Can any human rights defender watching the relentless killing of civilians and children trapped in Gaza deny that genocide, according to the internationally agreed Genocide Convention’s legal definition, is being perpetrated against the Palestinian people by Israel? And yet, throughout this historically defining moment, the Western media has refused to describe what is happening in Gaza as genocide, citing a lack of evidence for the term.
Have the BBC and CNN among other Western media forgotten, that until very recently they were reporting on an almost daily basis about a supposed “genocide in Xinjiang” without producing any evidence of such killings, not one single corpse, to justify their repeated charge against the Chinese government?
A week into Israel’s war on Gaza, 800 eminent scholars and practitioners of law sounded the alarm about an imminent genocide in the territory. It is not a claim that can be made easily. Since that letter was released, the death toll in Gaza has passed 11,000, while some 2,650 individuals, including approximately 1,400 children, are reported missing. The humanitarian situation has reached horrific levels as everyone can see from the daily telecasts, compounded by the lack of food, water, fuel and electricity.
The definition of genocide
Genocide was first recognised as a crime under international law in 1946 by the United Nations General Assembly. It was codified as an independent crime in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention). Whether or not states have ratified the Genocide Convention, they are all bound as a matter of law by the principle that genocide is a crime prohibited under international law.
In Article 6 of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court and Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, genocide is defined as “acts committed with the specific intent to destroy, either in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. These acts encompass killing members of the group, causing them serious harm, and imposing conditions of life aimed at physical destruction of the group in whole or in part, among other underlying acts”.
What the Israeli state has perpetrated on Gaza mirrors these components of genocide. Despite claiming to target only Hamas, Israel is engaged in an all-out assault on the whole population of Gaza including women and children. In just the first week of its relentless assault, it dropped more than 6,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip – nearly as many as the US used in Afghanistan in a full year.
Besides the mass killing of Palestinian civilians, Israel has put Gaza under complete siege, with “no electricity, no food, no water, no gas”, as declared by Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. Israel’s bombing of hospitals and the blocking of fuel deliveries indicate an intent to prevent Palestinians from accessing life-saving healthcare.
On Nov 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”.
Israel and the West have tried to decontextualise and “dehistoricise” what is going on in Gaza and portray it as self-defence “provoked” by Hamas’ Oct 7 attack.
The West degraded the charge of genocide over Xinjiang
The charge of genocide should never be made lightly. Inappropriate use of the term may escalate geopolitical and military tensions and devalue the historical memory of genocides such as the Holocaust, thereby hindering the ability to prevent real genocides such as is happening in Gaza. This is what experts on the subject such as the respected economist and professor at Columbia University Jeffrey Sachs warned against when they cautioned that any charge of genocide in Xinjiang had to be made responsibly. This the US and the West failed to do.
To claim that genocide has taken place, obviously, killing tops the list. The US State Department’s report on China stated that there were “numerous reports” of killings, but that “few or no details were available.” The US and its Nato allies have doubled down on the claim that China is mounting a genocide against the Uighur people in the Xinjiang region, but it has offered no proof.
There may be charges of human rights abuses against Uighur, but those do not per se constitute genocide. This must be seen in the context of the Chinese crackdown against militant terrorist groups in Xinjiang, something the US and the West in their forays in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan is only too familiar with. Many may not be aware that until late 2020, the US classified the Uighur East Turkestan Islamic Movement as a terrorist group, battled Uighur fighters in Afghanistan and Syria, and held many as Uighurs as prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Sachs has cautioned that:
“Unless the State Department can substantiate the genocide accusation, it should withdraw the charge. It should also support a UN-led investigation of the situation in Xinjiang. The work of the UN, and notably of UN Human Rights Special Rapporteurs, is essential to promote the letter and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Israel’s assaults on Gaza
This latest carnage in Gaza did not start on Oct 7, 2023. Israel has launched four protracted military assaults on Gaza – in 2008, 2012, 2014 and 2021 – killing thousands of Palestinians including children, and destroying tens of thousands of homes, schools, and office buildings. From the daily telecasts, we have all seen that much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble.
Therefore, it is imperative for the world community to push for an immediate ceasefire, cessation of the genocide in Palestine, to restore the Palestinian people’s right to their homeland where they can enjoy basic civil liberties and the human rights to food, shelter, health facilities and other amenities.
Kua Kia Soong is a human rights activist.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.