A column of smoke billows in the middle of the city from the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip.

What is Genocide?

For decades, Israel has been accused of pursuing genocidal policies. In response, Israel’s defenders claim any criticism is antisemitic since Israel was founded after the Holocaust. Opposition to genocide should be a unifying force.

But in the current conflict, both sides accuse the other of justifying a crime against humanity and violating international law. But what is genocide?” 

“Genocide” was first used to describe the Holocaust, state-sponsored persecution and murder that killed six million Jewish people alongside millions of Romani people, disabled people, gay men, and communists (UN). Jewish people stripped of political rights were imprisoned in ghettos or concentration camps. Millions were murdered in the “large scale industrial operation” of extermination camps like Auschwitz (History). 


Plan or attend a local demonstration to express your community’s solidarity with Palestine and call for de-escalation, no more weapons to Israel, and an end to U.S. military and financial aid.

Make a call to your congressional representatives and demand de-escalation by the U.S. Congress immediately.

Send an email to your congressional representatives to demand an end to U.S. military funding to Israel.

•  Join the movement for Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, which is inspired by the anti-apartheid movements in South Africa.

In 1948, the United Nations codified the crime of genocide.

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: 

      1. Killing members of the group;
      2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
      3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
      4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
      5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” (UN).

Genocide requires deliberate intent to destroy part or all of a demographic group combined with targeted actions (such as physical or mental harm, creating unlivable conditions, and preventing children from being born or raised by group members). Genocide does not require that harm come in the form of extermination camps or be directed against only a particular group. Intent and actions to destroy part or all of any racial, religious, or ethnic group is genocidal (UN). Genocides are preceded by the dehumanization of targeted groups, whose members are seen as subhuman and whose very survival is seen as a threat.

One thing to note about genocides: very popular. They require the active participation of tens or hundreds of thousands (soldiers, prison guards, regime-friendly journalists) and the passive participation of millions (middle managers at poison gas factories, ordinary “apolitical” citizens, everyone who celebrated or at least stayed silent when their non-Aryan neighbors were sent to the camps). Nazi propaganda used real painful memories (World War I and post-war economic deprivation) to stoke widespread, unjustifiable hatred. 

The people of Gaza are predominantly descendants of refugees expelled from their homes when Israel was founded (The Guardian). Palestinians who remained in the territory claimed by Israel for a Jewish-ruled state were placed under military rule until 1966. (Jewish Israelis of Ethiopian descent have also decried discrimination and forced sterilization while African refugees were persecuted (ReutersAl Jazeera).) Gaza has been under a punishing blockade for 16 years (New Yorker). Now, the Israeli government enforces a “complete siege”—”no electricity, no food, no fuel”—on millions of civilians it calls “human animals” (The Guardian). The Israeli government threatened over a million civilians with death if they didn’t flee in 24 hours before bombing the locations to which they fled (Reuters). Though Israel claims they generously warn civilians before bombing schools (Reuters), churches (MSN), and apartment buildings (NBC), Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari emphasized that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel’s plan is to “eliminate everything.” As Israeli Holocaust scholar Raz Segal puts it, it’s “a textbook case of genocide” (Democracy Now!). 

Perhaps you can think of justifications: Israel was provoked, it has “a right to defend itself,” Hamas murdered civilians, the Holocaust occurred. If you’re using these or any arguments to defend actions deliberately intended to destroy part or all (“eliminate everything”) of a dehumanized demographic group (Palestinians in Gaza) through targeted actions (mass starvation, indiscriminate bombing, deprival of water and medical care, to say nothing of the pre-existing blockade), what you’re doing, by definition, is supporting genocide. 

The United States is actively supporting the ongoing genocide, transferring billions of dollars of weaponry and offering unconditional support to those carrying it out (NPR). If you have ever wondered what you would do in response to earlier crimes against humanity—which, remember, were supported by millions of people—the answer is whatever you choose to do now (@jenanmatari/IG). Perhaps you would have been content being a well-informed bystander. Perhaps you would have done only what was necessary to assuage a lingering sense of guilt. Perhaps you would be content with sharing an article or social media post or giving a modest donation. We should expect more of ourselves and each other. The time to act is now. 


• Genocide is intentional actions to destroy part of all of an ethnic, religious, or national group.

• Israeli Holocaust scholar Raz Segal describes Israel’s actions as a “textbook case of genocide.”

• The time to act is now.

1200 800 Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee is a writer and organizer plotting a better world in Philadelphia. His work has previously appeared in Notes From Below, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Plan A Magazine, ROAR Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

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