Responsible commentators must choose their words with care. Misapplication of incendiary language such as ‘genocide’, ‘apartheid’ ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘war crimes’ has become commonplace in describing the current conflict between Gaza and Israel. Sources guilty of misappropriation of these terms include both mainstream and social media. This serves only to inflame the extreme bipolarity of opinion that has emerged following the recent Hamas attack on Israeli citizens; this coincides with a record number of hate crimes being reported against Jewish people in the UK.
Israel’s defensive tactics against Hamas terrorists have been repeatedly described incorrectly as ‘genocide’, a legally specific and politically charged term referring to the intentional killing of all the people of a nation, religion or racial group. Genocides happen, as many in Israel know only too well, as do citizens of other countries such as Bosnia and Rwanda.
In defending Israel from an unprovoked attack, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) continues to implement the “knock on roof” policy, by contacting Gazan civilians directly to give notice of targeted areas that include terrorist refuges and Hamas-controlled tunnels, advising them to leave their homes. Hamas does not facilitate their evacuation and is also worth noting that there is a portion of the population who refuse to leave. However, as Colonel Richard Kemp, who isn’t Jewish, and who fought in combat zones around the world has stated, “Israel does more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare”.
Hamas is internationally recognised as a terrorist organisation, responsible for the unprovoked attack on Israel and the kidnap, torture and murder of more than 1000 Israelis on 7th October 2023. It is an under-reported fact that Hamas continues to launch thousands of rockets against Israel and there are huge numbers of Israeli evacuees living in temporary accommodation in Tel Aviv. All over Israel, multiple times a day, Israeli citizens have only one or two minutes to find shelter and, failing that, are forced to lie flat on the ground to avoid the possible impact of a rocket strike or debris from those successfully intercepted.
Ultimately Hamas rejects the legitimacy of Israel. Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar, has stated “Gone is the time in which Hamas discussed recognition of Israel. The discussion now is about when we will wipe out Israel”, an ambition which surely implies genocidal intent.
Israelis have never started a war and the legitimate defence of Israel is patently not genocide.
Words matter; misuse of words, whether cynical or born from ignorance and is more than just provocative. It is dangerous.
Julie Russell, Tom Waterton-Smith