Schrödinger’s genocide

In Gaza, as in Bosnia, a genocide is denied only to be glorified.

An aerial view shows mourners watching as medical personnel prepare the bodies of 47 Palestinians, that were taken and later released by Israel, during a mass funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 7, 2024.
Mourners watch as medical personnel prepare the bodies of 47 Palestinians, for a mass funeral in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 7, 2024 [Said Khatib/AFP]

Bosnians have experience with genocide. Not just the signs of it coming. Not just the fact of it happening. But also this strange phenomenon we call “Schrödinger’s genocide”: the simultaneous glorification and denial of genocide. There is a cruel dance between the systematic relativisation of the legal qualification of genocide and the continuous pursuit of genocidal politics and its results.

Despite the verdicts issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), we have not healed. The ethnically cleansed Republika Srpska still stands as the triumph of the Serb genocidal project.

Bosnian history has demonstrated the futility of the “never again” mantra and Gaza is now confirming it. The genocide of my people was accompanied by the same rhetoric that Israeli officials now espouse: a genocidal army is the only thing standing between Europe and “Muslim barbarians”, they claim.

I have often lamented how the Jews, who struggled for years after World War II to globalise the knowledge about the Holocaust, started facing serious Holocaust denial as the number of living survivors started to dwindle. Swedish survivors Hédi Fried (98) and Emerich Roth (97) died recently – a major loss for the Jewish community and those working to uphold the “never again” vow.

By contrast, Bosnians are experiencing genocide denial while most of us, survivors, are still alive. Genocide scholar Gregory Stanton argued there are 10 stages of genocide, the last one being denial, but we are effectively experiencing the 11th phase: glorification and triumphalism.

There are people who not only invest resources into historical revisionism of the genocide they committed in the 1990s, but are de facto threatening to repeat it. The Bosnian “final solution” was not properly finalised, they often say. In my home city, Banja Luka, the administrative capital of Republika Srpska, you can buy T-shirts with the faces of war criminals Radovan Karadžić, Ratko Mladić, Biljana Plavšić, and Slobodan Milošević. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, too.

In the case of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza, which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has already characterised as a plausible genocide, we see denial among Israeli politicians and propagandists while it is still going on. There is even more denial in Western countries with histories of horrific genocides, especially Germany.

Western governments and media are engaged in a systematic cover-up of Israeli war crimes and bullying of those who try to expose them. Laws are proposed on short notice that aim to criminalise free speech and criticism of Israel.

At the same time, the glorification of this genocide is broadcast in real time on social media. Accounts with thousands of followers post footage of Israeli soldiers committing war crimes. People want credit even for discrediting content. The Palestinians have been dehumanised to such an extent that their executioners are deeply convinced that their violent acts are not just morally justified but also noble, and they must take pride in their “good work”.

The Serb authorities did much to hide the concentration camps from foreign journalists. They tried to cover up massacres, moving mass graves multiple times. By contrast, the hubris of Israeli soldiers drives them to produce countless images and videos of their work: endearing messages to loved ones from sites of destruction, the mocking of everything Palestinian, proud repetitions of the genocidal discourse.

French philosopher Jean Baudrillard was right: We postmodern humans want to broadcast ourselves to the world whatever we do. I am not surprised that the Israeli army is broadcasting its war crimes as I was not surprised that Hamas had cameras on on October 7.

We have seen attempts to whitewash Hamas’s crimes, but we have also seen propaganda campaigns aimed at making them look even more horrible as a way of justifying the crimes of the Israeli army. Meanwhile, Palestinians have felt compelled to report in detail the atrocities they face. It is perverse that people suffering so much are forced to record and broadcast unimaginable slaughter to be believed, to be humanised, to be pitied enough so their cry for help is heard.

We think we live in a different time, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has shown the world that the old rules still apply. Though Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari is correct that since World War II fewer people have died in wars, Israel keeps confirming the fact that nations are built through violence.

In Gaza, the old world order came back with a vengeance. Western powers are doing the exact opposite of acting in the spirit of the civilisation they have bragged about building. They have armed the aggressor and aided his indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, their starvation, and culturicide. They encouraged the media to dehumanise the victims and cover up the crimes. And finally, despite the explicit ruling by the ICJ, they cut aid.

Let us note here that even the Israeli judge in the ICJ hearing on Gaza voted in favour of the provision of humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians. As a Holocaust survivor, of course, he did at least that.

Despite the staggering effort by Western media to suppress information, there has been a significant shift in public opinion in the West. This means that the timing is bad for Israel. Netanyahu and his predecessors should have finished their genocidal project decades ago.

Back then, there were fewer avenues for the truth to surface. Places were ethnically cleansed and mass graves were buried under parking lots. As the Israeli interviewees in a 2022 documentary about a massacre in the Palestinian village of Tantura made clear, they got away with it because no one was watching.

But people across the whole world are watching now and there is no excuse not to act to stop it.

Once a genocide happens, history shows, there is no going back. Six million Jews and millions of their unborn descendants are missing in Germany and other nations. Many are missing from countries across Asia and Africa. They will never return.

Germans may have apologised, built memorial centres, financed historical studies, and instituted prizes for science and literature, but the fact remains. The state of Israel is a continuous reminder that the Jews will never get back what they lost.

The laws of nation-building are like entropy. It is a one-way road. We Bosnians know this too well. Despite all the convictions of war criminals, the authorities of Republika Srpska still enjoy the gift they were given: half of Bosnia, nice and clean. Threats of secession and annexation to Serbia continue. The dream of Greater Serbia is on the horizon. Greater Serbia in the European Union. Maybe even in NATO.

No peace process will ever retrieve the territories and recreate Bosnia and Herzegovina as a multiethnic state with equal rights for all citizens. Bosnia remains an ethnostate where three ethnicities rule and others, such as Jews and the Roma, do not have equal political rights.

We see Israelis dream big of Greater Israel. If the world – whatever that means – allows Israel to take Gaza, it will never go back to the Palestinians even if the ICJ convicts all war criminals. There might be symbolic justice for some, but in practice, it will be an irreversible loss, endlessly debated in history books.

Netanyahu knows, as do all the others in his government, that even if they are sentenced as war criminals, the posterity will absorb that. Films will be made about them as complex human beings with good and bad sides. Many will glorify and whitewash them. The Bibi T-shirt industry will do well.

Some Israelis are already thinking of Gaza in terms of real estate. The future intrudes on the present. We are watching Schrödinger’s genocide live, analysing what is happening as if it is already history, as if we are already in the future, observing it from a distance. It is almost like a quantum (entangled) genocide.

I understand some Israelis who are against the war but are in denial about the genocide just as I understand some Serbs who cannot imagine atrocities have been done in their name. And yet, a new zeitgeist is emerging and the interest in international law is rising. Times are changing, but where are we going? And, more importantly, what will we be when we get there?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.