Ilan Pappe: Israel's 'incremental genocide'

The geopolitical location of Gaza made it clear that any collective punitive action, such as the one inflicted now, could only c

In a September 2006 article for the Electronic Intifada, I defined the Israeli policy towards the Gaza Strip as an incremental genocide.

Israel’s present assault on Gaza alas indicates that this policy continues unabated. The term is important since it appropriately locates Israel’s barbaric action ― then and now ― within a wider historical context.

This context should be insisted upon, since the Israeli propaganda machine tried to narrate its policies outside any context and turns the pretext it found for every new wave of destruction into the main justification for another spree of slaughter in Palestine.

Zionist strategy

The strategy of Zionists (supporters of a specifically Jewish state in historic Palestine) has been one of branding its brutal policies as an ad hoc response to this or that Palestinian action is as old as the Zionist presence in Palestine itself.

It was used repeatedly as a justification for implementing the Zionist vision of a future Palestine with few, if any, native Palestinians.

The means for achieving this goal changed with the years, but the formula has remained the same: whatever the Zionist vision of a Jewish state might be, it can only materialise without many Palestinians in it.

Nowadays, the vision is of an Israel stretching over almost the whole of historic Palestine where millions of Palestinians still live.

The present genocidal wave has, like all the previous ones, a more immediate background. It has been born out of an attempt to foil the Palestinian decision to form a unity government between Palestinian factions that even the United States could not object to.

The collapse of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s desperate “peace” initiative legitimised the Palestinian appeal to international groups to stop the occupation.

At the same time, Palestinians gained wide international blessing for the cautious bid represented by the unity government to strategise a coordinated policy among the various Palestinian groups and agendas.

Ever since 1967, Israel has searched for a way to keep the territories it occupied that year without granting its Palestinian population Israeli citizenship. All the while Israel took par in a “peace process” charade to cover up, or buy time, for its unilateral colonisation policies on the ground.

Israel has differentiated areas it wished to control directly and those it would manage indirectly, with the aim of downsizing the Palestinian population to a minimum via, among other means, ethnic cleansing and economic strangulation.

The geopolitical location of the West Bank creates the impression in Israel, at least, that it is possible to achieve this without a third Palestinian uprising or too much international condemnation.

The Gaza Strip, due to its unique geopolitical location next to Egypt, did not lend itself that easily to such a strategy.

Since 1994, the strategy was to ghetto-ise Gaza and somehow hope its people ― 1.8 million as of today ― would drop into eternal oblivion.

But the ghetto proved rebellious and unwilling to live with strangulation, isolation, starvation and economic collapse. So resending it to oblivion necessitates the continuation of genocidal policies.
The pretext

On May 15, Israeli forces killed two Palestinian youths in the West Bank town of Beitunia, their cold-blooded slayings by a sniper’s bullet captured on video. Their names ― Nadim Nuwara and Muhammad Abu al-Thahir ― were added to a long list of such killings in recent months and years.

The killing of three Israeli teenagers, abducted in the occupied West Bank in June, was perhaps in reprisal for the killings of Palestinian children. But it provided the pretext for destroying the delicate unity among Palestinian factions in the West Bank and for implementing the dream of wiping out Hamas from Gaza so the ghetto could be quiet again.

But the geopolitical location of Gaza made it clear that any collective punitive action, such as the one inflicted now, could only cause huge killings and destruction. In other words, of a continued genocide.

This recognition never inhibited Israeli generals, who give orders to bomb the people from the air, the sea and the ground. Downsizing the number of Palestinians all over historic Palestine is still the Zionist vision. In Gaza, its implementation takes its most inhuman form.

The particular timing of this wave is determined, as in the past, by extra considerations. The social unrest inside Israel in 2011 is still simmering. For a while, there was a public demand to cut military expenditures and move money from the inflated “defence” budget to social services. The army branded this as suicidal.

There is nothing like a military operation to stifle such voices.

Typical hallmarks of the previous stages in this incremental genocide appear in this wave too. One can witness, again, consensual Israeli Jewish support for the massacre of civilians in the Gaza Strip, without any significant voice of dissent.

In Tel Aviv, the few who dared demonstrate against it were beaten by Jewish hooligans while the police watched.

Academia, as always, becomes part of the machinery. The prestigious private university, the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, has established “a civilian headquarters” where students volunteer to serve as mouthpieces in the propaganda campaign abroad.

The media is loyally recruited, showing no pictures of the human catastrophe Israel has wreaked and informing its public that this time, “the world understands us and is behind us”.

That statement is valid to a point, as the political elites in the West continue to provide immunity to the “Jewish state”.

However, the media have not provided Israel with quite the level of legitimacy it was seeking for its criminal policies.

Way forward

Whether it is burning alive a Palestinian youth from Jerusalem, or the fatal shooting of two others, just for the fun of it in Beitunia, or slaying whole families in Gaza, these are all acts that can only be perpetrated if the victim is dehumanised.

All over the Middle East, there are horrific cases where dehumanisation has reaped unimaginable horrors. But there is a crucial difference between these cases and Israel's brutality: the former are condemned as barbarous and inhuman worldwide, while those committed by Israel are still publicly licensed and approved by Western governments.

The only chance for a successful struggle against Zionism in Palestine is one based on a human and civil rights agenda that does not differentiate between one violation or another, and yet clearly identifies the victim and the victimisers.

Those who commit atrocities in the Arab world against oppressed minorities and helpless communities, as well Israelis who commit these crimes against the Palestinian people, should all be judged by the same moral and ethical standards.

They are all war criminals, though in the case of Palestine they have been at work longer than anyone else.

A world that would stop employing double standards in its dealings with Israel is a world that could be far more effective in its response to war crimes elsewhere in the world.

Cessation of the incremental genocide in Gaza and the restitution of the basic human and civil rights of Palestinians wherever they are, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return, is essential for human rights in the Middle East as a whole.

[Abridged from Electronic Intifada. Ilan Pappe is professor of history and director of the European Centre for Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter.]

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