“What if they don’t want to leave?” I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders as if to indicate I was becoming tedious and replied in a casual matter-of-fact tone.

“They must be exterminated.”

It was September 1993, and I was sitting in a restaurant in Serbia, just across the border from Serb-occupied Croatia. We were discussing Bosniaks in Bosnia at the time, but my experiences of the Serb occupation in Croatia (where I worked during the day) suggested his attitude was not specific to Bosniaks. Indeed, the treatment of Vukovar and its inhabitants convinced me that anyone who stood between the Serbs and an ethnically ‘pure’ state was at risk of having their life terminated, usually in the most gruesome fashion. I will never the forget the touch of an old frail Hungarian woman’s hand pressing mine as she lay in a secret Belgian army facility after being left to rot to death in her own faeces in a Serb hospital. Her only ‘crime’ was that she was not a Serb.

Ovcara, where the patients and staff of Vukovar Hospital were slaughtered.

Ovcara, where the patients and staff of Vukovar Hospital were slaughtered. (Photo: Mishka Gora)

Why am I bringing this up more than two decades later, you may ask. The reason is one that we should all heed. On Tuesday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) dismissed both Croatia’s claims of genocide and Serbia’s counter-claims. It admitted that the Serbs had “the objective of creating an ethnically homogeneous Serb State” but concluded that it wasn’t genocide because they only intended to force the Croats to leave the region (eastern Croatia) rather than “destroy” them. The elephant in the room is, of course, what happened when the Croats decided they didn’t want to leave their homes and their country. It seems the ICJ would rather believe the aggressor’s propaganda than accept the common sense logical conclusion that the desire for an ethnically homogenous state plus genocidal acts such as mass murder and the establishment of concentration camps equals genocide.

The question we must ask in Israel (and the world over) is what happens when the Jews refuse to leave the Jewish state? What happens when Christians in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and elsewhere refuse to leave their homes? Does the ICJ think that our refusal to cooperate with ethnic cleansing by a tyrannical regime removes our identity as a people? If an aggressor doesn’t take every opportunity to kill and spares some lives to be used as bargaining chips in prisoner swaps, etc., does that really invalidate their intent to commit genocide?

This is what the court has concluded. It has concluded that because “Croat combatants captured by the JNA and Serb forces had not all been executed” [my emphasis], the Serbs did not commit genocide. That’s right, Croatia “failed to show that the perpetrators … availed themselves of opportunities to destroy a substantial part of the protected group”. To put it crudely, the Serbs weren’t as efficient as they could have been (read: as efficient as the Nazis), so they’re not guilty. The Croats didn’t throw their arms in the air and allow themselves to be slaughtered. It wasn’t clear cut enough, it seems.

I’ll repeat that another way. The court conceded the actus reus. It conceded that the acts constituting the crime of genocide took place. However, it denied that the intent was to “destroy the group”. To quote the court’s findings: “Those acts had an objective, namely the forced displacement of the Croats, which did not entail their physical destruction…. The court finds that the acts committed by the JNA and Serb forces essentially had the effect of making the Croat population flee the territories concerned.” Funny that. And what did the JNA and Serb forces do when they captured Vukovar Hospital, for example? Apparently, they “evacuated” it. Then the ‘evacuees’ (i.e. the patients and staff) “were killed by members of Serb forces at Ovcara that same evening”. It also “appears… that almost all the victims were of Croat ethnicity… and, for the most part, were sick or wounded”.

This ICJ ruling should be of particular interest to Jews, Israelis, and our friends. We who believe the Holocaust must never happen again know that we must fight back. The photographs circulating last week of Israeli fighters in the skies above Auschwitz-Birkenau capture exactly where our hope lies: Israel. Israel isn’t the last bastion in the Middle East; it is the only one. As the slaughter continues at the hands of the Islamic State and Boko Haram (amongst others) we cannot rely on the international community to come to the rescue or to even see right from wrong. If this ICJ ruling is anything to go by, those who seek to remove Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims will be accorded the intent of homogeneity rather than genocide. And, as we have seen in Gaza, when the Palestinians establish a Judenfrei district, it is Israel who is accused of apartheid. None of this bodes well.

One can, of course, be philosophical. We are used to lies, propaganda, and injustice. However, if we let this go by, what do we say to those who survived? What do I say to my friends who didn’t die in the concentration camps of Bosnia (and Serbia), and to their family and friends? What do we say, for that matter, to the survivors of the Holocaust? Does the fact that they didn’t die, that they survived, mean that there wasn’t an intent to commit genocide? Had the Nazis been a little more inept and little less efficient in their ‘Final Solution’ would they too have been not guilty of genocide?

The ICJ has not disputed that people were taken out and murdered on account of their ethnicity. It has not disputed the existence of concentration camps. But they have come out with a pathetic childish lie: that the Serbs didn’t mean to destroy the Croats.

Make no mistake, this is the new face of genocide denial.