The death toll in the Israel-Palestine war has passed 11,000, while some 2,650 individuals, including approximately 1,400 children, are reported missing, potentially trapped or deceased beneath the rubble. Tens of thousands of wounded are overwhelming struggling medical facilities. The humanitarian situation has reached horrific levels, compounded by the lack of food, water, fuel and electricity.
On one side of the fence - literally and metaphorically, there are voices labeling these events as genocide. In contrast, from another perspective, these actions are seen as acts of self-defense. This stark dichotomy illustrates the deep divide in perceptions and narratives surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Defense vs Agression
The lines between defense and aggression blur, giving rise to a contentious debate: can actions taken in self-defense be considered genocide?
International law stipulates the principles of distinction and proportionality in armed conflict, intended to protect civilian life. Critics argue that Israel's actions often violate these principles, leading to unnecessary loss of civilian life and suffering. Supporters of Israel counter that Hamas's strategy of embedding its military assets in civilian areas makes avoiding civilian casualties almost impossible.
“Genocide” is a legal term, with a specific definition and specific elements that constitute it. It was first recognized as a crime under international law by the United Nations in 1946, in the wake of the Holocaust (the term itself was coined in 1944), and its definition is contained in Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
In the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the use of this term is highly controversial and is often seen as a way to delegitimize Israel's right to self-defense.
Critics claim Israel is carrying out genocide
Gaza’s devastating reality mirrors components of genocide.
Israel, while stating its intention to target only Hamas, appears to be conducting a broad attack on Gaza's entire population. In the first week of intense bombings, Israel launched around 6,000 bombs on Gaza - nearly as many as the United States used in Afghanistan in a full year.
Given Gaza's dense population, the use of powerful munitions leads to significant civilian casualties. Recent figures indicate that the Israeli offensive has resulted in the deaths of over 4,400 children and 2,900 women, with many men who are victims also being non-combatants.
The Israeli army has also dropped any pretence to “precision strikes”, as its spokesperson Daniel Hagari said its emphasis is “on damage and not accuracy”.
Israel has put Gaza under complete siege, with “no electricity, no food, no water, no gas”, as declared by Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.
On October 9, when announcing the full blockade, Gallant described the 2.3 million people in Gaza as “human animals”.
On October 29, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used Judaic scripture to justify the killing of Palestinians. “You must remember what Amalek did to you, says our Holy Bible,” he said, quoting a verse that goes on to say: “Now go and smite Amalek … kill both man and woman, infant.”
On November 5, Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu said one of Israel’s options in Gaza is to drop a nuclear bomb. He also explained that no humanitarian aid should be provided to Palestinian civilians as “there is no such thing as uninvolved civilians in Gaza”.
In the words of genocide expert and survivor of the Bosnian genocide, Arnessa Buljusmic-Kastura, “That sort of rhetoric is not uncommon when it comes to cases of genocide. It is obviously one of the most important stages when you really consider it, and to hear the openly dehumanising language spoken with so much fervour in the media from government leaders, and from regular people too, is horrifying and it all leads us to where we are at right now, which is the fact that what is happening in Gaza is a genocide.”
Genocide or not?
The state of Israel, founded amidst the ashes of the Holocaust, has always emphasized its right to self-defense.
Israeli officials argue that their military actions, often resulting in civilian casualties, are responses to threats posed by Hamas, which Israel and many other countries consider a terrorist organization. This perspective is rooted in a history of existential threats and is amplified by Hamas's rocket attacks and other forms of aggression against Israeli civilians.
Genocide or not, no one can deny that families in Palestine are being wiped out.
Maybe in Israel's lens that's okay since it's for self-defense.