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‘Israel is committing Genocide in Gaza’ – UN Panel

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Picture: Thomas Coex / AFP / Taken on October 10, 2023 – Israeli soldiers stand near the body of a Palestinian militant in Kfar Aza, in the south of Israel, bordering Gaza Strip on October 10. While the ‘physical element’ of genocide is being documented and broadcast daily, the ‘mental element’ – i.e the intent behind the mass killing – which is more difficult to establish, has been repeatedly clarified by the leaders of Israeli government and military, the writer says.

By Pavan Kulkarni

Amid the growing international consensus that the atrocities Israel has been committing in Gaza amount to genocide, a UN panel has also concluded that “genocide is already happening” in Gaza.

The UN-mandated Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) convened this panel at UN headquarters in New York City on December 12, ahead of the vote in the General Assembly on the resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”.

Tasked to “examine the legal implications of Israel’s military offensive against Gaza since October 7 and shed light on the applicability of key legal frameworks including those defining Genocide”, the panel was titled “2023 War on Gaza: The Responsibility to Prevent Genocide”.

“But sadly, it is clear that genocide is already happening, so our question now is the responsibility to stop the ongoing genocide,” Hari Prabowo, Indonesia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN who chaired the panel discussion, said at its conclusion.

On the same day, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) also adopted a resolution recognising that “Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people constitute an unfolding genocide.”

From November onwards UN experts, including several Special Rapporteurs and members of Working Groups on various issues, have been warning that there was “a genocide in the making” in Gaza.

Consensus on the genocidal nature of Israel’s war on Gaza has been consolidating since its early days. As early as October 15, just over a week after Israel started its bombardment, nearly 900 “scholars and practitioners of international law, conflict studies and genocide studies” from around the world had warned of a “potential genocide in Gaza”.

In the two months since this warning, the death toll has increased by over seven-fold, with over 19,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, killed by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) as of December 17. Thousands more remain buried under the rubble of the buildings Israel has bombed.

But the number of the killed is not the factor determining whether or not the mass killing amounted to genocide, Katherine Gallagher, Senior Staff Attorney at the US-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, explained in her presentation at the UN panel discussion.

Pointing out that several Bosnian Serb political and military leaders were convicted of genocide for the “killing of over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica” in 1995, she added that it is the deliberate nature of the targeting of a group, “the intent, coupled with action”, that determines that a mass killing amounts to genocide.

By “killing” and “causing serious bodily or mental harm”, and “deliberately inflicting” on Palestinians in Gaza “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”, Israel has committed three of the five acts listed under the Genocide Convention.

These acts, which constitute the “physical element” of the genocide, have been documented thoroughly, shared widely on social media and broadcast on television daily – even hourly. However, these acts qualify as genocide only when the “mental element” is also demonstrated – namely that they were “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.

“The intent is the most difficult element to determine,” explains the UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect.

“But in this case, the intent” has been made “explicit” in the statements “by the Prime Minister, the President, by senior cabinet members and by the military leaders”. “These statements clearly constitute the mental element of the crime of genocide,” Hannah Bruinsma, a legal advisor at Law for Palestine, said at the panel discussion.

“We have collected so far 500 statements that demonstrate” the genocidal intent, “often of those in the chain of command”, she added. Such statements of genocidal intent have been made since the early days of the war on Gaza and systematically repeated time and again.

‘Not mere rhetoric, but an admission of criminal intent’

Army’s spokesperson Daniel Hagari, who bragged of dropping “thousands of tons of munitions” on Gaza within the first couple of days of Israel’s campaign, had no qualms admitting that “we’re focused on what causes maximum damage”, rather than “accuracy”.

Referring to Palestinians as “human animals”, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who prided in having “released all the restraints” on the military, had said in the early days of the war that “we will eliminate everything” in Gaza.

Picture: Eye on Palestine / Taken on on December 6, 2023– Palestinians bid farewell to their relatives, slaughtered in what the UN Panel has called a genocide. Legitimising the mass killing of civilians in Gaza, Israeli President Isaac Herzog has declared that “an entire nation out there is responsible” for the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, arguing that the “rhetoric” about innocent civilians is “absolutely not true”, the writer says.

Doubling down that “human animals must be treated as such”, the army’s Co-ordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Ghassan Alian told Palestinians in Gaza that, “there will be no electricity and no water, there will only be destruction”.

Legitimising the mass killing of civilians in Gaza, Israeli President Isaac Herzog had declared that “an entire nation out there is responsible” for the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, arguing that the “rhetoric” about innocent civilians is “absolutely not true”.

“This practice of casting an entire population as enemies, as legitimate military targets, is a common genocidal mechanism,” Raz Segal, a prominent Jewish Israeli scholar of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, said in his remarks at the panel discussion.

Late in October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on to compare Palestinians with the biblical enemy of the Jews. “You must remember what Amalek has done to you,” he quoted from the Old Testament which prescribes, “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

These statements, which “have been given effect” must be understood to be “not mere rhetoric, but an admission of criminal intent”, Gallagher argued. “Israeli officials have done what they said they would do.”

Journalists guilty of inciting genocide

“These expressions of intent need to be understood also in relation to the widespread incitement to genocide in Israeli media since October 7,” said a statement on December 9 by over 55 scholars in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

From the calls to turn Gaza “into a slaughterhouse” and “violate all norms on the way to victory” to saying, “let there be a million bodies” of dead Palestinians, there are “dozens and dozens of examples of incitement in Israeli media”, said Segal, one of the signatories of the statement.

“It is worth reminding” that in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, journalists who had been encouraging the crime when it was unfolding were “put on trial and convicted … of incitement to genocide, which is a separate crime under Article 3 of the UN Genocide Convention”, he added.

‘US is complicit in Genocide’

Also listed as a separate crime in the same article is “complicity in genocide”, of which the US is guilty, argued Gallagher. The Centre for Constitutional Rights, which she represented in the panel discussion, has filed a legal complaint in a California District Court against US President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, for their complicity in Israel’s genocide.

“This unfolding genocide of the Palestinian people in Gaza has so far been made possible because of the unconditional support given” to Israel by the US in breach of its “responsibilities under customary international law … to prevent, and not further, genocide”, states the complaint.

The US, which is Israel’s “largest provider of military, economic and political assistance, and I would argue, political cover … has the ability to use its considerable influence and unique position to take all measures to stop Israel’s unfolding genocide”. Gallagher argued.

“Instead”, she said, it “has done the opposite.” Biden, Blinken and Austin have “pledged and continue to pledge all support to Israel”. “They have rushed military support, ammunition, precision-guided munitions, 2,000-pound bunker bombs, and they’ve been flying drones overhead. The US military advisers have been in (Israel’s) war cabinet sessions.”

In addition to the annual $3.8 billion it hands out to Israel every year, it is now coughing up “an additional $14.5 billion, without conditions”. US officials have reiterated in multiple press conferences that “there are no red lines or conditions for these weapons”, she said.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Israel has dropped more than 22,000 US-supplied bombs on Gaza within the first month and a half of the war. This amounts to almost one US bomb per every 100 of the 2.3 million Palestinians who are practically imprisoned in the 365 km² strip of land that Israel has held under siege for 17 years, which itself has been described by Jewish Israeli historian Ilan Pappe as an “Incremental Genocide”.

‘Forced displacement in genocidal processes’

Situating “the ongoing genocide in Gaza” in the “broader context of Israel’s violent settler colonialism and occupation of Palestinian land”, Jehad Abusalim, Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund, said “this process began in 1948” with the establishment of Israel.

The Nakba, the Arabic word meaning catastrophe, refers to the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their land within a year of the establishment of this settler colonial state on 78 percent of Palestine. The process of the Nakba, he said at the panel discussion, never stopped.

“The Nakba was not just an event in the distant past”, but “continues to unfold in Gaza today. It is a process of continuous displacement and ethnic cleansing”.

“Forced displacement, what is commonly called ethnic cleansing, is not in itself an act of genocide, but we know that historically it has figured in genocidal processes,” added Segal, who describes Israel’s actions in Gaza as “a textbook case of genocide”.

“It took the Nazis two and a half years … of experimenting with various schemes of forced displacement of Jews” before implementing the “Final Solution”, Segal said.

Pavan Kulkarni is a journalist and an author at Peoples Dispatch

This article was first published on Peoples Dispatch