The South African accusation of genocide against Israel lacks any credibility
In response to the IDF invasion of Gaza, which began after the Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas, the South African government filed a case against Israel before the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for “genocidal acts” against Palestinians.
Preliminary hearings took place last week, but the court is unlikely to reach a decision before several weeks or months. Nevertheless, it is important to examine the plausibility of the genocide claim by looking at the facts on the ground.
The Gazan Ministry of Health claims that over 23,000 people have been killed since the Israeli invasion began. Of course, they make no distinction whatsoever between civilians and Hamas terrorists.
Even if we accept the figure of 23,000 casualties at face value, it includes civilians who were killed by Hamas rockets that often miss their intended targets (Israeli civilians, which is itself a clear war crime). I argued in a previous piece that the Western media and politicians should learn to discount announcements by the Gazan Ministry of Health (Hamas’s propaganda arm), but let’s take the 23,000 claim to be true.
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The casuality figure also includes Palestinians who were reportedly shot and killed by Hamas while attempting to evacuate northern Gaza and flee to the south. There have been repeated allegations that Hamas seeks to maximize civilian casualties in order to sway world public opinion against Israel.
It is clear that Israel has the means to completely obliterate Gaza from the air while suffering no casualties itself. They could have done so years before the Oct. 7 massacre in response to the thousands of rockets fired by Hamas over the years at towns in the south of Israel.
Contrast the claim of 23,000 killed over more than three months with the Allied bombing campaigns during the Second World War. Up to 25,000 German civilians were killed in four air raids on Dresden over just two days (Feb. 13 to 15, 1945). The most destructive bombing raid in human history was not the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, but the conventional bombing raid on Tokyo during the night of March 9 and 10, 1945, which left about 100,000 killed and over a million homeless. This was done with 75-year-old technology.
Instead, Israel chose to put the volunteers and conscripts of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) at risk by conducting a ground invasion. The IDF reports that, as of Jan. 23, 556 soldiers have been killed and 2,689 have been injured.
Retired Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and current military analyst, has spent the last few months in Israel and paints a realistic portrait of the situation as a true expert in urban warfare. He notes that the IDF estimates that it has killed around 9,000 Hamas terrorists. Subtracting this from 23,000 would put the ratio of civilians to combatants killed at a little over 1.5 to one (in a war where Hamas uses civilians as shields and hospitals, schools and mosques as weapons depots).
Kemp notes that this “sounds horrific and is horrific,” but we must compare it to a recent report by the UN itself, which says that the average ratio of civilians to combatants killed in all urban warfare around the world is nine to one.
The 1948 UN Genocide Convention defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” Intent is an important part of the definition.
In 1967, as the result of the Six-Day War, Israel took over the Gaza Strip from Egypt, which had been occupying it since 1948. Between 1967 and 2023, the population of the Gaza Strip increased from approximately a quarter of a million to about 2.1 million. Between 1950 and 2021, Palestinian life expectancy (in the Gaza Strip and West Bank combined) increased from just under 46 years to over 73 years.
If Israel intends to commit genocide against the Palestinians, they must be (as journalist Douglas Murray has noted) among the most ineffective perpetrators of genocide in history.
UN Watch notes that in 2023, the UN General Assembly rebuked Israel in 17 separate resolutions and the entire rest of the world only seven times, revealing a breathtaking degree of bias (shared by much of the Western media) against the state of Israel.
Will the ICJ prove to be as biased as the General Assembly?
Time will tell.
Steve Ambler is professor emeritus of economics in the École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal.
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