Stunned and outraged, the world watched as Israeli air and ground forces ushered in the new year by slaughtering defenseless, captive Palestinians in Gaza. From the surprise air attack that caught children on their way home from school, through the repeated targeting of unarmed families, women, children, and United Nations personnel, to the last hours before Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a unilateral ceasefire so the bloody massacre would not distract from news coverage of the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama, the wildly disproportionate violence of the Israeli military campaign revealed the hideous reality of the world’s most heinous crime, genocide.
Hundreds of thousands protested Israel’s attack on Gaza in cities and towns around the world. Many spoke the name of the crime, among them the world’s highest ranking elected official, the President of the 63rd General Assembly of the United Nations, H. E. Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, M.M.
"’The number of victims in Gaza is increasing by the day … The situation is untenable. It’s genocide,’ d’Escoto said at the U.N. in New York. About 970 Palestinians have been killed and 4,300 injured since Israel began its Gaza offensive on December 27, which it says is to stop Palestinian fighters attacking Israel with rockets," reported Al-Jazeera on January 14.
Born in the United States, Fr. d’Escoto spent his childhood years in Nicaragua but returned to attend the Catholic seminary at Maryknoll in New York and was ordained in 1961. He later earned a Master of Science degree at the Columbia University School of Journalism. From 1979 to 1990, Fr. d’Escoto served as the foreign minister of Nicaragua. He played a prominent role in the Nicaraguan Government’s 1984 claim at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the United States for supporting military and paramilitary actions against the country. The ICJ subsequently ruled in favor of Nicaragua.
In late 2008, after Fr. d’Escoto criticized Israel with language reminiscent of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s statements about apartheid, a campaign of death threats directed at Fr. d’Escoto caused alarm at UN headquarters.
In the aftermath of the Israeli attack on Gaza, unsurprisingly, Israel, its operatives, supporters, and useful idiots are reacting to widespread public expressions of anger and indignation by denying that genocide occurred.
In an article published on February 2, by Al-Jazeera, Mark LeVine, a professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine argued that, "however horrific the situation in Gaza, it does not meet the definition of genocide used by the main bodies that prosecute such crimes, such as the European Court of Human Rights, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice. All of these bodies define genocide as involving the intention to bring about the ‘physical-biological destruction’ of a large enough share of an ‘entire human group’ (national, ethnic, racial or religious) as to put the group’s continued physical existence in jeopardy," wrote LeVine.
LeVine, perhaps best known as the author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam, based his argument and his definition of intent on statistics, numbers of dead and percentages of dead compared to total numbers of targeted groups in Warsaw, Gaza, Rwanda, and Bosnia while avoiding the definition of genocide found in Convention on Genocide.
Jeffrey Weiss, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Peace Education Director, Central Region, bestirred himself to suggest Israel’s innocence of the crime of genocide even before the Israeli assault ended. Weiss’s remarks came toward the end of his presentation about "International Law and Gaza" at an event described as an informational forum at the Des Moines Public Library on the afternoon of Saturday, January 17. The event, which drew about 85 people to the library’s main meeting room, was organized by the Middle East Peace Education Project, an umbrella group sponsored and directed by AFSC personnel.
"As … a student of international law and history, I am uncomfortable with the term ‘genocide’ and I am uncomfortable with the term ‘holocaust.’ That’s my personal perspective, but, I, you can read the Genocide Convention and draw conclusions as always based on ‘what is genocide?’ But since the word ‘genocide’ has been used, I personally would not use ‘genocide’ to refer to what is taking place today," said Weiss.
The featured speaker at the event, Sheik Ibrahim Dremali, of Austin, TX, had presented a media program and talk titled "The Gaza Narrative from a Palestinian Perspective." Weiss’s remarks indicated disagreement with Dremali, who had referred to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and mass murder of civilians as "genocidal" and a "holocaust" just three days after Fr. d’Escoto’s use of the term "genocide" in New York.
Weiss’s suggestion that Israeli attack did not constitute genocide –” even before the Israeli attack ended and prior to any official investigation –” struck The Independent Monitor as unseemly and impolitic at best. During the Q&A, The Independent Monitor asked Weiss if numbers were included in the Convention on Genocide’s definition of the crime and asked him elaborate on his previous comments.
"I think there is a siege and on-going violations of the Geneva Conventions. … If you were teaching a class on, sometimes I call it the ‘G’ word, you would have a lot of people disagree about what it is," said Weiss.
The Convention on Genocide’s definition of the crime does not include specific numbers, said Weiss, but "oftentimes refers to the systematic destruction of an entire people."
"So, there may be some people who would argue that the siege, the death toll, the ongoing occupation reached ‘genocide’. My personal perspective on ‘genocide’, the word and what it means, is that it should be reserved for the Pol Pots and the Hitlers," said Weiss, who was sporting eyewear with high-contrast yellow lenses.
The most obvious and glaring flaw in the argument of those who insist on defining genocide by relying on huge numbers of dead and on numbers of dead compared to the total numbers in targeted groups is that they are useful only after the worst has occurred and the numbers of the dead, in their millions, can be estimated –” when it is too late for the law to serve a prevention function. Reliance upon such definitions robs the Convention of its intended prevention function.
Raphael Lemkin, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, lost 49 members of his family in the Nazi holocaust. Lemkin, who coined the word "genocide" in 1943 and worked tirelessly to ban war crimes, authored a draft resolution for a Genocide Convention treaty that ultimately resulted in the "Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Approved and proposed for signature and ratification or accession by General Assembly resolution 260 A (III) of 9 December 1948". Lemkin viewed the prevention function as essential and central to the legislation. "By declaring genocide a crime under international law and by making it a problem of international concern, the right of intervention on behalf of minorities slated for destruction has been established. … The usefulness of a future international treaty on genocide lies in facilitating the prevention and punishment of the crime and apprehension of criminals," wrote Lemkin in "Genocide as a Crime under International Law", American Journal of International Law (1947) Volume 41(1):145-151.
The Convention on Genocide makes no mention of numbers or percentages in its definition of the crime, which is found in Article II: "In the present 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: (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." There we find but two elements, intent, and a list of acts –” no numbers, no percentages.
So, why do Israel’s defenders deny that genocide occurred in Gaza and insist on making the definition of genocide a numbers game? Zionists lobby for a definition of genocide that takes the focus off the element of intent in order to protect the Zionist program of land theft, ethnic cleansing, and mass murder in Palestine and Israeli political, military, and religious leaders who have given voice to their genocidal intentions.
In Feb. 2008, Matan Vilnai, Israel’s deputy defense minister, publicly warned that Palestinians risked "bringing an even bigger Shoah" upon themselves if they continued to fire rockets into Israel. The word "Shoah" is rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi holocaust of Jews because many Israelis, like ardent Zionists in other countries, do not countenance its use to describe other events.
In March 2008, Rabbi Yisrael Rosen, director of the Tsomet Institute, a religious school attended by students and soldiers in the Israeli settlements of the West Bank, issued a religious opinion that appeared to authorize the killing of all Palestinians. Rosen was widely quoted as having written, "All of the Palestinians must be killed; men, women, infants, and even their beasts." Rosen’s ruling garnered support among leading Israeli rabbis authorized to issue Jewish religious opinions.
Recent news reports indicate that Israeli military rabbis urged IDF soldiers to kill indiscriminately in Gaza. In a widely available article titled "Black Flag" published on January 31 on the Gush Shalom web site, Uri Avnery wrote, "In the last decades, the state-financed religious educational system … indoctrinates its pupils with a violent tribal cult, totally ethnocentric, which sees in the whole of world history nothing but an endless story of Jewish victimhood. This is a religion of a Chosen People, indifferent to others, a religion without compassion for anyone who is not Jewish, which glorifies the God-decreed genocide described in the Biblical book of Joshua.
"The products of this education are now the ‘rabbis’ who instruct the religious youths. With their encouragement, a systematic effort has been made to take over the Israeli army from within. … The most outstanding example is the ‘Chief Army Rabbi’, Colonel Avichai Ronsky, who has declared that his job is to reinforce the ‘fighting spirit’ of the soldiers. He is a man of the extreme right, not far from the spirit of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose party was outlawed in Israel for its fascist ideology. Under the auspices of the army rabbinate, religious-fascist brochures of the ultra-right ‘rabbis’ were distributed to the soldiers.
"This material includes political incitement, such as the statement that the Jewish religion prohibits ‘giving up even one millimeter of Eretz Israel’, that the Palestinians, like the Biblical Philistines (from whom the name Palestine derives), are a foreign people who invaded the country, and that any compromise (such as indicated in the official government program) is a mortal sin. The distribution of political propaganda violates, of course, army law," wrote Avnery.
Avnery calls on Israeli courts to intervene and hold accountable those who have already committed war crimes, and he expresses regret that they are unlikely to do so. Apparently he, at least, understands and fears the potential consequences of inaction. Avnery’s analysis is that of a seasoned and well-informed observer. There is no reason to doubt it.
The Independent Monitor contacted Professor Francis A. Boyle of the University of Illinois College of Law for an expert opinion on the question of genocide in Gaza. A scholar in the areas of international law and human rights, Professor Boyle received a J.D. degree magna cum laude and A.M. and Ph.D. degrees in political science from Harvard University. Prior to joining the faculty at U of I College of Law, he was a teaching fellow at Harvard and an associate at its Center for International Affairs.
"As long ago as October 19, 2000, the then United Nations Human Rights Commission (now Council) condemned Israel for inflicting ‘war crimes’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ upon the Palestinian people, most of whom are Muslims," said Boyle.
"But I want to focus for a moment on Israel’s ‘crimes against humanity’ against the Palestinian people –” as determined by the U.N. Human Rights Commission itself, set up pursuant to the requirements of the U.N. Charter. What are ‘crimes against humanity’? This concept goes all the way back to the Nuremberg Charter of 1945 for the trial of the major Nazi war criminals in Europe. In the Nuremberg Charter of 1945, drafted by the United States Government, there was created and inserted a new type of international crime specifically intended to deal with the Nazi persecution of the Jewish people: Crimes against humanity: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.
"The paradigmatic example of ‘crimes against humanity’ is what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jewish people. This is where the concept of ‘crimes against humanity’ came from. And this is what the U.N. Human Rights Commission determined that Israel is currently doing to the Palestinian people: crimes against humanity. Expressed in legal terms, this is just like what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jews. That is the significance of the formal determination by the U.N. Human Rights Commission that Israel has inflicted ‘crimes against humanity’ upon the Palestinian people. The Commission chose this well-known and long-standing legal term of art quite carefully and deliberately based upon the evidence it had compiled.
"Furthermore, the Nuremberg ‘crimes against humanity’ are the historical and legal precursor to the international crime of genocide as defined by the 1948 Genocide Convention. The theory here was that what Hitler and the Nazis did to the Jewish people was so horrific that it required a special international treaty that would codify and universalize the Nuremberg concept of ‘crimes against humanity.’ And that treaty ultimately became the 1948 Genocide Convention," Boyle told The Independent Monitor.
"As documented by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in his seminal book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), Israel’s genocidal policy against the Palestinians has been unremitting, extending from before the very foundation of the State of Israel in 1948, and is ongoing and even intensifying against the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza. Zionism’s ‘final solution’ to Israel’s much touted ‘demographic threat’ allegedly posed by the very existence of the Palestinians has always been genocide," said Boyle.
"Certainly, Israel and its predecessors-in-law –” the Zionist agencies, forces, and terrorist gangs –” have committed genocide against the Palestinian people that actually started on or about 1948 and has continued apace until today in violation of Genocide Convention Articles II(a), (b), and (c). For at least the past six decades, the Israeli government and its predecessors-in-law –” the Zionist agencies, forces, and terrorist gangs –” have ruthlessly implemented a systematic and comprehensive military, political, and economic campaign with the intent to destroy in substantial part the national, ethnical, racial, and different religious (Jews versus Muslims and Christians) group constituting the Palestinian people. This Zionist/Israeli campaign has consisted of killing members of the Palestinian people in violation of Genocide Convention Article II(a). This Zionist/Israeli campaign has also caused serious bodily and mental harm to the Palestinian people in violation of Genocide Convention Article II(b). This Zionist/Israeli campaign has also deliberately inflicted on the Palestinian people conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction in substantial part in violation of Article II(c) of the Genocide Convention.
"Article I of the Genocide Convention requires all contracting parties such as the United States ‘to prevent and to punish’ genocide. Yet to the contrary, historically the ‘Jewish’ state’s criminal conduct against the Palestinians has been financed, armed, equipped, supplied and politically supported by the ‘Christian’ United States. Although the United States is a founding sponsor of, and a contracting party to, both the Nuremberg Charter and the Genocide Convention, as well as the United Nations Charter, these legal facts have never made any difference to the United States when it comes to its blank-check support for Israel and their joint and severable criminal mistreatment of the Palestinians –” truly the wretched of the earth!" said Boyle.
"The doctrine of ‘humanitarian intervention’ so readily espoused elsewhere when U.S. foreign policy goals are allegedly at stake has been clearly proved to be a joke and a fraud when it comes to stopping the ongoing and accelerating Israeli campaign of genocide against the Palestinian people. Rather than rein in the Israelis –” which would be possible just by turning off the funding pipeline –” the United States government, the U.S. Congress, and U.S. taxpayers instead support the ‘Jewish’ state to the tune of about 4 billion dollars per year, without whose munificence this instance of genocide –” and indeed conceivably the State of Israel itself –” would not be possible. What the world witnesses here is (yet another) case of ‘dishumanitarian intervention’ or ‘humanitarian extermination’ by the United States and Israel against the Palestinians and Palestine," said Boyle.
"In today’s world genocide pays so long as it is done at the behest of the United States and its de jure or de facto allies such as Israel," said Boyle.
In April 1993 and again in September 1993, Boyle won World Court Orders on the basis of the 1948 Genocide Convention for the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina against the rump Yugoslavia to cease and desist from committing all acts of genocide against the Bosnians.
In an era of weapons of mass destruction, the seriousness of the crime of genocide and the importance of the public understanding and discussion of genocide are impossible to overestimate. Outside the interests of genocidaires, there is no benefit associated with defining mass murder as genocide only after huge numbers of dead make it impossible to deny that genocide has been committed. Those who define genocide by the numbers of millions of dead would eliminate the prevention function of the Convention on Genocide, making it possible for genocide to occur again and again.
Failure to define and prosecute genocide earlier and proactively, based on evidence of intent and acts committed, invites potentially catastrophic consequences for all humanity. The burden of proof must be placed where it belongs, on those who commit war crimes and, also, on those who rush to condone such crimes even before investigations begin, an act that may have, and may be calculated to have, the effect of reducing or thwarting public pressure for investigations.
The most serious of crimes are eminently worthy of serious public discussion and debate. Any well-informed discussion of war crimes will involve the careful examination, with an appropriate degree of skepticism, of statements by public figures about such crimes. Indeed, without such public scrutiny and discussion, however uncomfortable it may make some, we can hardly expect to avoid the worst. Americans must question and hold accountable their leaders and public figures at every level who condone or deny genocide and other, lesser war crimes, perhaps especially those who are responsible for educating us about human rights.
The Convention on Genocide will serve its intended prevention function only when more citizens demand that courts and governments recognize and act on evidence of intent when such evidence is available in combination with any of the acts listed in Article II of the Convention.
It is time to restore the prevention function of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.