Holocaust, genocide or slaughter?

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By PAULO CAPEL NARVAI*

Whatever the term used to define what happens to the Palestinian people, it matters less – in fact, it matters nothing – compared to the lives taken daily, in droves, in Gaza

Many people, here in Brazil, seem more concerned with how to characterize what happens in Gaza, than with what happens in Gaza. Bodies crushed, torn apart, dismembered, shot, don't matter much, even if they are the bodies of civilians – children, women and the elderly. But, all over the world, refusing indifference and caring about the facts and the horror, voices are being raised asking for what is happening in Gaza to stop.

I want mine among these voices, because I want peace. Now.

Lula spoke out, as President of the Republic, about what is happening in Gaza. He made public, in an event abroad, the position of the Brazilian government – ​​which is also, for this fact of transcendent importance, the position of the Workers' Party (PT), his party.

On February 18, 2024, he granted interview to journalists in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, after having participated the previous day in the opening session of the 37th African Union Summit. On that occasion, he defended the creation of a free and sovereign Palestinian State, recognized as a full member of the UN, as a condition for lasting peace in the region.

In the interview, the Brazilian president criticized the countries that stopped sending financial aid to the UN to support Palestinian refugees, many of whom have lost their homes, are suffering from hunger and thirst and are sick and without medicine.

Lula stated that “humanist” values ​​are necessary to seek a solution to the conflict and that “being a humanist today implies condemning the attacks perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli civilians and demanding the immediate release of all hostages. Being a humanist also requires rejecting Israel's disproportionate response, which killed almost 30 Palestinians in Gaza, the vast majority of whom were women and children, and caused the forced displacement of more than 80% of the population.” To these statements, few reacted.

But, in the interview, Lula said that what is happening in Gaza “does not exist at any other historical moment, in fact, it existed, when Hitler decided to kill the Jews”. This phrase, allow me the pun, fell like a bomb in Jewish communities in Brazil and gained worldwide repercussion, being used politically by the Israeli government, in search of external “enemies” that would help it cohesion a government that is going bad. the worst. Immediately, they accused Lula of “denying the Holocaust”, “comparing incomparable facts”.

Holocaust denial is just manipulation, for political and propagandistic purposes. The comparison of facts deserves analysis.

The Brazilian Israeli Confederation (CONIB) considered Lula's statements to be “unfounded”, arguing that “Israel is defending itself against a terrorist group that invaded the country, killed more than a thousand people, promoted mass rapes, burned people alive and defends in its founding Charter the elimination of the Jewish State. This perverse distortion of reality offends the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and their descendants.” The full CONIB note can be read here.

But Lula's position, expressed in Addis Ababa and reiterated in Brazil (“what the Israeli government is doing to Palestine is not war, it is genocide. If that is not genocide, I don't know what is”), in no way differs from the official note of the Workers' Party, published four months ago, on October 16, 2023, reacting to the accusation made by the Israeli ambassador to Brazil, Daniel Zonshine, that the party had lost “the vision of humanity”, due to its position on the war that Israel declared against Hamas and which, far beyond the group, has been reaching the entire Palestinian people in the region.

In the “PT Resolution on the situation in Palestine and Israel” the party says which “supports, since the 1980s, the struggle of the Palestinian people for their national sovereignty, as well as the UN Resolution for the constitution of two National States, the State of Palestine and the State of Israel, guaranteeing the right to self-determination, sovereignty, autonomy and development conditions, with a viable economy for Palestine, seeking peaceful coexistence between the two peoples”.

It notes that “the PT has historically maintained party relations solely with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), as well as with the Palestinian National Authority based in Ramallah” and “condemns, since its foundation, any and all acts of violence against civilians, wherever they come from. Therefore, we condemn the unacceptable attacks, murders and kidnapping of civilians, committed by both Hamas and the State of Israel, which is carrying out, at this very moment, a genocide against the population of Gaza, through a series of war crimes.”

The note calls for “an immediate ceasefire” and “compliance with UN resolutions, especially those that guarantee the existence of the State of Palestine and a peaceful relationship with Israel”, warning “against the risks of an escalation of the conflict”. He concludes by reiterating that “the world does not need more wars. The world needs peace” and “calls on its activists to participate in activities in defense of peace, in defense of the two-state solution (Palestine and Israel) and in defense of the rights of the Palestinian people to a peaceful life with national sovereignty”.

The characterization of what is happening in Gaza as “genocide”, and its denunciation, is not new, although it only received international repercussions after Lula's interview in Addis Ababa.

It is necessary to consider that, in October 2023, when the diplomatic friction with Israel began, Brazil was a rotating member and presided the Security Council of the United Nations (UN). Although the creation of Israel, as a contemporary national state, in the post-Second World War, on May 14, 1948, was the product of a UN resolution and, one year after Israel became the 59th member of the United Nations, the country has become notable for its disregard for complying with UN resolutions. This politically undermines the Israeli government before the international community.

Brazil's diplomatic friction with Israel worsened the following month. In November, Zonshine went to the Brazilian National Congress, where he met with Bolsonaro. The obvious provocation to the government was intended for Lula to summon him to give explanations and, ultimately, expel him, deepening diplomatic tension with Brazil, and instigating the country to take sides, to “enter the war”. The purpose was to disqualify the Brazilian position on the conflict, claiming that the country would be a “party” to the conflict. The objective of the maneuver was to induce the rupture of diplomatic relations with Israel and, with this, to equalize Brazil, diplomatically, in Latin America, with Bolívia, Honduras, Chile and Colombia, who broke with Israel. The provocation was neutralized and that maneuver failed.

But Israel's current far-right government is not giving up on its strategic objective of weakening Brazil's pro-peace position, distorting and altering the meaning of that position, as expressed by Israel Katz, its foreign minister and one of the main leaders of the current government of Israel. Not because of misinformation, but because it suits his government's purpose to distort the position of the Brazilian government, Israel Katz attributes to Lula something that the President of the Republic never said.

The word holocaust was not mentioned, neither in Ethiopia nor in Brazil. It is not even in the PT Resolution of October 2023. Deliberately exaggerating the interpretation convenient to the Israeli government, Katz qualified Lula’s speech was “promiscuous” and “delusional” and declared him persona non grata to Israel. This interpretation is so obviously exaggerated and distorted that it is embarrassing to have to argue that appeals for peace, understanding and compliance with the UN Resolution, on the coexistence of two sovereign States in the region, are neither delusion nor promiscuity.

The meaning and political significance of the demonstrations in favor of the ceasefire and the construction of peace, both by the PT and by President Lula, are clear as sunlight: two sovereign States and peace. Brazil remains accredited to continue its role as a potential mediator, among the protagonists of peace that, one day, will come to the region.

The Brazilian extreme right, in connection with its counterparts in Israel, made a fuss on social media, replicating the Israeli government. He uses the episode to dispute the support of public opinion, seeking to take the focus away from investigations into the attacks on the Democratic Rule of Law, perpetrated on January 8, from police investigations into leaders of the Bolsonaro government, and from attempts to delegitimize the results of the elections 2022. Repeats the Israeli chancellor's tone, promptly refuted by the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mauro Vieira, who disapproved the version of “Holocaust denial” attributed to President Lula. For Mauro Vieira, it is “something unusual and revolting” for the Foreign Ministry to “address the Head of State of a friendly country in this way”.

Even so, representatives of the extreme right called for the impeachment of Lula in the National Congress. They seek, with the media noise, in addition to providing services and meeting Israeli intentions of diplomatically neutralizing Brazil, to shift the focus from the political problem that bothers it at the moment: the imminent arrest of its highest national leader, the former president of the Republic .

It is worth noting that the extreme right gained the support of sectors of the right that claim to be democratic. Some parliamentarians, including the president of the Senate, swallowed the version that Lula had “denied the Holocaust”. Some went public, even in the stands of the National Congress, asking Lula to recant in order, as they believe, to “correct” what they consider to be a “diplomatic error” by the Brazilian government.

With these actions, part of the opposition to the Brazilian government intended to initiate a public debate not with what Lula said, but with what the extreme right and the right attributed to Lula. In other words, a falsification of the political position of someone who is considered an opponent, carried out by people who consider themselves democrats. It is not worth, in democracy, falsifying the other's position. But they want it to be valid, because it suits them.

The distortion of the Brazilian government's position has led to an understanding that I consider mistaken, even among some PT's own leaders and also from democratic sectors linked to the Jewish community in Brazil.

In an article in Folha de S. Paul ( "Lula offends Jews who voted for him”), journalist and writer Arnaldo Bloch reproduces the thesis that Lula denied the Holocaust and that he fell “into the trap of establishing parallels between the military campaign in Gaza”. Arnaldo Bloch does not consider, however, that his understanding, based on the distortion of Lula's position, may be, even if inadvertently, being put in favor of those in power in Israel - whose coalition, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, the author himself considers it “radical” and with a “corrupt trajectory”.

The manipulation of Lula's speech in Addis Ababa is promoted by the extreme right as diversionism, as many have warned. But it is also a recurring episode of alteration, seeking to give an opposite meaning to some of his statements, to alienate him from public opinion, or from specific communities. Such is the case. The objective is always the same: to weaken your leadership. What was actually said by Lula matters little for this purpose.

More than a decade ago, in November 2012, Eduardo Galeano wrote about Gaza and its relations with Israel (“Who gave Israel the right to deny all rights?”). He did not speak of genocide, but he asked and answered: “Where does the impunity with which Israel is carrying out the massacre in Gaza come from?” Since then, nothing has changed, as Artur Scavone emphasized, in article Site the earth is round, stating that the country “is an advanced atomic military base – undeclared – in the Middle East of the North American financial, industrial and military empire to preserve its access to oil and gas, decisive elements for maintaining the dollar as a universal currency and maintaining its economic power.”

Eduardo Galeano dedicated his article, critical of Israel, “to my Jewish friends, murdered by the Latin American military dictatorships that Israel advised”.

Like the Uruguayan writer, I have Palestinian friends and, in greater numbers, Jewish friends. With several Palestinian friends, or supporters of the Palestinian cause, and with dozens of Jewish friends, or children of Jews, some who no longer live, like Alberto Goldman and Jacob Gorender, I shared political struggles for a democratic rule of law, which we achieved in 1988 and that both, like me, wanted socialism in Brazil.

The nephew of one of these friends was killed in the invasion on October 7, 2023, carried out by Hamas. According to Arnaldo Bloch, Hamas is a political-military organization that “preaches, in its statutes, the death of all Jews in the world” and reproduces the “systemic anti-Semitism disseminated in immemorial Europe and brought to paroxysm by the sick mind of Hitler ” founded on “ideals of racial purity based on a false eugenic correlation with classical antiquity” and on “the idea of ​​a degeneration associated with the Jews, dating from the first centuries of the Common Era” through “the Inquisition, the 'pogroms' in Eastern Europe and by processes such as the Dreyfus case”.

One of my friends, a “Jew from the diaspora”, who had his paternal grandparents machine-gunned by Nazis in Bessarabia, thought that Lula could say: “I've been to the Holocaust Museum and I abhor this disastrous part of history. You, Netanyahu, should also abhor what you are doing in the Gaza Strip. Until there is a ceasefire in Gaza, you are persona non grata here in Brazil". I argued that Lula never uttered the word holocaust. He responded by acknowledging that he did not say it, but that “the wound opens when Hitler and the deaths of Jews are mentioned” and that the mention of the Holocaust Museum is pertinent, as it was there that the Israeli Chancellor “took our ambassador to do the show they put on.”

A ceasefire is desperately needed in Gaza, urgently. The numbers are known, but it is worth reiterating that since the beginning of the war there have been around 30 deaths.

The responsibility for what happens in Gaza lies, in my opinion, with the intolerants, fundamentalists, authoritarians, sectarians and warmongers on both sides. The deaths of  Yitzhak Rabin, on the Israeli side (1995), and Yasser Arafat on the Palestinian side (2004), these are milestones of recent decades, which prevented the continuation of political efforts for understanding and peace in the region. Since the turn of the XNUMXth century into the XNUMXst, politics has given way to war.

No article quoted by Artur Scavone there is a warning that “there are no saints in the region, nor is Hamas holy, nor is the government of Israel holy” and that if Israel has transformed itself into an “aircraft carrier in the Middle East” to defend the interests of the North American empire, “some of the countries with an Islamic tradition do not necessarily and in fact align themselves with Hamas or the Palestinian cause”, corroborating the perspective that it is not possible to analyze the conflict without considering regional geopolitics, in which Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for hegemony.

If the Saudis accept dialogue with Israel, Iran financially supports groups that destabilize it politically, such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis. Although this dispute is expressed through religious ingredients, such as the different Islamic denominations, and political-ideological, over forms and regimes of government, it is in the economy that its decisive factor lies: oil and its control. In this context, if the Quran, Torah and even the Bible, are omnipresent references in everyday life, their influence on State decisions, government actions and political organizations is very modest.

War as “continuation of politics by other means” is a well-known teaching, formulated in the book Of war, by Carl Clausewitz (1780-1831), the Prussian general who directed the Military School in Berlin. He also taught that “war is always subordinated to politics” and therefore cannot be separated from it under any circumstances. But Carl Clausewitz did not separate politics from ethics, considering that “no war can be won” without, among other aspects, “the establishment of ethical limits to the use of force”, since “the physical destruction of the enemy ceases to be ethical, when he can be disarmed rather than killed.” But today, in Gaza, politics does not seem to be in charge. It is. But, in the eyes of the world, it seems not.

What Lula asks, essentially, is that politics, as an exercise of understanding on ethical grounds, return to the center of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Ah, but Lula spoke of genocide.” Yes, she said it. But you need to put this word in its context. Lula used it the way people use it today, in social conversations.

In this regard, it is necessary to consider that, until the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, here in Brazil the term genocide was rarely heard, outside of academic communities, notably anthropologists, even though genocide is classified as a crime by Federal Decree No. 30.822, dated May 6, 1952, signed by President Getúlio Vargas. The document ratifies the “Convention for the Prevention and Suppression of the Crime of Genocide”, approved by the UN at the United Nations General Assembly on December 11, 1948.

The Convention attributes to the term, proposed in the book Axis power in occupied Europe (1944) by the Polish Jewish jurist Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959), who had almost all family members murdered by Nazis, a precise meaning, which corresponds to what is currently accepted by the scientific community, as being deliberate, partial or of a community, ethnic, racial or religious group. Raphael Lemkin was, therefore, the first to use the Holocaust as an example of this “destruction of populations or peoples”. For him “when a nation is destroyed, it is not something like the cargo of a boat that is destroyed, but a substantial part of humanity, as its spiritual heritage is shared by all humanity”.

Among Brazilian anthropologists, however, the extermination of indigenous peoples is also used for this conceptual and historical purpose, as they are many dozens people who have been victims of genocide since the Portuguese invasion. Among them, the Aimorés, Caetés, Canindé, Carijó, Cariri, Caractiú, Icó, Panati, Guanaré, Timbiras, Charrua, Guarani, Omágua, Potiguar, Tamoio, Cumá, Tupinambá, Tupiniquim, Tucuju. There are so many that no one knows the number of genocides for sure.

It was, however, during the Covid-19 pandemic that the term “genocide” became popular among us. It was employed for designate Bolsonaro's government's strategy for dealing with the pandemic, but he rejected it. The rejection worked for the opposition to gain its footing. The term became popular. However, in popular language, the meaning of genocide began to correspond to what could best be described as “mortality” or “slaughter”. When he wrote the sertões, without the term genocide available to characterize the Republic’s actions against Arraial de Canudos, extinguishing Antônio Conselheiro and his people, Euclides da Cunha was succinct: “a crime”. But, as the number of deaths, including soldiers killed, is estimated at around 25 thousand in the two years that the conflict lasted, historians go further and recognize that it was a genocide.

What happens in Gaza is not a Holocaust, because contrary to what common sense supposes, History does not repeat itself – despite what Marx wrote, ironizing Hegel, that “all the facts and characters of great importance in the history of world occur, so to speak, twice. And he forgot to add: the first as a tragedy, the second as a farce”. Neither tragedy nor farce. Historical facts are singular, unique and, therefore, never repeated.

Marx knew this (warning to hasty readers and doctrinaires: Marx contains irony, be careful). For this reason, as a historical fact of relevance to all humanity, the Holocaust needs to be treated with the monstrous and profound meaning it has. Therefore, it is not really any killing, no matter how much it hurts, that can be considered a historical fact equivalent to the Holocaust. Singular, unique and unrepeatable.

If what happens in Gaza is not a genocide, how can we characterize what happens in Gaza? Lula has already warned that, “if this isn’t genocide, I don’t know what” genocide is. Respect, then, Jews who claim that the State of Israel is only undertaking a defensive “military campaign” against Hamas – even though this perspective is not accepted in Gaza.

Still, there are around 30 deaths in that territory, in four months, between October 2023 and February 2024. There are approximately 211 deaths per day, nine per hour, three every 20 minutes. It's a terrifying slaughterhouse rhythm. In any good dictionary, this scenario characterizes a massacre, understood as a massacre of men or animals in large numbers. A massacre, carnage, murder, butchery, butchery. Certainly, as a historical fact, it is not possible to make any type of comparison with any other episode marked by similar carnage.

But if, as a historical fact, I reiterate, there is no room for comparison, it seems inescapable to any attentive observer not directly involved in the facts, as is my case (and, as far as I know, Lula's), to see one or more links in systematic killings , in deaths in which those who die are victims of their ethnic condition or because they are physically in a certain territory. Finding “common elements”, links in historical facts does not correspond to equating them as historical facts. It was these common elements, these links between historical facts that not only Lula, but everyone who spoke out about what was happening in Gaza referred to. Let's agree that the ill will towards Lula has been enormous. I wrote about this ill will, in another circumstance and for other reasons (“Corporate media 'proves' that Lula doesn't know how to swim”).

Killing, carnage, murder, butchery, butchery. Okay, for those who are anxiously looking for a term to characterize what is happening in Gaza, just choose one of these. I will repeat: slaughter, carnage, murder, butchery, butchery. But, whatever the term, it matters less – in fact, it matters not at all – compared to the lives taken daily, in droves, in Gaza. This is what matters, crucially.

Peace is needed. Now. But not just any peace, not even the peace of cemeteries. It is necessary to build peace with zeal and mutual respect, putting hatred aside and thinking about the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Gaza. Identifying and confronting the obstacles to peace in the region, both in Israel and Palestine, is a complex, gigantic task that history defiantly places on the shoulders of Israeli and Palestinian political leaders.

Will they be able to advance? Will they be able to consolidate two sovereign states in the region and create a common market between the two countries? Single currency? Free movement of goods and people? (yes, capital always finds a way to have free movement, that’s not even necessary to defend…) Maybe, dreaming a lot, a single Football League? Universities? Health, education and social security systems?

As my mother used to say, “go on, son, dream! Dreaming doesn’t pay taxes!” I really dream. My dream is not over, no.

The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) is convening the 22th edition of Acampamento Terra Livre. It will take place in Brasília, from April 26nd to 2024th, XNUMX. April is the month of the invasion and the “long genocide” of the “relatives”. The indigenous people, as the reader realized, know what genocide is and could well teach the world another lesson, defending dialogue to reach peaceful solutions, through politics, understood as the ethical continuity of war.

With autonomy, voice, identity, pride. Sovereignly, not superbly. As it needs to be in Gaza, as it should be in Brazil, actively refusing genocide, fighting to build a life of peace, land and bread.

*Paulo Capel Narvai is senior professor of Public Health at USP. Author, among other books, of SUS: a revolutionary reform (authentic). [https://amzn.to/46jNCjR]


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