to her imprisonment and subsequent social ostracism;
- a Palestinian physician who conducted studies on the psychological trauma inflicted, particularly on children, as result of constant intimidation, massive violence and state terror during and following the second Intifada; and
- Expert witness Paola Manduca, an Italian chemist and toxicologist, who found extreme levels of toxic contamination of the soil and water across the Gaza Strip, caused by Israeli weapons made of heavy metals and cancer-causing compounds.
The Tribunal found the State of Israel guilty of genocide of the Palestinian people in each of these cases, blaming former general Amos Yaron for the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
The Tribunal’s verdict reads as follows:
“The Tribunal is satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that the first defendant, [General] Amos Yaron, is guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide, and the second defendant, the State of Israel, is guilty of genocide.”
Even though the Israeli authorities ignored the summons, several highly experienced lawyers were appointed by the Tribunal to represent Israel.
So far we can only see separate elements without fully comprehending the full picture. There are several things worth noting here.
Israel’s case wasn’t brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague; in fact, it wasn’t a European court at all. In Europe, the guilt for failing to save the Jews from genocide 70 years ago is still alive and associated with Israel. Hearing this case in the Malaysian tribunal sends a message to the whole world that Israel should be treated like any other state, like Rwanda, Serbia, Libya or Cambodia.
The fact that the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal condemned Israel is hardly surprising – Malaysia actively supports the Palestinians. In early 2013 the Malaysian prime minister visited the Gaza Strip – there aren’t many political leaders who can afford to make such a provocative step.
Malaysian Islam is similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that suffered such a crushing political defeat in Egypt. Malaysia’s ex-leader, Mahathir Mohamad, is a very influential figure in the Muslim world, especially among Muslim Brotherhood supporters, specifically in the part of the Muslim establishment that’s close to Britain.
Malaysia is even more determined to get revenge for the damage the Muslim Brotherhood sustained than Turkey, so this influential political faction dealt their opponents a glancing, but painful blow. It’s the first time an international tribunal convicted not individual generals, but the State of Israel of genocide. Israel’s main weapon has been turned against it.
It’s also important to note that a year ago Henry Kissinger, a key figure in US politics and architect of the Middle East peace deal, unexpectedly said that he perused a report by 16 American intelligence agencies which arrived at the conclusion that in 10 years’ time there will be no more Israel. The report itself, as well as Kissinger’s comment, can only be viewed as proof that a certain section of the American political elite intends to finish Project Israel. Otherwise, they would’ve kept the report under wraps and started working on a plan to save Israel. And most importantly, if saving Israel was on their agenda, no tribunal would be hearing this case.
Moreover, most of the Israel’s supporters wanted to believe that almost three years of revolutions in the Arab world and two years of fighting in Syria have pushed the Palestinian issue to the sidelines. Israel rejoiced that the focus shifted from the Palestinian issue, which united everyone, to the Syrian conflict, which became a bone of contention for the entire world.
Contrary to Israel’s expectations of two months ago, the Tribunal is not trying Assad for crimes against the Syrian people. Instead, it is trying Israel for genocide of the Palestinians. All of a sudden, Israel has lost its momentum. The Palestinians are back in the political spotlight, and the trap designed to lure Assad has turned into a trap for Israel.
Last but not least, many pundits rushed to argue that both the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood and their fall is all the doing of the US. The veteran commentators would say that those who are to blame for the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will not go unpunished by the US and UK. The Israeli agents had put too much effort into cajoling major governments to support the Sisi-led coup to oust Mubarak and ignore the 3,000 deaths caused by the junta and the lies of the world media about the Muslim Brotherhood allegedly burning down the Coptic churches. Encouraged by the UK and Obama, full of arrogance and reluctance to reach any kind of compromise, Israel paved its own way to the genocide verdict.
Right now, Israel’s supporters are acting as though the Kuala
Lumpur verdict can be neglected. But it won’t be long before they
realize how dramatic the situation actually is: were the court to
be situated in Europe, Israel would have lobbied its way out of
the trial. But it did not reach as far as Kuala Lumpur. The
precedent has been set.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.