Is Israel Committing a Genocide against the Palestinians of Gaza?

By Luke Peterson

Yes, Israel is committing genocide.

What we are witnessing now is the extension of the program of national erasure against the Palestinians that the Zionist project has always entailed, at times overtly, but more often covertly.

As defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2, it consists of “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:”

(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;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The law protects national groups such as the Palestinians when they are targeted “as such,” i.e. for being Palestinians. Scholars note that “The ‘in whole or in part’ means that there is no lower limit to the number of people on which these acts may be committed. It is genocide even any of the Acts (a)-(e) are on one person with the intent described.” That is, it is not necessary that large numbers of persons be killed for a policy to qualify as a violation of this convention, though in the present Gaza campaign alone one in a thousand residents of Gaza has been killed by the Israeli military (the equivalent of killing 310,000 Americans). The Israeli military deliberately knocked out the Gaza Strip’s only electricity plant, making it impossible for water purification plants to operate and so depriving most Palestinians of potable water. Infants and toddlers are at special risk of mortality from dirty water. The conditions of life imposed on the people of Gaza are indisputably causing serious mental and bodily harm.

Ordinarily the Israeli campaign against the Palestinians is creeping and deliberate, involving processes of detention, and restriction: the abject denial of basic human rights and dignities that is integral to political and military occupation. It is “incremental genocide” (to borrow a phrase from the scholar Ilan Pappe).

Israeli action against the Palestinians is slow out of political necessity; since World War II the world will typically not tolerate the attempt by one ethnic/national group to eliminate another (indeed on several occasions more powerful states have intervened militarily to attack those attempting to erase another people).

But there are moments when the Zionist program against the Palestinian people involves a barrage of intensity and barbarity during which the complete scope of the nature of Israeli policy is unleashed full force. Israeli civil society is complicit in this ferocious drive as well. In addition to the horror of the current political and military assault against Gaza, groups of violent Israelis have been captured on video parading around Jerusalem and other cities chanting “Death to Arabs.” In one particularly disturbing scene, a splinter group of 3 to 5 youths backed by a larger hostile faction set up a makeshift road block in west Jerusalem, stopping cars to inquire of the driver “Are you Jewish?” None dare answer in the negative; a horrific fate could await those who might answer “no.”

These same radical groups (Im Tirtzu, among others) venerate Baruch Goldstein, the slaughterer of men, women, and children in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in February of 1994, honoring him with parties, street signs, and graffiti telling the world that “Dr. Goldstein was right” (Goldstein was a physician from New York).

Likewise it is important to note that in a recent poll, 86.5% of Israelis surveyed said that they did not want to see a ceasefire take hold during the current assault on Gaza; the vast majority of Israeli citizens will the operation to continue even though 80% of the casualties have been non-combatants. (For a thorough investigation of contemporary Israeli society, see Max Blumenthal’s Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, 2013).

The intent of Israel— – far removed from anything to do with immediate self-defense— – is to forever erase the Palestinian nation. If in the prosecution of this goal, women, children, the aged are killed by high-powered ordnance in the center of densely populated, civilian areas, so be it. The second purpose of this slaughter is to send the message that this kind of grotesquery can happen at any time of Israel’s choosing. Up to this point in the bombardment more than 400,000 Palestinians—a third of the population of Gaza—- have been driven out of their homes and left without electricity or other necessities of life.

The Israeli leadership behaves with utter impunity. Netanyahu’s government is able to push international opinion to the brink of condemnation and censure (Latin America has been the moral conscience of the globe over the course of the last two weeks). But the Israeli government then settles back into its normal pattern of “incremental genocide.”

Only a massive swell of negative global opinion, widespread protest, institutionalized boycott, broad divestment, and/or huge public condemnation can stem the tide of unchecked Israeli aggression. Internal citizen pressures against all governments who support Israeli atrocity might be able bring Israel to its senses; the Likud government clearly will not cease this destruction of its own volition.

What we are seeing now are the horrible consequences of Israeli policy, laid bare for the world to see. If we remain silent, that policy may well prove successful.

Luke Peterson received a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies from The University of Cambridge in 2012.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

TheRealNews: “Gaza Death Toll Nears 1500 As Cease Fire Breaks Down; Dozens Trapped Near Rafah Crossing”

12 Responses

  1. Whatever it’s called, it is totally unacceptable. While Israel is indeed the perpetrator, it is arguable that the US also bears culpable responsibility. Not only has the US consistently emasculated the UN whenever it has sought to rein in these purposes, but even now, as the world stands aghast, it feeds the flames with additional funds and weaponry for Israel. In a court the US could well be enjoined in accusations of genocide for funding Israel to murder Palestinians since it provides not only the cash but many of the actual weapons, and the fact that Israel is happy to do it would not likely be accepted in mitigation. Laws that cannot be enforced are nonetheless custodians of international moral norms, norms which the US and Israel are holding in flagrant defiance. Unrighteousness breeds unrighteousness, and the dark tide of antisemitism can already be seen leaking back onto the streets and squares of Europe where it should be born in mind that few hold a positive view of Jews collectively.

    I have long felt that the past illuminates the future much less than the present illuminates the past, and in the scenes emerging from Gaza I see vivid reflections of the distorted body parts, agonised faces, despair, and ruthless destruction levied on the inhabitants of Jericho three and a half millennia past.

  2. Yes, it’s a shame that when we were all being brought up on the ridiculous Exodus story of blond-haired blue-eyed Zionists heroically redeeming the land of Israel, no-one ever mentioned that the prerequisite for the entire project was that the Palestinians would have to cease to exist as a people in their own homeland. The genocide part was kind of a big thing to leave out.

    • Egypt was an ancient and stable polytheist society ruled by powerful priesthoods under an incarnate deity, a system to which the inflexible monotheism of the Hebrews was an obvious threat. It is more likely they became scapegoats during a rare period of drought and, far from escaping, were driven out.

    • I was twelve and after being fed this nonsense in an RE lesson I put up my hand and asked “What about the people already there?”. The lesson stopped immediately, the teacher left and came back with another. She pointed me out and they glared and muttered angrily for ten minutes. It was an education. So much for the ten commandments.

  3. Of course this is a genocide. What is a genocide? “the systematic killing of people from a different ethnicity or religous group”. Isreal has been killing Palestinians for decades. they plan and provoke the war to destroy Palestinians. How else do we describe this. It is a holocaust by Isreal against Palestinians. I am surprised that we are still debating that if it may not be a genocide.

  4. It’s right there in black and white.

    How many decades did Zionists deny the existence of Palestinians? How long did they claim that the Arabs only entered Jerusalem and Palestine after the European Jewish immigrants made the area prosperous?

    It was there right at the start with the mantra “A land without a people for a people without a land” being repeated in a perverted repeat of the principle of Terra Nullius that settlers in Australia the moral justification to come in and seize land and resources because after all, that land wasn’t occupied by any civilized peoples.

    Then having seized the lands of the Palestinian Mandate there was a moral imperative to obscure the lies the Zionist enterprise grew out of. Arab communities destroyed and turned in natural parks, areas renamed in Hebrew to obliterate the past reality that up until a short period earlier this was universally recognized as an Arab land.

  5. Prior to Al Jazeera giving the back-story and the likes of Max Blumenthal and Norman Finkelstein, all most latter day Arabs knew of Jews was being at the butt end of the Hasbara. These are the people actually countering anti-Semitism.

  6. Unlike any genocide in the past, this one is committed broad day-light with complete impunity while the rest of the world, except the co-perpetrator US, watches. No doubt, this is the new low in the human history after the Iraq during the last decade when it comes to how nakedly and with complete impunity it has been committed.

  7. By the criteria used in your definition of genocide, Moslem Arabs have committed genocide against Jews, Christians, and other minorities. Shia and Sunni have committed it against each other.

    You selectively cite anonymous politicians that support your point; you omit the many Israeli politicians and activists who have fought for a two state solution and for respecting the Arab minority.

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