5th Mar 2024


German rebuff of Gaza 'genocide' case also has roots in Namibia

  • Prisoners from the Herero and Nama tribes during the 1904-1908 war against Germany (Photo: Wikimedia)
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The world has now witnessed more than 100 days of war in Gaza following the attacks on 7 October. While 132 hostages remain in the hands of the Palestinian militants, Gaza counts nearly two million displaced, thousands of destroyed homes, and nearly 24,000 dead at the hands of the Israeli army.

But for Germany's political leadership, it is the plight of the Israelis, not the Palestinians that is worth mentioning.

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The same German politicians find no words of criticism against the countless publicly-uttered words of genocidal intent, as recently presented by South Africa in its complaint against Israel at the International Court of Justice. (ICJ)

Germany's latest move to outrightly reject the case brought by South Africa to the ICJ, as done by vice-chancellor Robert Habeck as well as foreign minister Annalena Baerbock (both from The Greens), speaks to the country's 'Staatsräson' [reason of state] of unrestricted support of Israel, no matter what.

The official position claims Germany has a unique relationship with Israel based on its responsibility for the Holocaust in World War II.

But one has to question these days what this upholding responsibility is actually worth. As many historians of colonialism and genocide have been arguing for decades, the Nazi regime's genocide against Jews and others was not the first occurrence of a large-scale systematic annihilation of enemies of the Germans.

The genocide against the Herero and Nama in today's Namibia at the hands of the colonial German Kaiserreich is a preceding event with structural as well as personal continuities and can be seen as a playbook for the Holocaust.

But while scholars and minorities are discussing this in great detail, the country's political leadership has only reluctantly and lately come to acknowledge and recognise the guilt on behalf of the German state leaving aside reparations payments.

Questions of reparations are as much feared by the heirs of the German colonial state as are a deeper reckoning with the legacy of racism rooted in German colonialism.

When South Africa brought its charges of genocide against the state of Israel, this coincided with the 120th day of the beginning of the genocide against the Herero and Nama.

And while German politicians immediately intervened in South Africa's complaint with a statement claiming that the complaint had "no basis whatsoever" and intending to make legal arguments on behalf of Israel, Germany has been caught up in its past.

It was none other than the Namibian presidency that harshly criticised Germany: "Namibia rejects Germany's support of the genocidal intent of the racist Israeli state against innocent civilians in Gaza."

President Hage G. Geingob not only reminded the German government that it "is yet to fully atone for the genocide it committed on Namibian soil," he also argued that "Germany cannot morally express commitment to the United Nations Convention against genocide, including atonement for the genocide in Namibia, whilst supporting the equivalent of a holocaust and genocide in Gaza." These words weigh heavily.

Not only has the current German government, which is made up of a chancellor of the Social Democratic Party and a Green foreign minister, proclaimed it is implementing a humane foreign policy, under the banner of a "feminist foreign policy," it also announced a "partnership at eye level" with African countries during the Africa Summit in Berlin.

In other words: Germany has a lot to lose.

While Germany's government is already losing ground on a domestic level — 61 percent of respondents in the latest poll don't support Israel's war in Gaza following the 7 October attack, while only 25 percent do so — its global esteem seems to derogate even more.

Germany has already been internationally isolated, together with a few other European countries, due to its vote in the United Nations' General Assembly regarding the urgent need for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The latest intervention in the UN's International Court of Justice will only further the gap between Germany and Africa.

Author bio

Farid Hafez is distinguished visiting professor of international studies at Williams College, Massachusetts, and senior researcher at Georgetown University's The Bridge Initiative.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.


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