The Big Lie: “Genocide” in Gaza
Nov 23, 2023 | Oved Lobel
The fundamentally unserious, grotesque and yet pervasive claim by Palestinians and their supporters that Israel is committing “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing” in Gaza should not really be dignified with a direct response. Yet it is once again necessary to emphasise that these terms have specific meanings that have very little relation to how they are currently being used.
In 1946, US diplomatic official and historian George Kennan in his famous ‘Long Telegram’ wrote:
The very disrespect of Russians for objective truth – indeed, their disbelief in its existence – leads them to view all stated facts as instruments for furtherance of one ulterior purpose or another.
This unfortunately still applies to the Kremlin under Putin and Russian society more broadly. It is equally applicable to much of the Palestinian national movement and its supporters, something most recently demonstrated in Australia by hundreds of the ABC’s so-called “journalists” complaining that the organisation didn’t use the words “genocide” or “ethnic cleansing” when describing Israeli actions.
The pedigree of this absurd accusation is long – it has existed for decades, long predating the current Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza – and even has its own Wikipedia entry. It is not only objectively false, but a form of antisemitic Holocaust distortion and inversion, made all the more farcical by the fact that many of those who level this accusation are themselves genocide advocates.
It is extremely telling that Palestinians and their supporters are almost universally indifferent to, or even support the aggressors in or perpetrators of, other contemporary conflicts and actual human rights abuses, all of which are substantially more devastating than the wars Hamas keeps provoking, and in which accusations of genocide are considerably more credible.
Palestinian demography in Gaza
As noted, claims of Israeli “genocide” against the Palestinian people long predate the current war, despite their patent absurdity to anyone who actually looks at the demographic data.
Palestinians have been among the fastest-growing populations in the world. Since Israel gained control of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, the Palestinian population in those areas has roughly quintupled, growing from under 1 million in 1967 to around 5 million today.
Gaza specifically has one of the highest crude birth rates and fertility rates per woman in the world, while the latest 2023 data from the CIA World Factbook indicates it has one of the lowest death rates globally. The Palestinian population in Gaza has doubled in the last 30 years, and the UN released a report in December 2016 projecting it would more than double over the next 30.
Importantly, when Hamas violently wrested control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in 2007, Gaza was not even occupied by Israel, which had withdrawn all soldiers and civilians in 2005. The only reason there have been any wars since 2005 or a blockade of Gaza by both Egypt and Israel is because Hamas immediately began attacking Israel as soon as it withdrew and then seized control of Gaza to use as a terrorist base.
The definitions of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
To be fair to the Palestinians and their advocates, “ethnic cleansing” is legally a meaningless term. According to the UN itself:
Ethnic cleansing has not been recognized as an independent crime under international law. The term surfaced in the context of the 1990’s conflict in the former Yugoslavia… The precise roots of the term or who started using it and why are still uncertain… A definition was never provided.
Ironically, insofar as the concept is relevant at all, a United Nations Commission of Experts tasked with investigating International Humanitarian Law violations in the territory of the former Yugoslavia defined “ethnic cleansing” in its final report as follows:
A purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.
Does this sound familiar? It should, because it has been the explicit policy of much of the Palestinian national movement across the political and religious spectrum since before the establishment of the State of Israel.
Genocide, however, is well-defined under the Genocide Convention, or the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Article II is quite clear on what constitutes the crime of Genocide; namely, one of five acts, including killing people, committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group (emphasis added).
This does not describe Israel’s intent or any of its conduct. Genocidal countries do not spend hours on the phone with civilians ensuring they evacuate entire blocks before bombing. They do not drop millions of leaflets, send millions of SMS messages or make millions of pre-recorded and direct phone calls. They do not deliver or facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid or create humanitarian corridors or give specific warnings and mass evacuation pleas and instructions. They do not help evacuate hospitals or facilitate the establishment of field hospitals. Nor do they call off air strikes when too many civilians are nearby, or deliver incubators for and help evacuate newborns. The list is never-ending.
Of course, even if Israel were conducting this war as “indiscriminately” as its detractors allege, it still would not be genocide. In reality, there’s no evidence that Israel has even violated International Humanitarian Law (IHL); on the contrary, IDF warning practices to protect civilians are considered the “gold standard” in conflict, and Israel generally has a higher standard of applying IHL than any other country, something attested to by those in a position to know. This makes the genocide accusation doubly ridiculous.
There have tragically been many civilian casualties in Gaza – though precisely how many is impossible to determine – and widespread devastation, but this has no relation to genocide, only to war, and particularly one fought in a dense urban environment against an enemy that deliberately embeds itself among the civilian population in order to get as many of them killed as possible.
Article II of the Genocide Convention, however, does describe the ideology and actions of Hamas, an openly genocidal organisation, as well as most other eliminationist segments of the Palestinian national movement that carry out or encourage attacks with the goal of destroying Israel and Israelis “from the river to the sea.”
Indeed, both US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara A. Leaf and the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for the Middle East Dana Stroul recently testified that Hamas is guilty of genocide.
US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby recently berated those using the term to describe Israel’s campaign:
This word “genocide” is getting thrown around in a pretty inappropriate way by lots of different folks. What Hamas wants, make no mistake about it, is genocide… Israel is not trying to wipe the Palestinian people off the map. Israel is not trying to wipe Gaza off the map. Israel is trying to defend itself against a genocidal terrorist threat. So, if we’re going to start using that word, fine, let’s use it appropriately.
Genocide deniers support future genocides
There is something extremely galling about actual victims of genocide being accused by genocidal Holocaust-deniers of committing genocide.
Hamas openly denies the Holocaust and has publicly attacked the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for attempting to teach Palestinian children about it lest they develop any empathy for Jews, declaring that such lessons are “intended to poison the minds of our children” and are a “contemptible plot”.
Hamas even attempted to shut down UNRWA trips for outstanding students from Gaza that included Holocaust education, saying, “The UNRWA has to stop the visits they do, where they teach the Holocaust and where they promote solidarity with Jewish suffering created by the Nazis.”
Then there’s Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who rants publicly about Israel committing “50 Holocausts” against Palestinians even as he denies or distorts the actual Holocaust. Abbas majored in Holocaust distortion in the Soviet Union, writing his dissertation on “The Relationship Between Zionists and Nazis, 1933-1945”, an absurd Soviet conspiracy theory and part of its broader campaign to mainstream antisemitism globally under the rubric of “anti-Zionism”.
Let’s leave aside the fact that the leader of the Palestinian national movement in the 1930s and 40s, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was an actual paid employee of the Nazis living in Berlin and helping incite Arabs and Muslims against both the Jews and the allied powers.
In a recent and viciously antisemitic speech, Abbas said of the pogroms, Holocaust and other deadly manifestations of European antisemitism:
They say that Hitler killed the Jews for being Jews, and that Europe hated the Jews because they were Jews. Not true. It was clearly explained that [the Europeans] fought [the Jews] because of their social role… The [Europeans] fought against these people because of their role in society, which had to do with usury, money, and so on and so forth… This was not about…antisemitism.
So the Holocaust and pogroms were understandable and also the Jews did it to themselves to promote Zionism and it was all about their social role, anyway. Such doublethink is common in a movement that, as mentioned earlier, has serious problems with admitting the existence of objective truth.
Abbas is also a full-throated supporter of what has been determined by the US and others to legally be genocide committed by the Chinese Communist Party against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Holding approximately a million Muslims in concentration camps, among other genocidal measures, is “not a human rights issue at all, but an issue of counter-violence, de-radicalization and anti-separatism,” according to Abbas.
Casualties have no relation to accusations
During the May 2021 conflict launched by Gaza-based terrorist groups against Israel, the UN reported that approximately 256 Palestinians were killed, around half of them assumed to be civilians and at least 11 of whom were killed by failed Palestinian rockets. Israel claimed there were far greater numbers of Hamas operatives killed.
The then-UNRWA Director, Matthias Schmale, said, “I also have the impression that there is a huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military struck over the last 11 days… they did not hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets.” He also said there were no shortages of food, medicine or water. For these comments, he was forced to apologise and expelled by Hamas from Gaza. He was also widely condemned by a large group of Palestinian NGOs for acknowledging reality, a cardinal sin among Palestinians and their supporters.
Naturally, despite keeping civilian casualties extremely low and ensuring supplies, accusations of genocide were rampant.
During the war launched by Hamas in 2014, which Schmale suggested was less “vicious” than the 2021 war, Abbas went to the UN to assert that Israel was waging a “war of genocide” in Gaza. Later analysis of the casualty statistics cast severe doubt, as they always do, that Israel’s operations were remotely indiscriminate, with the reality that once again approximately half of the casualties seem to have been terrorists. The UN would release its previously mentioned report on explosive population growth in the Gaza Strip two years later.
This war is qualitatively more brutal and destructive because it is a war for regime change under almost impossible political and time constraints against a deeply entrenched enemy embedded among civilians, but it is no more genocidal than previous operations.
Unfortunately, to many Palestinians and their Arab, Muslim and Western supporters, genocidal aggressors are always the victims and everything is genocide except actual genocide.