If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine took most European (white) citizens by surprise, the West’s geopolitical awakening against the new foe shed light on the decades-long and low-intensity rivalries across Eurasia. The EU Commission accelerated the opening of the accession negotiations with Ukraine, Moldova, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, granting also the candidate status for Georgia. A strong message of solidarity and unity, which, in truth, revealed the EU’s lack of vision. What if Bosnia and Herzegovina had been granted the same status in 1992?  

Following the horror of the October 7 events in 2023, Israel’s onslaught in Gaza reopened the debate on the recognition of the State of Palestine and the inhuman living conditions within Gaza. While Palestinian flags soon replaced Ukraine’s, pundits woke up to the forgotten “hidden war” of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Sadly, the recent recognition of Palestine by Spain, Ireland, and Norway appears to be yet another whitewashing decision. More questions than answers spring after Yolanda Díaz’s unfortunate words, deputy prime minister of Spain. What borders will Palestine be really recognized in? Is not Spain’s predicament an instructive example of doublethink since Madrid does not recognize Kosovo as a state nor join forces with other EU non-recognizers against Serbian nationalists and genocide denials? 

Many draw parallels between the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war in the 1990s with that of Mariupol in the early months of Russia’s full-scale invasion in spring 2022. The massacre of Bucha resembled the Račak massacre in Kosovo, and the current killing of civilians in Gaza is likened to the Genocide in Srebrenica in 1995. 

The decision of the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan to file arrest warrants for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and its Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, along with Hamas’s leader, Yahya Sinwar, its military commander, Muhammad Deif, and its political chief, Ismail Haniyeh — has sparked criticism over a potential equivalence between a de jure recognized state and a stateless and terrorist organization. Yet, Khan cut his teeth in the prosecutor’s office of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and his legal actions should seriously bring the whole international community to reflect on the post-war scenario in and beyond Gaza.

Numbers vs Semantics 

In Anatomy of a Genocide, the UN Special Rapporteur on the oPt, Francesca Albanese, describes Israel’s onslaught within Gaza as driven by the decades-long settler/colonial project, which may amount to genocide. Albanese’s report follows up Amnesty International’s analysis of the Israel-run regime of apartheid and echoes South Africa’s accusation at the ICJ. In contrast, Israeli officials keep peddling that the IDF operations comply with international humanitarian law and that war casualties are active Hamas combatants within operational areas controlled by their terrorist organization – hence, necessary conditions to consider both lawful targets. 

Grappling with today’s world at war requires more specific, honest, and descriptive language, however. One of the war-related matters lies in the semantics and significance given to the current scenario in Gaza, which is coupled with the traumatic experiences of the State of Israel toward the “Palestinian Question” and vice versa. Tel Aviv reasonably rejects the use of the term “genocide” as the latter is exclusively employed to refer to the Holocaust. At ICC and beyond, Israeli lawyers reject the accusation of genocide due to the high number of ethnic Arabs and Palestinians living as Israeli citizens in Israel proper. In this regard, however, Israeli officials seem to be overlooking the legal, strict definition of the genocide of the 1948 UNCG, which prevents an act of genocide through “destroy[ing], in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group”. In the case of Srebrenica, the besieged city was not home to the whole Bosnian Muslim population, who continued to face ethnic cleansing, imprisonment in death camps, and war crimes elsewhere. In the Prosecutor v. Krstić, the ICTY rejected the Serbian defense, arguing that Mladic’s forces had conducted an act of retaliation against the Bosniak combatants who, under the command of Naser Orić, had previously killed Serbian civilians in the villages surrounding Srebrenica. That “retaliation” was in fact understood by the ICTY as a form of “revenge”, which by no means could justify the killing of people simply because they share the same ethnicity as those who perpetrated war crimes. Tellingly, Euro-Med Monitor already used the word “revenge” to spotlight the widespread practice of arbitrary collective and individual killing by IDF against civilians in the Strip. 

In addition, the dual goal of the 1948 UNCG “to prevent and to punish,” points to the scholarly understanding of genocide as an unfolding process rather than an event. This is paramount to assess the collective cataclysm underway that may rely more heavily—than currently appreciated—on indirect methods of destruction for its success within Gaza. The ICC has been urged to assess Israel’s mens rea – namely, the intent to commit a crime – which includes two intertwined elements: (i) a general intention to carry out the criminal acts (dolus generalis), and (ii) a specific intention to destroy the target group as such (dolus specialis). This process-oriented approach has already caused the ICJ to order Israel to halt the operations within Gaza and Rafah in particular immediately.  

Pundits also mull over the “war of numbers”. Demographics experts seem to have failed to provide the exact number of victims since the early days of the war. One can hear that most victims (about 70%) are not battle casualties but rather women and children. There is here no doubt that no official data can be provided at this stage. Hamas’s counting is not trustworthy, and the UN official statistics remain largely incomplete and constantly revised. On the other hand, the words of IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, apparently misinterpreted by non-Hebrew speakers, cast dark shadows on the death toll in Gaza if juxtaposed with other comments made by Israeli authorities, such as Amichai Eliyahu’s call for striking Gaza with a “nuclear bomb”.

Murky Parallels 

Another warning comparison with former Yugoslavia concerns the destruction of cultural heritage. As exemplified before the ICTY and also the drafting of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, discussions over “cultural genocide” display the lack of a uniform understanding and application on a legal ground. In the case of Bosnia, the Trial Chamber at ITCY pointed out that the intent of Serbian forces to destroy the Bosnian Muslims occurred also by erasing the principal Muslim heritage along with their homes. By the end of January 2023, Israel’s onslaught had brought the destruction of at least 195 heritage sites, 208 mosques, three churches, the Gaza’s Central Archives, along with one million civilians forcibly displaced southward due to the devastation of their cities (See Albanese’s report, 2024:9, point 35). 

Perception of reality in Gaza is dogged by doubts and doublethink. While Srebrenica’s victims were not killed in combat but in mass executions, Israel’s unrelenting and indiscriminate airstrikes on Gaza raise doubts about the military operations turning the Strip into a pile of rubble with no safe zones. The killing of the seven aid workers of the World Central Kitchen and the bombing of Rafah refugee camp (both confirmed by Israel as “tragic mistakes”), as well as the mass graves found in the backyards of two large hospitals, Nasser Hospital, and Al-Shifa Hospital, are disturbing cases that can barely fall under the statistics of “collateral damage”. At the same time, there is no doubt that Hamas is using civilians as human shields. This purposely self-harm technique makes Hamas complicit in the death of hundreds of Palestinians and multiplies their bodily or mental harm, physical destruction, and displacement. 

The IDF-signed flyers dropped onto civilians in Gaza to “invite” them to evacuate the area resonate Ratko Mladić’s words to the civilians of Srebrenica: “You’re all safe. And you are going to be transported to Kladaj […] Take care. […] No more forgiveness. Now I am giving you life as a gift”. The constant moving of civilians from the northern to the southern war-torn clusters of the Strip resembles the five-day and six-night-long “march of death” of Bosniak civilians who had set off from Srebrenica to arrive in Tuzla. The memory of that “army of ghosts” brings most survivors and post-war generations to liken traumas to those of Gazans. Last January 2024, Israel’s National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, with other Israeli lawmakers and parliamentarians in Netanyahu’s coalition, called for Israeli resettlement of Gaza and the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians elsewhere, while images of Jewish settlements went viral online. 

Blame the game and the players

Unsurprisingly, Hamas welcomed the recent decision by Ireland, Norway, and Spain to recognize Palestinian statehood. Bassem Naim, a senior member of the Hamas political bureau, did not waste time linking such an act of recognition with the Palestinian resistance. By extension, many critically commented on the West’s complicity with Hamas. Thus, does the recognition of Palestine mean that Hamas has achieved its goals? 

Not really. The decision over the recognition of the State of Palestine has been pending since 1948 in ‘the West’. It harks back to the foundation of Israel and the parallel tragedy of the Nakba, and it has remained unaddressed through the ebbs and flows of the post-WWII period. Cold War ideologies still play a significant role, though: while the former Eastern bloc recognizes Palestine as a state, albeit with a high level of embarrassment due to the post-1989 geopolitical positioning, Ireland, Norway, and Spain may finally pave the way to other countries in ‘the West’. Accusations of supporting Hamas are simply nonsense. After all, other European states have achieved their national independence through war and in a time when the presence of Hamas-like political organizations also backed up allegations of terrorism and jihadism. 

Back in the 1990s, a large number of mujaheddin arrived in Bosnia, primarily from Iran, Afghanistan, and numerous Arab countries, to join Bosniak coreligionists in fights against Serb and Croat nationalists. The Muslim philosopher and activist Alija Izetbegović, who then became the first president of independent Bosnia and Herzegovina, was mistakenly accused of spreading anti-democratic ideas and jihadism in his country. In 1983, Izetbegović himself and thirteen other Muslim intellectuals were brought to the dock for supporting Islamic fundamentalism. Even if in the “Appeals Judgement Summary for the Case of Hadžihasanović and Kubura” the ICTY found the battalion-sized unit called El Mudžahid, Bosnia-and-Herzegovina achieved its recognition. After the war, places such as Srebrenica, Prijedor, Sarajevo, and other small towns became the symbol of the Bosniak resilience and genocide. Similarly, the Nato bombing of 1999 that ended Slobodan Milosević’s ethnic cleansing in Kosovo turned out to produce a precedent that continues to engulf the recognition of Kosovo’s statehood. Moreover, the recent cases at the international courts against KLA members and later Kosovo’s officials have proven the latter guilty of having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Nonetheless, just as the KLA war crimes or the mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia could not deny both Bosnia and Kosovo to be recognized as states, Hamas’s antisemitic ideology and brutal attacks at the Nova festival cannot deny Palestinians of their State.  

The UN resolution establishing an annual day to commemorate the 1995 genocide of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Bosnian Serbs brought the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić to exploit that decision for his political interests. Paradoxically, his words speak the truth: Serbs are not a genocidal nation and so Israelis and Palestinians are not. Bringing Nethaniyau, his war cabinet, and Hamas’s leader to the dock would not equalize their individual responsibilities nor liken Jews and Israelis with the horror happening in Gaza and Palestinians with what Hamas carried out on October 7, 2023. Rather, it simply means to hold Netanyahu and Hamas’s leaders accountable, like any other individuals, for their individual actions, like the cases above mentioned in former Yugoslavia.

Nonetheless, these nations should bear the responsibility to hurry up a process of self-examination of their history and related political mistakes. This would be paramount to prepare the terrain for reconciliation and solid peace from the river to the sea, where Palestine and Israel must exist and may even agree to disagree. However, if justice is delayed, justice will surely be denied, and if acts of genocide are not properly addressed, another genocide will be repeated. 

Photo by Mohammed Ibrahim on Unsplash

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