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We Can Punish Israeli Leaders for Carrying Out a Genocide

Israel has cut off vital supplies from Gazan civilians and ordered them to relocate en masse, although they cannot safely do so. Given the violent rhetoric that accompanies these actions, we may conclude that they constitute an act of genocide. The ICC has both the reason and the authority to act.
Israeli air strikes

Smoke rises after Israeli air strikes of the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, October 10, 2023. © Anas-Mohammed /

October 27, 2023 02:12 EDT

When considering recent events in the Gaza Strip, it is important to keep in mind a few salient facts.

As Professor Norman Finkelstein noted in a recent interview, firstly, around half the population of Gaza are children.

Secondly, 70% of the population of Gaza, which now stands at approximately 2.1 million people, consists of refugees and descendants of refugees from the 1948 war. About 750,000 Palestinians were expelled at that time and roughly 290,000 of them ended up in Gaza.

Thirdly, Gaza is among the most densely populated places on earth, with about 21,000 people per square mile all living within an area approximately five miles by 25 miles.

Fourthly, the unemployment rate in Gaza is the highest in the world — 45% — and even before the latest crisis, the majority of Gazans were classified by international humanitarian organizations as suffering “severe food insecurity.”

History of the Gaza blockade

With these important points in mind, it is necessary to rewind a few years to understand just how we got to where we are today.

In January 2006 parliamentary elections were last held in Gaza and the West Bank. The elections, which had been urged by the US and were credited as free and fair by international observers, resulted in a resounding victory for Hamas (74 seats) over the US-preferred Fatah (45 seats).

However, before Hamas could take power, Israel imposed a brutal economic blockade on Gaza, followed soon after by sanctions from the United States and the EU. “If we were going to push for an election, then we should have made sure that we did something to determine who was going to win,” Hillary Clinton lamented at the time.

Since then, Gaza has remained sealed off from the world for seventeen years. In 2010 UK Prime Minister David Cameron called Gaza an “open air prison” with its people living “under constant attacks.” The late Israeli scholar and professor of sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Baruch Kimmerling described Gaza as the largest concentration camp ever to exist.

Since the blockade was imposed in 2006, it is important also to bear in mind that Israel has launched a lengthy campaign of assaults on Gaza, targeting not just Gazan militants but, criminally, hospitals, mosques and homes killing civilians, many of them children.

These assaults, which have been voluminously documented by human rights organizations, include Operation Summer Rains and Operation Autumn Clouds in 2006; Operation Hot Winter in 2008; Operation Cast Lead in 2008–09; Operation Returning Echo in March 2012; Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012; Operation Protective Edge in 2014; Operation Black Belt in November 2019; Operation Breaking Dawn in August 2022 and Operation Shield and Arrow in May 2023.

Between 2007 and 2010, the Israeli military made precise calculations regarding Gaza’s daily calorie needs in order to know the exact quantity of food to allow in. Israeli officials told US diplomats their aim was to keep Gaza’s economy ”functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe.”

It should also be recalled that, over the course of the last 17 years, the inmates of the largest concentration camp in history have tried non-violent methods to overthrow the occupation. In 2018, they launched the Great March of Return. The result was at least 132 Palestinians killed and more than 13,000 wounded, the vast majority with severe injuries including multiple gunshot wounds.

Genocide before our eyes

Despite all this, the Israelis never got close to eliminating Hamas, which won the last war against Israel. But now it seems, the Israeli government has decided to eradicate Hamas and in doing so inflict a dire collective punishment on each and every Gazan.

Water, fuel, food, electricity and medical supplies have been cut off, and 1.2 Palestinians have been told to leave their homes in northern Gaza and move south —  effectively a death march and second Nakba, or catastrophe. At the same time, Israel continues to bombard Gaza with massive and indiscriminate airstrikes, killing (at the time of writing) at least 2800 people, including more than 1000 children. Over one million Palestinians have been displaced.

This is the very definition of collective punishment, what the online magazine Jewish Currents calls “a textbook case of genocide.”

And while most genocides are planned in secret, in this case many senior Israeli, European and US officials have publicly telegraphed their clear support for these policies in advance.

On October 9, Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant declared: “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly.” Speaking of the people trapped in the Gaza Strip, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said “it is an entire nation out there that is responsible … We will fight until we break their backbone.”

“We are fighting a religious war here. I am with Israel. Do whatever the hell you have to do to defend yourself. Level the place,” said US Senator Lindsey Graham. “Finish them,” said Republican Presidential candidate Nikki Haley, referring to Hamas.

“They are not militants. They are not freedom fighters. They are terrorists,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. “There are no two sides to these events.”

“I think that Israel does have that right” human rights lawyer and UK opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer said about whether it is acceptable for Israel to withhold power and water from citizens in Gaza.

So how can we stop the killing?

The institutions exist to stop Israel’s genocide now if the political will exists.

What Israeli and Western leaders have said and done is already enough to prosecute them in the International Criminal Court (ICC), and ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan KC confirmed recently he has jurisdiction over Rome Statute crimes committed both by Palestinians in Israel and Israelis in Palestine, which include genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

On Friday, the human rights organization DAWN wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd J. Austin III reminding them that US law requires the US to monitor the weapons and munitions it provides to Israel and ensure they are not used to commit war crimes. Failure to comply with end-use monitoring requirements not only breaches US laws but also could expose US officials to prosecution by the ICC for aiding and abetting war crimes, DAWN warned.

DAWN also wrote to ICC Prosecutor Khan asking him urgently to “issue a public statement reminding the parties to the conflict of the ongoing investigation there and send an investigative team to Gaza to document and investigate potential crimes under the Rome Statute.”

On Saturday the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP)  — whose Co-Director is Crispin Blunt MP, former Chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and former Justice Minister —  wrote:

The UK government has provided military assistance and economic and political support. Now that war crimes have been carried out, continuation of such support and assistance would mean that UK Government officials would be complicit in the commission of war crimes and potentially crimes against humanity. This complicity, formally known as “aiding and abetting” war crimes, may mean that UK government officials are individually criminally liable for breaking international law.

Now is the time for Western ambassadors, consuls and other plenipotentiaries of good conscience who do not wish to involve themselves in a genocide to resign publicly and immediately, because when this is over no one can say “I did not know” or “I was just following orders.”

[Arab Digest first published this piece.]

[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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