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Know Your Stuff: Genocide

In my previous post, I set out to clarify as well as I could the somewhat elusive concept of ‘proportionality’ as set out in International Humanitarian Law. It seemed that this was necessary since so many pundits and world leaders were bandying about, willy nilly, the accusation that Israel was guilty of ‘disproportionality’ according to international law. And since so few people seemed to have any idea what the IHL ‘proportionality’ rules were, I tried to help clarify the matter for those who may actually want to understand it – rather than those who were just searching for a cheap accusation to level against the Zionist state.

But I never thought I’d have to prepare a post about ‘genocide’ – another accusation now being levelled against Israel. After all, doesn’t everybody know what genocide is?! The textbook case was, of course, what the Nazis did to the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust of WWII. The Nazis were very good at genocide – so good in fact that the number of Jews worldwide almost a century later has yet to reach their number when the Nazis were voted into power in 1933. And it was during the Holocaust, in 1944, that a Jewish lawyer and jurist from Poland name Raphael Lemkin first coined the term ‘genocide’ – from the Greek ‘genos’ (meaning tribe or kin) and the Latin ‘cide’ (meaning killing). Dr. Lemkin was later instrumental in having genocide recognized by the United Nations as a war crime.

So, as the son of a Holocaust survivor whose entire family was murdered in that genocide – and as a human being, I certainly agree that it is important to be ever vigilant against the prospect of further genocidal activity wherever it may occur. Including in Israel.

Let us check then whether there is any basis to suspect potential genocidal activity here. The UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 defines ‘genocide’ as follows:

Article II

In the present Convention, 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:
(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;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

So, if any of those acts are committed with intent to destroy a national or religious (etc.) group, that could constitute the crime of genocide. Hamas, of course, is not a national or religious group but rather an internationally recognized terrorist organization, so killing Hamas terrorists with intent to destroy it cannot be considered ‘genocide’. The opposite is in fact the case since, in the wake of the October 7th massacre – which most certainly WAS a war crime – most Western leaders and jurists are of the opinion that combatting Hamas is not only NOT a crime under international law but rather constitutes legitimate self defense.

But what about the rest of the Gazan population? Do they constitute a ‘national’ or ‘religious’ group against which Israel may be suspected of committing one of the acts delineated in the UN Convention with the intent of destroying that national/religious group (or a part thereof)? Well, is Israel targeting them for killing in an effort to destroy a national/religious group? Obviously not. Israel has been asking – no, BEGGING – non-combatants to leave areas being used as military installations by Hamas. They send IDF soldiers (including my son) into harm’s way to protect Gazan civilians from their own Hamas leadership and provide them safe passage to non-military zones in the south. If Israel were trying to commit genocide, all this would of course be extremely counter-productive.

Some pundits seem to have conflated Israeli declarations concerning the destruction brought upon Gazan settlements and infrastructure by the Hamas massacre as indicating an Israeli genocidal intent. But, this is of course ridiculous. Such destruction is, unfortunately, the by-product of any war – and the number of examples of places which became uninhabitable for many years after a military conflagration are legion. This could only be relevant to the issue of genocide if, as delineated in the Convention definition, this was undertaken as a means of “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”- which cannot be the case if the group members are being shepherded to safe havens by the very party being accused of genocide! 

Does that mean that we need not be vigilant concerning potential genocide in our region. MOST DEFINITELY NOT. There are indeed groups – including those with military capabilities – with definite genocidal aims and intentions. This includes Hamas, whose genocidal intents are clear from their Covenant and whose actions on October 7th could indeed constitute ‘genocide’; few are those who doubt that if the Hamas terrorists had been able to penetrate further into Israel on that fateful day, they would certainly have perpetrated even more horrific genocidal acts. The kind of acts intended to realize their genocidal utopia of ‘from the river to the sea’.

So, anyone who wants to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Raphael Lemkin, should remain vigilant. And they should be calling out Hamas and the other genocidal groups in the region – and supporting Israel and all states attempting to free this area and this world of any risk of further genocidal activity. Make never again, once again, never again.

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