Genocide By Public Policy

A woman in Rafah displays shrapnel collected from inside her home from Israel’s nightly shooting at residents’ homes. (Ronald de Hommel)

Many words are taboo if used to describe Israel�s actions against Palestinians. One word in particular — genocide — sparks emotions that echo across Israel, Europe, and North America. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group.” What is happening in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip today is dangerously close to genocide, close enough that photographs of terrified Palestinians in Rafah loading their meager belongings onto carts and fleeing their homes are all too reminiscent of another time, another place another people. These images should be setting off alarm bells in the hearts and minds of Israelis. Unfortunately, at stake is not only the lexicon of conflict, but our children as well. We refuse to sit still and watch a deaf, dumb and blind world steal their future from them.

A few weeks ago, Israeli professor and political sociologist at Ben Gurion University, Lev Grinberg, wrote an article that created an furore in Israel. Entitled “Symbolic Genocide,” [1] it provided an unsettling argument: “Unable to recover from the Holocaust trauma and the insecurity it caused, the Jewish people, the ultimate victim of genocide, is currently inflicting a symbolic genocide upon the Palestinian people�What is symbolic genocide? Every people has its symbols, national leaders and political institutions, a home land, past and future generations, and hopes. All these symbolically represent a people. Israel is systematically damaging, destroying and eradicating all of these, with unbelievable bureaucratic jargon.”

During the last few years and weeks, in particular, such actions can no longer be accurately defined as “symbolic.” In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian cities and refugee camps are being battered beyond recognition. This is the same fate that today�s very same Israeli leaders forced upon Palestinians in Lebanon in 1982 and upon Palestinians inside Israel proper nearly 60 years ago. The Israeli targets have been many, most recently, as we write, Rafah City and the Rafah refugee camp in the Southern tip of the Gaza Strip.

This isolated, poverty-stricken community is facing the same brute force of the Israeli military occupation that the Jenin refugee camp, in the northern West Bank, faced two years ago, if not worse. The Palestinian death toll has been mounting so steadily that the media does not even bother to mention the 5-7 Palestinian deaths that occur almost daily from Israeli firepower.

Nevertheless, “deliberate and systematic destruction,” as the definition of genocide illustrates, does not necessarily mean physical killing of people, albeit Israel is having no problem, and is facing no international outcry, in doing just that. Destruction, Israeli-occupation style, is equally focused on demolishing Palestinian homes under the false pretext of “security.” If so many Palestinians were not being killed and even more being made homeless, this outdated Israeli-manufactured pretext called “security” would be laughable.

Israeli newspapers routinely publish headlines such as the following, all of which appeared earlier this week: “[Israeli] High Court allows Gaza demolitions” (Ha�aretz, By Yuval Yoaz and Gideon Alon). This article�s lead stated that “[Israeli] Army’s ‘operational necessity’ takes precedence.” This High Court is the same that several years ago allowed for Palestinian political prisoners to be to tortured while under Israeli detention.

Indeed, the Israeli High Court has a long history of providing legal justification for the heinous actions of the Israeli military and the security services. This judicial carte blanche for Israel�s illegal occupation is worse than Israeli politicians publicly discussing which Palestinian is next on their assassination list or how Palestinians should be “transferred” out of their homes and cities once and for all. What Israel is doing is planned, organized, systematic and illegal. It is a wicked policy being discussed in full view of the public eye. On the other hand, Amnesty International, which historically has watered down the injustices inflicted upon Palestinians, has just released a report stating that, by destroying over 3,000 homes and causing damage to 16,000 more, and displacing thousands of Palestinians, making them refugees again for the umpteenth time, Israel is committing “war crimes.” [2]

Yet the world remains silent.

As Professor Grinberg stated, “This is a dangerous policy. It poses an existential threat to the Palestinian people, but also to the state of Israel and its citizens, thereby endangering the entire Middle East.”

Palestinian youths who climbed on an Israeli army Merkava tank dismentle its machinegun, during an Israeli army raid in Deir al-Balah in the center of the Gaza Strip 05 May 2004. (AFP PHOTO/Mohammed ABED)

Nothing could be closer to the truth. With every Palestinian assassinated from Israeli helicopter gunships, with every Palestinian home demolished, with every Palestinian illegally detained in Israeli prisons, ten times as many children are witnessing their ill fate before their very own eyes. Palestinian children now routinely climb on top of Israeli tanks invading their cities. Sadly, young Palestinians who have equated their life � the only life they know � under this brutal military occupation to death are being recruited to take innocent Israeli lives along with them while committing suicide themselves.

Victims of a naked aggression, Palestinians are slowly losing control of their society and being blamed for it as well. Israelis, too, are beginning to glorify death rather than life, as Israeli psychologist Yoram Yovel recently noted in an editorial in Ha�aretz newspaper (17 May 2004). He notes that what is happening in Gaza reflects a deep psychological process that Israeli society is undergoing, making it more and more similar to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.

As the world powers watch the Palestinians being destroyed as a people, they have the arrogance and audacity to demand that a caged people develop and align their society�s institutions for inclusion in a globalized world. While the world�s sole superpower watches, funds and provides political cover for the maze of Israeli military checkpoints and cement walls being erected to encircle Palestinian cities, they have the nerve to preach to Palestinians about necessary governmental and economic reforms and WTO accession. As if economic liberalization is a solution for the humanitarian and political disaster facing the Palestinian people, the world�s organizations, including the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan himself, are acknowledging Israeli war crimes while casually sending more teams of foreign consultants to document the gravity of the situation and suggest boilerplate reforms.

Knowing Palestinians’ ability to remain steadfast in the face of earthshaking odds, we would venture to bet that Palestinians will continue to sustain the damages being systematically inflicted upon them. Palestinian students will continue their studies, even in makeshift schools if necessary. Palestinian investors and businesspersons will continue to invest and over-extend themselves to maintain even the minimal level of jobs possible. Palestinian women, the real unknown soldiers, will continue to be the threads of steel that hold together the strongest Palestinian institution yet: the family.

All of this can be expected, not because President Bush has some kind of blurry vision that keeps getting repeated like a broken record, but rather because Palestinians are the owners of a just cause and have been programmed to survive, despite all odds, and will continue to juggle two extraordinary struggles, one to free themselves from military occupation and the other to build for statehood.

Why does the community of nations refuse the screaming calls for an international peace-keeping presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, especially and immediately in the Gaza Strip, to prevent further escalation and destruction? The least that the world could do is to stand between our two peoples, for both of our people�s sake, and theirs.

If, to use Professor Grinberg�s words again, “Silence under the present circumstances means acquiescence,” then what does one call the United States� blatant arming of, financial support for, and political cover of Israel�s � or its own in Iraq, for that matter — current policy of destruction and self-destruction?

Indeed, “genocide” seems too accommodating a word to describe such examples of the arrogance of power.


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    Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank and can be reached at Dr. Michael Dahan is an Israeli-American political scientist living in Jerusalem and teaching at Ben Gurion University. He can be reached at This article was first published in News from Within.