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Call it genocide

Gaza in November 2023
Bradley Hughes

January 13, 2024

Across Turtle Island and in other western states the repression against solidarity with Palestine is growing. In the streets, police are criminalizing protest. On campuses, students and workers are being punished for expressing support for Palestine and opposition to Israel’s genocide. That’s why it is important that we are clear that the current bombing campaign is a clear-cut and simple case of genocide. As the media, politicians, university managers, and so on increase their efforts to marginalize and punish dissent, we can’t give any ground to their arguments. Israel is committing genocide.

At the end of December South Africa submitted an application to the International Court of Justice to ask it to rule on Israel’s acts of genocide in Gaza. In Canada the mainstream media refused to cover any of the details of South Africa’s case. Most mainstream media coverage did not go beyond repeating the details in the court’s media release. (You can find the media release, and in it the link to South Africa’s submission here.) They did, however show the entirety of the Israeli rebuttal to the accusations - a pretty clear double standard. 

Genocide Convention

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948 and came into force in 1951. It is a clear and concise document. The definition of genocide and the responsibility of states to act to prevent it is detailed in less than 200 words. (At this point, you have already read over 200 words in this article.) The rest of the document covers how to join or leave the convention, amending the convention and how the crime should be tried. There are 152 states who have ratified the convention. Canada and Israel signed the convention in 1949 and South Africa joined in 1998.

Article I of the convention reads, “The Contracting Parties confirm that genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish.”

Article II defines a list of acts committed, “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group,” In addition to killing members of the group, genocide also includes:

  • serious mental or bodily harm

  • inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, and

  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

Article III reads, “The following acts shall be punishable:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.”

You don’t need to look to deeply into the horrors committed in Gaza by Israel, or listen to very many sound bites from Israel’s President or Prime Minister to see that genocide is being committed, and incited, by representatives of the Israeli government.

84 pages of evidence

South Africa’s 84 page submission points out that genocide is separate from all of the other war crimes committed by Israel, “including intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population, civilian objects and buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected; torture; the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare; and other war crimes and crimes against humanity”

They also point out that all states that are party to the Genocide Convention have an obligation to try to prevent genocide. Canada and Israel’s other allies are ignoring this obligation.

South Africa’s submission contains the facts that establish, “against a background of apartheid, expulsion, ethnic cleansing, annexation, occupation, discrimination, and the ongoing denial of the right of the Palestinian people to self- determination — Israel, since 7 October 2023 in particular, has failed to prevent genocide and has failed to prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide.” In addition to being in the process of engaging in genocidal acts in Gaza, both the nature of Israel's actions in Gaza and its leaders’ statements show that genocide is their intention.

The submission lists the death and destruction inflicted by Israel as of the time of writing. In the intervening few weeks those numbers have grown. Over 23,000 Palestinians have been killed. Nearly 60,000 have been wounded. Those include over 9,000 children. In comparison the Ukraine government reports 520 children killed by the Russian invasion in nearly two years.

The destruction also includes damage or destruction of “in excess of 355,000 Palestinian homes, alongside extensive tracts of agricultural land, bakeries, schools, universities, businesses, places of worship, cemeteries, cultural and archaeological sites, municipal and court buildings, and critical infrastructure, including water and sanitation facilities and electricity networks, while pursuing a relentless assault on the Palestinian medical and healthcare system.”

Those murdered by Israel include, “over 311 doctors, nurses and other health workers, including doctors and ambulance drivers killed on duty; 103 journalists, amounting to over one per day, and more than 73 per cent of the total number of journalists and media workers killed globally in 2023; 40 civil defence workers — responsible for helping to dig victims out of the rubble — killed while on duty; and over 209 teachers and educational staff. 144 United Nations employees have also been killed, the “highest number of aid workers killed in UN history in such a short time.”

The submission also contains a list of the eight countries whose Presidents have condemned Israel’s actions as genocide as well as a further eleven countries whose other state officials have made the same claim. When you call out Israeli genocide, know that you are not alone.

South Africa compares Israel’s bombing campaign with other horrific examples, “By 29 October 2023 alone, it was estimated that 6,000 bombs per week had been dropped on the tiny enclave. In just over two months, Israel’s military attacks had “wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol, or proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II.”

And the evidence continues: Mass displacement; destruction of infrastructure leading to disease malnutrition and the threat of starvation; less than half the hospitals are even partially functional; Israel exerts control over land, air and water to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza.

Decades of evidence

The submission also details the intentional shooting of children during the “Great March of Return” in 2018. During this series of peaceful protests at the Gaza border Israeli snipers shot children, journalists medics and others who were “neither participating directly in hostilities nor posing an imminent threat to life.” Over all 214 Palestinians, including 46, children were killed.

The submission also reviews war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers during the invasions of Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014. Including using white phosphorous, using Palestinian prisoners as human shields, intentional destruction of civilian homes and infrastructure, and on and on.

Condemned by their own words

In addition to Israel’s actions, South Africa also submits their leaders' words.

In October, Israel’s Prime Minister Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Israeli soldiers “understand the scope of the mission” and stand ready “to defeat the bloodthirsty monsters who have risen against [Israel] to destroy us”. Later in the Israeli Knesset, he described situation as “a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle.” In December he described it as “a battle not only of Israel against these barbarians, it’s a battle of civilization against barbarism.”

The President of Israel Isaac Herzog said,“It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware not involved. It’s absolutely not true. … and we will fight until we break their backbone.”

The Minister of Defence said that Israel was “imposing a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.” He also informed troops on the Gaza border that he had “released all the restraints”, stating that: “Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything. If it doesn’t take one day, it will take a week. It will take weeks or even months, we will reach all places.”

The Israeli Minister of Heritage, Amichai Eliyahu posted on Facebook: “The north of the Gaza Strip, more beautiful than ever. Everything is blown up and flattened, simply a pleasure for the eyes … We must talk about the day after. In my mind, we will hand over lots to all those who fought for Gaza over the years and to those evicted from Gush Katif” [a former Israeli settlement]. He later argued against humanitarian aid as we “wouldn’t hand the Nazis humanitarian aid”, and said, “there is no such thing as uninvolved civilians in Gaza”

Israeli Army Reservist Major General Giora Eiland, former Head of the Israeli National Security Council, and adviser to the Defence Minister wrote in an online journal, “The people [of Gaza] should be told that they have two choices; to stay and to starve, or to leave. He has indicated that water should be targeted, noting that water in Gaza “comes from wells with salt water unfit for consumption." They have water treatment plants, Israel should hit those plants. When the entire world says we have gone insane and this is a humanitarian disaster — we will say, it’s not an end, it’s a means.”

In an Israeli news interview, one former MK called for all Palestinians in Gaza to be killed saying “I tell you, in Gaza without exception, they are all terrorists, sons of dogs. They must be exterminated, all of them killed. We will flatten Gaza, turn them to dust, and the army will cleanse the area. Then we will start building new areas, for us, above all, for our security.”

This is just a small selection of facts and quotes from the 84 page submission.

The Arab league, The Organization of Islamic countries, and six individual countries support South Africa’s submission. Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau says that Canada does not.

Global Intifada

All countries that signed the convention are obligated to “prevent and punish” genocide. However, there is no enforcement mechanism at the International Court of Justice. The global movement in solidarity with Palestine is the only enforcement mechanism. We need a global movement that moves to strikes and walk- outs and targets the only thing that our rulers hold dear: profits. Only when our rulers are more afraid of losing control in their own countries than they are afraid of losing control in the Middle East will we see an end to this genocide. And it’s only we finally overthrow capitalism that we will be able to end the wars, violence, and genocide that it creates.




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