While apartheid, military occupation, and even ethnic cleansing, have at times surfaced in mainstream discussions, these phenomena are not Israel’s ultimate crimes. They are means to control Palestinian lives and, as such, symptoms of the ongoing Nakba. But they are effectively part of a structure that is rarely verbalized: Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian population.
Genocidal intent has been present in Zionist thought and practice. Like Jabotinsky’s fantasy of the iron wall, the early Zionists’ dreams of removing Palestinians physically and discursively have realized to a certain extent and continue to threaten Palestinian survival.
As the fulfillment of Zionism and the survival of Israeli ethnocracy necessitate the removal of the indigenous population, Palestinians are experiencing a confluence of settler-colonial inscription and indigenous erasure. These dynamics are evident in the ever-evolving methods and realizations of violence that are manifest in manifold -cides, i.e. the intentional destruction and/or theft of everything Palestinian, including Palestinian geography, landscape, history, culture, cuisine, flora, and Palestinians as a people. Thus, Israel’s policies, which are encouraged – or at least accepted – by the majority of the international community, can be subsumed as Palestinicides.
Zionists have constantly refashioned their dehumanizing rhetoric for rationalizing the extermination of Palestinians. The indigenous population has been constructed as invisible subjects in the myth of “a land without a people for a people without a land” and transformed into non-human natives, an Oriental plague, a Communist threat, security problems, terrorists, “Islamists,” and anti-Semites.
Israeli political and military leaders have traditionally referred to Palestinians as a disease, plague, or insects, with “cancerous manifestation” that necessitates “chemotherapy”, “drugged cockroaches in a bottle,” “beasts walking on two legs,” and “the biggest failure in the history of the human race” being only some examples.
As a demographic threat or ethnic timebomb, Palestinians have been criminalized for merely existing and standing in the way of the colonizer. Their collective removal is thus always-already justified.
Israeli minister Lieberman intended to combine the next war against Gazans with a complete destruction of its population. “Justice” minister Shaked called for genocide through Facebook in 2014, proclaiming that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy,” encouraging the extermination of the Palestinian people, their geography, and infrastructure. Rabbi Noam Perel asked for bloody revenge “that will not stop at 300 Philistine foreskins.” Religious-nationalist IDF commander Ofer Winter declared a “Holy War” against Palestinians, justifying his genocidal plans with the bible. Dov Lior, from the illegal settlement Kiryat Arba, justified an extermination of Palestinians through Jewish law. Deputy-speaker of the Knesset, Moshe Feiglin, asked for the “annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters” and the subsequent shelling of Gaza “with maximum fire power[.]”
In Israeli political language, “fighting forces,” “Hamas,” and “terrorists” are synonymous with “Palestinians,” as the victims are retrospectively transformed into “terrorists,” i.e. legitimate targets. Israel has rationalized genocide into an inevitable means for securing its own survival.
While these examples illustrate the normalcy of genocidal rhetoric in Israeli discourse nowadays, Palestinian reality has long been shaped by the presence of genocide. Like in 1948, Palestinians are today threatened to be gassed to death by Zionists. Like in 1948, Palestinians are killed in genocidal massacres today.
The uncanny political and legal implications of the word genocide limit academic discussions on Palestine as a possible case of genocide. Israel’s supporters rarely hesitate to label human rights advocates as “genocidal” anti-Semites – with the smear campaign against Marc Lamont Hill being only the latest example. But, if extending universal human rights onto Palestinians would constitute a “genocide” according to the Zionist lexicon, where do we even begin to debate the multidimensional –cides committed against Palestinians?
The omission of the Nakba from Western historiography and Genocide studies continues to marginalize Palestinians. Rashed, Short, and Docker argue that the field of Genocide studies has been characterized by the lack of a substantial debate of Israel as a possible example of a nation founded on genocide and a simultaneous fear of becoming victim of Zionist intimidation. The authors claim that through the omission of Palestine/Israel as a possible case study, major publications within Genocide studies “represent an archive of Nakba denial.”
The term genocide, coined by Raphael Lemkin, stems from the Greek genes, meaning “tribe” or “race,” and the Latin –cide, meaning “killing.” According to Lemkin, “genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation,” but should rather “signify 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.” Lemkin defines the objectives of genocide as “disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups.”
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948, criminalizes genocide under international law, defining it as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group[.]” The extensive definition of genocide also includes the conspiracy and incitement to commit genocide.
This definition itself refutes Zionist claims that Israel could not be committing a genocide as it was not systematically physically exterminating each and every Palestinian.
Referencing Lemkin’s definition, Rashed, Short, and Docker claim that there is a very strong argument that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians. Human rights lawyer Michael Ratner concluded there is “no doubt” that Israel’s policies since 1947 have amounted to what Ilan Pappé described as “incremental genocide.” Professor and lawyer Francis Boyle concluded that Zionist terror groups and later Israel have committed a continuing genocide that began in 1948 and that includes a ruthless implementation of “a systematic and comprehensive military, political, religious, economic, and cultural campaign with the intent to destroy in substantial part the national, ethnical, racial, and different religious group (Jews versus Muslims and Christians) constituting the Palestinian people.”
The perpetration of genocide is accompanied by its denial. Israel tends to paradoxically fantasize about and simultaneously deny genocide against Palestinians. The terms genocide, Holocaust, or Shoa have been used by Israeli politicians as characterizations of attacks against Palestinians, while the Palestinians are blamed in advance for the genocide which should exterminate them. Naftali Bennett proudly announced that Palestinians would commit a “self-genocide.”
Adhering to this rhetoric, Western media has long blamed Palestinians for their own death, justifying Israel’s massacres in the Great Return March, alleging that Palestinians were harming themselves on purpose in their backward culture of victimhood and violence, or that they were, as Bari Weiss claimed, going on suicide missions to die for a photo op.
Palestinians are blamed for their existence, as they would need to disappear and vacate Palestine in order for Zionism to fulfill.
The refusal to discuss Israel as potentially genocidal is another documentation of the academic, political, and legal dehumanization of Palestinians, since acknowledging, or even elaborating on, the exercise of a genocide against a people presupposes the inclusion of this people into the category of humanity. The disregard for Palestinian lives, however, is not an event, but a structure deeply embedded in Euro-American cultures, in which Palestinians cannot be considered victims, or, being worthy of genocidal extermination.