From Mon Mar 19 10:14:38 2001
Date: Sun, 18 Mar 2001 23:48:17 -0600 (CST)
Organization: South Movement
From: Dave Muller <>
Subject: [southnews] Ghosts from South Africa
Article: 116964
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Ghosts from South Africa

By Meron Benvenisti, Haaretz, 15 March 2004

Exactly a year ago, in winter (summer, in that hemisphere) 1901, Horatio Herbert Kitchener, commander of Britain's imperial forces in South Africa, launched a wide-reaching policy of closures and crackdowns, with the aim of liquidating Boer (Afrikaner) terrorists who refused to succumb after being vanquished on the battlefield, and had initiated a guerrilla war against their conquerors. Conquered lands in South Africa were divided into zones surrounded by intimidating checkpoints and watchtowers. Tens of thousands of British soldiers combed and cleansed these zones: farms, villages and crops were razed and destroyed and the noncombatant population (women and children) were sent to concentration camps (the etymological roots of the term stem from this context, not the Nazi camps). Some 20,000 inhabitants of these camps, of a total population of 120,000, perished from hunger and disease. The enlightened world (insofar as such a community existed at the start of the 20th century) watched, and was aghast at the barbaric acts perpetrated by the army of a state which feigned adherence to humanitarian norms and values. Expressions of revulsion didn't influence the British government, which claimed that it was acting in self defense and that it was the terrorists who transgressed the rules of war. The Boers (who themselves were hardly saints) surrendered in the end. But not too many years passed before they emerged as the true victors—they became masters of all of South Africa, until the establishment of the current multiracial state. But Lord Kitchener's closure and crackdown was swamped by the sea of blood that washed across the globe in the twentieth century, and was almost forgotten. When compared to the acts of genocide, annihilation of entire populations, and other horrific atrocities that have transpired since that time, the remote events of 1901 appear almost like routine police activities. Yet, even then, troubled parts of the enlightened world responded to the contemptible acts by trying to promulgate behavioral norms, prohibitions and punitive measures which would deter, or at least condemn, those who committed such crimes.

Those who formulated the Hague convention of 1907 denounced Kitchener's encirclement and closure policies, stipulating that a conqueror shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country, (article 43) and condemning collective punishment procedures, asserting, no general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible (article 50).

After the atrocities of the Second World War, the Geneva convention was promulgated.

Reacting to atrocities in Rwanda and Bosnia, the international community took a further step and created a global framework to uphold fundamental human rights, featuring a permanent world court with authority to rule on war crimes and impose direct, personal responsibility on those who ordered the perpetration of such crimes.

While the international community has completed a long journey in its efforts to institute humanitarian norms, one state is obstinately trying to turn the clock back a century. Were Lord Kitchener to rise from the depths of the North Sea (where he met his end), he would give a stamp of approval to the IDF's bronze plan, which divides the conquered territories into 64 land units, each one designated for local, selective treatment. Kitchener would evince understanding regarding the barbaric closure of Ramallah, averring that it has been imposed in self defense. The First Earl of Khartoum would be stunned to learn that he was accused of war crimes because of the concentration camps he established. Then, as now, generals appear to heed the same logic; then, as now, there is the same patronizing contempt for norms which have been enshrined in international law.

Why, indeed, should we gripe about barbaric acts if political leaders furnish them with support, and if the public which elected those leaders relates with serene composure to such acts? Though some chords of reservation and criticism have been struck, such complaints have been articulated primarily for utilitarian and public relations concerns. Will the closure work? Will it aggravate hatred and hostility; will it damage Israel's image? Is its selective usage warranted under the pretext of thwarting terror and preventing the killing of Israelis—as though atrocious acts perpetrated by the enemy justify barbaric measures which lower one to the enemy's own level, and bring on the collapse of moral and humanitarian norms.

During the last intifada, then IDF chief of staff Dan Shomron declared: There are things which one does not do, not in a society such as our own. If you do them, you will divide the people. Ultimate, red line limits have been erased in the course of the current intifada; and the majority in Israel are not rattled by wanton transgressions of rules of war, or by war crimes. Things have reached such a wretched stage that, when the day of reckoning comes, anyone who hasn't raised his voice in protest today against the barbaric acts carried out in his name will not be able to say that he had no hand in the bloodshed.

What is being done in the territories is simply forbidden. To safeguard against such acts, people have established laws and norms; those who wish to return to the norms current a century ago ought not to be surprised when they are treated as pariahs—indeed, as ghosts from bygone days