by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, International Development Director
What Is Genocide?
It was Raphael Lemkin who was responsible for defining genocide after WWII. Born in 1900 in Poland to Russian Jewish peasants, he became a highly successful and respected lawyer in pre-war Poland. In 1939, he joined the Polish army and fought to defend Warsaw from Nazi incursion. He lost 49 members of his family during the Holocaust. Eventually making his way to the United States, he dedicated his career to fighting for legal protection from group-targeted violence. In his bookAxis Rule in Occupied Europe, published in 1944, he coins the term “genocide”:
By ”genocide” we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. This new word…is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing)…Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group. .
In the early years of WWII, as Nazi atrocities became apparent to the international community, Winston Churchill stated, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.” Lemkin made it his life’s work to give that crime a name and make it punishable by international law. In December of 1948, the final text of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide was adopted and went into force in January of 1951. Despite the fact that massive crimes against civilian populations have occurred since WWII, the US did not sign the Convention until November of 1988, and the first trial and conviction for the crime of genocide in an international tribunal did not occur until 1998.
Genocide throughout History
Although the term didn’t come into being until 1944, genocide as a crime of intent has been around for a long time. Historians have identified hundreds of such cases, most accepting that the first identifiable genocide was the destruction of Carthage in AD 146. Since then, the list spans the globe, resulting in hundreds of millions of deaths. The Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks during and after WWI is one of the most well known of such atrocities with over 1 million people slaughtered. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 saw 800,000 to a million people massacred.
What most of these historical atrocities hold in common are military invasion and the mass slaughter of innocent people. It is interesting, however, that the United Nations has been slow to apply the term even to some of the most barbaric of situations in modern history, and the United States did not use the term in an official capacity until a reference to Darfur in 2004.
Who Is Really Genocidal?
If one considers that all of Israel’s wars have been defensive, that Arab citizens of Israel live with full rights of citizenship and have representation in parliament, that Israel allows hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid into Gaza every week to support the Palestinian people, and that though the process has been difficult, Israel has repeatedly been willing to make concessions to achieve peace, it becomes clear that such accusations against Israel are ludicrous. In Israeli schools, maps of the country clearly include the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] and Gaza, and Israeli officials have repeatedly stated their belief that the Palestinian people have a right to exist as an entity in the region.
In a recent booklet celebrating the founding of Hamas, one official wrote, “…continuing our path of jihad and the fight against the enemies of the Muslim nation and mankind. ALL of Palestine will remain ours…You [Israel] have no right to even an inch of it…As long as the Zionists occupy our lands, only death or exile await[s] them.” In a speech broadcast on AlAqsa television, another Palestinian leader declared that the Jews “have no place among us and no future among the nations. They are about to disappear, and we will emerge victorious.”
These are just two examples of the constant rhetoric from both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority with genocidal intent. Israel is declared illegitimate as a state, maps in school books show a Palestinian state with no Israel at all, and the Jewish people are portrayed as enemies, not just in the region, but of all mankind. Israel must be destroyed as a political entity, and Zionists have the option of either death or expulsion. Clearly, the groundwork is being laid to legitimize the physical extermination of the Jewish people.
If genocide is, in fact, a crime of intent, it is clear where guilt lies. As a victim of this new anti-Semitism, Israel has become “the Jew among the nations,” scapegoated as the obstacle to peace, delegitimized as a genocidal state. and vilified by the international community. At the same time, Palestinian leadership and the Muslim world are systematically creating an environment in which Israel will have no right to exist. Raphael Lemkin would be appalled.
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