Genocide in Gaza (III) – a voice from Jerusalem 2023.12.24
” In the case of Israel’s genocide, however, most of the human rights mavens in the liberal mainstream have said little about Israel’s savage actions in Gaza or the genocidal rhetoric of its leaders. Hopefully, they will explain their disturbing silence at some point. Regardless, history will not be kind to them, as they said hardly a word while their country was complicit in a horrible crime, perpetrated right out in the open for all to see. ”
It is my duty to share this, and the authors encourage everybody to do so.
” Map of the Middle East – cut to the bone ” Designed by Sykes-Picot
Genocide in Gaza
I am writing to flag a truly important document that should be widely circulated and read carefully by anyone interested in the ongoing Gaza War.
Specifically, I am referring to the 84-page “application” that South Africa filed with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 29 December 2023, accusing Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.1 It maintains that Israel’s actions since the war began on 7 October 2023 “are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnic … group in the Gaza Strip.” (1) That charge fits clearly under the definition of genocide in the Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a signatory.2
The application is a superb description of what Israel is doing in Gaza. It is comprehensive, well-written, well-argued, and thoroughly documented. The application has three main components.
First, it describes in detail the horrors that the IDF has inflicted on the Palestinians since 7 October 2023 and explains why much more death and destruction is in store for them.
Second, the application provides a substantial body of evidence showing that Israeli leaders have genocidal intent toward the Palestinians. (59-69) Indeed, the comments of Israeli leaders – all scrupulously documented – are shocking. One is reminded of how the Nazis talked about dealing with Jews when reading how Israelis in “positions of the highest responsibility” talk about dealing with the Palestinians. (59) In essence, the document argues that Israel’s actions in Gaza, combined with its leaders’ statements of intent, make it clear that Israeli policy is “calculated to bring about the physical destruction of Palestinians in Gaza.” (39)
Third, the document goes to considerable lengths to put the Gaza war in a broader historical context, making it clear that Israel has treated the Palestinians in Gaza like caged animals for many years. It quotes from numerous UN reports detailing Israel’s cruel treatment of the Palestinians. In short, the application makes clear that what the Israelis have done in Gaza since 7 October is a more extreme version of what they were doing well before 7 October.
There is no question that many of the facts described in the South African document have previously been reported in the media. What makes the application so important, however, is that it brings all those facts together in one place and provides an overarching and thoroughly supported description of the Israeli genocide. In other words, it provides the big picture while not neglecting the details.
Unsurprisingly, the Israeli government has labelled the charges a “blood libel” that “has no factual and judicial basis.” Moreover, Israel claims that “South Africa is collaborating with a terror group that calls for the destruction of the state of Israel.”3A close reading of the document, however, makes it clear that there is no basis for these assertions. In fact, it is hard to see how Israel will be able to defend itself in a rational-legal way when the proceedings begin. After all, brute facts are hard to dispute.
Let me offer a few additional observations regarding the South African charges.
First, the document emphasizes that genocide Is distinct from other war crimes and crimes against humanity, although “there is often a close connection between all such acts.” (1) For example, targeting a civilian population to help win a war – as occurred when Britain and the United States bombed German and Japanese cities in World War II – is a war crime, but not genocide. Britain and the United States were not trying to destroy “a substantial part” of, or all the people in those targeted states. Ethnic cleansing underpinned by selective violence is also a war crime, although it is also not genocide, an action that Omer Bartov, the Israeli-born Holocaust expert, calls “the crime of all crimes.”4
For the record, I believed Israel was guilty of serious war crimes–but not genocide—during the first two months of the war, even though there was growing evidence of what Bartov has called “genocidal intent” on the part of Israeli leaders.5 But it became clear to me after the 24-30 November 2023 truce ended and Israel went back on the offensive, that Israeli leaders were in fact seeking to physically destroy a substantial portion of Gaza’s Palestinian population.
Second, even though the South African application focuses on Israel, it has huge implications for the United States, especially President Biden and his principal lieutenants. Why? Because there is little doubt that the Biden administration is complicitous in Israel’s genocide, which is also a punishable act according to the Genocide Convention. Despite his admission that Israel is engaged in “indiscriminate bombing,” President Biden has also stated that “we’re not going to do a damn thing other than protect Israel. Not a single thing.”6 He has been true to his word, going so far as to bypass Congress twice to quickly get additional armaments to Israel. Leaving aside the legal implications of his behavior, Biden’s name – and America’s name – will be forever associated with what is likely to become one of the textbook cases of attempted genocide.
Third, I never imagined I would see the day when Israel, a country filled with Holocaust survivors and their descendants, would face a serious charge of genocide. Regardless of how this case plays out in the ICJ – and here I am fully aware of the maneuvers that the United States and Israel will employ to avoid a fair trial – in the future Israel will be widely regarded as principally responsible for one of the canonical cases of genocide.
Fourth, the South African document emphasizes that there is no reason to think this genocide is going to end soon, unless the ICJ successfully intervenes. It twice quotes the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on 25 December 2023 to drive that point home: “We are not stopping, we are continuing to fight, and we are deepening the fighting in the coming days, and this will be a long battle and it is not close to being over.” (8, 82) Let us hope South Africa and the IJC bring a halt to the fighting, but in the final analysis the power of international courts to coerce countries like Israel and the United States is extremely limited.
Finally, the United States is a liberal democracy that is filled with intellectuals, newspaper editors, policymakers, pundits, and scholars who routinely proclaim their deep commitment to protecting human rights around the world. They tend to be highly vocal when countries commit war crimes, especially if the United States or any of its allies are involved. In the case of Israel’s genocide, however, most of the human rights mavens in the liberal mainstream have said little about Israel’s savage actions in Gaza or the genocidal rhetoric of its leaders. Hopefully, they will explain their disturbing silence at some point. Regardless, history will not be kind to them, as they said hardly a word while their country was complicit in a horrible crime, perpetrated right out in the open for all to see.
I do not believe that anything I say about what is happening in Gaza will affect Israeli or American policy in that conflict. But I want to be on record so that when historians look back on this moral calamity, they will see that some Americans were on the right side of history.
What Israel is doing in Gaza to the Palestinian civilian population – with the support of the Biden administration – is a crime against humanity that serves no meaningful military purpose. As J-Street, an important organization in the Israel lobby, puts it, “The scope of the unfolding humanitarian disaster and civilian casualties is nearly unfathomable.”
Let me elaborate.
First, Israel is purposely massacring huge number of civilians, roughly 70 percent of whom are children and women. The claim that Israel is going to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties is belied by statements from high level Israeli officials. For example, the IDF spokesman said on 10 October 2023 that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.” That same day, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced: “I have lowered all the restraints – we will kill everyone we fight against; we will use every means.”
Moreover, it is clear from the results of the bombing campaign that Israel is indiscriminately killing civilians. Two detailed studies of the IDF’s bombing campaign – both published in Israeli outlets – explain in detail how Israel is murdering huge numbers of civilians. It is worth quoting the titles of the two pieces, which succinctly capture what each has to say:
“‘A Mass Assassination Factory’: Inside Israel’s Calculated Bombing of Gaza”
“The Israeli Army Has Dropped the Restraint in Gaza, and the Data Shows Unprecedented Killing.”
Similarly, the New York Times published an article in late November 2023 titled: “Gaza Civilians, Under Israeli Barrage, Are Being Killed at Historic Pace.” Thus, it is hardly surprising that the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said that “We are witnessing a killing of civilians that is unparalleled and unprecedented in any conflict since” his appointment in January 2017.
Second, Israel is purposely starving the desperate Palestinian population by greatly limiting the amount of food, fuel, cooking gas, medicine, and water that can be brought into Gaza. Moreover, medical care is extremely hard to come by for a population that now includes approximately 50,000 wounded civilians. Not only has Israel greatly limited the supply of fuel into Gaza, which hospitals need to function, but it has targeted hospitals, ambulances, and first aid stations.
Defense Minister Gallant’s comment on 9 October captures Israeli policy: “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we are acting accordingly.” Israel has been forced to allow minimal supplies into Gaza, but the amounts are so small that a senior UN official reports that “half of Gaza’s population is starving.” He goes on to report that, “Nine out of 10 families in some areas are spending ‘a full day and night without any food at all’.”
Third, Israeli leaders talk about Palestinians and what they would like to do in Gaza in shocking terms, especially when you consider that some of these leaders also talk incessantly about the horrors of the Holocaust. Indeed, their rhetoric has led Omar Bartov, a prominent Israeli-born scholar of the Holocaust, to conclude that Israel has “genocidal intent.” Other scholars in Holocaust and genocide studies have offered a similar warning.
To be more specific, it is commonplace for Israeli leaders to refer to Palestinians as “human animals, ”human beasts,” and “horrible inhuman animals.” And as Israeli President Isaac Herzog makes clear, those leaders are referring to all Palestinians, not just Hamas: In his words, “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible.” Unsurprisingly, as the New York Times reports, it is part of normal Israeli discourse to call for Gaza to be “flattened,” “erased,” or “destroyed.” One retired IDF general, who proclaimed that “Gaza will become a place where no human being can exist,” also makes the case that “severe epidemics in the south of the Gaza Strip will bring victory closer.” Going even further, a minister in the Israeli government suggested dropping a nuclear weapon on Gaza. These statements are not being made by isolated extremists, but by senior members of Israel’s government.
Of course, there is also much talk of ethnically cleansing Gaza (and the West Bank), in effect, producing another Nakba. To quote Israel’s Agriculture Minister, “We are now rolling out the Gaza Nakba.”Perhaps the most shocking evidence of the depths to which Israeli society has sunk is a video of very young children singing a blood-curdling song celebrating Israel’s destruction of Gaza: “Within a year we will annihilate everyone, and then we will return to plow our fields.”
Fourth, Israel is not just killing, wounding, and starving huge numbers of Palestinians, it is also systematically destroying their homes as well as critical infrastructure – to include mosques, schools, heritage sites, libraries, key government buildings, and hospitals. As of 1 December 2023, the IDF had damaged or destroyed almost 100,000 buildings, including entire neighborhoods that have been reduced to rubble.Consequently, a stunning 90 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes. Moreover, Israel is making a concerted effort to destroy Gaza’s cultural heritage; as NPR reports, “more than 100 Gaza heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed by Israeli attacks.”
Fifth, Israel is not just terrorizing and killing Palestinians, it is also publicly humiliating many of their men who have been rounded up by the IDF in routine searches. Israeli soldiers strip them down to their underwear, blindfold them, and display them in a public way in their neighborhoods – sitting them down in large groups in the middle of the street, for example, or parading them through the streets – before taking them away in trucks to detention camps. In most cases, the detainees are then released as they are not Hamas fighters.
Sixth, although the Israelis are doing the slaughtering, they could not do it without the Biden administration’s support. Not only was the United States the only country to vote against a recent UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, but it has also been providing Israel with the weaponry necessary to wage this massacre. As one Israeli general (Yitzhak Brick) recently made clear: “All of our missiles, the ammunition, the precision-guided bombs, all the airplanes and bombs, it’s all from the U.S. The minute they turn off the tap, you can’t keep fighting. You have no capability.… Everyone understands that we can’t fight this war without the United States. Period.” Remarkably, the Biden administration has sought to expedite sending Israel additional ammunition, by-passing the normal procedures of the Arms Export Control Act.
Seventh, while most of the focus is now on Gaza, it is important not to lose sight of what is simultaneously going on in the West Bank. Israeli settlers, working closely with the IDF, continue to kill innocent Palestinians and steal their land. In an excellent article in the New York Review of Books describing these horrors, David Shulman relates a conversation he had with a settler, which clearly reflects the moral dimension of Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians. “What we are doing to these people is actually inhuman,” the settler freely admits, “But if you think about it clearly, it all follows inevitably from the fact that God promised this land to the Jews, and only to them.” Along with its assault on Gaza, the Israel government has markedly increased the number of arbitrary arrests in the West Bank. According to Amnesty International, there is considerable evidence that these prisoners have been tortured and subjected to degrading treatment.
As I watch this catastrophe for the Palestinians unfold, I am left with one simple question for Israel’s leaders, their American defenders, and the Biden administration: have you no decency?
A rare example of courageous statements among christians in these unusual times:
Pastor Munther Issac at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, delivered a powerful Christmas sermon on the war in Gaza and why the world must stand with Palestinians. ” The hypocrisy and racism of the Western world is transparent and appalling ” :