What I Saw at the International Court of Justice

January 23rd, 2024 - by Tarak Kauff / World BEYOND War

What I Saw at the
International Court of Justice

Tarak Kauff / World BEYOND War

THE HAGUE (January 16, 2024) — This past Wednesday night, January 10, I flew out from Newburgh, NY, headed toward Amsterdam and then to The Hague for the International Court of Justice hearing on South Africa’s charges of genocide against Israel.

Usually I travel with my partner, Ellen Davidson, but as she had work commitments, I had to travel by myself. A little scary, as Ellen always does all the navigating. By myself I’m likely to get lost going around the block.  Nonetheless, after traveling to the West Bank twice with VFP delegations and making Palestinian friends there, some of whom have been swept up and imprisoned after Oct. 7th, I felt compelled to go.

After 11 hours in transit, including a layover in Reykjavík, I arrived in Amsterdam at a little after 11 am on Thursday to make my way to the Peace Palace in The Hague. I took a train from the airport to Hague Central hoping I could quickly find transportation to the ICJ, as the rally outside was supposed to end at 12:30 pm. After 15 minutes of looking around for a bus or tram, once again feeling somewhat lost, I finally decided to take a cab, which took yet more time, as cabs do not look like cabs in NYC.

As I reached a taxi, another fellow was just getting in. It turned out he was also going to the Peace Palace, so we rode together. Jeremy Clancy was an Irish documentary filmmaker from London and was going to the ICJ to interview Jeremy Corbyn. When he found out I was with Veterans For Peace, he decided to interview me in the cab.

Since he was Irish, we hit it off. He also remembered the 2019 incident when Ken Mayers and I went out on the airfield at Shannon Airport to protest US weapons passing through a civilian airport in a neutral country.  We got to the ICJ a little before noon and the testimony from South Africa was still going on.

There was a big screen with speakers set up in a park across from the Peace Palace where hundreds of people were gathered to watch the nine lawyers making a brilliant presentation of the South African case against Israel, including Irish lawyer, Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, whowas especially terrific. I was too late to see her on the big screen but watched her later. Here is the video record of the entire  South African presentation. It is well worth watching

Before going inside the building to find Jeremy Corbyn, my new pal, Clancy, introduced me to Corbyn’s wife who was watching on the big screen. What a gracious woman she is! I told her who I was and that Veterans For Peace, an international organization, deeply appreciated Jeremy and everything he has stood for. Then I circulated among the crowd, took some pictures and a few videos and when everyone was dispersing, attempted to find my way to the small  hotel, my room surprisingly and very generously paid for by one of World Beyond War’s members.

The Dutch police were somewhat of an obstacle as they funnelled the crowd (and me) away from where my i-phone was telling me to go. Eventually I got back on track and found the hotel.

The next day, I arrived around 10 am to an even larger crowd. The Israelis were presenting. We could watch but the crowd of well over a thousand kept drowning them out with chants of Palestinian solidarity.  I wondered how anything the Israelis would say could be an effective rebuttal to the open and shut case of genocide presented the day before.

There was a incredible feeling in the air that history was being made and that South African’s charges of genocide could mark the beginning of the end to Israel’s monstrous crimes of the past 75 years. There was a sense of real hope regardless of what the court may or may not decide. The world was hearing the truth!

Kathleen Wallace wrote in the LA Progressive:
“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.”

As I meandered through the crowd, I looked for good places to unfurl the banner I brought. Soon I found people who were enthusiastic. Shortly after, I was interviewed by an Egyptian journalist and his son, who had been carrying a unique sign I liked and photographed.

Emboldened and motivated, I just went over to where Al Jazeera was filming, told them who I was, where I had come from and that I was with Veterans For Peace. They were very willing to do an interview.

By this time, I was on fire and didn’t pull any punches during the interview. I also spoke of how the Biden administration was complicit in the genocide and how billions in US tax dollars from working people were being used to supply bombs and weapons that were killing thousands of children.

As I spoke passionately from my heart, people gathered around to listen. Both interviews were extensive – of course I have no idea how to find them or if they were or will be used. A number of people at the rally that watched and heard my interview with Al Jazeera and came over afterwards to thank me for saying, as a US veteran, what I did. Maybe a half hour later, the Al Jazeera cameraman came over to shoot some B-roll of me and a woman I just met talking, no sound, just footage.

Shortly before the B-roll filming, a lovely young enthusiastic woman exclaimed, “Veterans For Peace! I love Veterans For Peace.” Turned out she was originally from the States and was now living in The Hague. She had been on the US Boat to Gaza and knew and loved (“he’s the best”) my fellow felon, Ken Mayers (as so many do), Ann Wright, Medea and others that I also know and love.

Magic in a crowd of easily over a thousand. She remembered and spoke about Yonatan Shapira, a former IDF Blackhawk helicopter pilot and a longtime friend of Ellen and myself who was crew on the boat. Of course, Missy Lane and I hit it off – it was both remarkable and heartwarming to by chance meet someone with whom I could feel a close connection.

Now instead of being alone in The Hague, I had a real comrade. We decided to go to lunch somewhere as the demo ended. As the magic continued we met quite by chance an absolutely wonderful Moroccan man named Abdel living and teaching at a college in Amsterdam.

All three of us had a delightful time at lunch. Missy then walked me all the way back to my hotel and we arranged to meet later for dinner. As I didn’t have to pay for the hotel room, I felt I could spring for dinner, which I did. We found a great Italian restaurant and continued talking about everything we had experienced the last two days.

The magic continued the next day as I caught a cab to the airport. The driver was a younger man with a dark complexion, dark curly hair who was friendly and talkative with an accent I couldn’t quite place. He obviously wasn’t Dutch so I asked him where he was from originally. He was 33, had been in the Netherlands for 10 years and was an Afghan.

As we spoke, he realized I was not a typical American and told me stories from when he was still in Afghanistan. He said the war was all about money and that ordinary people were not to blame, it was the politicians who had all the power.

Apparently, he also drove while in Afghanistan – trucks that he said were loaded with drugs, heroin that NATO troops were making much money from. He felt that since all the power resided with politicians and the very wealthy there was little we could do.

I responded that our work for peace is to remain human, to stand for truth and love, to not be silent about oppression and that we always have that power. I went on for a bit and he obviously loved what I said. So for 40 minutes I had an amazing conversation with this young but wise Afghan man.

I have to give a lot of credit to David Swanson who sent out the graphic below on Jan. 9th. When I saw it I strongly felt that VFP needed to be represented in someway at the Hague. I also communicated with David before leaving to see if anyone else from World BEYOND War would be there.

There were (we never met in person) but a generous Muslim man named Hany Fahmy was there on Thursday with his children and even though we didn’t meet, was the one so kindly paid for my hotel room.  Hany wrote, ” (I) am a Muslim and we should do goodness for the sake of GOD only. Thx for your support standing by the side of the truth.”

Thank you Hany. I’m sure I haven’t conveyed it adequately but being there at the Hague during this time was among the most memorable experiences in my life. I don’t operate on a basis of hope, more on just what has to be done but this experience actually gave me hope for a future – for all of us.