Article | Has Israel been committing genocide against the Palestinian people?

December 21st, 2023

Photo: Salah al-Din Street in Gaza


Article by Rabbi Alan Silverstein, Ph.D. MERCAZ Olami, President

Hamas supporters have accused Israel of genocide.

“Genocide” — which came to the world’s attention in the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust — is a legal term, recognized as a crime under international law by the United Nations in 1946. Defined in Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, it means the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.”

The Nazis’ genocidal goal was the elimination of all European Jews; the six million Jews murdered represented 85 percent of the Jewish population of prewar Europe.

In contrast, the number of Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza has grown since 1967 — when Israel assumed administrative control — from fewer than two million to 5.5 million today.

For example, there were 350,000 Arabs living in Gaza in 1967; in 2023 there are more than 2.3 million.

The following shows the rate of growth:
1970: 340,000
1980: 460,000
1990: 650,000
2000: 1.3 million
2020: 2.00 million
2023: 2.3 million

These demographic figures most certainly document Israel has committed no genocide against the Palestinian people.

Scholar and historian Hillel Cohen said that these figures demonstrate “that Israel, a militarily potent and effective country, could not possibly be trying to EXTERMINATE the Palestinians. Only deeply prejudiced people, either cynically lying or out of touch with Middle Eastern reality, could say that Israel is conducting a war of extermination.”

The largest battle by Israel against a Palestinian entity is the current all-out war against Hamas launched by the IDF as a legitimate act of self-defense.

On October 7, thousands of Hamas terrorists and allied civilians invaded Israeli border communities, massacring 1,200. They beheaded babies, raped and murdered women, burned people alive, decapitated dead bodies, and took 240 babies, children, the elderly and infirm, women and men as hostages.

Israel had both a right and an obligation to respond and thereby restore security to its population. Global rules of engagement required Israel to stipulate two specific military goals; Israel complied by identifying the objectives: 1) to dislodge Hamas from control of Gaza , and 2) to free the hostages.

Seeing the total failure of ceasefire agreements to stall a sequence of previous Hamas attacks (in 2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2018, 2021), the Israel Defense Forces embarked upon a ground invasion to put an end to Hamas governance in Gaza.

Thousands of terrorists have been killed. Regrettably, many noncombatants have died as well. Why? Because Hamas uses civilians as human shields. They enmesh their weapons and command centers in civilian locations — schools, hospitals, residences — leading to unavoidable casualties.

As noted by genocide scholar Dr. Hilly Moodrick-Even Khen, “[G]enocide is not a synonym of causing a great loss of civilian lives. It is not about the number of victims, but the intent to destroy that turns such an act into genocide.”

In contrast to Hamas’s October 7 invasion, Dr. Khen points out that “Israel’s military activities in Gaza” are not indiscriminate and “are not conducted with an intent to destroy the Palestinian people in whole or in part. Israel does not aim to eliminate the Palestinian people, its culture, language, or heritage.”

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on December 13 noted that the IDF is sensitive to civilian casualties. He pointed out that some of the steps the Israeli military has taken to prevent such casualties in Gaza might go further than what the United States would do if it were in a situation like Israel’s.

“The Israelis have published online maps of places in Gaza where people can go or not go,” Kirby said. “That’s basically telegraphing your punches. There are very few modern militaries that would do that. I don’t know that we would do that — to put a map out there and say, ‘Here’s where you can go where it’s safe, and here’s where you shouldn’t go because we might be striking there.’”

Instead of seeking to obliterate the Palestinian population, Israel has, since its arrival in the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, promoted the rapid growth of the local population by introducing universal health care.

For example, Gaza’s infant mortality rate of 152-162 per 1,000 births during the period 1948-1967 was reduced to 18. Before l967, rampant malaria, polio, typhus, and infant mortality held life-expectancy levels to age 42. Thanks to Israel’s conquest of those diseases, within a generation, life expectancy rose to the mid-70s.

In contrast to Israel’s provision of life-saving medical care, Hamas brought its culture of death to Israeli border communities on October 7. Hamas inflicted a weapon that could be considered genocide upon the Jewish state, as assessed in a document issued by 100-plus academic and legal experts on international law, among them Prof. Irwin Cotler, Canada’s former attorney general.

The brutal acts of October 7, said the document, “constitute gross violation of international law, and, in particular, of international criminal law.

“Videos, released mostly by Hamas, posted on social media, document acts of torture, sexual violence, violence towards children, and molestation of bodies,” the document specified.

“As these widespread, horrendous acts appear to have been carried out with an ‘intent to destroy, in whole or in part’ a national group — Israelis — a goal explicitly declared by Hamas, they most probably constitute an international crime of genocide, proscribed by the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

Yes, genocide is part of the Israel-Hamas conflict. It is the objective of Hamas.

Originally published on The Times of Israel

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