Yes, it is genocide

Image: Efe Ersoy


Jewish history will henceforth be stained with the mark of Cain for “the most horrible of crimes,” which cannot be erased from its forehead.

Yes, it is genocide. It is so difficult and painful to admit, but despite all this and despite all our efforts to think otherwise, after six months of brutal war, we can no longer avoid this conclusion. Jewish history will henceforth be stained with the mark of Cain for “the most horrible of crimes,” which cannot be erased from his forehead. As such, this is how it will be seen in the judgment of history for generations to come.

From a legal point of view, it is not yet known what the Hague International Court of Justice (ICJ) will decide, although in light of its temporary decisions so far and in light of the increasing prevalence of reports from legal experts, international organizations and journalists investigation, the trajectory of prospective judgment seems quite clear.

Already on January 26, the International Court of Justice ruled by an overwhelming majority (14-2) that Israel may be committing genocide in Gaza. On March 28, following Israel's deliberate starvation of Gaza's population, the Court issued additional orders (this time by a vote of 15-1, with the only dissent coming from Israeli judge Aharon Barak), calling on Israel not to denying Palestinians their rights, which are protected by the Genocide Convention.

The well argued and reasoned report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese, reached a somewhat more determined conclusion and is another layer to establish the understanding that Israel is in fact committing genocide. Israeli academic Dr. Lee Mordechai's detailed and periodically updated report, which collects information on the level of Israeli violence in Gaza, reached the same conclusion.

Leading scholars like Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of economics at Columbia University (and a Jew with a warm attitude toward traditional Zionism), with whom heads of state around the world consult regularly on international issues, speak of the Israeli genocide as something taken for granted. guaranteed.

Excellent investigative reporting, such as that of Yuval Avraham, in Local Call, and especially his recent investigation into the artificial intelligence systems used by the military in selecting targets and carrying out assassinations, further deepen this accusation. The fact that the military allowed, for example, the murder of 300 innocent people and the destruction of an entire residential neighborhood to eliminate a Hamas brigade commander shows that military targets are almost casual targets for killing civilians and that every Palestinian in Gaza is a target to kill. This is the logic of genocide.

Yes. I know, they are all anti-Semites or self-hating Jews. Only we Israelis, whose minds are fed by the IDF spokesman's announcements and exposed only to the images sifted for us by the Israeli media, see reality as it is. As if endless literature had not been written about the mechanisms of social and cultural denial in societies that commit serious war crimes. Israel is truly a paradigmatic case of such societies, a case that will still be taught in every university seminar in the world that deals with the subject.

It will be several years before the Hague court issues its verdict, but we should not look at the catastrophic situation through a legal lens alone. What is happening in Gaza is genocide because the level and pace of indiscriminate killings, destruction, mass expulsions, displacement, starvation, executions, the annihilation of cultural and religious institutions, the crushing of elites (including the murder of journalists) and the comprehensive dehumanization of Palestinians creates a general picture of genocide, of a deliberate and conscious crushing of Palestinian existence in Gaza.

As we normally understand such concepts, Palestinian Gaza as a geographic-political-cultural-human complex no longer exists. Genocide is the deliberate annihilation of a collective or part of it – not all of its individuals. And this is what is happening in Gaza. The result is, without a doubt, genocide. The numerous declarations of extermination by senior Israeli government officials and the general tone of extermination in public discourse, correctly pointed out by the columnist for Haaretz, Carolina Landsman, indicate that this was also the intention.

Israelis mistakenly think that for it to be seen as genocide it must look like the Holocaust. They imagine trains, gas chambers, crematoriums, killing pits, concentration and extermination camps and the systematic persecution until the death of every member of the group of victims until the last one. An occurrence like this did not actually occur in Gaza. Similar to what happened in the Holocaust, most Israelis also imagine that the collective victims are not involved in violent activities or real conflicts and that the killers exterminate them because of an insane and senseless ideology. This is also not the case in Gaza.

Hamas' brutal attack on October 7 was a heinous and terrible crime. About 1.200 people were killed or murdered, including more than 850 Israeli (and foreign) civilians, including many children and elderly people, about 240 living Israelis were abducted to Gaza and atrocities such as rape were committed. This is an event that will have profound, catastrophic and lasting traumatic effects for many years, certainly for the direct victims and their immediate circles, but also for Israeli society as a whole. The attack forced Israel to respond in self-defense.

However, although each case of genocide has a different character, in the scope and characteristics of the murders, the common denominator of most of them is that they were carried out out of an authentic sense of self-defense. Legally, an event cannot be both self-defense and genocide. These two legal categories are mutually exclusive. But historically, self-defense is not incompatible with genocide, it is generally one of its main causes, if not the main one.

In Srebrenica – where the International Criminal Tribunal (ICC) for the former Yugoslavia ruled on two different levels that a genocide occurred in July 1995 – “only” around 8.000 Bosnian Muslim men and youth, over the age of 16, were murdered. The women and children had already been expelled before.

Bosnian Serb forces were responsible for the murders, their offensive took place in the middle of a bloody civil war, during which both sides committed war crimes (although vastly more on the part of the Serbs) and which broke out following a unilateral decision of Bosnian Croats and Muslims to break away from Yugoslavia and establish an independent Bosnian state, in which Serbs were a minority.

Bosnian Serbs, with dark memories of persecution and murder in World War II, felt threatened. The complexity of the conflict, in which neither party was innocent, did not prevent the ICC from recognizing the Srebrenica massacre as an act of genocide, which exceeded the remaining war crimes committed by the parties, since these crimes cannot justify genocide . The court explained that Serb forces intentionally destroyed, through murder, expulsion and destruction, the Bosnian-Muslim existence in Srebrenica. Today, in fact, Bosnian Muslims live there again and some of the mosques that were destroyed have been rebuilt. But the genocide continues to haunt both the descendants of the killers and the victims.

The case of Rwanda is totally different. There, for a long time, as part of the divide-and-rule Belgian colonial control structure, the Tutsi minority group ruled and oppressed the Hutu majority group. However, in the 1960s the situation was reversed and, after their independence from Belgium in 1962, the Hutu took control of the country and adopted an oppressive and discriminatory policy against the Tutsis, this time also with the support of the former colonial powers. .

Gradually, this policy became intolerable and a brutal and bloody civil war broke out in 1990, beginning with the invasion of a Tutsi army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, composed mainly of Tutsis who fled Rwanda after the fall of colonial rule. As a result, in the eyes of the Hutu regime, the Tutsis became collectively identified with a true military enemy.

During the war, both sides committed serious crimes on Rwandan soil, as well as on the soil of neighboring countries to which the war spread. Neither side was absolutely innocent or absolutely evil. The civil war ended with the Arusha Accords, signed in 1993, which were supposed to involve the Tutsi people in government institutions, the army and state structures.

But these agreements failed and, in April 1994, the Hutu president of Rwanda's plane was shot down. To this day, it is not known who shot down the plane and it is believed that they were actually Hutu fighters. However, the Hutu were convinced that the crime had been committed by Tutsi resistance fighters and this was seen as a genuine threat to the country. The Tutsi genocide was on the way. The official justification for the act of genocide was the need to remove the threat from Tutsi existence once and for all.

The case of the Rohingya, which Joe Biden's administration recently recognized as genocide, is again very different. Initially, following the independence of Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 1948, Rohingya Muslims were seen as equal citizens and part of a predominantly Buddhist national entity. But over the years and especially after the establishment of the military dictatorship in 1962, Burmese nationalism became identified with several dominant ethnic groups, which were mainly Buddhist, of which the Rohingya were not members.

In 1982 and later, citizenship laws were enacted, depriving most Rohingya of their citizenship and rights. They were seen as foreigners and as a threat to the existence of the state. The Rohingya, among whom there have been small rebel groups in the past, have made an effort not to be drawn into violent resistance, but in 2016 many felt they could not stop their disenfranchisement, repression, state and mob violence against them. , and their gradual expulsion and an underground Rohingya movement attacked Myanmar police stations.

The reaction was brutal. Attacks by Myanmar security forces have driven most Rohingya from their villages, many have been massacred and their villages have been completely destroyed. When, in March 2022, Secretary of State Antony Blinken read the statement at the Holocaust Museum in Washington acknowledging that what was done to the Rohingya was genocide, he said that in 2016 and 2017, some 850.000 Rohingya were deported to Bangladesh and about 9.000 of them were murdered.

This was enough to recognize what was done to the Rohingya as the eighth occurrence of this type that the United States considers a genocide, apart from the Holocaust. The Rohingya case reminds us of what many genocide scholars have established in terms of investigation and which is very relevant to the Gaza case: a link between ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The link between the two phenomena is twofold and both are relevant to Gaza, where the vast majority of the population was expelled from their places of residence and only Egypt's refusal to absorb masses of Palestinians into its territory prevented them from leaving Gaza. On the one hand, ethnic cleansing signals the desire to eliminate the enemy group at any cost and without compromise and therefore easily slides into genocide or is part of it. On the other hand, ethnic cleansing often creates conditions that allow or cause (e.g., disease and starvation) the partial or total extermination of the victim group.

In the case of Gaza, “safe haven zones” have often become death traps and zones of deliberate extermination and in these refuges Israel deliberately starves the population. For this reason, there are many commentators who believe that ethnic cleansing is the aim of the fighting in Gaza.

The genocide of the Armenians during the First World War also had a context. During the declining years of the Ottoman Empire, Armenians developed their own national identity and demanded self-determination. Their distinct religious and ethnic character, as well as their strategic location on the border between the Ottoman and Russian empires, made them a dangerous population in the eyes of the Ottoman authorities.

Horrible outbreaks of violence against Armenians occurred as early as the late 19th century, and therefore some Armenians were in fact sympathetic to the Russians and saw them as potential liberators. Small Russian-Armenian groups even collaborated with the Russian army against the Turks, appealing to their brethren across the border to join them, which led to an intensified sense of existential threat in the eyes of the Ottoman regime. This feeling of threat, which developed during a deep crisis of the empire, was an important factor in the development of the Armenian genocide, which also initiated a process of expulsion.

The first genocide of the 123th century was also carried out based on a concept of self-defense by German colonists against the Herero and Nama peoples in southwest Africa (present-day Namibia). As a result of severe repression by German settlers, local inhabitants rebelled and in a brutal attack murdered around XNUMX (perhaps more) unarmed men. The feeling of threat in the small community of settlers, which numbered only a few thousand, was real and Germany feared that it had lost its deterrence against the natives.

The response was in accordance with the perceived threat. Germany sent an army led by an unrestrained commander and there too, out of a sense of self-defense, most of these tribal members were murdered between 1904 and 1908 – some by direct killing, some under conditions of hunger and thirst imposed on them by the Germans ( again by deportation, this time to the Omaka desert) and some in cruel internment and forced labor camps. Similar processes occurred during the expulsion and extermination of indigenous peoples in North America, especially during the XNUMXth century.

In all these cases, the perpetrators of the genocide felt an existential threat, more or less justified, and the genocide came in response. The destruction of the group of victims was not contrary to an act of self-defense, but rather to an authentic reason for self-defense.

In 2011, I published a short article in the newspaper Haaretz on the genocide in southwest Africa, concluding with the following words: “We can learn from the Herero and Nama genocide how colonial domination, based on a sense of cultural and racial superiority, can result, in the face of local rebellion, in horrible crimes such as the mass expulsion, ethnic cleansing and genocide. The case of the Herero rebellion should serve as a terrible warning sign for us here in Israel, which has already seen a Nakba in its history.”

*Amos Goldberg is a professor in the Department of Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Author, among other books, of VeZcharta — And Thou Shalt Remember: Five Critical Readings in Israeli Holocaust Remembrance (Resling).

Translation: Sean Purdy.

Originally published on the website The Palestine Project.

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