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Study Hall: ‘Why are People Calling this a Genocide?”’

I agree with your condemnation of Israel in the current conflict but am concerned about the casual use of terms like genocide and apartheid in your newsletter. Genocide is defined by the UN as a crime committed to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group in whole or in part. Apartheid is defined as “inhuman acts” done to establish and maintain racial “domination.” We do not have enough information at this time to label this conflict this way even if we personally believe it. Doesn’t using weighted words like “genocide” and “apartheid” prematurely allow the other side to discredit you? 

You’re right that genocide and apartheid shouldn’t be used loosely. How can we tell if they’re occurring? One way would be to ask institutions and academics that specialize in identifying human rights abuses. Another would be to ask those with first-hand experience with genocide and apartheid if the situation in question is comparable. A third would be to look at the definitions of the terms and compare them ourselves to uncontested information we have about the current situation. 

    1. The most widely respected Western human rights non-governmental organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have traditionally overlooked Israeli aggression. But in recent years, both have denounced Israel’s apartheid system against Palestinians. “Apartheid” is the Afrikaans word for separateness. Just like Black citizens of South Africa, Palestinians are separated and denied the legal rights given to Jewish citizens of Israel. Palestinians are subjected to “massive seizures of… land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship,” which Amnesty International describes as being “all components of a system which amounts to apartheid under international law.” Amnesty also reports that there is “damning evidence of war crimes as Israeli attacks wipe out entire families in Gaza,” with Human Rights Watch condemning attacks on hospitals as probable war crimes. Two weeks ago, UN experts warned that “the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide.” In the first week of Israeli attacks against Gaza, Holocaust and genocide studies professor Raz Segal wrote that Israel was carrying out “a textbook case of genocide.” The Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights resigned to protest the United Nations allowing the U.S. and many European countries to be “wholly complicit in the horrific assault” by Israel against Palestinians “based entirely on their status as Arabs.” 

    2. A journalist who reported on the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda witnessed the same dehumanizing language that’s currently deployed by Israeli leaders who call Palestinians “cancer,” “vermin,” and “cockroaches.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who led the fight against apartheid in South Africa, said, “I know first-hand that Israel has created an apartheid reality.” Nelson Mandela supported the Palestinian Liberation Organization and said, “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” 

    3. The Israeli military has intentionally killed thousands of civilians. Even the State of Israel acknowledges this but claims they were being used as “human shields,” as if this unverifiable statement would justify murdering them. Israeli leaders have said they want to “eliminate everything”: a clear declaration of genocidal intent. They refer to Palestinians as animals. They bomb and attack hospitals, churches, and schools filled with refugees. They destroy olive trees and bomb residential neighborhoods with illegal white phosphorus munitions that cauterize human flesh to the bone. They have cut off water, food, and fuel for millions almost entirely for over a month. 

The brutal attacks on Gaza would still be unjustifiable if they weren’t genocidal acts in the service of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. But they very clearly are, by any objective assessment of the uncontested facts. We should remember that even the Nazi regime studiously avoided leaving written testimony of its genocidal plans, referring to the Holocaust euphemistically as the “Final Solution.” The attack on Gaza is the most clearly documented genocide in human history, one being live-streamed in real time as those perpetrating it announce to news outlets that they’re exterminating “cockroaches” and “vermin.” When the freedom fighters who overthrew apartheid in South Africa were asked about comparable international situations, they always referenced the oppression of Palestinian people by Israel. What more do you want? How many thousands of civilian deaths would be sufficient to put this genocide devil’s advocacy to rest? 

Some have adopted a version of genocidal whataboutism rooted in a close reading of Hamas’ original 1988 charter, which contains a quote attributed to the Prophet Muhammad about Muslims killing Jews before the end times arrive. Doesn’t this mean that it’s Hamas who are the real genocidaires? 

First of all, Christians should note that their Book of Revelations features non-believers (like Jewish people) getting thrown into a lake of fire before armageddon. Secondly, Hamas’ subsequent charter clearly “affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of their religion.” But most importantly, this facetious argument is utterly disconnected from the facts on the ground. Palestinian resistance fighters have demonstrated neither the desire nor the capacity to depopulate Tel Aviv or systematically murder every Jewish person, but Israel has already ethnically cleansed northern Gaza and appears poised to depopulate the entire Gaza Strip. Israel, the size of New Jersey, is the fourth-strongest military power on the planet, behind only the U.S., China, and Russia. It has been relentlessly bombing the civilian population of the world’s largest concentration camp with American-made bombs and missiles for a month. Portraying Israel as meekly defending itself is an unserious affront to human reason and common decency. If you cannot acknowledge its actions as genocidal today when confronted by overwhelming evidence, are you so sure you wouldn’t be playing devil’s advocate about Rwanda in 1994 or Germany in 1942?

1168 614 Team ARD
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