Why is nobody accusing Hamas of genocide?
If there is a genocidal force in this war, it must be Hamas. Incorrect use of the term will harm the cause of peace
By: Ephraim Mirvis, The Telegraph, 20 January 2024
Of all the deplorable crimes ever conceived by the human mind, one stands alone in its utter depravity, as the very epitome of evil.
The English word for it, ‘genocide’, was first coined by the Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who had narrowly avoided becoming a victim of genocide himself, having been forced to flee Europe when the Nazis invaded Poland. As we approach Holocaust Memorial Day, I shudder to think what he would have made of the increasingly frequent, disingenuous misappropriation of the term, not least the recent representations made by the South African government at the International Court of Justice.
Lemkin wrote that genocide is, “…the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves”. After a lifetime of campaigning, his definition was later enshrined in international law as, the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
What is clear from this wording is that the difference between the tragic loss of civilian life in a just war and the crime of genocide, lies in the purposeful annihilation of a people as an objective in and of itself. It is a crime in which no distinction is made between the combatant and the non-combatant, because both are ‘other’. It is a crime fueled by hatred and dehumanization, rather than any desire for peace or security. It is a crime characterized by the absence of any objective at all, beyond the erasure of the victims.
This context makes abundantly clear the spurious nature of the claims of ‘genocide’, made by a number of agenda-led, opinion journalists, politicians and campaigners. It should be obvious that if Israel’s objectives were genocidal, it could have used its military strength to level Gaza in a matter of days. Instead, it is placing the lives of its own soldiers at risk in its ground operations, securing humanitarian corridors and providing civilians with advance notice of its operations, even to the detriment of its military objectives.
Indeed, to make the case that genocide is taking place, one would have to ignore the scores of military lawyers, engineers and humanitarian aid coordinators working within the Israel Defence Forces, who spend hours every day, planning how they might strike targets in a way that minimizes collateral harm, facilitating the entry of aid into Gaza, collecting intelligence about civilian presence around targets and aborting attacks accordingly. One would also have to ignore the fact that Israel has begun formulating proposals for how Palestinian civilians in Gaza might yet govern themselves, freed from the tyranny of Hamas, when this conflict is over.
These are not the actions of a state motivated by murderous intent, waging a war without limits. They are the actions of a State fighting a defensive war it did not seek, in what must surely be the most challenging urban context ever faced by a modern democratic state. The simple enduring fact is that this war would end tomorrow if Hamas released Israel’s hostages and laid down its weapons. That alone should preclude any allegation of genocide.
Nevertheless, we have watched in horror as people have rushed to invoke the crime of genocide – some within days of the 7th of October. Fringe academics and their partisan cheerleaders have selectively quoted Israeli politicians to paint a picture of a country bent on annihilation, whilst ignoring the fact that Israel’s most significant political and military leaders have repeatedly made it abundantly clear that this is a war against Hamas and not against innocent civilians.
No decent person could be unmoved by the tragic suffering of innocent Palestinians. The ongoing debate about how this war can be prosecuted in a way which minimizes that suffering is more than legitimate. It is vital. Yet, the enthusiastic clamor by some to declare it as something which belongs in a different moral category to the many other just wars with horrific humanitarian consequences, represents a moral failure built upon a foundation of hatred and disinformation.
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