In the first part of this article I discussed the myth spread by Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) and its supporters that Israel is an apartheid state, and how the situation in Israel – a liberal democracy which provides equal rights to all of its citizens – is incomparable to apartheid. In this second part I will deconstruct the other big myth spread by IAW’s supporters: the idea that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians.
The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”. The word ‘genocide’ was actually coined in 1944 by Polish attorney Raphael Lemkin to describe the atrocities of the Nazi regime against the Jewish people during the Holocaust. In a span of four years, the Nazis managed to murder six million Jews – more than a third of the world’s Jewish population at the time – in addition to five million gypsies, homosexuals, communists, and people with physical and mental disabilities. Other well-known genocidal events in recent history include the Armenian Genocide, in which 1.5 million Armenians were murdered at the hands of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey during WWI, and the Rwandan Genocide, in which 800,000 Tutsi were murdered in a span of three months. These travesties were targeted murders of specific groups of people for the express purpose of wiping these groups off the face of the earth, falling in line with the UN’s current definition.
Israel’s self-defensive actions, on the other hand, clearly do not fall under the UN’s definition of genocide or any other reasonable definition. The Arab-Israeli conflict has spanned nearly 100 years and has resulted in terrible casualties on both sides. The Arab side of the conflict includes not only the Palestinians, but also Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and a number of other Middle-Eastern countries that have at various points waged war against Israel. Every war in which Israel has been involved has been the result of either Israel being attacked (e.g. the 1948 War, the 1973 War, all three Gaza wars) or Israel pre-emptively defending itself from an impending attack (i.e. the 1967 War). Israel’s sole intent in all of these wars has been to ensure its own survival, not to eliminate Arabs or Palestinians as a group. This is reinforced by Israel’s efforts to establish peace with its neighbours, which resulted in the Israel-Egypt peace treaty in 1979 and the Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994.
Israel has made numerous attempts to establish peace with the Palestinians, including three comprehensive offers for Palestinian statehood in the past two decades – all of which were rejected by Palestinian leaders – and the complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. These peace attempts were made in spite of ongoing terrorism against Israel, including suicide bombings, shootings, firebombings, and rocket attacks.
Israel also takes great care to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. Despite Hamas having launched over 14,000 rockets into Israel since the Gaza withdrawal, Israel has avoided engaging in conflict except during extenuating circumstances. Even during these periods of war, Israel still provided electricity, water, medical treatment, and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza. As well, there is no army in the world that undertakes as much effort as Israel to warn civilians of pending air strikes through actions such as dropping leaflets, making phone calls, sending text messages, and dropping warning shells. Despite Hamas illegally launching attacks from schools, homes and hospitals and forcing civilians to stay in targeted buildings, Israel has managed to maintain a substantially lower civilian casualty ratio (ratio of civilians killed to terrorists killed) than the world average, and certainly much lower than the United States’ and Britain’s civilian casualty ratios during the recent war in Afghanistan. As the former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan Colonel Kemp testified at the UN in October 2009,
The Israel Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare. Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.
These are decidedly not the actions of a country intent on Palestinian genocide. While Israel’s military strategy can certainly be criticized, it would require an astonishing degree of deliberate ignorance to dismiss the facts that Israel has made numerous efforts at establishing peace, that it only uses military intervention defensively, and that it takes great care to minimize casualties. Israel faces more and graver threats to its existence than any other developed country in the world, and the claim that Israel’s legitimate defensive actions amount to genocide raises alarming questions about either the claimant’s understanding of the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict or their underlying intentions in making the claim.
As a subset of the genocide myth, many anti-Israel activists make the egregious claim that Israel’s actions are similar to those of the Nazis during WWII. The comparison of the Jewish state’s self-defensive actions to the Nazi regime’s barbarism is patently and unequivocally false, but it’s also something that people are apparently willing to believe. I’ve heard people say that Israel is systematically murdering the Palestinians the way Hitler systematically murdered the Jews, despite the fact that the Palestinian population in Gaza and the West Bank has more than quadrupled in the past 50 years. I’ve heard people compare Gaza to a concentration camp, despite the fact that Gaza is under an embargo that is legal at international law and that will cease as soon as Hamas foregoes its mandate to destroy Israel and kill Jews. In Auschwitz, hundreds of thousands of Jews died from starvation. In Gaza, senior Hamas official Khalil Hamada reported in 2010 that “there is no starvation in Gaza. No one has died of hunger.”
It may be that some people find something darkly poetic in the idea that the Jews, who suffered one of the most horrible tragedies in history, are now inflicting that same horror against someone else. But Nietzscheism aside, it takes only a modicum of scrutiny (if that) to understand that the comparison of today’s Jewish state to yesterday’s Nazi regime is not only false, but also a targeted political strategy – and a disgustingly anti-Semitic one at that – which is being exploited in order to turn the Jewish people’s saddest and most horrifying moment in history against them.