We have all heard it before – the hyperbolic and grotesque mantra about how Israel is guilty of genocide and mass murder by people who are historically illiterate and have lost all sense of proportion.
It did not take long for the first commentators to pin the blame on the victims, after four Jews were gunned down by an Islamic extremist in a kosher supermarket in Paris. “They had it coming” – Palestinians suffer greatly at Jewish hands – we were told. And this before the blood of the victims had been wiped off the floor. Also, every year on Holocaust Memorial Day, we are being reminded of the alleged parallels between the Shoa and the Palestinian Nakba.
No one denies for a moment that Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a brutal cycle of violence which has claimed thousands of innocent lives. But by any reasonable standards, the conflict bears the classic characteristics of a war, not a genocide.
This is not the result of an inappropriate narrowness in conceptions of morality, but because it is essential to differentiate between general and legitimate types of warfare and the deliberate policy of mass extermination.
The choice of words matter, a great deal, if we want a discussion to be mature and intellectually honest. If we corrupt established definitions to foster political agendas, they lose meaning and become nothing more than superficial clichés. The UN defines genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” History has witnessed many genocides across centuries and continents. But Palestine is not one of them.
Put this assertion to the test and you will find it to be misleading, fraudulent and obscene. The situation in the Palestinian territories cannot stand a comparison with what happened in the concentrations camps of the Nazis, the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, the savage machete rampage in Rwanda, the mass graves of Srebrenica or the Al-Anfal chemical annihilation campaign.
The Holocaust claimed just under six million lives – roughly 78 percent of the total population of 7.3 million Jews in Europe – and the Nazis killed millions of other ‘undesirable’ minorities, including the disabled, homosexuals and Gypsies. The Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror resulted in the deaths of no less than 25 percent of its own people. Over 20,000 mass graves have been uncovered in the notorious killing fields. In Iraq, the Al-Anfal campaign took over 182,000 Kurdish lives. Out of 4,655 villages roughly 90 percent were destroyed and between April 1987 and August 1988, 250 towns and villages were exposed to chemical weapons. The fastest killing spree of the twentieth century took place in Rwanda, when the country of just eight million experienced the numerical equivalent of more than two World Trade Centre attacks per day for 100 days. Change the population ratio to that of the United States and it equals 23 million dead Americans in just three months. At least 100,000 people were slaughtered by Serb regular and irregular forces in Bosnia in an attempt to create an exclusively Serbian territory. The genocide reached its peak in the massacre at Srebrenica, where 8000 Muslim men and boys were murdered in the single worst atrocity on European soil since 1945.
Although the genocides varied in length and scope and not all involved the intent to exterminate every last member of the persecuted group, each fulfilled the criteria of the Genocide Convention.
Against this backdrop, the Israelis appear to be the most incompetent genocidaires to ever walk this earth and are responsible for the only large-scale annihilation campaign in history where the victim population actually increased. A quick glance at the numbers tells you that the definition of genocide has been turned upside down.
The overall health of the Palestinians has significantly improved since 1967, whether you look at life expectancy, infant mortality or health care. The total population of Palestine in 2014 was about 4.4 million, of whom some 2.7 million live in the West Bank and 1.7 million in the Gaza Strip. Data reveals that the Palestinian population is growing fast, roughly 2.5 percent a year or, put differently, over 30 percent faster than that of Israel. In the years 2000-2013 alone, the population of Gaza increased by 687,000 people and the West Bank enjoys an almost equally healthy growth rate. The Palestinian population is projected to continue to exceed Israeli growth because of higher fertility rates. According to the UN, by the year 2035, the Palestinian population is expected to increase by nearly 60 percent, compared to 40 percent in Israel. As such, the Israelis are allegedly not only responsible for a genocide which results in an above-average population growth rate, but also one in which the number of victims will eventually surpass that of the perpetrators.
And, as though the situation were not sufficiently bizarre, Israel also provides medical care for her victims, including the families of the enemy’s leadership, and drops leaflets, makes phone calls and gives warning shots before engaging in military action.
A popular response is that just because they have not yet succeeded, does not mean they are not trying. Fair enough. But this argument violently contradicts another accusation frequently hurled at Israel, namely that the Palestinians are the defenceless victims in a struggle against the drastically unequal and advanced Israeli military, and rests on the same logic as the assertion that Israel has to be in the wrong because the death toll among Palestinians is much higher. Never mind that in virtually every war the West fought – from Kosovo to Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya – many more civilians died than coalition soldiers. Does that make us guilty of genocide? Of course not. In fact, in comparison, the Gaza war has yielded one of the lowest civilian causality ratios in the history of modern warfare.
They cannot have it both ways. Either the war is not as unbalanced as they would like us to believe and the incompetent Israelis simply have not succeeded in exterminating the Palestinians, or the Israelis are indeed a mighty military power involved in asymmetric warfare with Hamas, a terrorist group, which, ironically, subscribes to a genocidal charter, but with the best intention to spare civilian lives whenever possible.
The truth is that those who make such unfounded and offensive accusations against Israel are more fixated on the party who does the killing than they care about those who get killed. How else might one explain the selective outrage against Israel and the moral myopia when it comes to the killing and mistreatment of Palestinians in Arab countries? Bashar al-Assad currently starves to death almost 18,000 Palestinians in the notorious Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria. Many have already died. However, do not hold your breath for the Palestinian Authority to take the Syrian Government to the ICC any time soon or for any mass demonstration on European streets – a Palestinian murdered by an Arab does not carry the same significance as one who died at the hands of an Israeli. This says a lot more about the enemies of Israel than it says about Israel itself.