Israel’s incremental genocide in the Gaza ghetto

A mother hugs her adolescent son in a bombed-out living room

In Gaza, the implementation of the Zionist vision takes its most inhuman form.

Ezz Zanoun APA images

In a September 2006 article for The Electronic Intifada, I defined the Israeli policy towards the Gaza Strip as an incremental genocide.

Israel’s present assault on Gaza alas indicates that this policy continues unabated. The term is important since it appropriately locates Israel’s barbaric action — then and now — within a wider historical context.

This context should be insisted upon, since the Israeli propaganda machine attempts again and again to narrate its policies as out of context and turns the pretext it found for every new wave of destruction into the main justification for another spree of indiscriminate slaughter in the killing fields of Palestine.

The context

The Zionist strategy of branding its brutal policies as an ad hoc response to this or that Palestinian action is as old as the Zionist presence in Palestine itself. It was used repeatedly as a justification for implementing the Zionist vision of a future Palestine that has in it very few, if any, native Palestinians.

The means for achieving this goal changed with the years, but the formula has remained the same: whatever the Zionist vision of a Jewish State might be, it can only materialize without any significant number of Palestinians in it. And nowadays the vision is of an Israel stretching over almost the whole of historic Palestine where millions of Palestinians still live.

The present genocidal wave has, like all the previous ones, also a more immediate background. It has been born out of an attempt to foil the Palestinian decision to form a unity government that even the United States could not object to.

The collapse of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s desperate “peace” initiative legitimized the Palestinian appeal to international organizations to stop the occupation. At the same time, Palestinians gained wide international blessing for the cautious attempt represented by the unity government to strategize once again a coordinated policy among the various Palestinian groups and agendas.

Ever since June 1967, Israel searched for a way to keep the territories it occupied that year without incorporating their indigenous Palestinian population into its rights-bearing citizenry. All the while it participated in a “peace process” charade to cover up or buy time for its unilateral colonization policies on the ground.

With the decades, Israel differentiated between areas it wished to control directly and those it would manage indirectly, with the aim in the long run of downsizing the Palestinian population to a minimum with, among other means, ethnic cleansing and economic and geographic strangulation.

The geopolitical location of the West Bank creates the impression in Israel, at least, that it is possible to achieve this without anticipating a third uprising or too much international condemnation.

The Gaza Strip, due to its unique geopolitical location, did not lend itself that easily to such a strategy. Ever since 1994, and even more so when Ariel Sharon came to power as prime minister in the early 2000s, the strategy there was to ghettoize Gaza and somehow hope that the people there — 1.8 million as of today — would be dropped into eternal oblivion.

But the Ghetto proved to be rebellious and unwilling to live under conditions of strangulation, isolation, starvation and economic collapse. So resending it to oblivion necessitates the continuation of genocidal policies.

The pretext

On 15 May, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian youths in the West Bank town of Beitunia, their cold-blooded slayings by a sniper’s bullet captured on video. Their names — Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir — were added to a long list of such killings in recent months and years.

The killing of three Israeli teenagers, two of them minors, abducted in the occupied West Bank in June, was perhaps in reprisal for killings of Palestinian children. But for all the depredations of the oppressive occupation, it provided the pretext first and foremost for destroying the delicate unity in the West Bank but also for the implementation of the old dream of wiping out Hamas from Gaza so that the Ghetto could be quiet again.

Since 1994, even before the rise of Hamas to power in the Gaza Strip, the very particular geopolitical location of the Strip made it clear that any collective punitive action, such as the one inflicted now, could only be an operation of massive killings and destruction. In other words, of a continued genocide.

This recognition never inhibited the generals who give the orders to bomb the people from the air, the sea and the ground. Downsizing the number of Palestinians all over historic Palestine is still the Zionist vision. In Gaza, its implementation takes its most inhuman form.

The particular timing of this wave is determined, as in the past, by additional considerations. The domestic social unrest of 2011 is still simmering and for a while there was a public demand to cut military expenditures and move money from the inflated “defense” budget to social services. The army branded this possibility as suicidal.

There is nothing like a military operation to stifle any voices calling on the government to cut its military expenses.

Typical hallmarks of the previous stages in this incremental genocide reappear in this wave as well. One can witness again consensual Israeli Jewish support for the massacre of civilians in the Gaza Strip, without one significant voice of dissent. In Tel Aviv, the few who dared to demonstrate against it were beaten by Jewish hooligans, while the police stood by and watched.

Academia, as always, becomes part of the machinery. The prestigious private university, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya has established “a civilian headquarters” where students volunteer to serve as mouthpieces in the propaganda campaign abroad.

The media is loyally recruited, showing no pictures of the human catastrophe Israel has wreaked and informing its public that this time, “the world understands us and is behind us.”

That statement is valid to a point as the political elites in the West continue to provide the old immunity to the “Jewish state.” However, the media have not provided Israel with quite the level of legitimacy it was seeking for its criminal policies.

Obvious exceptions included French media, especially France 24 and the BBC, that continue to shamefully parrot Israeli propaganda.

This is not surprising, since pro-Israel lobby groups continue to work tirelessly to press Israel’s case in France and the rest of Europe as they do in the United States.

The way forward

Whether it is burning alive a Palestinian youth from Jerusalem, or the fatal shooting of two others, just for the fun of it in Beitunia, or slaying whole families in Gaza, these are all acts that can only be perpetrated if the victim is dehumanized.

I will concede that all over the Middle East there are now horrific cases where dehumanization has reaped unimaginable horrors as it does in Gaza today. But there is one crucial difference between these cases and the Israeli brutality: the former are condemned as barbarous and inhuman worldwide, while those committed by Israel are still publicly licensed and approved by the president of the United States, the leaders of the EU and Israel’s other friends in the world.

The only chance for a successful struggle against Zionism in Palestine is the one based on a human and civil rights agenda that does not differentiate between one violation and the other and yet identifies clearly the victim and the victimizers.

Those who commit atrocities in the Arab world against oppressed minorities and helpless communities, as well as the Israelis who commit these crimes against the Palestinian people, should all be judged by the same moral and ethical standards. They are all war criminals, though in the case of Palestine they have been at work longer than anyone else.

It does not really matter what the religious identity is of the people who commit the atrocities or in the name of which religion they purport to speak. Whether they call themselves jihadists, Judaists or Zionists, they should be treated in the same way.

A world that would stop employing double standards in its dealings with Israel is a world that could be far more effective in its response to war crimes elsewhere in the world.

Cessation of the incremental genocide in Gaza and the restitution of the basic human and civil rights of Palestinians wherever they are, including the right of return, is the only way to open a new vista for a productive international intervention in the Middle East as a whole.

The author of numerous books, Ilan Pappe is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.




Absolutely spot on. People forget about Israel's anger at the new unity Govt.

Israeli teens then just 'happen' to get kidnapped. How convenient?

With no evidence Israel then attacks Gaza. Did anyone even ask how Hamas kidnapped the teens in the West Bank, when they are in Gaza?


Pappe is also right in holding the media to account. Israel's cynicism in this latest round of brutality was so blatant that only professional journalists could have failed to see it.

For weeks, following the collapse of the Kerry initiative, Israel systematically stepped up its assassination campaign and killed more children than usual, clearly attempting to provoke a violent response. (This is a familiar pattern; Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and its assault on Gaza in 2008, to name just two examples, were preceded by a series of such provocations.) When no militant organization rose rapidly to the bait, Israel's violence intensified. Then, when three young Israeli settlers were abducted and killed, the Israeli government seized on their disappearance to whip up public hysteria, though knowing all along that the youths were almost certainly dead and that Hamas leadership had nothing to do with the killing.

All this is clearly apparent, as is the fact that Israel's leadership openly blamed Hamas -- and even intensified violent attacks on its officials -- for acts they knew the leadership had nothing to do with; what is more, they started their "punishment" of Gaza and Gazans before Hamas launched any of their pitiful arsenal of homemade rockets in Israel's direction. To date, there is precious little evidence that they have neutralized any rocket launchers. But they have managed to slaughter plenty of defenseless civilians, many of them children.

Had Syria's government, say, used such pretexts for such violence, the response of international media would have been divided between ridicule and outrage. It is hard to believe that CNN, BBC, France 24, etc., etc. are incapable of seeing the same pattern of cynical deceit when practiced by the Israelis, who after all have been doing it openly enough for decades. In this context, their parroting of Israeli propaganda is far worse than naive.


In an attempt to purge myself of any lingering rationalizations and brainwashing about the identity of those perpetrating this inhuman and barbaric (especially since it is tolerated, even cheered on by the Western powers that be) massacre in Gaza, I coined the above title for guilty entity. I so appreciate the fact that Ilan Pappe refuses to be a sentimentalizer of genocide.


The PLO and other radical Palestinian groups fight co-existence as much as the Israeli's. Both sides have extremist that use extreme, inaccurate, and cowardly attacks against the other. This results most often in the suffering of the civilians caught in the middle. If this occurred in the US I sure as hell would not let Jim Bob with his cache of weapons and wild rebel sympathies live next door to me. It would be time to move. Do some research into the history both sides are disgusting. Grown men exacting revenge on children. YOU'RE BOTH COWARDS! God would never support either one of these barbaric groups given the yearly atrocities committed. Shame upon Israelis, Shame upon Palestinians. #TwoStateSolution Hows that, ECOP? More of the same useless hate that will endlessly kill more innocents. More unproductive trash talk. #TSS!


Article quote: "The only chance for a successful struggle against Zionism in Palestine is the one based on a human and civil rights agenda"

This quote is of paramount importance. I see through the phony Israeli claims that all their actions are in self defense, I don't buy their arguments that Palestinian violence is unprovoked, and I see that Israeli ambition to permanently rule the West Bank is poorly disguised. Still there remain some inescapable facts. These are that the imbalance of power is too great for Palestinians to fight, and that Palestinians cannot compete in the battle of the media as long as Palestinian violence persists. Israel too easily wields the rhetoric of self defense. Its ability and power as a prosperous democratic industrialized state gives it political and economic legitimacy enabling it to shape the dialog in its favor.

Violence has been a disastrous PR failure for the Palestinians, regardless whether you view it as justified by provocation or not. It is an epic strategic blunder and until every Palestinian group of any consequence understands this, especially you Hamas, and takes it seriously, Palestine can not prevail in its aspirations to statehood, full rights, and the dignity of political and economic self determination.

Without the rocket attacks, Israel would stand naked before the world and lose all sympathy for its military campaign. It would be unable to legitimize military action against Gaza, or continued military occupation of the West Bank.

The vast majority of Palestinians pay a terrible price because many can not let go of the narrative that someday Israel will be destroyed. Regardless of the injustices of the past, the fastest way to secure a peaceful future is to drop the rockets and all violence, and drop all anti-Semitic rhetoric. Without these things Israel would be defenseless before international pressure to withdraw blockade and occupation and support a new state of Palestine.


Let's apply this argument to occupied France. The Resistance brought reprisals - should the Resistance have lain down in the face of the nazi occupation? Oppressed people will always fight back with every weapon at their disposal. That's the way people are - they desire freedom and they don't want to lie helpless and shamed while the enemy kills them, steals their land, their water, their produce. The Palestinians have the right to use any methods they choose to resist. It is not true that Israel is attacking because of the rockets. It is attacking to destroy the Unity Government. Claiming that halting the rockets would help the Palestinians is playing into the Netanyahu regime's hands.


The are no “two sides to every story”. In fact there is no story.

What there is but just one thing. Whether the law is applied equitably to all or whether it applies to none.

Zionism must end and the ethnically cleansed from the time of the Nakba must not be stopped from returning.

If one wants a sustainable peace in “Palesrael“ it is as basic as that. This proud Jew works for that.

To hell with criminal imperialism and to hell with racist zionism!


While I endorse much that Ilan Pappe writes above, and particularly the vision of a single democratic state in the whole Palestine, I wish to draw the attention of readers to the possibility that the imperial powers (the US and NATO) maintain artificially the conflict in Palestine (between Israel and the Palestinians) as a means to maintain Israel as a Western outpost and as a laboratory for testing out technology of oppression on the Palestinian captive population. Any strategy for a just peace in Palestine must be linked to a clear resistance and opposition to the imperialist rulers, who instrumentalize Zionism and Jihadism for their own benefit, namely to rule the world.


Very well said, the US needs this struggle of jihadists v zionists to propel it's plan for world domination. I've read a lot about pre 1948 Zionism today and learned that it's founder, Herzl, was content with creating a Jewish state in modern day Uganda. But, that anti Semite Christians in Britain insisted on Palestine as the Jewish homeland because they believed it would fulfill a biblical prophecy , leading to "the rapture" and the destruction of all non Christians.