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NIU Prof. says South Africa adds moral weight to genocide charge against Israel in its war on Gaza


Israel’s war on Gaza has passed its 100 day mark. Earlier this month South Africa charged Israel with genocide of the Palestinian people in the United Nations International Court of Justice.

A Northern Illinois University professor shares the significance of who brought the charges against Israel to the world stage.

Abu Bakarr Bah is the Presidential Research Professor of sociology and the chair of the sociology department at Northern Illinois University. His research focuses on democracies and international security issues with an increased attention to the Middle East.

Bah said South Africa is uniquely positioned to bring forth the charges of genocide against Israel in the International Court of Justice.

For one, he said South Africa has a moral standing in the world due to its history.

“South Africa is a country in recent times, that has endured one of the most brutal forms, most unjust systems in modern times in the apartheid regime, the apartheid system,” Bah said.

“That is like Jim Crow plus, plus, plus,” he added.

He said it gives South Africa the credibility to speak about moral issues in a way that other countries cannot. They can say ‘We have experienced it.’

“South Africa understands, as a people and as a government, and the ANC was a liberation fighting organization,” he said. “So, they understand oppression, they understand injustice.”

NIU Prof. Abu Bakarr Bah
NIU Prof. Abu Bakarr Bah

So, what does South Africa hope to gain by bringing up these charges against Israel?

South Africa is calling on the court to require that Israel hold a ceasefire. Bah said the country knows that it’s not likely that Israel will change their actions on account of the court’s ruling.

“Practically [there] is no way to enforce it,’ he said. “But it’s again about shaming Israel, exemplifying moral outrage, making people know about it, and those things mean something.”

Reports state that Israel argued in court that it has a right to defend itself and that its attacks are aimed at Hamas, not civilians.

Israel’s war on Gaza has reportedly killed more than 25,000 Palestinians and wounded another 63,000. Many of the victims are women and children. The United Nations estimates that nearly two million people have been displaced internally.

Hunger and disease run rampant as Israel’s bombardment cuts access to medicine, clean water, and food, again according to the UN.

The UN in a statement this month said, “We have raised the alarm of the risk of genocide several times reminding all governments they have a duty to prevent genocide.”

Israel began its war on Gaza in retaliation for the Hamas attack on October 7 that killed around 1,200 Israelis. Hamas also holds more than 100 hostages. The Palestinian militant group is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S.

Bah said he believes the ideal solution to the conflict is a two-state solution.

He said the Israel-Palestine conflict can be framed in various ways, but it's essentially a conflict over land.

“It's about who controls a given space,” Bah said. “The Palestinians were there before the Israelis. They have been there for a long time. The Israelis got there during the Second World War, and the Palestinians say ‘Well, you cannot take our land,’ - fight, fight, fight. But of course, they’re overpowered . . .It’s about the dividing line.”

He said there’s extremism on both sides of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, making it difficult to come to a solution.

But he said a major reason why Israel is able to wage its war on Gaza is that it has the backing of the U.S.

"So, for things to change,” he said, “the US has to change its position vis-à-vis Israel.”

President Joe Biden has stated his support for Israel’s war on Gaza and has rebuked calls for conditions on the military aid provided to Israel.

Bah said another factor that may determine an end to the conflict is if a superpower steps in to back Palestine.

“Israel has the United States, but the Palestinians don’t have an equivalent of the of the United States,” he said. “But in a multipolar world, it is possible.”

The international court is expected to make a preliminary ruling on Friday on whether to order Israel into a ceasefire. Reports say it will take years before the court makes a final ruling on the charges that Israel committed genocide against the Palestinian people.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.