FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

When Does It Become Genocide?

During a visit to Ramallah a year ago while the Israeli bombardment of Gaza was underway, I shared my fears with a close Palestinian friend. “It may sound insane, but I think the Israelis’ real objective is to see them all dead.”

My friend told me not to be silly, the assault was horrific, but it was not mass killing. I said that wasn’t the issue: This was a population already very vulnerable to disease, ill-health, and malnutrition after years of siege, with its infrastructure rotted, its water and food contaminated. Israel’s war would surely push the people over the brink, especially if the siege was maintained — as it has been.

In other words, Israel would not directly kill tens of thousands of Palestinians, but it would create the conditions for tens of thousands to die. Any epidemic could finish the job. My friend fell silent at these words, but still shook his head in disbelief.

Two things have changed since last year: More people have started to apply the term “genocide” to what Israel is doing to Gaza. And not only is Israel being directly accused but also, increasingly, Egypt.

Is it genocide? “The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” — a clear, concise document adopted by the United Nations in December 1948 — states that genocide is any of five acts committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

Three acts appear to apply to the situation in Gaza: “(a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

Legal scholars disagree about how to interpret the Convention’s articles and it has proven difficult, over the years, to define crimes as genocide, let alone to prevent or end them. In line with the Bosnia precedent — the only authoritative legal treatment of genocide to date — it would be necessary to establish deliberate intent for an accusation of genocide against Israel to stand up in court.

Israel’s leadership has not, of course, issued a declaration of intent. However, many leading Israeli officials can be said to have done so. For example:

• Putting the Palestinians of Gaza “on a diet” — Dov Weisglass, chief aide to Ariel Sharon, in 2006.

• Exposing them to “a bigger shoah (holocaust)” — Matan Vilnai, former deputy defense minister, in 2008.

• Issuing religious edits exhorting soldiers to show no mercy — the Israeli army rabbinate during the actual conflict.

Such declarations echo at least three of the “8 stages of genocide” identified by Genocide Watch president Gregory Stanton in the 1990s after the Rwanda genocide: Classification, dehumanization, and polarization.

Then there is the deliberate destruction or barring of means of sustenance as Israel has done on land and at sea. Already, the Goldstone Report has said that depriving the Gaza Palestinians of their means of sustenance, employment, housing and water, freedom of movement, and access to a court of law, could amount to persecution.

Since the December-January assault, there have been many authoritative reports by human rights and environmental organizations on the impact of the war and the ongoing siege on the people, soil, air, and water, including the increase in cancers, deformed births, and preventable deaths. The death toll in Gaza from swine flu reached nine in mid-December and 13 a week later — an epidemic in waiting.

The eighth stage of genocide Stanton identifies is denial by perpetrators “that they committed any crimes.” Ironically, Stanton headed the International Association of Genocide Scholars during the conflict, which shut down discussion of Israel’s actions despite protests by, among others, genocide scholar and author Adam Jones. Jones and 15 other scholars had posted a declaration stating that Israeli policies were “too alarmingly close” to genocide to ignore and calling for an end to the silence.

Alarmingly close is right. Here is how Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish legal scholar who pushed for the genocide convention, defined it in 1943:

“genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation…. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.”

It is hard to conceive of a better description of what is going on in Gaza.

All UN member states have the duty to prevent and stop acts of genocide. What is needed is a country brave enough to take the lead, before it is too late.

NADIA HIJAB is an independent analyst and a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies.

 

More articles by:

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
Jessicah Pierre
A Revolutionary Idea to Close the Racial Wealth Divide
George Burchett
Revolutionary Journalism
Dan Bacher
U.S. Senate Confirms Oil Lobbyist David Bernhardt as Interior Secretary
Nicky Reid
The Strange Success of Russiagate
Chris Gilbert
Defending Venezuela: Two Approaches
Todd Larsen
The Planetary Cost of Amazon’s Convenience
Kelly Martin
How the White House is Spinning Earth Day
Nino Pagliccia
Cuba and Venezuela: Killing Two Birds With a Stone
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Guadalcanal and Bloody Ridge, Solomon Islands
David Kattenburg
Trudeau’s Long Winter
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
Ellen Lindeen
What Does it Mean to Teach Peace?
Adewale Maye and Eileen Appelbaum
Paid Family and Medical Leave: a Bargain Even Low-Wage Workers Can Afford
Ramzy Baroud
War Versus Peace: Israel Has Decided and So Should We
Ann Garrison
Vets for Peace to Barbara Lee: Support Manning and Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Mueller Report Changed my Mind on Term Limits
Jill Richardson
Why is Going Green So Hard? Because the System Isn’t
Mallika Khanna
The Greenwashing of Earth Day
Arshad Khan
Do the Harmless Pangolins Have to Become Extinct?
Paul Armentano
Pushing Marijuana Legalization Across the Finish Line
B. R. Gowani
Surreal Realities: Pelosi, Maneka Gandhi, Pompeo, Trump
Paul Buhle
Using the Law to Build a Socialist Society
Elliot Sperber
Ecology Over Economy 
April 18, 2019
Gerald Sussman
Russiagate is Dead! Long Live Russiagate!
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail