Israel, Gaza and Palestine–unacceptable dimension


Published :

Oct 22, 2023 09:51 PM
Updated :

Oct 22, 2023 09:54 PM
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Children are seen in buildings damaged in Israeli airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, October 15, 2023 — Xinhua Photo
Children are seen in buildings damaged in Israeli airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, October 15, 2023 — Xinhua Photo
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The horrific events over the last two weeks have seen clashes in the disputed region of the Middle East. Observation of human rights appears to have been kicked out of the window thanks to Hamas and Israel. Hamas’s recent unexpected killing of more than 1,200 Israelis has now moved the existing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians into a different dimension. Netanyahu’s present government that includes far-right parties are openly advocating the annexation of all or part of the West Bank by Israel and the continued governance of the Palestinians without full rights or the ability to vote.

Many strategic analysts have consequently observed that the evolving scenario is increasingly carving out a dangerous existentialist dimension that will facilitate greater forms of apartheid in the occupied territories.

The Centre for Constitutional Rights has recently tried to set forth the denotations associated with genocide– a term that is now being referred to by many strategic analysts with regard to the evolving scenario in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

It is interesting to see how the legal connotations of the term genocide is being set forth.

From a legal perspective, genocide, like the crime against humanity of persecution, is being explained as an international crime distinguished by the specific intent to discriminate against a group on recognised grounds through a series of acts or omissions often reflected in and achieved through State policies.

While different in degree, both genocide and persecution are explained as reducing a person’s rights on the basis of that person’s identity or alleged membership in a group. It is being held that persecution in such a scenario criminalises the denial of fundamental rights for members of the group, and genocide criminalises the most extreme stage of discrimination reflected in efforts to actually destroy the group– as we have noticed in the efforts undertaken in Myanmar against the Muslim Rohingyas in the Rakhine State of that country.

According to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide includes various acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” as such, including: (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; and (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. This definition is reflected in Article 6 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has jurisdiction over crimes occurring on the territory of the State of Palestine since June 13, 2014.

The Genocide Convention was written in the aftermath of World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust, especially to deter and prevent such horrors in the future and, failing that, to punish those responsible. The Convention thus provided a legal framework that clearly identifies the essence of the crime of genocide, regardless of the political, social, or cultural permutations in which the crime may be attempted or carried out and regardless of the specific qualities, stage, or scale of the genocidal process. The Holocaust set the terms by which a form of general or pervasive violence against a group might be legitimately termed “genocide” as a general sociological concept as it need not “imply a comparison to any other specific case.”

Scholars of genocide have distinguished it as a crime different from other forms of war, killing, violence, discrimination, and repression. “Genocidal action aims not just to contain, control, or subordinate a population, but to shatter and break up its social existence. Thus, genocide is defined, not by a particular form of violence, but by general and pervasive violence.” They note that settler colonial regimes are structurally prone to genocide, and may indulge in “genocidal moments” when they become frustrated by the resistance of a colonised or occupied people.

The term “genocide” has been used to describe the mass murder of Armenians by the Ottomans, Stalin’s expulsion of Chechens, Ingush Tartars, and Jews from the U.S.S.R., the removal of Jews and Hungarians from Romania, and Italy’s efforts to clear Slovenes and Croats from the Dalmatian coast. There have been successful prosecutions of individuals for genocide arising out of efforts to destroy the Tutsi population in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995.

The latest decisions of the Israeli government pertaining to Gaza that more than a million of its population has to move southwards of their tiny strip of territory despite continued bombing of the densely populated strip, and denying them electricity, water and required healthcare have drawn the attention of numerous prominent human rights authorities, advocates, and scholars who are now claiming that though what Hamas did was unacceptable, Israel’s subsequent policies and actions with respect to the Palestinian people have amounted to a form of genocide.

It may be recalled that in 2010, the Journal of Genocide Studies hosted a conversation between Martin Shaw and another prominent scholar of genocide, Omer Bartov, on whether the term “genocide” could be reasonably applied to the Israeli treatment of Palestinians, particularly the expulsion and killing of Arabs in 1948. The two scholars took very different positions on the question, but the journal rejected complaints from some quarters that it was an illegitimate, or worse, a bigoted question to pose and debate at all.

Subsequently, Francis Boyle, a professor of international law, testified in 2013 that “The Palestinians have been the victims of genocide as defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” He argued that: for over the past six and one-half decades, the Israeli government and its predecessors in law – the Zionist agencies, forces, and terrorist gangs – have ruthlessly implemented a systematic and comprehensive military, political, religious, economic, and cultural campaign with the intent to destroy in substantial part the national, ethnical, racial, and different religious group constituting the Palestinian people.

One needs to also recall the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, a nongovernmental “people’s body” made up of prominent international human rights experts and advocates, convened between November 2010 and September 2014 to investigate the question of human rights violations in the context of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza. It took testimony and deliberated specifically on the question of whether Israel may have committed genocide to the Palestinian people. The jury concluded that some Israeli citizens and leaders may have been guilty in several instances of the separate crime of incitement to genocide, which is specified in Article 3(c) of the Genocide Convention.

At this point one also needs to draw attention to what some human rights observers have been referring to after the latest Gaza fiasco.

They are recalling some of the comments that have been made over the past one and half decades by several prominent Israeli politicians who have publicly called for action against the Palestinian people. It is now being pointed out that some of their observations unequivocally meets the definition of genocide under the 1948 Convention.

For instance, in February 2008, Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy defence minister, declared that increasing tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip could bring on themselves what he called a shoah, or holocaust, “The more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.”

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked posted a statement on Facebook in June 2014 claiming that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy” and called for the destruction of Palestine, “including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”

In August 2014, Moshe Feiglin, then-deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset and member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, called for the destruction of Palestinian life in Gaza and offered a detailed plan for shipping Palestinians living in Gaza across the world. Specifically, he envisioned a scenario where the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) would find areas on the Sinai border to establish “tent encampments…until relevant emigration destinations are determined.” He further suggested that the IDF would then “exterminate nests of resistance, in the event that any should remain.”

What has been happening in the recent past is not acceptable on any ground.

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) spokesperson James Elder has warned from Geneva about the killing of children in Gaza amid fighting between Israel and Hamas. “Hundreds and hundreds of children have been killed and injured. Every hour in Gaza the number of children killed rises. The killing of children must stop. The images and stories are clear: children with horrendous burns, mortar wounds, and lost limbs– and hospitals are utterly overwhelmed to treat them. Yet the numbers keep rising.” Elder has also observed that “Israeli children being held hostage in Gaza must be safely and immediately reunited with their families and loved ones.”

The Palestinian territory’s Hamas-controlled health ministry has also reported that Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip since Hamas’s attack on southern Israel have already killed at least 2,215 people, including 724 children. 458 women are also among those killed and 8,714 people have also been wounded.

We have to remember that there will be political dimensions, but that should not impact on socio-cultural, educational, healthcare and economic aspects. We need to stop taking law into our own hands and let the judicial process follow existing regulations. We must all make efforts to stop conflicts and help restore peace.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.

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