Opinion: As the daughter of Bosnian genocide survivors, I stand with Palestine

There are many parallels between the denial of the Srebrenica genocide and the denial of the Palestinian genocide.

It was the last time my mother would see her brothers, Mirsad, 17, and Ensad, 15. The Bosnian-Serb forces had moved closer in, and she was forced to flee. She begged her brothers to come with her, knowing they were only children. But they stayed back; they wanted to protect their father and their home.

The next time my mother would see her brothers would be in 2008, 16 years after the war had begun. Their bones were discovered scattered in mass grave sites throughout the town of Srebrenica. My grandfather’s remains were discovered, too.

This was how I spent my summer break vacations every July when we would visit Bosnia and Hercegovina, burying remains discovered over the last year from the victims of the Srebrenica genocide.

Before you continue to read, please know that I am choosing to focus on what I am well versed in and what my lived experience as a Bosniak American whose family survived genocide has taught me. There are truths that I want to establish before you continue. The first is that Islamophobia and anti-semitism are never acceptable and must be shut down in every space. Second, any loss of innocent life is terrible, and the perpetrators must be condemned and prosecuted.

Bosnia’s Srebrenica is Palestine’s Gaza. When Bosnian Muslims screamed for help, the world looked away. When they burned our mosques, raped our women and stole our homes, the world looked away. The world looked away until the greatest United Nations failure resulted in the slaughter of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in just a few days.

There are extensive layers of injustice in our response to Israel’s violent bombardment of Palestine, but I will only speak to one soul-staining attribute. Denial. Denial of genocide, denial of a people’s lived experience and denial that history is repeating itself. Globally, we shout, “Never again,” but we continue to follow the documented patterns that led us to genocide before.

On July 10, 2020, our elected officials signed a proclamation commemorating Srebrenica Remembrance Day, condemning genocide and committing to prevent it. In the proclamations, they stated, “Whereas no individual should ever have to face the horrors of genocide.” I took this proclamation seriously. I welcomed it as a validation of my community’s history and believed my representative’s commitment to condemn and stand up against genocide. When they said, “Never again,” I believed them. Since Israel’s self-admitted project to wipe out Palestinians began, I have watched my same representatives ignore, deny and downplay active genocide.

What is happening in Palestine is genocide. It is not ethnic cleansing, nor is it an unfortunate consequence of war. It is genocide. Whether we choose to accept this today or in 20 years is on us, but we have learned time and time again that at the heart of the persistence of every genocide is the international community’s refusal to label, condemn and intervene.

As a Bosniak American whose family members were slaughtered in Srebrenica, it is my responsibility to stand against genocide against all peoples globally. If you hear me, if you see me and my people’s grief, you do, too.

To prevent genocide is to call it when we see it, confront misinformation when we hear it and reject justification of it in all forms. We must have the courage to act.

There are many parallels between the denial of the Srebrenica genocide and the denial of the Palestinian genocide. Like Israel’s leadership, Bosnian-Serb war criminals have justified their crimes by claiming that they were “self-defense” against Islamist terrorists. Islamophobia kept the international community from acting, just as it is today in Gaza, despite Palestinian Christians and Jews also being targeted.

Genocide and war should not be compared because every single life lost is as important and every trauma as real, but as a Bosniak American whose history was finally acknowledged, I think it is essential to.

The youngest victim of the Srebrenica genocide was 2-day-old, Fatima Muhic. Her tiny coffin is buried alongside nearly 8,000 other graves at the Potocari Memorial Center.

To my representatives, friends, and colleagues, I say this: My people are still digging for the remains of our family members. Do not force my Palestinian brothers and sisters to continue to endure brutal occupation and genocide. Baby Fatima is one; Palestine has hundreds of baby Fatimas. Little bodies laid to rest before they even have a chance to speak their first word.

You can help put an end to this genocide.

Palestinians have been the victims of a slow and methodical genocide that began in 1948 with the forced expulsion of Palestinians from their homes. Erasure continues with the destruction of cultural sites and the appropriation of Palestinian culture and food.

In 37 days, the Israeli occupation has murdered more than 11,000 Palestinians — over 4,000 of whom were children. There is not a single reason that can be used to justify this mass killing.

Denial of genocide is what allows genocide to continue. If you have ever said, “Never again,” now is the time to hold yourself to those words.

Ermina Mustafic-Harambasic

Ermina Mustafic-Harambasic is the daughter of Bosnian genocide survivors and was resettled in Utah as a refugee in 1998. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Utah.

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