When the Colonized Say “Never Again” They Mean It

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

The most important moments in history can slip by with little fanfare at the time, only in retrospect do we see the fullness of change created in some of these pivotal twinklings of human existence. This week marks one of those episodes that will likely be viewed upon historically as the time it all started to unravel. By that I mean the acceptance of imperialism in its modern form–the tacit acceptance that military might is to be unconditionally accepted by the oppressed and that there is nothing that can be done of substance to stop it.

Of course rebellions, symbolic and literal, have occurred in the past, sometimes successful, usually not, but there is something different about South Africa’s case against the government of Israel in the International Court of Justice that began this week. There is nothing materially to be gained by South Africa in taking up the cause of the people of Palestine. In fact, it’s likely to be detrimental economically to the nation to even be involved in going up against such powers. It’s an alliance of the oppressed against the might and fury of the military industrial complex and its vassal states. The fact that so many nations are backing the South African case, notably the support of additional Irish lawyers and multitudes of nations who have been under the heel of imperialism is a moment akin to the crackle in the air when the kids band together to stop accepting a bully. The moment that occurs, no amount of violence, no amount of brazen disregard for the rights of others, will stop the erosion of power for the bully. As above so below, once the reality of the situation is seen by a majority, it’s simply a matter of time for change to occur. That’s not to say that bullies and colonialists won’t put up a massive fight before losing, likely using wanton violence and any number of horrendous acts– but it’s impossible to hold back a broken dam, even if you have all the guns in the world pointed at it.

The case against Israel being brought forth by South Africa is stating that the attack on the Palestinians violates the 1948 Genocide Convention. The deaths of upwards of 24,000 estimated Palestinians, mostly civilians, is over 1% of their population. To wrap your head around this, America would need to suffer the deaths of around 3.4 million to see similar carnage. 2,753 people perishing at the World Trade Center was enough to send the nation reeling. Imagine over three million…..this is way over the population of Chicago. And this toll will likely rise, it’s not like the bombs have stopped. This is the only the death toll—how many are maimed as we speak, navigating a world without limbs and other horrific injuries? It’s hard to fathom, to be sure.

Israel would have the world believe this carnage is necessary to take out Hamas, but how many of us have watched in real time as snipers have taken on white flag clad individuals carrying infants and other similar horrifying acts? It’s not holding water that this is simply a self-defense operation. It’s a genocide. The simple words coming from leaders like Netanyahu leave little to the imagination as far as their genocidal intent. The Israeli government is both telling you and showing you who they are and what their goal is. You can watch it on social media in one of the more surreal moments of our time. It’s like having a webcam to see sickly enslaved people thrown overboard into the churning Atlantic circa 1780. It’s surreal and it’s soul crushing. “I know it when I see it”. Genocide, that is.

The mental gymnastics required to make excuses for this civilian slaughter has been incredible to witness. The attack from Hamas is always indicated to be the reason for the current state of affairs, but there is never any nod to the history of the region, the open air concentration camp conditions that Palestinians have suffered through to even remotely gain any context. It’s not hard to think that the plans were in place for this scorched earth acceleration of genocide prior to the Hamas attack in early October (because make no mistake, this has been a slow rolling genocide since the inception of the Zionist project, a genocide predating Hamas). The notion that European powers decided to take land from people already in place—and those people were supposed to simply hand it over (or more preferable to the plan, just die)—how can anyone of sane mind not realize that is asking for a people to willingly extinguish themselves? How would there not be attacks from a population in this situation? The always iconic image of rock throwing versus annihilation through US military hardware says it all.

The incredible irony is that European powers (with American support) wanted Israel as a place to send Jewish individuals in a remarkable act of true antisemitism. It is a little known fact about the creation of Israel that instead of protecting populations in the countries they lived in, the British in particular thought it would be advantageous to send Jewish peoples to a part of the world not in their backyard. It was predicated on the very antisemitism cited against anyone not on board with the Zionist project today. This claim of antisemitism is even used against Jewish people consciously objecting to what they see as a situation similar to the horrors visited upon their ancestors during the Nazi campaign of extermination. The plot of Israel would be thrown out in a Fiction Writing 101 class as unbelievable. The stolen valor from those who were murdered by Nazi Germany being used to justify the theft and murder of similarly vulnerable souls in Palestine is a plot twist that shows the gods must be hacks to come up with this mess of a narrative.

But back to the significance of the moment, this attempt to shine light on the truth of the matter and to hold those accountable for an ongoing genocide. The airing of the horrors will erode the ethical edifice that modern colonizer nations have enjoyed during modern times. If the court rules against South Africa and shows itself to be simply an arm of the military industrial war machine, it matters little at this point. The act of South Africa pointing out to the world that the bullies cannot continue their rampage, that the global south in particular, has more in common with each other than not, is the part that matters. It’s a call for solidarity. The global south knows it and even the working class of the United States has far more in common with the average Palestinian than they do with the oligarchy in charge of our nations. That one will take a while to seep through the heads of the stubborn American masses, though. They have been fed a lot of propaganda.

But make no mistake—those of us viewing this moment in time are in a privileged position. We are witness to the beginning of the end of a long chapter in human misery. A world set up against the vast majority to benefit the sociopathic few. South Africa and its bravery against this current Palestinian genocide will mark a moment when humanity was able to shine brightly, and that new clarity will wash over the world because truth simply feels right. You know it when you see it.

Kathleen Wallace writes out of the US Midwest. Her writing is collected on her Substack page.