At the moment many of us are watching the news with bated breath. New sites, facebook and twitter feeds are filling with images of civilian deaths and the leveling of Gaza. There is growing sentiment that the ‘targeted’ operations in Gaza by the IDF have been willfully indiscriminate- with example upon example of civilian safe havens being directly targeted (4 UN schools in 4 days, 46 schools in total, 56 Mosques and 7 hospitals). The UN has called for an investigation of war crimes by Israel, and there is a growing international public movement to protest the killings- in the face of almost universal silence by major world leaders on the issue.
One question that has not been consistently raised is why the term ‘genocide’ is not being used to describe the activities of Israel in Gaza. It seems that only ‘extreme’ activist groups or Hamas and the Palestinian Authority themselves would accuse Israel of genocide, with the rest of the international community preferring to qualify their criticisms using terms like ‘indiscriminate’ ‘disproportionate’ or ‘criminal.’ The politics of Israel and Palestine have become so muted, so tangled with discursive landmines that it is difficult to even pose such a question. Yet one does not need to be a radical to at least try to evaluate Israeli actions against the established UN definition of genocide. Serious questions about the end goal of the current military actions, along with longstanding Israeli policies and their impact on the ability of Palestinians to exist require attention.
It is worth quoting the following section from the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide- not only to assess whether the current military offensive constitutes a genocide, but also to reflect on the international community’s ‘punishable’ role as actors ‘complicit’ to a genocide.
“Article II: In the present Convention, 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.
Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide. “
There is a need to at least consider the term genocide and its application to Israel and Palestine. Even a brief glance at recent events calls for this: Palestinian civilians are dying as a result of their schools, hospitals, and religious buildings being destroyed; Palestinians are being asked to leave their homes both to avoid the military offensive in Gaza and to accommodate Israeli settlements in the West Bank; there are reports of psychological warfare being used by both sides of the conflict; there have also been several explicit calls for the elimination or conquering of Palestinians- as a people- in Gaza. Such calls include: Israeli parliament member and law-maker Ayelet Shaked- referring to Palestinians- called for the mothers of ‘terrorists’ to be killed “so that they cannot bear any more terrorists”; Israeli academic Mordechai Kedar argued that rape was “the only thing” that would stop terrorists from attacking Israel; and, Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament and a member of Prime Minister Netanyaho’s Likud party, called for a “total siege” on Gaza “with no other considerations” besides minimizing harm to IDF soldiers.
It is time for an honest assessment of Israeli actions- not just in this recent Gaza ‘offensive’ but in terms of its entire method of occupying and controlling Palestinians and their land. Those of us studying international relations and international law have an obligation to try to transcend the discursive politics and the growing pressure to avoid, qualify or stifle our expressions and reactions to the politics of the region.