Thursday, January 15, 2009

What is genocide?

Yeah, Spot, what is genocide? You say that the Israeli actions in Gaza are genocide, and commenter M says no way, there aren't nearly enough dead people.

Well, grasshopper, here's the definition of genocide in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide:

Article 2

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.

The Convention was drafted in 1948, signed on behalf of Israel in 1949, and ratified by its government in 1950. You would have thought they had a pretty good idea of what was involved at the time. Parenthetically, the US signed the Convention right away, but didn't ratify it until 1968.

Here is what Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said back in November, after a trip to the region back during the "truce":

Robinson and her delegation also visited the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to meet with a range of women and human rights organizations to listen and share experiences of women in other countries. President Robinson noted a startling deterioration in humanitarian conditions since her last visit in 2000 when she was UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:

“Restricted access and limited movement of persons and goods severely impacts the enjoyment of human rights such as health, education, decent work, and the right to live free from violence. In Gaza their civilization is being destroyed. I cannot believe that Israelis understand what is being done in their name; they couldn’t possibly support it if they did.” [Robinson had a regrettably optimistic view of the attitudes of the Israeli population.]

Killing members of the group, when most of those killed are civilians. Genocide? Check. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to the group. Genocide? Check. Destroying their civilization. Genocide? Check.

This is genocide. It may differ in degree - meaningless for purposes of the definition - but not in kind to the other genocides mentioned by M.

Israel's approach to civilian casualties is also indicative of a genocidal intent:

Officers say [force protection] means Israeli infantry units are going in "heavy." If they draw fire, they return it with heavy firepower. If they are told to reach an objective, they first call in artillery or airpower and use tank fire. Then they move, but only behind tanks and armored bulldozers, riding in armored personnel carriers, spending as little time in the open as possible.

As the commander of the army's elite combat engineering unit, Yahalom, told the Israeli press on Wednesday: "We are very violent. We do not balk at any means to protect the lives of our soldiers." His name cannot be published under censorship rules.

Here's Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in the Washington Post:

Israel is not going to show restraint anymore. . . . it is not a missile against a missile. We are going to attack strongly if they continue.

One of America's principal contributors to this blood thirst, Tom "suck on this" Friedman, had this to say yesterday:

In Gaza, I still can't tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to "educate" Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims. Now its focus, and the Obama team's focus, should be on creating a clear choice for Hamas for the world to see: Are you about destroying Israel or building Gaza? [italics are Spot's]

"Inflicting heavy pain on the Gaza [read: civilian] population" has another definition of course: genocide.

A thump of the tail to Professor David Luban at Balkinization.

Update. This is taken from a press release by Israeli human rights groups:

Since the beginning of the campaign in Gaza on December 27, a heavy suspicion has arisen of grave violations of international humanitarian law by military forces. After the end of the hostilities, the time will come for the investigation of this matter, and accountability will be demanded of those responsible for the violations. At this point we call your attention to the clear and present danger to the lives and well-being of tens of thousands of civilians.

The level of harm to the civilian population is unprecedented. According to the testimony of residents of the Gaza Strip and media reports, military forces are making wanton use of lethal force which has to date caused the deaths of hundreds of uninvolved civilians and destroyed infrastructure and property on an enormous scale. In addition, Israel is also hitting civilian objects, having defined them as "legitimate military targets" solely by virtue of their being "symbols of government."

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