Accused of genocide, Israelis see the reversal of reality. Palestinians see justice.

Accused of genocide, Israelis see the reversal of reality.  Palestinians see justice.

Whatever its outcome, the charge of genocide brought against Israel this week before the world’s highest court is a historic intervention imbued with deep symbolism for both Israelis and Palestinians.

On a more detailed level, the case before the International Court of Justice is an opportunity to assess three months of devastation in Gaza. Israel is accused of committing genocide against the Palestinian people in a military campaign that has killed about one in 100 Gazans and displaced nearly two million others.

But the Hague affair has also taken on a broader resonance: among both Israelis and Palestinians, it is seen as a reflection of a much older battle over the legitimacy of their respective national causes.

For many Israelis, the affair is the culmination of a decades-long effort to turn Israel into a pariah by subjecting the country – which itself was founded following a genocide of Jews – to a level of surveillance much higher than that of other nations.

They see their invasion of the Gaza Strip as a war of defense against an enemy, Hamas, which inflicted its own genocidal attack on Israel on October 7, prompting the Israeli army to pursue Hamas into Gaza as it allegedly did any other army.

“This is a major blow to the Zionist aspiration to normalize the Jewish people and make us a nation among nations,” said Yossi Klein Halevi, an author and researcher at the Shalom Hartman Institute, a research group in Jerusalem.

“What we feel today is that we are the Jews of the nations,” he said.

By contrast, many Palestinians feel a brief sense of catharsis at the thought of Israeli officials being forced, as they were Friday, to defend their country before a panel of international judges.

In Palestinian eyes, only now, in a courtroom in The Hague, is Israel being treated like any other country – after being shielded for so long from UN scrutiny by the United States and, from the Palestinian perspective, by most countries. world news media.

“In this specific case, the Palestinians are able to overcome the enormous asymmetry that exists between Israelis and Palestinians, just for this fleeting moment,” said Khaled Elgindy, director of the Palestine and Israeli-Palestinian affairs program at the Middle East Institute. a research group in Washington.

The accusations were made by South Africa, which filed a complaint 84 page request in court in December. He cites inflammatory statements by Israeli officials that he says “constitute clear, direct and public incitement to genocide, which has gone unchecked and unpunished.”

The Israeli defense team began presenting its arguments in court on Friday, a day after South African lawyers presented theirs.

“There can hardly be a more false and malicious accusation than the allegation of genocide against Israel,” said Tal Becker, an Israeli lawyer who opened Israel’s response to the court on Friday. “Israel is engaged in a war of defense against Hamas, not against the Palestinian people,” he added.

The war began on October 7, when Hamas-led attackers attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, and kidnapping some 240 others. In response, Israel launched one of the most intense military campaigns in modern history, which killed more than 23,000 Gazans, according to Gaza officials, and displaced more than 80 percent of the country’s surviving population. enclave, according to the United Nations.

A verdict in the trial could take years. For now, the court is expected to rule only on whether to order Israel to comply with interim measures, primarily the suspension of its campaign in Gaza, while it deliberates on the case. The court’s decisions are generally binding but remain essentially symbolic in nature: its judges have few means to enforce their decisions.

But, Mr. Elgindy said: “For the Palestinians, it will be a moral victory, whatever the legal outcome.”

For Israelis, it is a perversion of history to face allegations of genocide, both because of the brutality of the Hamas attacks on October 7 and because of the long history of oppression of the Jewish people.

Their state was founded in 1948 in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and its founders aimed to protect Jews from the same type of violence that Israel is accused of today. The concept of genocide was invented in response to the Holocaust by a lawyer of Jewish origin, Raphaël Lemkinwho then promoted the creation of the international convention that Israel is today accused of violating.

And the judge Israel sent to join the judges evaluating the case, Aharon Barak, 87, is a Holocaust survivor who escaped from the Kovno ghetto, now Kaunas, Lithuania. , hiding in a bag.

“For most Israelis, this is the culmination of a long process of Holocaust reversal – of accusing Jews of being the new Nazis,” Mr. Halevi said.

But if Israelis feel a historical irony in this affair, Palestinians feel a sense of historical justice, even if temporary.

A stateless people, Palestinians retain a deep sense of trauma from the wars surrounding the creation of the State of Israel, when an estimated 700,000 Palestinians – the bulk of the Arab population that once inhabited Israel, Gaza and the West Bank – fled or were expelled from their country. homes, in a forced displacement known to Palestinians as the Nakba.

This trauma was compounded in 1967, when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza during that year’s Arab-Israeli War, capturing territories from Jordan and Egypt.

And the Palestinians’ pain has since been compounded by the gradual erosion of their dream of statehood. Israel has built hundreds of settlements in the West Bank and retains military control.

Even after withdrawing its troops from Gaza in 2005, Israel kept the territory under a debilitating blockade once Hamas took control in 2007, and successive Israeli governments have exacerbated political and logistical divisions between Palestinians in both countries. territories.

The Hague case does not address any of these grievances and does not bring Palestinians any closer to statehood. But whatever its outcome, it suspends what Palestinians see as a lack of accountability for Israel’s wrongdoing.

“Eventually, Israeli officials find themselves in a situation where they have to think about their actions,” said Nasser al-Kidwa, a former Palestinian envoy to the United Nations.

Generally speaking, Mr. al-Kidwa said: “They feel above the law and have nothing to answer for. And now suddenly you see them trying to respond and putting their best face on their responses. And it’s rare.

For Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, a Gaza writer and analyst who lost many loved ones in a December strike, the case will do little to ease his sense of loss or the pain felt by those still in Gaza.

“From my perspective, it’s hard to see how this directly relates to what happened to my family, what happened to the childhood homes I grew up in and the suffering that my friends, my community and people live daily,” said Mr. Alkhatib, who moved to the United States in 2005.

Nonetheless, Mr. Alkhatib, a fierce critic of Hamas and its terrorism, said he hoped the importance of the case could encourage more Palestinians to seek diplomatic or legal avenues to improve their lot, instead of resorting to in desperation to attacks against Israeli civilians.

“It’s actually helpful for Palestinians to feel like there are alternatives to violence,” he said.

In turn, this could push both sides towards “a different strategy, a different future, based on mutual respect, mutual humanity and based on dialogue and engagement and based on sidelining extremist voices which have become so dominant in both parties,” Mr. Alkhatib said.

This was a thought partially echoed by Mr. Halevi, the Israeli author. While rejecting the premise of the genocide charge, he nonetheless acknowledged the role that offensive statements by far-right Israeli politicians, some of whom have called for a second Nakba, had played in the case against Israel.

“Incendiary statements made by far-right politicians helped bring us here,” Mr. Halevi said.

“There must be internal consideration of this,” he added. “We will not begin the process of healing Israel until this government is replaced and the far right is relegated to the margins of Israeli politics. »

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contributed reporting from Haifa, Israel.

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Eric D. Eilerman

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