By Margaret Kimberley, BAR Senior Columnist
South Africa’s charge of genocide against Israel proves that this very serious word should be used more often instead of being treated as a rarity. The U.S. and the nations of the west have committed countless genocides and their actions must be labeled as such.
On January 11, 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) began hearing the Republic of South Africa’s charge of genocide made against the state of Israel. Israel ratified the Genocide Convention and as such it is duty bound to uphold its precepts. The definition of genocide is not hard to find nor is it difficult to understand.
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
Cutting off water and electricity, bombing hospitals, and withholding food and medical aid all clearly fall within this definition. Not only has Israel publicly committed these acts, but its officials openly and publicly brag about having done so, and make South Africa’s case easy to prove.
But if there is another point which is made obvious by this definition and that is that the United States has and is committing genocide domestically and internationally. Of course Black people played the biggest role in making this case beginning in 1951 when the Civil Rights Congress published the pamphlet, “We Charge Genocide ,” and documented the case against the U.S. government. The charges are still valid as Black people have been the group primarily victimized by mass incarceration and all the other impacts of racial capitalism, from denial of housing rights to decent medical care.
If Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, the United States did the same and assisted others in Libya and Syria and Somalia and Yemen and Haiti. This long list of criminality is one of the reasons that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials call South Africa’s charge against Israel “meritless.” If they acknowledge Israel’s genocide it would not only expose U.S. culpability but they would have to acknowledge their own misdeeds as well.
The term genocide must not be thought of as having some sort of high bar that can only be used in rare circumstances. On the contrary, it should be used much more often so that U.S. guilt can be exposed. The U.S. practice of imposing economic coercive measures, commonly known as sanctions, prevent the people of Cuba, Iran, Zimbabwe, Venezuela and 30 other countries, from securing their basic needs of food and medical care. Economic coercive measures are a war crime by definition as they impose collective punishment on civilians.
The Republic of South Africa has done the world a great service, not only because it is revealing the seriousness of Israel’s crimes, but because it also reveals how these crimes have been normalized around the world. Of course U.S. allies like Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom join in denying South Africa’s claim. First they do as they’re told because they are reliable and good little vassal states, but they have joined in U.S. crimes and they also have their own histories of genocide.
The first genocide of the 20th century took place in Namibia, then a German colony, from 1904 to 1908, when thousands of the Herero people were murdered as they attempted to free themselves from imperial rule. The sun never set on the British empire because of its brutality committed as recently as the 1950s in Kenya’s revolutionary struggle when mass killings and concentration camps were used to put down the rebellion. The systematic destruction of records which documented these atrocities is proof of Britain’s guilt in committing genocide.
The attention brought to the ICJ case in the Hague is an opportunity to lift the veil of secrecy and complicity and make the world aware that normalized practices are in fact genocidal. Every war and intervention ranging from regime change in Haiti to the full scale invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were committed with the intent to destroy national groups. The response should not be to stop using the word genocide, but instead to make its usage more common. Doing otherwise allows the guilty to act with impunity.
South Africa has created a crisis for the world and should be applauded for doing so. Now millions of people know how genocide is defined and know that their nations are guilty of the practice. There is now less fear about naming names and a greater willingness to speak truthfully about what is accepted far too often. The nations of the Collective West as they call themselves, have written history and exculpated themselves despite being perpetrators for centuries. Israeli officials are genocidaires but they are not alone. All of those who aid and abet must be called to account too.
-Margaret Kimberley is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents.
COVER PHOTO: Vusimuzi Madonsela, South Africa’s ambassador to the Netherlands, speaking at the ICJ in The Hague. Photo by: UN, ICJ-CIJ/ Frank van Beek