InternationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 49

There are common points between the Gaza war and the Bosnian genocide

I am a journalist, writer and justice activist from Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was deeply affected by the genocide in my country in the 1990s. Many of my family members were taken to concentration camps, and some of the most gruesome crimes of the era were committed in my hometown.

Also, for decades, I worked as a strategic communications expert in transitional justice contexts across the world, from Syria to Sri Lanka.

As someone who was affected by the Bosnian genocide and who participated in many transitional justice processes, I have two distinct feelings when I look at the events unfolding in Israel-Palestine.

The first is the sheer horror at the sight of the immense suffering that is being inflicted upon the population of Gaza. This does not in any way lessen the pain I feel for those who were killed or taken hostage by Hamas on October 7. I acknowledge everyone’s suffering. It is important to acknowledge everyone’s suffering.

However, what we are seeing in Gaza now is an astonishing demonstration of what happens when a superior power unleashes its revenge on defenceless civilians. And it fills me with horror.

The second feeling I have about Gaza, perhaps, is less obvious. When I look at the events unfolding at the Strip, I recognise my privilege as a Bosnian. Most of the crimes that have been committed in my country, against my people, have been addressed in a court of law. The people who committed those crimes, at least at the highest levels, have been tried and sentenced for them. The truth of what happened to us has been established beyond reasonable doubt. In a way, dignity has been returned to Bosnian victims of genocide and other crimes against humanity through these processes.

I cannot imagine a similar satisfaction being provided to the victims of the violence in Gaza, in the current circumstances. I feel privileged as a Bosnian, and knowing what was possible for us then will likely won’t be possible for Palestinians in Gaza today, weighs heavily on my mind.

This is not to say what happened to us is now happening in Gaza. I think that it is very important to acknowledge different contexts and not to draw false parallels. But there are undoubtedly very clear common points between the two.

For instance, the very same arguments that were used to justify inflicting violence on Bosnians then are now being used against Palestinians in Gaza. Arguments such as they are “not civilians” and they are all supporters of the forces fighting in their name. Arguments like “they are all terrorists, jihadists”. This same language was being used against Bosnians back then.

Another similarity I see between Bosnia then and Gaza now is the terror inflicted on civilians. The terror I am talking about is not only the indiscriminate killing of women and children, but also the efforts to terrorise an entire population into submission. These efforts include driving a population out of a certain area or getting them to accept demands through force.

I am not a lawyer. We are not in a court of law. So I cannot speculate as to whether the situation in Gaza is leading towards a genocide. I know very well, however, on what basis it was legally established that the crime of genocide was committed in Srebrenica, Bosnia. So I can try to lay that out and make a comparison.

In Srebrenica, there was an enclave that was under siege. Serbs claimed that the forces from the enclave were coming out and attacking Serb civilians around the enclave, so this was the reason for genocide. They claimed what they did to Bosnians was simply revenge for what Bosnian forces did to them.

Yet, in the end, the courts went through the evidence, looked at what happened in Srebrenica, and decided it was genocide. They established that boys and men from a particular group were killed so that the group could not regenerate and continue living in the area it long occupied, so that Bosniaks would be destroyed as a group in that area.

To establish the crime of genocide there have to be elements of crimes, including killing members of the group, inflicting serious bodily and mental harm on the members of a certain group to bring about the physical destruction of that group, in whole or part, forcefully transferring children and measures imposed to prevent births within the group.

Those are the crimes that constitute the crime of genocide. But for genocide to be established as a crime, you also need to have intent – intent for a group to be destroyed in whole or in part in a particular area. This was also proven in Srebrenica.

We can clearly see that some of the aforementioned crimes are already being committed in Gaza.

And if we look at statements from Israeli leaders, Israeli politicians, Israeli members of parliament, Israeli journalists and opinion makers we can see that the same “intent” is also very much present. This intent is being communicated on a daily basis. If a minister in a country says that the army is going to go into a territory and deal with “human animals” the intent here is undoubtedly clear.

Now, again, I repeat, I am not a lawyer. It is not up to me to make a judgement on this. But from my experience, from what I know about genocide, I can say all the elements are there, in Gaza.