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Why Israel’s Gaza War can be Classified as Genocidal


In his cogent commentary in the October 3-5 weekend edition of CounterPunch “The Tale of Two UN Speeches,” Uri Avnery, critiquing the UN speech of Palestinian state president Abbas, wrote: This led Abbas to use very strong language – so strong as to defeat its main purpose of promoting peace. He used the word “genocide” – not once, but three times…During the Gaza war, more than 2000 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians, many of them children, almost all by bombardment from land, air and sea. That was brutal, even atrocious, but it was not genocide. Genocide is a matter of hundreds of thousands, millions, Auschwitz, the Armenians, Rwanda, Cambodia.”

Avnery, as with most commentators who are not familiar with the 1948 United Nations Covenant on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, misinterprets its intent and requirements for application. Here are the requirements for genocide, any one of five situations:

-killing members of the group;

-causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

-deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

-imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

-forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.[1]

The term “genocide” was coined following the Shoah, or Holocaust, and its prohibition was enshrined in the United Nations convention adopted in 1948. In the convention, any one of five acts is considered genocide if “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”[2]

Therefore, Avnery is wrong in two respects: The numbers of persons from the targeted group killed outright are not the deciding factor. Nor did the vast governmental murders in Cambodia fall under the definition of genocide (some have called it “auto-genocide”) in international law, but was, of course, a war crime punished as such. As Avnery says erroneously of the Gaza war was true of Cambodia: “That was brutal, even atrocious, but it was not genocide.”

Regarding the most recent Gaza war, a case could be made, and has been made by the State of Palestine, for genocidal intent. Settler colonialism is inherently eliminationist, that is, genocidal. [3]

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s latest book is An Indigenous People’s History of the United States


[1]  “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Geno
cide,” Paris, 9 December 1948,

[2]  My emphasis:

[3]  See: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014).

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is the author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

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