Genocide By Public Policy
By Sam Bahour
May 19, 2004
Many words are taboo when used to describe Israel's actions against
Palestinians. One word in specific, genocide, sparks emotions that echo across
Israel, Europe and America. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines genocide as
"the deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural
group." What is happening in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip
today is dangerously encroaching on genocide, close enough so that the pictures
of Palestinians in Rafah loading their meager belongings on carts and evacuating
their homes are too reminiscent of another time, another place and another
people. These very same images should be setting off alarms in the hearts and
minds of Israelis. Unfortunately, at stake is not the lexicon of conflict but
rather, our children, and we refuse to sit still to watch a deaf, dumb and blind
world steal their future from them.
A few weeks ago, Israeli Professor and Political Sociologist at Ben Gurion
University Lev Grinberg wrote an article that created an uproar in Israel
titled, Symbolic Genocide (see note 1). In it Professor Grinberg wrote, "Unable to
recover from the Holocaust trauma and the insecurity it caused, the Jewish
people, the ultimate victim of genocide, is currently inflicting a symbolic
genocide upon the Palestinian people! What is symbolic genocide? Every people
has its symbols, national leaders and political institutions, a home land, past
and future generations, and hopes. All these symbolically represent a people.
Israel is systematically damaging, destroying and eradicating all of these, with
unbelievable bureaucratic jargon."
During the last few years and weeks, in specific, the situation can no longer be
accurately defined as "symbolic." In the West Bank and Gaza Strip,
Palestinian cities and refugee camps are being battered beyond recognition.
This is the same fate that today's very same Israeli leaders already forced on
Palestinians in Lebanon over 20 years ago and on Palestinians inside Israel
proper over 56 years ago. The Israeli targets have been many, most recently, as
we write, Rafah City and the Rafah refugee camp in the Southern tip of the Gaza
Strip. This isolated poverty-stricken community is facing the same brute force
of the Israeli military occupation that the Jenin refugee camp, in the North of
the West Bank, faced less than two years ago, if not worse. The Palestinian
death toll has been mounting so steadily that the media does not even bother
anymore to mention the five to six Palestinian deaths that occur almost daily
from Israeli firepower.
Nevertheless, "deliberate and systematic destruction," as the definition of
genocide illustrates, does not necessarily mean physical killing of people,
albeit Israel is having no problem, and is facing no international outcry, in
doing just that. Destruction, Israeli- occupation style, is equally focused on
demolishing Palestinian homes under the false pretext of "security." If so
many Palestinians were not being killed and even more being made homeless, this
outdated Israeli-manufactured pretext called "security" would be laughable.
Israeli newspapers routinely publish headlines like the following which appeared
earlier this week, "[Israeli] High Court allows Gaza demolitions"
(Ha'aretz, By Yuval Yoaz and Gideon Alon) and the article's lead was,
"[Israeli] Army's `operational necessity' takes precedence." This High
Court is the same that several years ago allowed for Palestinian political
prisoners to be to tortured while under Israeli detention. Indeed, the Israeli
High Court has a long history of providing legal justification for the heinous
actions of the Israeli military and the security services. This judicial carte
blanche for Israel's illegal occupation is worse than Israeli politicians
publicly discussing which Palestinian is next on their assassination list or how
Palestinians should be "transferred" out of homes and cities all together.
What Israel is doing is planned, organized, systematic and illegal. It is a
wicked policy being discussed in full view of the public eye. On the other hand,
Amnesty International, which historically has water-downed the injustices
afflicted on Palestinians, has released a report today stating that by
destroying these homes (over 3,000 and causing damage to 16,000 more homes) and
displacing thousands of Palestinians, making them refugees again for the
umpteenth time, "are war crimes" (see note 2). Yet the world remains silent.
As Professor Grinberg stated, "This is a dangerous policy. It poses an
existential threat to the Palestinian people, but also to the state of Israel
and its citizens, thereby endangering the entire Middle East."
Nothing could be closer to the truth. With every Palestinian assassinated from
Israeli helicopter gunships, with every Palestinian home demolished, with every
Palestinian illegally detained in Israeli prisons, ten times as many children
are witnessing their ill fate before their very own eyes. Palestinian children
now routinely climb on top of Israeli tanks invading their cities. Sadly, young
Palestinians who have equated their life (the only life they know) under
this brutal military occupation to death are being recruited to take innocent
Israeli lives along with them while committing suicide themselves. Victims of a
naked aggression, Palestinians are slowly losing control of their society and
being blamed for it as well. Israelis too are beginning to glorify death rather
than life, as Israeli psychologist, Yoram Yovel recently noted in an editorial
in Ha'aretz newspaper (May 17, 2004). He notes that what is happening in Gaza
reflects a deep psychological process that Israeli society is undergoing, making
it more and more similar to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad.
As the world powers watch the Palestinians being destroyed as a people, they
have the arrogance and audacity to demand that a caged people develop and align
their society's institutions for inclusion in a globalized world. While the
world's sole superpower watches, funds and provides political cover for the
maze of Israeli military checkpoints and cement walls being erected to encircle
Palestinian cities, they have the nerve to preach to Palestinians about
necessary governmental and economic reforms and WTO accession. As if economic
liberalization is a solution for the humanitarian and political disaster facing
the Palestinian people, the world's organizations, including the UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan himself, are acknowledging Israeli war crimes while casually
sending more teams of foreign consultants to document the gravity of the
situation and suggest boilerplate reforms.
Knowing Palestinians ability to remain steadfast in the face of earthshaking
odds, we would venture to bet that Palestinians will continue to sustain the
damages being systematically inflicted upon them. Palestinian students will
continue their studies, even in makeshift schools if necessary. Palestinian
investors and businesspersons will continue to invest and over extend themselves
to maintain even the minimal level of jobs possible. Palestinian women, the
real unknown soldiers, will continue to be the thread of steel that hold
together the strongest Palestinian institution yet, the family. All of this can
be expected, not because President Bush has some kind of blurry vision that
keeps getting repeated like a broken record, but rather because Palestinians are
the owners of a just cause and have been programmed to survive, despite all
odds, and will continue to juggle two extraordinary struggles, one to free
themselves from military occupation and the other to build for statehood.
Why does the community of nations refuse the screaming calls for an
international peace-keeping presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,
especially and immediately in the Gaza Strip, to prevent further escalation and
destruction. The least the world could do is to stand between our two peoples,
for both of our people's sake, and theirs.
If, to use Professor Grinberg's words again, "Silence under the present
circumstances means acquiescence," then what does one call the United
States' blatant arming, financial support and political cover for Israel's
or its own in Iraq for that matter -- current policy of destruction and
Indeed, "genocide" seems too accommodating for such arrogance of power.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman living in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank; he can be reached at email@example.com and runs a mailing list at
Dr. Michael Dahan is an Israeli-American political scientist living in Jerusalem
and teaching at Ben Gurion University. He can be reached at
Additional co-authored articles may be found at:
First published in News from Within, www.newsfromwithin.org
Feel free to distribute/republish with credit to News from Within.
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