In light of the ongoing brutal assault by the Israeli Offense Forces upon the population of Gaza, the following history and definition of genocide provided by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is important in understanding the motivation, rationale, purpose and scope of Israeli (U.S. funded and sanctioned) actions. Many shy away from applying the word genocide to the Palestinian people, perhaps because it is inflammatory, perhaps because it has been reserved for those catastrophes recognized by the Holocaust Industry*. But on closer examination, the definition of genocide clearly applies to this current campaign as well as the expressed intent of the Israeli government and the zionist trajectory vis a vis the indigenous population.
Like the word, holocaust which is, in religious terms, a burnt offering of spiritual purification, ethnic cleansing implies that there is something pure, clean, redemptive in the process of the destruction of a people: of their way of life, communities, homes, jobs, social structure; in the imposition of death, dismemberment, deformation, rape, trauma and brutality.
There is no justification: not security, not history, not assertions of divine promise or destiny, that can excuse the war crimes being perpetrated on Gaza, a territory already under siege: prevented from receiving health care, education, basic supplies, disallowed control of its own borders or freedom of movement of its residents. (And yet, even these excuses are an obfuscation of the real nature of Israeli hegemony and the U.S. imperialist imperatives that support and maintain it.)
Israeli actions easily meet at least four of the five criteria of genocide provided below, and if one considers the large number of children in Israeli prisons: held without education, medical care, legal counsel or contact with their families, then one could argue it meets all five.
This latest and most brutal action is surprising only in scope, not intent. Israel has walled Gaza under brutal and devastating conditions of isolation, poverty, and desperation; Israel’s own Warsaw Ghetto. The current assault is part of a long trajectory intent upon destroying a people, a land, a history, a culture and a way of life.
There is certainly nothing cleansing about it!
- Emma Rosenthal Cafe Intifada
What is Genocide
From The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum*
(Printing of this article in no way should suggest any endorsement by the Memorial Museum of the work, scope, mission or purpose of Cafe Intifada.- c.i.)
The term “genocide” did not exist before 1944. It is a very specific term, referring to violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group. Human rights, as laid out in the U.S. Bill of Rights or the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concern the rights of individuals.
In 1944, a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) sought to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder, including the destruction of the European Jews. He formed the word “genocide” by combining geno-, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with -cide, from the Latin word for killing. In proposing this new term, Lemkin had in mind “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 next year, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg charged top Nazis with “crimes against humanity.” The word “genocide” was included in the indictment, but as a descriptive, not legal, term.
On December 9, 1948, in the shadow of the Holocaust and in no small part due to the tireless efforts of Lemkin himself, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This convention establishes “genocide” as an international crime, which signatory nations “undertake to prevent and punish.” It defines genocide as:
[G]enocide 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:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.