It’s been less than a month since Israel launched the most recent phase of its war against Hamas in Gaza on July 8th. More than 1,400 Palestinians have been killed since, and thousands more have been injured. So many of the dead are civilians (according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, civilian casualties account for 85% of all Palestinian deaths) and an astounding number of them (almost 25%) are children whose lives were cut short, many in places where they should have been able to find sanctuary.
Each day, it seems, a new report emerges of Israel’s bombing and missile attacks, from destroyed hospitals one day to shelled schools used as UN protected shelters and homes the next. Much ink has been spilled in discussing who is winning the PR war in the conflict, but Israel’s actions go well beyond spin. If we were to call them what they truly are, the words crimes against humanity, apartheid and genocide would be in every story written, not just in the last few weeks, but since the establishment of Israel.
Israel’s current campaign against Gaza is an obvious violation of the laws of war prohibiting the attack on civilian persons and objects and attacks where civilian casualties outweigh claimed military gains. This is why Navi Pillay, UN Commissioner of Human Rights, referred the matter to the Human Rights Council, saying there was a strong possibility Israel could be committing war crimes. Pillay was also critical of Hamas’ indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars, but three Israeli civilian deaths (and 56 Israeli military deaths) cannot be compared to the scale of murder and destruction in Gaza.
But what’s happening in Gaza today is not an aberration. Israel’s attack against Palestinians must be viewed through its actions over the last 70 years, and those are not only crimes of war but also crimes against fundamental principles governing our world and global society.
Crimes against humanity are defined as widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian population. Since the 1940s, Israel has systematically employed murder, forced relocations, and torture to subjugate Palestinians and seize land in what became Israel, as well as in the Occupied Territories. In 1947-48 as many as 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their villages and hundreds of villages were destroyed.
Apartheid is defined as inhumane acts committed to maintain the domination of one racial group over any other. Those inhumane acts include murder, bodily injury, mental injury, infringement of freedom or dignity of a population, or measures preventing participation in the political, social, or economic life of the country. Anyone with a basic knowledge of the history of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians knows that that definition rings remarkably true in this instance, in both the past and present.
Genocide is a crime many shy away from in describing the actions of Israel against Palestinians, but the current and historical record arguably make that term appropriate. There are two parts to genocide: the intent to kill all or part of a specific national, ethnic, racial, or religious group and the actual acts of doing so. It has been argued that Israel and its leaders do not have the intent to destroy “part” of the Palestinian people, but the record proves otherwise. From the thousands killed in the 1947-48 expulsions to the killings in refugee camps such as Jenin and Sabra Shatilla, to the thousands killed in Gaza in the last month, Israel’s leaders have shown an alarming willingness to kill large portions of the Palestinian populations.
Looking at these definitions, it’s obvious that what Israel is doing in Gaza today—and what it’s done in Israel since the 1940s— constitutes war crimes and apartheid, and amounts to genocide, crimes aided and abetted by the United States.
It’s become terrifyingly clear that there’s nowhere to hide for the people of Gaza, and there’s no accountability for Israel’s actions in the international community. The 1.8 million Palestinians who populate the Gaza strip are basically occupying a giant outdoor prison, denied many basic necessities of life, restricted in their movements, and now facing death and maiming as a result of Israel’s ongoing assault—an “incremental genocide,” according to renowned Israeli writer Ilan Pappé.
All to what end? Israel’s claim that it is responding to rocket fire and the need to destroy hidden tunnels may be an excuse accepted by those who support Israel right or wrong. Those excuses for slaughter have been made since 1947. They fail to get at the cause of Palestinian resistance, a resistance that is fighting an occupation that cannot be permanently broken by military means.
The fact of the matter is, Israel’s attacks on Hamas aren’t working. They haven’t worked for decades, despite all of Israel’s attempts and the constant blind eye the international community has turned on the situation. We must stop this assault. We must hold Israel and its leaders accountable in courts throughout the world. And we must end the occupation and free Palestine.