Israel and Palestine has been on my writing list for a while now, but I’d never gotten around to really doing the research and writing something. Life got busy, I was writing other things, it just never came up. Then a friend of mine requested my take on the issue. The question I was asked was: Is Palestine experiencing a genocide at the hands of the Israeli government. Before I tackle this question, there are a few points I want to make in regards to being critical of the State of Israel and actions it has taken in recent years.
You can be critical of actions taken by Israel without being against the State of Israel.
You can be against the current Israeli government without being against the idea of an independent Jewish state.
You can be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic.
These points need to be made before I begin tackling the issue of Israel and Palestine because it is not uncommon for any critique of Israel to be labeled anti-Semitic. I am a Holocaust and Genocide Studies Scholar and I will be giving my opinion on the current situation. You are welcome to disagree with me. Now before we get into current and recent events, a little history is in order.
Where did Israel come from?
The modern State of Israel was established in May of 1948, following the Holocaust, to give the Jewish people a free and independent state. Many people, especially following the devastation of the Holocaust believed that the Jewish people would never truly be free or safe unless they had their own sovereign state. So Israel was created.
Before Israel was created, beginning in 1881, there were a series of mass migrations of Jews to Palestine. These were called Aliyahs. There were five in total and many were the result of anti-Semitic pogroms happening in Europe. By the end of World War II Jews made up roughly 1/3 of the population of Palestine.
Following the Holocaust, and the increased amounts of Zionism that sprang up, something had to be done about the Jewish refugees trying to get into Palestine. The British had placed immigration limits on Jews entering Palestine in 1939, and Palestine was technically ruled by British mandate. In May of 1947 the UN created the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. The Committee suggested that the British mandate be dissolved and replaced with an Independent Arab State, an Independent Jewish State, and the City of Jerusalem. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all claim Jerusalem as a holy city. There was no way to give stewardship of the city to either Israel or Palestine without causing great conflict with the other group so the Committee suggested that Jerusalem be ruled over by an International Trusteeship.
The Jewish Assembly accepted this plan of a partitioned Jewish/Arab State, while the Arab League rejected it. This caused an escalation of conflict until the Arab-Israeli War began in May of 1948, shortly after the formal recognition of Israel by the UN.
Wait, I thought we were talking about the current issues the Palestinians are facing…
Well, we are, but this isn’t an issue you can just jump into with both feet. There’s back story that needs to be understood so that we know why things are happening.
The end result of this war was that Israel won and ended up controlling all of the land granted them by the UN, as well as 60% of the land granted to Palestine. Roughly 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes, adding to the 250,000 – 300,000 who had left their homes preceding the creation of Israel. Roughly 700,000 Jews moved into that area after having been kicked out of various Middle Eastern countries.
Causes of Arab flight from Palestine include: Jewish military advances, destruction of Arab villages, psychological warfare and fears of another massacre by Zionist militias after the Deir Yassin massacre, which caused many to leave out of panic; direct expulsion orders by Israeli authorities; the voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes; collapse in Palestinian leadership and Arab evacuation orders, and an unwillingness to live under Jewish control.
Ok, but what about what’s happening NOW…
We’re almost there. Following the flight of the majority of the Palestinians from Palestine, Israel passed a number of laws disallowing the Palestinians their right to return to their homes in Palestine. Some historians see the forcible removal of the Palestinians from Palestine, and the fact that Israel is not allowing them to return to their original homes, effectively trapping them in refugee camps across the Middle East as an ethnic cleansing or genocide.
Whoa, whoa, whoa… genocide?
Yeah, and this isn’t the issue we even came her to discuss. So let’s define genocide.
The UN legally defined genocide in 1948 with the Convention for the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide. Genocide is defined as such:
“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.”
Now war and genocide often go hand in hand, but this does not make all wars genocidal. The key part of the definition is the intent to destroy. All genocides involve that same intent to destroy the target group. Is Israel making efforts to destroy the Palestinians, in part or in whole? Now that is the question we came here to answer.
Is Israel committing genocide against the Palestinians?
This is a loaded question, and I fully expect to get angry messages from people for even posing the question. So allow me to say this: It is my job as a historian to critically analyze the things that are happening in our world and to attempt to provide perspective on those events. It is YOUR job as human beings to critically analyze the things that are happening in our world. I’m just better equipped for such analysis and so I offer this help in your analysis. As unbiased as I can make it, with all of my skills as a genocide historian and researcher brought to bear.
Technically being expelled from your homeland and not being allowed to return by an invading nation isn’t genocide. Now before anyone jumps on that phrasing, Israel did invade Palestine and take over the majority of the land that would have been granted Palestine under the UN resolution. Whether the UN had the right to take land from the Palestinians and give it away to another nation is a different issue. So Israel did invade Palestinian ancestral land and roughly 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes as a result.
There are far more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees though. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), about 1/3 of Palestinians refugees, 1.5 million people, live in 58 designated refugees camps throughout the Middle East. The conditions in these camps are generally poor, they have high population densities, and inadequate basic infrastructure. They don’t have sewers in many of them.
Of those 58 refugee camps, 27 of them exist in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Now, while both of those areas are nominally Palestinian territories, both are still technically controlled by Israel.
Human Rights Watch, a non-government organization (NGO), considers Israel to still be an invading and occupying force in these two Palestinian regions. The two of which are separated from each other by the nation of Israel.
“Even though Israel unilaterally withdrew its troops and settlements from Gaza in 2005, it continues to have obligations as an occupying power in Gaza under the Fourth Geneva Convention because of its almost complete control over Gaza’s borders, sea and air space, tax revenue, utilities, population registry, and the internal economy of Gaza. At a minimum, Israel continues to be responsible for the basic welfare of the Palestinian population in Gaza.”
So what we have hear are two Palestinian areas, occupied by Israel, full of refugee camps with poor and horrifically cramped living conditions. We have the Gaza Strip, where most every aspect of their lives are still controlled by the Israeli government and military. We have the West Bank, where Palestinians are effectively kept from accessing the major roads in their supposedly sovereign state. Effectively keeping them in a state of economic turmoil and forcing them to rely on foreign aid to remain alive.
The citizens of the Palestine are also being denied their basic right to water by the Israeli government. The World Health Organization recommends 100 liters of water per capita, where as most Palestinian citizens in occupied territories receive only 70 liters per capita.
From the above information we can clearly see that Palestinians in occupied territories are deliberately being denied the basic rights and requirements of life. Forcing them to live in a constant state of struggle. Part of the UN definition of genocide includes “inflicting on members of the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in part or in whole.” A case could possibly made for an Israeli genocide of Palestinians using that part of the definition. Let’s keep going.
13 of the 58 Palestinian refugee camps are in the nation of Syria. Putting aside the conditions of those camps, we will merely focus on the location of those camps. In Syria.
What’s so bad about refugee camps being in Syria?
Well, I’m just spit-balling here, but probably because of the ongoing Civil War that’s ravaging Syria, and also ISIS.
I’m going to pull a section from another essay I wrote a while back on 45’s proposed Muslim Ban. It’s easier than writing it all out again.
“ISIS is likely the most successful militant group in recent history. They began as al Qaeda, in Iraq in 2004, but two years later they changed their name to ISIS after taking over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria, and holding them. ISIS declared itself a legitimate state in 2014, established a government and continues its war even today. ISIS not only wages war against Iraq and Syria, but it also conducts and inspires terrorist attacks around the world.
Now, Syria has been engaged in a civil war since 2011, following the Arab Spring, and the situation is such a hopeless quagmire that it makes World War I look simple. There are four main groups fighting in the war. The Syrian Government, ISIS, a Sunni Arab rebel group called the Free Syrian Army, and The Syrian Democratic Forces. Half of the country’s pre-war inhabitants, around 11 million people, have been killed or displaced. The Syrian Civil War is the single largest humanitarian crisis of the past 20 years. Syrian refugees are fleeing for their lives from a horror that I can’t even imagine.”
So here we have 13 refugee camps for Palestinians inside a country that is also dealing with its own refugee crisis as Syrians continue to flee the war and the ravages of ISIS. Palestinian refugees fleeing this horror alongside the Syrians are either denied entry into countries that are taking in the Syrians, or are placed in separate camps with even stricter conditions (in the case of the nation of Jordan). Palestinians who were forced to flee the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel are not being permitted to return to their homes in Palestine.
According to an article on the Jewish Virtual Library, the Palestinian Right to Return is a plot to destroy Israel. Citing that if all the refugees were allowed to return to Israel, the Arabs would be the majority and the one and only Jewish state would be destroyed. Israel denies the Palestinians the right to return to the homes and land that they fled or were forced to flee.
Now, technically there is no law anywhere that guarantees the Palestinians the right to be able to reclaim their homes. The UN General Assembly said that Palestinians should be permitted to return to their old homes if they are willing to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors, but the UN General Assembly can only really make suggestions. They can’t pass laws or compel anything.
Of the Arab countries that have taken in Palestinian refugees and set them up in camps, only Jordan really allows them to apply for citizenship.
Based on what we know of refugee camps and the conditions that they usually have. Based on Israel denying Palestinians the right to return to their old homes. Based on how Israel deals with Palestinians in occupied territory and based on how Israel still, illegally, occupies Palestinian territory we can very easily say that Israel is violating the human rights of the Palestinians. Genocide though?
We have seen how the Israelis, in their dealings with occupied Palestinian territory (OPT), that Israel is denying Palestinians human rights. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Does this imply that the Palestinians do have the right to return to their nation if they wish? That’s an issue for another day. It does state though that when Israel denies Palestinians the use of major roads in the West Bank they are denying their right to free travel. By restricting access to roads and setting up checkpoints and making it harder for Palestinians to move around they are lowering the standard of living of all Palestinians and most assuredly violating their human rights.
The difficult part when trying to determine if genocide is occurring, in this case, is, are actions being taken that are “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”. We know that Palestinians are being denied their rights. We know that the conditions of refugee camps are often awful and that people will die due to those conditions. We know that lack of access to proper infrastructure and water can cause deaths. We know that Israel is inflicting on OPTs conditions that keep them in a state of economic decline. Are these conditions being inflicted with the intent of destroying the Palestinian people? That’s a harder question to tackle. Let’s shift away from the political and economic violence being inflicted upon the Palestinians, and discuss the physical violence that the Israeli and Palestinians are doing to each other.
What physical violence?
If we wanted to tackle the long and bloody history of physical violence and armed conflict between Israel and Palestine we’d need an entire book (at least). So we’ll focus on one event from 2014 that took place in the Gaza Strip.
In 2014 the Israeli military launched Operation Protective Edge. During that operation 2,104 Palestinians died. The majority of whom were civilians. “An Israeli government official told the BBC that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had killed 1,000 “terrorists” during the assault on Gaza.” The Gaza Strip is ruled over by Hamas, a known terrorist group, but if the majority of the deaths were civilians, that paints a different picture of Operation Protective Edge.
“The IDF says Hamas fired at least 4,591 rockets towards Israel between 8 July and 31 August – with more than 735 intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile systems. It says its own forces have hit at least 5,226 targets in Gaza. A number of UN buildings have also been hit, while people were sheltering inside.”
There’s massive violence on both sides of the conflict. Israel has been criticized for using the “knock on the roof” approach, whereby they fire a non-explosive missile before beginning the true missile strike.
Wow, that’s a lot to digest…
It really is. Israel is still illegally occupying parts of Palestinian territory. They are restricting access to roads, water, and disallowing Palestinians to return to the homes they were forced from in past wars. They are passing discriminatory legislation in the Palestinian areas they still control, and both sides often to their best to kill the other.
We’ve sort of left behind the question we were trying to answer when this essay began. Is Israel committing genocide against the Palestinians?
Short answer: No
Long answer: Still no, but the situation bears watching and should be the cause of great concern for everyone keeping track of the Israel-Palestine Conflict. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s Pyramid of Hate, created in 2005, discriminatory legislation falls on the third of five levels on the Pyramid of Hate. I have used the Pyramid of Hate in most of my writings on Genocide Studies, as it is a clear and easy to follow guide to how genocides come about.
Israel is engaging in dangerous policies in regards to the Palestinians. Their [the Palestinians] rights are definitely being violated. They are treated as second class citizens in OPT. They are seen by many Jews and Israelis as the enemy simply by virtue of being Palestinian. There’s no genocide… yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one soon. Regardless of the lack of genocide, something needs to change in how Israel and Palestine deal with each other. The death toll is way too high.
I believe in a free and independent Palestine. I believe in a free and independent Israel. I also believe that the current Israeli government needs to undergo massive changes before it will have my respect again. I also believe that the Gaza Strip should get rid of Hamas. No one is comporting themselves well in this situation, but Israel has all the power when it comes to this conflict. It’s on them to help raise Palestine up, not raze them down.