Palestine – the microphysics of continued death

Image: Ömer Faruk Yıldız


The continued genocide of the Palestinian people

In the last hours of 2021, I was finishing reading the book Expulsion of Palestinians.[I] With extensive documentation, Nur Masalha proves that the entire process of expelling the Palestinian people from their lands and homes was meticulously planned. The supposed “transfer” (a concept invented by the Zionists) of the Palestinian people to other regions refers, in fact, to processes of ethnic cleansing.

Covering another historical period, Ilan Pappé's research[ii] contribute to undoing the official narrative of the “State of Israel”. It is as if the two books were in a line of temporal continuity. While Masalha's analysis covers a period from 1882-1948, Pappé will focus his historical research mainly on the months that precede the foundation of the so-called “State of Israel”.

The massacres, robberies, rapes that, before the founding of the “State of Israel”, were practiced by terrorist Jewish groups, such as the Irgun (one of the most famous attacks committed by this group was carried out in July 1946, at the David , in Jerusalem, which resulted in the death of 91 people and injured dozens), became the backbone of the policy of the “State of Israel”. To prove the line of continuity between criminal practices before and after the creation of the “State of Israel”, it is worth remembering that one of the terrorists who planned and carried out the attack on the Hotel David would become Prime Minister twice: Menachem Begin.

There is not a single year, a single government in the history of the “State of Israel” that has stopped the policy of expelling the Palestinian people. Perhaps what didn't happen or happen exactly as the Zionists planned was the temporal dimension. The total expulsion of the Palestinian people did not happen due to the continued resistance of these people, on the one hand, and the pressure of internationalists scattered in all parts of the world.

There are two types of killing and killing techniques that the "State of Israel" began to implement from 1948 onwards and which have been sophisticated with all the devices high-tech. First: This is not a classic type of genocide. The definitions for the crime of genocide that underlie the conventions for the prevention and repression of the crime of genocide and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court point out that the objective of these crimes is not exclusively the murder of one person or several. The ultimate goal of genocide is the extermination of all individuals belonging to the same specific human group. It is possible to largely identify this definition operating in Israel's death policies. However, there are other killing techniques that are woven throughout the social fabric of Palestinian life. Here, we do not move within the scope of massacres, of bodies piled up and buried in mass graves, like the dozens of massacres already committed by the “State of Israel”. It is in the detail, in the small gesture of the “State” bureaucrat that denies mobility permits, in the military controls on the barriers, in the fragmentation of families, in the bureaucracy to obtain any type of authorization (construction/renovation of houses, leaving the country, right to go to a hospital), in the ostensive presence of settlers (the type of subjects who update, in contemporary times, Irgun practices and who are encouraged by the “State of Israel”) who steal land, humiliate and attack Palestinians. And so, those who claim to be the owners of the “promised land” turn the lives of the true owners into hell. A hell that operates in detail. This microphysics of the continued production of death is what I call “genocity”.

However, there are times when these techniques of slow and continuous production of the death of the Palestinian people – genocity – are shaken by acts of lethal violence on a large scale. And at that moment, genocide and genocity meet. On these occasions, exclusively on these moments, the world comes into contact with the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The deaths, the pains, the despair of mothers who raise their arms to the heavens and scream for another lost child. The desperation of the Palestinian people makes headlines, but will soon disappear. Unlike the everyday acts that characterize genocide, in the genocide acts perpetrated by Israel, the objective is to kill as quickly and as many Palestinians as possible. And what is the frequency of these massacres?

The year 2021 was the deadliest for Palestinians since 2014. The high point of Israeli genocidal policy was the month of May, with daily attacks on Gaza. In just a few days, Israeli forces killed 313 Palestinians, including 71 children. This is the most visible layer of the expulsion policy of the Palestinian people. As part of the genocity, Israel demolished more than 300 residential structures in Occupied East Jerusalem (the highest number since 2016). This left nearly 900 Palestinians homeless. Demolitions continue. On Tuesday, January 04, Israeli forces demolished part of a hospital serving 01 people in occupied East Jerusalem.

The genocity and genocide of the Palestinian people appear in the data released by the human rights NGO B'Tselem, according to which “Israel built more than 280 settlements in the West Bank, which house more than 440.000 settlers. Of these settlements, 138 have been officially established and recognized by the state (not including the 12 neighborhoods Israel built in areas it annexed from Jerusalem), and about 150 are unofficially state-recognized outposts. About a third of the outposts were built in the last decade, most of them called "farms".

Israel took control of some of these areas using official means: issuing military orders, declaring the area “state land”, a “shooting zone” or a “nature reserve”, and expropriating land. Other areas were effectively occupied by settlers through daily acts of violence, including attacks on Palestinians and their property” (B'Tselem).[iii]

If the reader is attentive, he will notice that I wrote “since 2014”. Between 2014 and 2021, only seven years have passed. But this is exactly where the secret of the death policy of the so-called “State of Israel” lies. When we use “since”, we have the expectation that we are building a comparison with a long historical period, that the event that will be narrated will be a differentiating milestone from the past.

Between 2014 and 2021, the Marches for the Right to Return took place. On March 30, 2018 (Earth Day), Palestinians in the Gaza Strip began holding regular protests, demanding an end to the blockade that Israel has imposed on the Strip since 2007 and the (internationally recognized) right to return to their houses and lands. The protests continued until the end of 2019. With each demonstration, the “State of Israel” positioned dozens of snipers along the fence. The guideline was to open lethal fire on anyone who tried to approach the fence or damage it.

And so it was done: the “State of Israel” used live fire against unarmed demonstrators. As a result, 223 Palestinians, 46 of them under the age of 18, were killed and around 8.000 were injured. The vast majority of people killed or injured posed no threat to the armored soldiers on the other side of the fence. The 2014 massacres and those related to the March of Return are being tried by the International Criminal Court. Hopefully, in 2022, the Court will recognize the crimes against humanity committed by Israel.

Now, therefore, it is worth redoing the calculations. Between 2014 and May 2021, we had the massacres during the Marches of Return (from 2018 to 2019). Then, genocidal policies (killing in large numbers, in a short period of time) were implemented in 2014, 2018, 2019 and 2021.

When the Palestinian question is discussed, it is generally referred to reports of crimes committed by the “State of Israel” in 1948 and 1967, or to important historical moments (for example, the Oslo Accords). It is as if there was a kind of normalization or political anesthesia, as if today's massacres did not have the same status as those practiced in the past. Here, in the temporality we inhabit, we witness a continuous genocide.

*Berenice Bento is a professor at the Department of Sociology at UnB. She authored, among other books, Brasil, Year Zero: State, gender, violence (Editora da UFBA).



[I] MASALHA, Nur. Expulsion of Palestinians. The concept of 'transfer' in Zionist thought (1882-1948). São Paulo: Sudermann/MEMO/FLP, 2021.

[ii] PAPPÉ, Ilan. Palestine's ethnic cleansing. So Paulo: Sundermann, 2016.


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