In the Israel/Palestine conflict, is Israel guilty of genocide against the Palestinians?
The other day I wrote a short piece on why the Bible does not command us to blindly stand with the modern state of Israel, and one of the points I made is that Israel is guilty of genocide. There were no shortage of internet commenters who objected to my use of this word and felt it was over the top. However, I stand by my assertion that Israel is guilty of genocide, so allow me to expand upon that.
I believe the main reason many push back on the idea that Israel is guilty of genocide is because of a lack of understanding of the full nuance of the word, and what genocide can look like in a modern context. While rounding up people for mass executions would be obvious evidence of genocide, the reality is that genocide can take place in ways that are more subtle– making it palatable for the masses, and even seem justified at times.
Some scholars have referred to the Israel/Palestine conflict as “incremental genocide” and I would agree with that term. Instead of an overt, blatant attempt to eradicate a people group, incremental genocide involves actions and policies that are designed to slowly erode, break up, and destroy a specific population. Think for example of early American history and the genocide of Native Americans. While it wasn’t always mass killings, genocide occurred by military conflict, expanding land holdings, resettlements, and creating conditions that were destructive for the indigenous population. While it took many years to complete, and while it took many forms, what early Americans did to the indigenous people of North America was nothing short of genocide.
The same holds true for Israel.
The legal definition of genocide includes the following:
“Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group such as:
(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.”
While A and B are both elements we find present in Israel’s approach to Palestinians, the key aspect of genocide being waged by Israel is found in C: the deliberate infliction of conditions that in part or as a whole will destroy a people group. Arab Christians and Muslims known as Palestinians have been undoubtedly the target of Israel and a desire to eradicate them from the land.
When Israel was created it resulted in an instant crisis for the Christians and Muslims who had lived together quite peacefully for hundreds and hundreds of years. Even today there are somewhere around 3.5 to 4 million Palestinian refugees who wish to have the right to return to their homes and land– a request that will never be granted by Israel.
For those who remain in Palestinian territory, they might as well be living in a massive open-air prison, because they live under the occupation of a foreign army. Children are routinely tear gassed on the way to school. Imports are severely restricted, with even basics like water being tightly controlled. Their rights of passage are severely curtailed– families have been broken up and people have died at military checkpoints because they were delayed or denied passage to access critical medical care.
To top it all off, what little land Palestinians have left is under systematic erosion by Israeli policy. Illegal Israeli settlements continue to crop up in Palestinian territory, in violation of international law. These illegal settlements, in addition to literally confiscating land from indigenous people, often bring violence to the Palestinians who live there. Even just a brief youtube search will bring up countless examples of women and children being assaulted by illegal settlers, or examples like Palestinian farms being attacked and destroyed at harvest time.
Let’s not be dishonest in the ultimate goal here: it is to rid the land of Palestinians.
Capture their land. Develop policies to evict them from their houses. Send in settlers and soldiers to colonize what land they still have. Refuse to let refugees back. Make them miserable under military rule. Limit their access to basic, life-sustaining resources.
The goal? Be not deceived: this is ethnic cleansing.
Do the Palestinians ever fight back and use violence? Yes, of course. This is equally wrong. It is also highly ineffective because it plays right into the hands of Israel, who uses this as an excuse to respond with utterly overwhelming military violence, such as arresting and incarcerating children accused of throwing rocks, or wiping out entire communities in the name of self-defense, such has been seen in Gaza.
So here’s where we’re at: Many of the indigenous people were displaced upon the creation of the modern state of Israel, and the number of displaced people has continued to grow. They are refugees who live in poverty and painful conditions at refugee camps. Israel has systematically expanded its borders to functionally capture more and more land that belonged to Palestinians. Of what’s left, Palestinians have to suffer under a brutal military occupation where so many aspects of life are restricted or deprived. To top it all off, Israel continues to expand illegal settlements into Palestinian territory, further creating conditions designed to break up and destroy the will of Palestinians to even exist.
That folks, is genocide. It is incremental, slow-motion genocide. If the international community continues to turn a blind eye, it will do nothing short of ensure the complete destruction and or displacement of the Palestinian people.
Is calling this genocide over the top? No, it’s not. It’s genocide. Legally. Morally. It’s genocide.
It’s just happening in slow motion, so the world doesn’t see it.
(And it’s being done by the people we’re told are God’s favorite, so we don’t even want to see it.)
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.