By James McCabe
When analysing past genocides, historians often debate how much public awareness existed as those genocides unfolded. Palestinians have noted over the past weeks that never before has a genocide been live-streamed to the world as this genocide in Gaza has. At the same time, the major media outlets across the West are heavily biased towards the Israeli state, throwing dust in the eyes of the public.
Over 85% of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced from their homes, with 60% of Gaza’s entire housing stock destroyed or damaged. The media describes these blatant acts of forced displacement and ethnic cleansing as “evacuations”. The Irish Times frames its coverage with a pro-Israel bias, consistently describing the situation as “the Israel-Hamas war”, despite the glaring reality that the victims of Israel’s bombs, bullets, and white phosphorous are overwhelmingly civilians.
South Africa documents the reality on the ground
Anyone hoping to spread the truth about what’s happening will welcome South Africa’s submission to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which accuses Israel of “committing genocide in manifest violation of the genocide convention.” The document submitted by South Africa is rigorous and comprehensive, including 574 footnotes to back up its claims.
It explains how for the past 15 years, the Israeli state has orchestrated a total blockade of air, land and sea around Gaza (with the complicity of the Egyptian state). This blockade has led to extreme deindustrialisation and deterioration of Gaza’s economy. Over 7,000 Palestinians in Gaza were killed by Israeli forces between 2000 and 2023.
What is necessary to establish genocide?
Leo Varadkar has challenged the idea that genocide is taking place against Palestinians by referring to the monstrous horror of the Holocaust: “Genocide is something very particular… And one group of people that has experienced that in the world are Jewish people, the Holocaust, six million Jews killed here in Europe, and Hitler had a plan to kill many millions more. That is genocide”.
In terms of international law, however, the term genocide is not only relevant when it reaches the horrifying scale of the Holocaust, as Varadkar implies. Whether Varadkar’s statements about this case are a product of genuine ignorance or political cynicism and calculation, we can’t say, but he is wrong.
In early October, Israeli academic, Ras Segal – who is an associate professor in Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University – described the assault on Gaza and the rhetoric from Israeli officials as “A textbook case of genocide.”
According to the Genocide 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:
- Killing members of a group;
- Causing serious bodily harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group
The South African submission documents how the Israeli state is guilty of at least 1., 2. and 3, above, with intent through its actions and the public statements of its representatives.
Erasure of “the foundations of Palestinian life”
Since October, over 23,000 Gazans have been killed, not including the thousands still buried under rubble. No one in Gaza is safe, as large numbers of children, journalists, aid workers, nurses and doctors have been murdered. In October, Israel declared a “complete siege” on Gaza, allowing no electricity, no food, no water and no fuel to enter the strip. This siege has been partly lifted since then, but the amount of aid trucks getting across the Egyptian border is a trickle, when even a flood would be inadequate. The lack of food, fuel, water and medical supplies is truly devastating.
Apart from homes, the Israeli army has systematically destroyed healthcare and water infrastructure, libraries and universities in an attempt to wreck any chance of rebuilding Palestinian Gaza. Tens of thousands of Gazans are now at immediate risk of death by starvation, dehydration and disease. In the shockingly overcrowded UN shelters in the south of Gaza, a single toilet is available for every 700 people. With a severe lack of water, Palestinians in Gaza are unable to maintain personal hygiene, with menstruating women and girls particularly impacted. To give a human face to the statistics, the document notes:
“84-year-old Elham Farah, from one of Palestine’s oldest Christian families – a reputed accordionist and music teacher, known as ‘Mother Orange’ to generations of Palestinian music students for her shock of red hair – [was] shot dead by an Israeli sniper outside the Holy Family Church in Gaza City when she returned home for warm clothes and was left to bleed to death.”
Genocidal intent by the State of Israel
The South African submission gives copious evidence of genocidal intent by Israeli officials. Israeli President Isaac Herzog stated, “It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware or not involved. It’s absolutely not true. … and we will fight until we break their backbone.” The Israeli Defence Minister referred to Palestinians as “human animals” and in a public address on 24 December, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “This is a battle… of civilisation against barbarism.”
On numerous occasions Netanyahu has referred to the Biblical story of Amalek, and the total annihilation of the Amalekites. The passage reads as follows: “Now go, attack Amalek, and proscribe all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses”. This genocidal rhetoric has very serious consequences. A video filmed inside Gaza on 7 December shows Israeli army soldiers singing, dancing and chanting “We know our motto: there are no uninvolved civilians” and “to wipe off the seed of Amalek”.
The racist Israeli officialdom has complained in recent years about the growing use of the word “apartheid” to describe the occupation of Palestine. The Israeli state was a keen supporter of Apartheid South Africa before its collapse in 1994. The current South African government categorically describes the discrimination, segregation and settlements in the West Bank as an apartheid regime. A regime that has paved the way for the dehumanising, supremacist and genocidal language used by the rulers of Israel.
One could guess that the memory of the struggle to end apartheid amongst ordinary South Africans has created pressure from below for the political establishment there to be seen to take action against the Israeli state. Leo Varadkar has said that his government will not back South Africa’s charge of genocide. And he has challenged the case as outlined above. However, the Irish government might support South Africa’s request that the ICJ order a full suspension of Israel’s assault. The Palestinian solidarity movement here needs to step up the pressure on the Irish government to demand that it support the South African case while also exposing every example of its economic and political ties with the Israeli state and its imperialist backers.
Limitations of the International Court of Justice
A trial on the case of genocide could take years to reach a final verdict. The problem is that even if the ICJ was to support the South African case for a halt to the assault on Gaza, it has little power to enforce its rulings. It is part of an institution (the United Nations), totally dominated by the world’s major imperialist powers, particularly the United States, which regards the Israeli state as its “strategic asset” in the Middle East.
Countless UN resolutions have condemned the discrimination of Palestinians and called for the right of return for Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Nakba. Israel, with the consistent backing of the US and other Western capitalist powers, has simply ignored these resolutions. War criminals from imperialist countries and their allies are never held accountable for their actions – Tony Blair, George W. Bush, and the late Henry Kissinger are testament to this.
Nevertheless, however toothless, even the symbolism of an order by the UN to suspend the assault on Gaza at this point would be a major blow to the reputation and prestige of Israel and the US. The trade union movement internationally should organise to support the South African government’s case.
The Israeli regime repeatedly refers to their attacks on Gaza as a battle between “civilisation and barbarism”. This genocide is a particularly heinous example of the barbarism of imperialism and the Western ruling classes. It must be added that capitalism as a system can’t exist without coercion, exploitation and racial oppression.
The slogan “Never Again” must be tied to the struggle for the complete, socialist transformation of society – to throw this capitalist system that breeds violence, Islamophobia, anti-semitism and war into the dustbin of history where it belongs.