Friday, 1 January 2010

World watches while Israel commits Genocide

That includes Malaysians.

First Published 2009-12-31

When Does It Become Genocide?

More people have started to apply the term 'genocide' to what Israel
is doing to Gaza. Israel would not directly kill tens of thousands of
Palestinians, but it would create the conditions for tens of thousands
to die. Any epidemic could finish the job, notes Nadia Hijab.

During a visit to Ramallah a year ago while the Israeli bombardment of
Gaza was underway, I shared my fears with a close Palestinian friend.
"It may sound insane, but I think the Israelis' real objective is to
see them all dead."

My friend told me not to be silly, the assault was horrific, but it
was not mass killing. I said that wasn't the issue: This was a
population already very vulnerable to disease, ill-health, and
malnutrition after years of siege, with its infrastructure rotted, its
water and food contaminated. Israel's war would surely push the people
over the brink, especially if the siege was maintained -- as it has

In other words, Israel would not directly kill tens of thousands of
Palestinians, but it would create the conditions for tens of thousands
to die. Any epidemic could finish the job. My friend fell silent at
these words, but still shook his head in disbelief.

Two things have changed since last year: More people have started to
apply the term "genocide" to what Israel is doing to Gaza. And not
only is Israel being directly accused but also, increasingly, Egypt.

Is it genocide? "The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of
the Crime of Genocide" -- a clear, concise document adopted by the
United Nations in December 1948 -- states that genocide is any of five
acts committed "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a
national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

Three acts appear to apply to the situation in Gaza: "(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."

Legal scholars disagree about how to interpret the Convention's
articles and it has proven difficult, over the years, to define crimes
as genocide, let alone to prevent or end them. In line with the Bosnia
precedent -- the only authoritative legal treatment of genocide to
date -- it would be necessary to establish deliberate intent for an
accusation of genocide against Israel to stand up in court.

Israel's leadership has not, of course, issued a declaration of
intent. However, many leading Israeli officials can be said to have
done so. For example:

• Putting the Palestinians of Gaza "on a diet" -- Dov Weisglass, chief
aide to Ariel Sharon, in 2006.

• Exposing them to "a bigger shoah (holocaust)" -- Matan Vilnai,
former deputy defense minister, in 2008.

• Issuing religious edits exhorting soldiers to show no mercy -- the
Israeli army rabbinate during the actual conflict.

Such declarations echo at least three of the "8 stages of genocide"
identified by Genocide Watch president Gregory Stanton in the 1990s
after the Rwanda genocide: Classification, dehumanization, and

Then there is the deliberate destruction or barring of means of
sustenance as Israel has done on land and at sea. Already, the
Goldstone Report has said that depriving the Gaza Palestinians of
their means of sustenance, employment, housing and water, freedom of
movement, and access to a court of law, could amount to persecution.

Since the December-January assault, there have been many authoritative
reports by human rights and environmental organizations on the impact
of the war and the ongoing siege on the people, soil, air, and water,
including the increase in cancers, deformed births, and preventable
deaths. The death toll in Gaza from swine flu reached nine in mid-
December and 13 a week later -- an epidemic in waiting.

The eighth stage of genocide Stanton identifies is denial by
perpetrators "that they committed any crimes." Ironically, Stanton
headed the International Association of Genocide Scholars during the
conflict, which shut down discussion of Israel's actions despite
protests by, among others, genocide scholar and author Adam Jones.
Jones and 15 other scholars had posted a declaration stating that
Israeli policies were "too alarmingly close" to genocide to ignore and
calling for an end to the silence.

Alarmingly close is right. Here is how Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-
Jewish legal scholar who pushed for the genocide convention, defined
it in 1943: "genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate
destruction of a nation…. It is intended rather to signify a
coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of
essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of
annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan
would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions,
of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic
existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal
security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the
individuals belonging to such groups."

It is hard to conceive of a better description of what is going on in

All UN member states have the duty to prevent and stop acts of
genocide. What is needed is a country brave enough to take the lead,
before it is too late.

Nadia Hijab is an independent analyst and a senior fellow at the
Institute for Palestine Studies.

Copyright © 2009 Nadia Hijab

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