London, February 8, (Pal Telegraph, by Sameh Habeeb) - I commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day with survivor Dr Hajo Meyer and some other Jewish friends after a talk at Goldsmith University last week. It is now clear to me that Palestinians have many common experiences with the survivors of the Holocaust.
Meyer's imprisonment in the ghetto and ordeal at checkpoints is a stereotypical image in occupied Palestine. I was amazed to hear him admit that the Palestinians' suffering is close to those who endured the Holocaust. I was also amazed because I heard it not from a Palestinian, but from a Jewish man who has suffered a lot.
For a long time, it has been widely argued that genocide has not been committed in Palestine. While some "left-leaning" media outlets say there was genocide, one that is still in progress, the Israeli narrative rejects the use of this term for the Palestinian experience. Without doubt, the Germans perpetrated genocide against the Jews in WWII. Around 6 million Jews were killed across Europe in an act that can never be tolerated by humanity. It is also a well known fact, but rarely mentioned, that a total of over 50 million people, were either murdered or died from disease and starvation.
There have, however, been genocides against many other people, such as the American Indians, the Armenians and the South Africans, which must also be remembered. Unlike the Holocaust, most of these genocides are not as focused on. Surely the fact that genocide has occurred must be condemned no matter who were the victims. Indeed, this seems to be the feeling of many Holocaust survivors themselves. They believe it is crucial to recognize, condemn and fight genocides wherever they are happening, no matter whether it involves a few thousand or millions.
The core question here is: are the Palestinians suffering a genocide perpetrated by the government of Israel? (as many people believe). Has Israel attempted to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their land? Is the term genocide legally applicable? Readers must make their own judgment.
In 1944, Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin coined the word "genocide" by combining "geno," from the Greek word for race or tribe, with "cide" from the Latin word for killing. He proposed that genocide consists of "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves."
Has this been happening in Palestine? According to the history of the founding of Israel, thousands of violent actions have been committed against one group of people: Palestinians. More than 535 villages were destroyed, thousands of residents were massacred and around 800,000 people were driven from their homes by force or fear of force. This process is described by Israeli historian Ilan Pappé and others as ‘the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.' Since genocide is essentially the annihilation of a group, surely this is genocide.
On Dec. 9, 1948, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This convention established "genocide" as an international crime, which signatory nations "undertake to prevent and punish." It defines genocide this way: Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:
Killing members of the group:
In 1948, thousands of Palestinians were exterminated by terrorist Jewish groups like the Stern, Haganah and Irgun. Other villagers were told to leave or they would be killed. The Deir Yassin massacre took place on April 9, 1948. More than 100 villagers, including women and children, were annihilated. Some were shot with live ammunition, while others burned to death as rockets rained down on the village. Prisoners were killed after being paraded through the streets in occupied Jerusalem; and it didn't stop in 1948. In 1956, a massacre of 500 villagers took place in Khan Younis in the middle of the Gaza Strip; others killed were Egyptians, who were policing the area at that time.
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group:
The deadly siege in Gaza could easily be considered genocide according to this description. Bodily harm has been caused, not only during the siege or the last invasion (December 2008/January 2009), but since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The overwhelming majority of the victims have been civilians, whereas only a small minority were resistance fighters. Some international agencies claim that 93 percent of those victimized were civilian, while only 7% were resistance fighters. (See the report, "Failing Gaza.")
Organized and systematic attacks against civilians in Gaza are also part of the genocide. Several months before Operation Cast Lead, an Israeli minister even used the term "holocaust" to describe what was planned for the citizens of Gaza. On Feb. 28, 2008, the Guardian, BBC and other British media outlets reported the story under the headline: "Israeli minister warns of Palestinian 'holocaust'." The Guardian reported that "an Israeli minister today warned of an increasingly bitter conflict in the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinians could bring on themselves what he called a "holocaust".
"The more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves," Matan Vilnai, Israel's deputy defense minister, told Army Radio.
"Shoah" is the Hebrew word normally reserved to refer to the Jewish Holocaust. It is rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi extermination of Jews during the second World War, and many Israelis are loath to countenance its use to describe other events.
Mental harm must also be considered. As pointed out in many UN agency reports, all Gazan children suffer mental and emotional problems. Stress and trauma make the children sick-minded due to constant fear. They have no opportunities for fun and joy, since the Israeli blockade even includes a ban on toys. It is not an exaggeration to say that a considerable number of the Gazan population are exhausted and mentally drained. They live with the constant realities of deprivation, war, restriction of freedom and death.
Inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part:
This has been happening for years, ever since the establishment of the state of Israel. Focusing on the Gaza Strip today, the siege has impacted every aspect of life. Factories have stopped operating and food just trickles in. In addition, people have no freedom of movement beyond their "concentration camp," with just two gates that open irregularly.
The Israeli blockade on exports and on all but humanitarian imports has forced 98 percent of Gaza's industry to close. Around 1.5 million Palestinians live in just 360 square kms., (139 square miles). More than three-quarters of the residents are refugees whose families were driven from their land, in what is now Israel, during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.
The remaining two characteristics of what constitutes genocide include: imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group and transferring children of the group to another group. These remaining two characteristics were most evident in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the 1967 war.