Despite denials, world becoming more convinced genocide is underway in Gaza
A Palestinian child looks at the graves of people killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and buried inside the Shifa Hospital grounds in Gaza City, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. South Africa has launched a case at the United Nations' top court alleging that Israel's military campaign in Gaza amounts to genocide. | Mohammed Hajjar / AP

The governments of Bolivia, Malaysia, Turkey, and key U.S. Mideast ally Jordan have all announced their support for South Africa’s genocide petition against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in response to its horrific assault on Palestinians in Gaza and the occupied territories. The hearing before the ICJ, adjudicating disputes in a civil court between U.N. member states, is set for Jan. 11.

The petition is part of an urgent and growing global effort for a ceasefire and to stop the near-complete destruction of Gaza and the incomprehensible number of Palestinian deaths in a war orchestrated by Israel’s extreme right nationalist government in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre.

International human rights organizations, governments, and scholars of genocide cite the killing of over 23,000 Palestinians and the massive bombing that has turned most of Gaza into rubble, destroying infrastructure including housing and shelters, desalination, water, and sanitation facilities, hospitals, schools, mosques, and agriculture. Israel has shut off electricity and blocked humanitarian relief, causing mass starvation and disease to spread.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his messianic governing coalition partners, and much of Israeli media call for making Gaza uninhabitable in order to forcibly displace 2.3 million Palestinians, including to other countries.

Supporters of Palestine demonstrate at the entrance to the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, on Oct. 20, 2023. South Africa’s government has filed a case with the International Court of Justice against Israel on the charge of genocide. | Denis Farrell / AP

Ofer Cassif of the Hadash-Ta’al party became the first member of the Israeli Knesset and one of 400 Israelis to sign the South African petition. “My constitutional duty is to Israeli society and all its residents, not to a government whose members and its coalition are calling for ethnic cleansing and even actual genocide. They are the ones who harm the country and the people, they are the ones who led to South Africa’s appeal, not me and my friends,” said Cassif.

“When the government acts against society, the state, and its citizens, especially when it sacrifices them and commits crimes in their name on the altar of maintaining its existence, it is my right and even my duty to warn about this and do everything I can within the law to stop it.

“I will not give up the fight for our existence as a moral society. This is true patriotism, not unnecessary bloodshed, and not sacrificing kidnapped citizens and soldiers in senseless wars,” said Cassif, who now faces calls for expulsion by right-wing extremists in the Knesset. He was already temporarily removed in late October after warning that ethnic cleansing was under way in Gaza at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces.

More than 900 popular movements, unions, political parties, and other organizations have signed an open letter calling on states to support South Africa’s petition against Israel.

In response to the South African petition, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said, “Those are allegations that should not be made lightly…. We are not seeing any acts that constitute genocide.” The U.S. is the primary supplier of weaponry to Israel.

Human rights organizations and scholars have increasingly raised warnings and accusations of genocide by Israel over the past two decades. But the calls have grown dramatically since the Netanyahu coalition government, dominated by extreme religious nationalist and far-right settler parties, launched its unprecedented war of destruction in Gaza following the Hamas terrorist attack and massacre in Israel.

On Oct. 15, barely a week into the war, nearly 800 scholars and practitioners of international law, conflict studies, and genocide studies warned of the possibility of genocide against Palestinians. Concerns and condemnations escalated from there.

On Oct. 19, over 100 civil society organizations, including Palestinian groups and genocide scholars, appealed to the International Criminal Court to intervene and prevent an unfolding genocide.

On Nov. 9, three Palestinian human rights organizations filed a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court (ICC) to request arrest warrants against Israeli leaders—including Netanyahu—for genocide.

On Nov. 16, U.N. experts warned of a “genocide in the making.” They illustrated evidence of “increasing genocidal incitement, and an overt intent to ‘destroy the Palestinian people under occupation,’ loud calls for a ‘second Nakba’ in Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory, and the use of powerful weaponry with inherently indiscriminate impacts, resulting in a colossal death toll and destruction of life-sustaining infrastructure.”

On Dec. 5, 55 scholars of the Holocaust, genocide, and mass violence issued a statement deploring “the atrocity crimes against civilians committed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad on Oct. 7 and by Israeli forces since then” and warned “of the danger of genocide in Israel’s attack on Gaza.”

Another group of Holocaust and genocide scholars says Israeli actions, despite their atrocious character, don’t amount to genocide. They say despite the legal definition, proving genocidal intent is extremely difficult. Some backers of the Israeli government maintain that Hamas engaged in genocide on Oct. 7 and in calls for the elimination of Israel and that Israel is acting in self-defense by trying to destroy Hamas.

On Dec. 12, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said that Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people constitute an unfolding genocide.

In addition, many of the same groups accuse Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law, including murder of civilians, torture, kidnapping, and sexual violence. In addition, Israel has subjected Gaza to a total siege for 16 years, is using white phosphorus on civilians, and is subjecting Palestinians to collective punishment.

The U.S., as the primary weapons supplier of Israel, is also being accused of abetting the genocide by actively arming Israel and providing diplomatic cover, which is also a crime under international law.

“In light of the evidence of war crimes and other violations, the U.S. must follow its own laws and policies regarding the transfer and sale of arms, including its Conventional Arms Transfer Policy and Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance, which together are meant to prevent arms transfers that risk facilitating or otherwise contributing to civilian harm and to violations of human rights or international humanitarian law,” said Amnesty International.

The world is witnessing the destruction of life and society in the whole in Gaza, one of the most densely populated places in the world, upon which Israel has dropped more bombs than the U.S. dropped on Afghanistan during the entire war there.

“The levels of destruction and killing takes us into the total destruction of Palestinian society, in addition to archeological and cultural sites being bombed. The idea is to erase Palestinian life and society in Gaza and remove Palestinians from Gaza completely,” said Raz Segal, the lead organizer of the statement by Holocaust and genocide scholars.

“The forced displacement of two million people, the whole population, a total siege, no food, no water, deliberately creating conditions to bring about the destruction of the group. This escalates in many cases to outright mass murder,” Segal said.

The definition of genocide arose following the Holocaust, in which German Nazis systematically murdered six million Jews during World War II. The global community codified the crime into international law under the Rome Treaty and the U.N. Convention on Genocide, adopted in 1948.

The Holocaust was the main precipitating event resulting in the partition of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel. The United Nations and Jewish community sought a place where Jews could be safe after the horrors inflicted upon them, but violence and mass displacement of Palestinians came with the creation of Israel.

Under Article II of the U.N. 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:

  1. 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.

Under Article III, the following acts shall be punishable: (a) Genocide; (b) Conspiracy to commit genocide; (c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; (d) Attempt to commit genocide; (e) Complicity in genocide.”

Both Israel’s intent and action are being conducted in the open for the world to see, with images and videos of atrocities circulating daily on social media. It is the most widely documented genocide in modern history.

“It’s over time and using various mechanisms to express this intent and also dehumanizing Palestinians. Intent is one thing that differentiates genocide from other crimes,” said Palestinian-American lawyer Lara Elborno. “If Israel didn’t drop a single bomb on Gaza, but all it did was cut off food, water, and electricity to its 2.2 million residents, that action alone is sufficient to constitute genocide under the Treaties.”

Another aspect that differentiates a war crime from an act of genocide is the legal obligation in Article I of the U.N. Convention. “Once states recognize there is a clear risk of genocide or that it’s occurring, there’s a clear obligation to step in and stop it and prevent it. Which is different from other crimes in international law,” said Segal.

The act of genocide is a process, evolving in stages from incitement to action. Years of growing dehumanization and hatred of Jews, incitement to violence, brutal repression, imprisonment, and various plans to deport Jews living in Germany and Nazi-occupied territories preceded the actual Holocaust. Finally, the Nazis devised their “Final Solution” and established the industrial-scale death machine that killed most of the six million Jews in the space of two and a half years, along with millions of other people murdered for political, ethnic, and religious reasons.

A similar process of incitement, displacement, racial hatred, and dehumanization is now taking place in Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem. In addition to the residents of the Palestinian territories, another two million Palestinian Israelis are also in great danger. They are being subjected to growing political repression, firing from jobs, expulsion from universities, and physical assaults and threats.

“We’re also seeing it in the West Bank. Seeing unbelievable ethnic cleansing. Israel has killed hundreds already, thousands arrested, 16 communities displaced completely. Very quickly escalating violence. If we think about genocide the process that it is,” said Segal.

A bulldozer unloads the bodies of Palestinians killed by the Israeli military during a mass funeral in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Dec. 26, 2023. | Fatima Shbair / AP

Calls by Israeli government officials to deport the Gazan population to the Sinai Desert should also raise the alarm, said Segal, and should be taken at face value. Historically, deserts have been used for genocide by the Ottoman Empire against Armenians in 1915-16 and by German colonizers against the Herero and Namaqua indigenous people in what is today Namibia, the first documented genocide of the 20th century.

Another aspect of genocide is racist incitement by Israeli officials, media, and civil society against Palestinians, including the call for another “Nakba.” The first Nakba in 1948 (many Palestinian rights activists contend the Nakba or forced displacement never ended) drove 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, which led to the creation of the Israeli state. Many refugees from that displacement ended up in Gaza.

“Israeli society is engaged in a very genocidal discourse,” said Segal. “We see it in the media, in politics, in public spaces, including huge signs hanging from freeway overpasses calling for flattening GAZA, the image of triumph would be zero people in Gaza. Very direct and explicit.”

Similar incitement by the media took place in the Rwanda genocide when Hutu militias slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsis in July 1994.

“Under Article II, people with command authority, state leaders, war cabinet leaders, ministers and senior army officials, their statements are very clear and unashamed,” he said.

Genocidal intent also requires state capacity to carry out the act and proof of state involvement in the murder.

“We are seeing unprecedented levels of destruction since WWII” on a scale that requires a nation with state capacity to carry it out, said Segal. “The North of Gaza is almost completely destroyed. Israel’s attack targets everything—schools, mosques, universities, cities, churches, agricultural fields, health care workers and doctors, hospitals, more than half of all buildings in Gaza have been destroyed, two million Palestinians forcibly displaced, specific groups are targeted (journalists for example to prevent documentation of the crime, healthcare workers, and U.N. relief staff).”

Hamas committed horrific mass murder and crimes against humanity on Oct. 7. As deplorable as the crimes were, however, according to many experts, they don’t rise to the level of genocide because Hamas lacks the state capacity to carry out the annihilation of Israelis.

“The absolute majority of Gaza’s residents are innocent,” dissident lawmaker Cassif declared this week in a speech to the Knesset. “Lies will not help and demonization will not help,” he said. “The vast majority of Gaza’s residents, as everywhere in the world, are innocent people who all want to live a normal life.”

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.