Eighty-nine families that existed seven weeks ago in Gaza have been exterminated by Israel.
On Sunday 24 August an Israeli missile tore through the home of Issam Jouda in Gaza’s Tal al-Zatar neighborhood east of Jabaliya without warning, killing Issam’s wife Rawiya and their four children—Taghrid, Tasnim, Usama and Muhammad.
According to the Palestinian health ministry , the Joudas were the eighty-ninth family wiped out in Gaza since the Israeli army started bombarding the besieged coastal enclave on 7 July.
A ceasefire that took effect on Tuesday evening may stop the flow of blood, but it will not heal the raw wounds of the families of more than 2,100 people killed, nor of the more than eleven thousand injured and 100,000 whose homes were destroyed.
Between 7 July and 21 August, the UN documented 140 families in Gaza partially or completely annihilated by Israeli attacks.
Many were crushed beneath the rubble of their homes. Eight members of the Wahdan family, for instance, were killed in their house in Jabaliya refugee camp after being instructed by Israeli forces to stay put.
Others were summarily executed in broad daylight by invading Israeli forces in the catastrophically devastated Shujaiya neighborhood. This was the fate of several members of the Shamaly and al-Areer families according to testimony collected by journalist Max Blumenthal.
The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights has recorded at least 990 people killed inside their homes in Israeli attacks, including 324 children. That’s almost half of all people killed in the Israeli assault.
This is no accident.
Israel’s systematic targeting of entire families in Gaza this summer is part of a deliberate military strategy that seeks to terrorize the civilian population into submission in an effort to break their will to resist Israeli conquest. In recent days, Israel escalated this practice by leveling residential high-rise apartment buildings.
But the wholesale slaughter of families is also part of Israel’s ongoing destruction of Palestine.
Michael Ratner, President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights argues that Israel’s acts in Gaza constitute more than just war crimes and crimes against humanity. He says they are genocide, adding his voice to the growing chorus of those who see the slaughter in Gaza as part of an ongoing, systematic process of annihilation.
“These are clear violations of the Geneva conventions and war crimes,” Ratner told The Electronic Intifada. “But you can’t look at this as an isolated attack on Gaza because there’s a history going back to Zionists charting out and destroying five hundred plus villages in 1947-48,” he said, referring to the Nakba — the premeditated ethnic cleansing of 750,000 indigenous Palestinians by Zionist militias seeking to establish an ethnically exclusive state with a Jewish majority.
Ratner noted that the common response to such accusations is that Israel has not killed enough Palestinians for its actions to qualify as genocide. However, “You don’t have to kill a large number of people to commit genocide,” he explained.
Indeed, Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, defines genocide in the following terms (emphasis added):
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.
Israel does not have to kill millions of Palestinians to be guilty of genocide nor does it need to commit all the above atrocities, though it is undeniably guilty of (a), (b) and (c). It just has to commit any of them with the “intent” to “destroy” Palestinians “in whole or in part” as “a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
The question of genocide, then, is whether by looking at decades of Israel’s practices, as well as the utterances of its leaders, we can find this intent.
The past is present
As a settler-colonial state guided by Zionism, or Jewish nationalism, Israel has spent every year since its creation gradually destroying indigenous Palestinian communities and expelling their residents to consolidate and maintain a Jewish demographic majority in historic Palestine, a goal that by its very nature requires the forced removal and erasure of Palestinians. This process is ongoing within present-day Israel as well, where Israel plans to forcibly remove tens of thousands of Bedouins in the Naqab (Negev) in order to “Judaize” their land.
Gaza in particular—where eighty percent of the population is made up of refugees ethnically cleansed from villages in present-day Israel—has been subjected to periodic massacres since Israel’s creation. These massacres have intensified in frequency since 2006, because unlike in the occupied West Bank, armed resistance against Israeli settler-colonialism has yet to be pacified in Gaza.
“It’s not that people are wrong that Israel is committing war crimes. It’s just you have to look at it in context of the last 70 years,” said Ratner. “You have to ask yourself, what is Israel doing here except trying to make life impossible for Palestinians, to make them give up and get out?”
In his infamous 1956 eulogy for an Israeli settler killed by Palestinian refugees from Gaza, then chief of staff of the Israeli army, Moshe Dayan, candidly described Israel’s policy towards Gaza, saying, “Why should we deplore their burning hatred for us? For eight years now, [Palestinians] have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza and have watched how, before their very eyes, we have turned their land and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home.”
He continued, “We are a generation of settlement and without the steel helmet and the gun’s muzzle we will not be able to plant a tree and build a house… .That is our choice – to be ready and armed, tough and hard – or else the sword shall fall from our hands and our lives will be cut short.”
Later that year, under the leadership of Dayan, Israeli soldiers carried out mass executions in Khan Younis and Rafah, where they gathered all the males over the age of 15, lined them up in the street for all to see, beat them and shot them dead, killing hundreds. The stated aim was to crush armed resistance.
Many Israeli leaders over the years have echoed Dayan’s attitude, most notably Arnon Soffer, otherwise known as the Arab counter due to his compulsive fixation on the threat posed by Palestinian babies.
A central architect of Israel’s policy in Gaza following then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s 2005 unilateral “disengagement,” Soffer once said about the coastal enclave, “if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.” This nightmarish prediction is today’s reality in Gaza.
The difference between the days of Dayan and now is that Israel — with its US-supplied arsenal of Hellfire missiles and bunker buster bombs and an “international community” willing to tolerate limitless Israeli aggression — has the capacity and willpower to complete its genocidal conquest with absolute impunity.
Early this month, Moshe Feiglin, deputy speaker in the Israeli parliament the Knesset, laid out a detailed proposal for concentration and extermination of Palestinians in Gaza. Feiglin, indicating a clear genocidal intent, denied the very existence of a Palestinian people and defined Palestinians as enemies because the vast majority of them are Muslim.
In the lead-up to the Gaza onslaught, Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked, an increasingly popular member of the far-right Habeyit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party and a high-level partner in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, called for slaughtering Palestinian mothers to prevent them from giving birth to “little snakes.”
Shaked’s clear call for genocide appears to have been carried out to some degree against the 89 families in Gaza who were completely obliterated as well as against the newborn infants who died after Israeli attacks on power stations shut down their incubators.
Even if this weren’t the case, the incitement alone ought to be grounds for prosecution.
Article 3 of the Genocide Convention stipulates that “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” and “complicity in genocide” are punishable offenses.
Feiglin and Shaked are reflecting a mindset that can be found pervasively in Israeli society and social media, among the mobs in the streets chanting to “Death to the Arabs” and among Israeli soldiers. Neither Shaked nor Feiglin were censured and in fact their comments garnered enormous support on social media.
And before sending his troops into Gaza, Colonel Ofer Winter, the commander of the Israeli army’s Givati brigade, wrote to his men that they were engaged in a war on behalf of the Jewish “Nation of Israel” to “wipe out” an “enemy who defames” God.
It is unnecessary for anyone to give explicit orders. Israeli soldiers go into Gaza with a deep ethnic hatred of Palestinians already inculcated into them.
Aiding and abetting
“The language is an important component. We saw it in Rwanda, when they went on the radio and said kill the Tutsis,” said Ratner, referring to broadcasts by the Rwandan government-supported Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines.
“The words that are being used by Israeli legislators are fomenting what are incredible genocidal attacks on the Palestinian people. People in the parliament that are encouraging that are aiders and abettors of all of these crimes,” he said, adding that the same is true of US leaders that continue to shower their Israeli counterparts with an endless supply of weapons aimed at Palestinians civilians.
It is notable that in US politics, as in Israel, it has become fashionable in recent years to deny the very existence of a Palestinian people.
“Everyone of those Congress people who continues to vote for military aid to Israel are aiders and abettors of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes,” says Ratner. “It’s the US primarily that is holding back real accountability for what Israel is doing.”