After futile attempts by others to get the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate allegations of genocide against the parties in the war in Gaza, South Africa raised the stakes by filing a case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Unlike the ICC, the ICJ is an organ of the UN for civil complaints, and Israel is a signatory to its charter.
But South Africa’s latest action may well be symbolic.
It means nothing to Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has sworn not to stop the war in Gaza until the last member of Hamas has been eliminated.
In pursuit of that remnant in hospitals, schools, UN safe spaces, bunkers, tunnels – wherever they may be found –at least 20,000 people have been killed in Gaza.
No one is exactly sure how many of the dead are members of Hamas, although Israeli military authorities claim they’re hunting them down.
Depending on where you’re getting your figures, however, the number of children, women, innocents (including humanitarian workers) caught in the crossfire are between 12,600 and 15,000.
After three months of bombardment, the last Hamas – and we don’t know how many survivors they are – is obviously still on the run.
The deadly hunt goes on, as does the war.
Of course, we can’t minimise how this latest round of war started.
The deadly attack by Hamas on Israeli holidaymakers, tourists and picknickers on October 7 in the coastal town of Ashkelon and border towns provoked a global outrage and evoked memories of the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.
Israel was obliged to defend itself and take reasonable steps to prevent a recurrence.
It does appear, however, that Israel under Netanyahu and with the backing of the US, appears to be telling the world that “reasonable steps” mean, among other things, the killing of thousands of people, apart from the destruction of about 70 percent of the infrastructure in Gaza, on top of a mounting pile of humanitarian carnage.
I’m not sure that South Africa’s case against Israel at the ICJ would dissuade Netanyahu from the devastatingly bloody hunt for the last Hamas.
Even though South Africa’s parliament passed a motion to sever ties with Israel in November, the resort to ICJ was just another in a series of desperate attempts by a number of concerned countries to get Netanyahu to stop the war.
I doubt that. Yet, I also doubt that this bloody chase that is daily claiming more and more innocent lives on both sides, would track down the last Hamas – or even if it does, that it would not be replaced by something worse.
A page from history
Netanyahu has said this war is about justice for the innocent dead and security for Israel.
Unfortunately, history hardly supports the view that a lasting peace can only be purchased by a pledge to destroy an idea or a people with the force of arms.
The existence of the State of Israel today, despite all odds, is one proof of that.
If military victory alone could guarantee peace, we might not have had the Second World War.
The unfair terms of the Treaty of Versailles, for example, which included territorial annexation, demilitarisation and heavy war reparations, pushed Germany to the brink.
It created conditions that led to the rise of Hitler.
In its blind and desperate pursuit of the last “aggressive German” in particular, for example, the Allied forces sowed the seed that led to the rise of exactly what they hated the most: the Weimar Republic, and finally, Nazi Germany.
Over 70 years later, the same mistake was repeated in Iraq.
Saddam Hussein was framed as the Hannibal of Mesopotamia with a religious fervour, deadly cult following, and enough weapons to destroy the world beginning, of course, with the potential destruction of his neighbours.
Well, it turned out that even though he was a really bad guy, his capacity had been maliciously exaggerated.
Yet, the effect of the war to eliminate Saddam left the country and the entire region broken with religious extremism rising faster than had been known for decades in the region, and deadly franchises of extremism also exported for good measure.
In Afghanistan, the US was too obsessed with its bloody chase of the dangerous Taliban to learn the lessons that humbled Britain and Russia decades earlier.
As surely as a stumble imitates a trot, after 20 years, an estimated 243,000 dead as direct result of the war, and $2.3 trillion spent, the US left Afghanistan with its tail between its legs, leaving in charge the same dangerous, but savvier group of Taliban than the ones it set out to vanquish.
That was not all.
Like cutting off the head to cure the headache, we also saw this madness, this obsession to suss out, to hunt down, to chase, to search and destroy again in Libya.
Moummar Ghaddafi was thought to be spreading a dangerous form of extremism which the West, especially the US and the UK, said it could not ignore because Ghaddafi was thought to possess the capacity to put his money – and tons of it – exactly where his mouth was.
The plan was to strike him and scatter the sheepfold.
A US-led attack under President Barack Obama struck Ghaddafi, of course, chasing him down a sewage drainage and killing him there.
But what have we got since?
The sheep didn’t go away meekly as was planned.
After the killing of Ghaddafi, there has been a significant rise in extremism in the Sahel, destabilising much of the region from Mali to Chad and Niger, with consequences reaching many Northern states in Nigeria.
Gaddafi is dead, but his spirit and the vacuum caused by his death have infused radical groups on the continent, making wolves of the sheepfold. The chase continues, but neither Libya nor its neighbours are secure.
Break the cycle
Netanyahu thinks it would be different in Israel.
That the destruction of the last Hamas would deliver peace and security to Israel.
It’s more complicated than that.
If he hasn’t learnt anything from such futile chases in history, then his own personal story should have taught him.
Apart from his belated attempt to use this war to cover his government’s pre-attack intelligence failure and the chaos of the last few years of his premiership, Netanyahu is also a product of years of bitter resentment and distrust of Palestinians. He is proof that wars, more often than not, breed new warriors.
His resolve not to relent until he destroys the last Hamas has been shaped just as much by the killing of his brother, Yoni, after Arab hijackers diverted a plane to Entebbe as it has by the half a dozen Arab-Israeli wars, a number of which he fought as a soldier.
In like manner, the current deadly attacks on Gaza might be raising a generation of non-Hamas Palestinian young people for whom this carnage makes no sense, except to breed in them a fresh spirit of revenge that only perpetrates the cycle of violence, even after the last Hamas has been destroyed.
Netanyahu must end this war, if not for his own sake, then for the sake of his own children and children’s children.
October 7 was inexcusable and stands condemned. But unlike the previous wars with the Arabs, the long-term impact of this war on Gaza — beamed live by the minute to our homes with all the horrors, misery and deaths — will be hard for generations of Palestinian children to forget, even when allowance has been made for fabrications.
The cycle of heart-wrenching violence has to stop at some point.
And the world must line up behind South Africa to increase the pressure on Netanyahu to stop.