Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – I find peculiar the conviction of so many politicians in Europe and North America, not to mention Israel itself, that the Hamas attacks of October 7 and after justify the casual murder of thousands of Palestinian noncombatants in Gaza by the Israeli armed forces, including through aerial bombardment on densely populated neighborhoods, displacement of the infirm, and denying civilians water, food and electricity.
It would be as though the US government responded to the Capitol Insurrection of January 6, 2021, by sending the Air Force to cut off and bombard residential neighborhoods in Texas because so many of the Oath Keepers involved in the attempted coup were from there.
Actually, aside from arresting some of the participants, the US government did nothing to the White Supremacist cadres at all for trying to overthrow the US government (also a goal of al-Qaeda on 9/11, to which there was rather more pushback). That might be characterized as white privilege.
The Palestinians in Gaza are bearing the brunt of a different phenomenon, the Colonial Revenge Genocide. Half of Gaza consists of children, most born after 2006 when Hamas came to power in the Strip through elections insisted upon by George W. Bush. Large numbers of these children are set to be killed, and several hundred already have been, by Israeli aerial, tank and artillery bombardment. Although the stated military objective is to destroy the Hamas guerrillas, that objective is being pursued with obvious reckless disregard for the welfare of civilian noncombatants. You know, when a child is struck by a bomb from above, it is frequently decapitated, inasmuch as its body is torn apart. Movies do people a disservice by showing bodies in the aftermath of a bombing as whole, if bloodied. That’s not what they look like. Parts, including heads, are strewn around.
Hamas viciously attacked Israel and committed unspeakable war crimes, and it is legitimate for the Israeli armed forces to go after it in a determined way. It is not legitimate to ethnically cleanse civilians in Gaza or to blow them to smithereens in pursuit of ethno-national revenge. Anyone who thinks the latter is not happening doesn’t have eyes in their head, and the reason for which Israel has cut off the internet in Gaza (not a legitimate move since it endangers noncombatants) is to ensure that no real-time record can emerge of the coming massacre.
Gaza has been in a condition of Israeli coloniality since 1967 when Tel Aviv illegally seized it and militarily occupied it, and the Israeli elite has gone on to compound these actions by actively harming the civilian population for decades despite its duties to the people it occupied as laid out in the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute. No international body ever awarded Gaza to Israel. It was not even part of ancient Israel, not that that should be relevant.
Such vendettas against civilian populations have been routinely pursued by colonial militaries in the wake of a forceful challenge to their control. We must be clear-eyed and recognize that such revolts have sometimes been characterized by the deployment of the most horrific terrorism against the settler population by the indigenous resistance. The main characteristic of the phenomenon, however, is the disproportionate response by the settlers and their colonial military, so that the number of indigenous people killed is orders of magnitude higher than the casualties among the settlers. Another frequent trope is the patriarchal justification of subsequent massacres by pointing to settler women and children killed. This rhetoric drove London’s repression of the first Indian Great Rebellion against British rule in 1857-1858.
These slogans and raw emotions have typically been reinforced by racism, which is why rape of white settlers by brown or black indigenes has played such an outsized role in colonial revenge narratives. Racism — calling people “animals” or “insects” or “demons” — allows for a conscience-free killing field, since the extermination of dangerous animals or pests that have attacked women and children is perfectly natural and understandable. Colonial feelings of racial superiority have led to expressions of astonishment that the black or brown natives should rise up with such fierceness after all the benefits of civilization had been graciously bestowed on them by a wise metropole.
In the early 1950s in Kenya, militant members of the Kikuyu tribe, joined by some others, hived away from the staid Kenya African Union and began attacking white settler farms. The “Mau Mau” forces killed some white settler families. From 1952 to 1960 32 white settlers were killed.
The British colonial authorities in Kenya brought in troops to repress the Kenyan militants, killing between 11,000 and 25,000 mostly Kikuyu Kenyans, of which a little over 1,000 were hanged. A later Kenyan truth-finding commission found that the British killed, tortured or maimed 90,000 persons, and imprisoned 160,000 in subhuman conditions. The BBC quotes Oxford’s David Anderson as saying, “Everything that could happen did happen. Allegations about beatings and violence were widespread. Basically you could get away with murder. It was systematic.” Needless to say, 11,000 people had not been involved in murdering the 32 white people, much less 25,000. They were killed in revenge for the deaths of the whites, because they were perceived as being of a common “race” with the perpetrators.
I call it a genocide not because of the numbers of Kenyans the British killed (as many as 25,000) but because the Kikuyu activists were targeted in part for their ethnicity, which is the textbook definition of genocide.
Article 6 of the Rome Statute:
For the purpose of this Statute, “genocide” means 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
One of the features of the colonial revenge genocide is that the number killed among the indigenous must be grotesquely disproportionate to those killed among the settlers. Another feature is that the settlers hold all members of an ethnicity responsible for the actions of the militants among them. By 1960 the British campaign against the militants had come to an end. By late 1963 the British had to withdraw from Kenya and recognize it as an independent country. The London authorities and later archivists actively covered up the atrocities that British troops committed and the truth only came out decades later because of a lawsuit.
Likewise, regarding the National Front for Liberation (Front de libération nationale or FLN) in French Algeria from 1954, L. Carl Browne and Salah Zaimeche write at Britannica, “A decisive turn in the war took place in August 1955 when a widespread armed outbreak in Skikda, north of the Constantine region, led to the killing of nearly 100 Europeans and Muslim officials. Countermeasures by both the French army and settlers claimed the lives of somewhere between 1,200 (according to French sources) and 12,000 (according to Algerian sources) Algerians.”
Between 1954 and 1962, FLN attacks on French settlers left 5,000 to 6,000 dead. The French put in thousands of troops, of whom some 27,000 were killed by the guerrillas. French historians estimate that French forces and settlers (who staged their own uprising in 1961) killed 300,000 to 500,000 Algerians. The independent Algerian government puts Algerian lives lost at closer to 1.5 million, in a total population of 11 million. Again note the disproportion between the number of French killed and the number of Algerians.
Although the orgy of mass violence in Algeria is not usually called a genocide, it certainly was by the contemporary definition of genocide in international law.
You can’t kill half a million or a million people if you are merely confronting guerrilla forces. You have to be demonstrating an intent to kill civilians or a reckless disregard for their lives, both of which are war crimes. The French massacred villages that provided help and cover to the FLN, in order to deprive FLN of that aid.
There were lots of colonial revenge genocides. The Germans in Namibia carried out the Herero and Namaqua genocide in 1904-1908, blockading the populations from food and water and using machine guns against civilians in revenge for the killing of 100 German settlers. The Germans slaughtered between 24,000 and 100,000 Hereros and 10,000 Namaqua.
The US State Department has forbidden its diplomats from calling for deescalation in Gaza and the Biden administration has rebuked Democrats who want to forestall the massacre, showing that the power elite in the United States now is embroiled in white supremacist revenge fantasies. This bloodthirstiness is not new — Washington sacrificed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives in revenge for 9/11. It was no excuse that Iraqis had nothing to do with it, just as it is no excuse that most people in Gaza had nothing to do with October 7.