Fair Policy, Fair Discussion

January 6, 2010

Gaza: Is it genocide?

Filed under: Gaza,International politics,Washington's diplomacy — Helena Cobban @ 8:27 am

The excellent Palestinian analyst Nadia Hijab recently published a thought-provoking column in which she explored the question of whether the Israelis’ treatment of the 1.5 million Palestinians constitutes genocide, as defined under international law.

Her conclusion in this thoughtfully argued piece is that it does. She notes that the international Genocide Convention, signed by most of the world’s governments in 1948, defines genocide as any of a list of five kinds of acts, “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.”

The list of qualifying acts includes these three,

(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…

Hijab argues that in Gaza Israel commits all three of these kinds of act, with the required, added genocidal intention, as defined above.

She also quotes a very revealing passage from the Polish-American legal scholar Raphael Lemkin, who in the 1940s was the first to coin the word ‘genocide’ and to define it. It was largely through Lemkin’s tireless organizing efforts that the Genocide Convention was convened and that it adopted its historic treaty, which lays on all parties to the convention– including the United States– a positive and universal duty to “prevent, suppress, and punish” any acts of genocide.

The Lemkin quote Hijab cites is this:

“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.”

Her comment: “It is hard to conceive of a better description of what is going on in Gaza.”

The report issued last September by Judge Goldstone’s fact-finding commission into the acts committed by Israel in and toward Gaza over recent years– including during last winter’s ferocious assault– made no mention of acts of probable genocide, though it did identify a number of acts committed by both Israel and some of the armed groups in Gaza that, in the opinion of this very expert commission, constituted probable war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Why would it matter if genocide were added to this bill of particulars?

From the point of view of victims it may or may not matter too much.  Being killed, or having the foundations of the life of the group you belong to quite systematically destroyed, is certainly bad enough, with or without the additional genocidal intention on the part of the perpetrator. (Ask the survivors of various horrendous massacres in the Democratic republic of Congo or elsewhere about that.)

But if what the Israelis have been doing in Gaza is judged to be genocide, then the nations of the world have not only a moral duty but also a legal duty to intervene to “suppress” those acts– that is, to do everything they can to end their being committed.

That is exactly what needs to happen. We need to stop Israel committing these very harmful acts. Our government here in the U.S. should be using all the levers of its national power to lift the siege of Gaza– and beyond that, to end the Israeli military occupation of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem that has given Israel wide powers over the lives and livelihoods of those territories’ residents and has therefore allowed these very harmful, quite possibly genocidal, acts to occur.

In many ways, ending the ongoing commission of these atrocious acts is more important than questions of trials and punishment, which can be deferred until later.  But the commission of these acts is ongoing. It can and should be stopped.



  1. Viva Palestina must be allowed to enter Gaza!
    A demonstration at the Egypt embassy will be held in Paris tonight.

    With all the technical stuff now available, is it so difficult to organize a massive international uprising for freedom?

    The first worldwide demonstration…

    It should be followed by an international strike until the fall of the corrupted governments we have.

    Thank you Helena.

    Comment by Yann — January 6, 2010 @ 10:21 am | Reply

  2. I mean “international NONVIOLENT strike”.

    Comment by Yann — January 6, 2010 @ 10:53 am | Reply

  3. From your definitions of genocide above the Palestinians and Arabs are also guilty of genocide against Israelis and Jews.

    Comment by David — January 6, 2010 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  4. Finally!!
    I am not a lawyer. I can only “feel” what is in my heart. My heart as always told me The Israeli Zionist “project” had, as it’s utimate goal, the eradication of anything resembling Palestine.
    Below, a link of the shrinking map of Palestine

    Comment by peter12345678 — January 6, 2010 @ 12:34 pm | Reply

  5. The Convention also says that it does not matter what the intent or motive is…meaning that the intent can be “purely” to destroy a certain group or the intent can be occupy or confiscate or impose something on a population.

    In short the Israeli ” motive”, security or etc. doesn’t matter..it’s the “actions” and the “results” of their actions that constitute genocide.

    It also says that in making a case of genocide the “Pattern” of the acts by the perpetrator that are prohibited by the Convention will be sufficent proof.

    It’s that “Pattern” that if ever got to a court would bury the Israelis.

    Comment by Carroll — January 6, 2010 @ 1:38 pm | Reply

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