Published on Mondoweiss on December 13, 2016
“We betrayed the legacy of the Holocaust when we’re committing acts like this,” Professor Yair Auron said. “To sell weapons to Serbia or to Rwanda during the genocide is similar to selling weapons to Nazi Germany during the Second World War. No country has the right to do it and especially not Israel.”
Yair Auron, a professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at the Open University of Israel is on a mission to bring Israeli officials complicit in the Bosnian genocide to account.
Under the public’s right-to-know, Auron and Jerusalem-based human rights lawyer Eitay Mack submitted a petition requesting the state to reveal its documents regarding Israel’s complicity in the Bosnian genocide.
The two presented their collected evidence, which they say proves that the Israeli government trained Serb forces and supplied them with weapons during the war in Bosnia.
Last month Israel’s Supreme Court rejected their petition claiming it would damage the state’s security and foreign relations. But Professor Auron says they’ll submit another claim- this time against specific individuals involved in supplying arms.
“I’m not expecting them to decide that they’re criminals. They’ll find one way or another to avoid the issue. But for me this is a basic moral issue. It’s a crime. And somebody who commits a crime like this needs to be punished,” Auron said.
His friends call him Don Quixote and some say he’s too naïve, but for Auron, this is simply his duty.
“I’m first a human being. But I’m a Jew. As part of a victim group, we have even more of a responsibility to try to avoid present and future killings. But we are doing the opposite,” Auron said.
Attorney Mack explained that even if the Supreme Court rejected their petition, the decision is still significant since the judges didn’t deny the existence of evidence of arms exports and also admitted that they have the documents to prove it.
Worst atrocities committed in Europe since the Holocaust
The breakup of Yugoslavia that started in 1991 with Slovenia and Croatia first seceding, escalated into a war in Bosnia & Herzegovina that culminated in a genocide and the worst atrocities Europe had witnessed since the Holocaust.
From 1992-1995 Serb forces waged a war in Bosnia & Herzegovina to ethnically cleanse Muslims in the region for a “Greater Serbia.” 250,000 Bosnians were killed and an estimated 20,000-60,000 Bosnian women were raped. Others were wounded and tortured in concentration camps.
On July 11, 1995 Serb forces systematically killed around 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men in the supposedly UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica under the command of General Ratko Mladic who is currently on trial at The Hague accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The following is evidence that Auron and Mack have collected from open sources including testimonies from journalists and human rights activists. Among the conclusions is that Israel was supplying weapons to Serb forces even after the UN Security Council established an arms embargo in September 1991.
Training Serb army
In a trial at the International Criminal Tribunal of Former Yugoslavia, Dusan Kovacevic, the former Bosnian Serb defense minister stated he was visiting the Greek prime minister in March 1995 when he was contacted by Israel’s Mossad and offered military aid.
“It wasn’t something that happened at my request. It was the Israeli intelligence service who contacted me during my visit to Greece while I was visiting these ministers… More specifically, the Mossad,” Kovacevic said.
“They informed me about quite a large number of Mujahedin being dispatched to Bosnia-Herzegovina. They told me all about the channels along which this operated and all about who was bank-rolling the whole operation… They offered both weapons, a minor amount albeit, and to train our men for free, but this was only to apply to fighting the Mujahedin.”
Ratko Mladic also wrote in his diary: “From Israel – they offer joint combat against Islamic extremists. They offered to train our men in Greece at their expense. They offered us special weapons for 500 men – snipers for free…”
Dr. Cees Wiebes documented an arms deal between Israel and Serbia in a report prepared for the Dutch government’s investigation regarding Srebrenica:
“Traditionally, Belgrade considered Israel, Russia and Greece as its best friends. The state of Israel had in fact always taken a strongly pro-Serb position. In the autumn of 1991 Serbia had successfully placed a large secret arms order in Israel.
“The intermediary in this was Jezdimir Vasiljevic, a banker and a confidant of Milosevic. In October 1991, he reached an agreement with Israel, and after that transactions went via the Croat Boris Krasni and the state companies Jugoeksport and Jugoslavija Publik.”
Dobrila Gajic-Glisic, a former official of the Serbian Ministry of Defense confirmed this in her book, The Serbian Army:
“Certainly one of the biggest deals was made by Jezdimir Vasiljevic in October 1991 in Israel. For understandable reasons, the details of that deal with the Jews were not made public at the time. It was a complicated and difficult deal. But it was made successfully.”
The Netherlands Institute for War Documentation noted allegations that in 1992 Bosnian Serbs allowed the Jewish community in Sarajevo to leave the city in exchange for arms supplies from Israel.
Wiebes noted more indications of Israel’s involvement: “At the end of 1994, an investigation into the remains of a mortar grenade on Sarajevo airfield revealed that it bore Hebrew letters, and in August 1995, a news program on Israeli television reported that private Israeli arms dealers were supplying the VRS [Bosnian Serb army]. This must have taken place with the consent of the government.”
Joel Weinberg, an Israeli who had volunteered for a humanitarian organization in Bosnia also testified that he saw Serbs carrying Israeli-made Uzi guns.
Legacy of the Holocaust
Last April the Supreme Court also rejected their petition to reveal state documents regarding arms exports to Rwanda during the genocide. The court similarly claimed it would not advance the public interest and would harm state security and foreign relations.
“They’re making me a criminal because I’m a citizen of the state of Israel who commits this crime,” Auron explained. “I am not Sancho Panza in Don Quixote. They have to know there are people in Israel who will not let them to continue with this crime.”
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel was ranked as the eighth largest arms exporter in the world in 2015, a significant achievement for a small country. Amid the refugee crisis in 2015, Israel’s weapons sales to Europe more than doubled, Haaretz reported.
Auron says he’s the only professor in the entire country who teaches genocide studies with a universal approach, without the Jewish, Zionist perspective. Much of Israeli policy and society are mired in racism, the one necessary component for any genocide to occur, Auron explained.
“For me, the legacy of the Holocaust is the holiness of human life and the equality of human life. As human beings we are different but we are all human beings. As Bosnians, Serbians, Jews and Palestinians, we are all the same,” Auron said.
“The life of a Palestinian is the same as the life of a Jew. We are not superior to them. We were born equal. This is the most significant lesson from the Holocaust for me.”