IIt always starts with words. Genocide is widely known for its depraved acts, but it is incubated in language. Words can cast dark spells over a population, stirring up hatred among those who otherwise view themselves as moderate, humane, and normal.
This is why the 1948 Genocide Convention criminalizes “direct and public incitement to commit genocide”. Like Britain, Israel was a signatory country and, two years later, translated the convention into Domestic laws. There are four acts, he decreed, that leave the offender “treated as a person guilty of genocide”: one is “incitement to commit genocide.”
As the British lawyer said Daniel Macover tells me, Israel has a legal obligation to prosecute those who incite genocide. But instead, since the serious war crimes committed against Israeli civilians by Hamas and other armed groups on October 7, government ministers, parliamentarians, army officers and journalists have engaged in in the language of extermination. This frightening phenomenon has few historical precedents, as the instigators of genocide generally go to great lengths to conceal their crimes. Like Raz Segal – Israeli-American associate professor of genocide and Holocaust studies – tell me, the Israeli attack on Gaza is unique “in the sense that it is talked about as what I think it is – which is genocide – because the intention is so clearly articulated. And this is expressed in Israeli media, society and politics.
In South Africa document outlining its case for genocide against Israel over the Gaza war, nine pages are devoted to incitement to genocide. He notes that Benjamin Netanyahu “twice invoked the biblical account of the total destruction of Amalek.” declaring: “You must remember what Amalek did to you, says our Holy Bible. And we remember it. A subsequent passage in the Bible leaves no doubt for interpretation: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but kill men and women, infants and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys. This wasn’t a throwaway comment. Consider the unprecedented massacre of Palestinian children – or “infants and infants” – and note that six days after invoking Amalek in a speech national addressNetanyahu referred to it again in a letter addressed to army soldiers and officers.
And then there is Isaac Herzog, the Israeli president, who declared: “It’s an entire nation that is responsible. This rhetoric that civilians are not aware, are not involved, is not true. This is absolutely not true. No demarcation between activists and civilians exists here. Yoav Gallant, the Minister of Defense, was a repeat offender. On October 9, in an unapologetic commitment to collective punishment, he stated Israel imposed a “complete siege on the Gaza Strip”. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed,” he said. “We fight human animals and we act accordingly.”
Seeing Israeli soldiers blithely destroying civilian infrastructure on TikTok, some have hypothesized a breach of military discipline. It is more likely that the soldiers listened when Gallant informed the troops that he had “freed from all constraints” and “lifted all restrictions” imposed on Israeli forces.
Another senior official, Israel Katz, now foreign minister, said last year when he was energy minister: “The entire civilian population of Gaza has been ordered to leave immediately. We will win. They will not receive a drop of water or a single battery until they leave the world. » Meanwhile, Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu opposed humanitarian aid on the grounds that we “would not give humanitarian aid to the Nazis.” He also suggested dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza, saying “there are no uninvolved civilians.” This saw him suspended by Netanyahu.
Some army officers participate willingly. In a video addressed to Gaza residents, Major General Ghassan Alian, castigated the “citizens of Gaza” for celebrating Hamas extremism, promising: “Human animals are treated accordingly. Israel has imposed a total blockade on Gaza, no electricity, no water, just damage. You wanted hell, you’ll get it. Another retired major general and adviser to Defense Minister Giora Eiland demanded that other countries be stopped from offering aid, demanding that Gaza residents be given “two choices: stay and starve, or leave.” He recommended Gaza has become “a place in which it is temporarily or permanently impossible to live”, declared the women were not innocent because “they are all the mothers, sisters or wives of the Hamas murderers”, and recommended “humanitarian catastrophe” and “serious epidemics” to achieve war objectives: Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich tweeted he agreed “with every word.”
South Africa’s document is incomplete: there have been countless new examples since its publication. After the Israeli Attorney General reportedly issued a warning to colleagues To “monitor their words,” visibly concerned about Israel being incriminated on the eve of the International Court of Justice investigation, Knesset Vice Speaker Nissim Vaturi doubled down on a previous assertion that “Gaza must be burned“.
Netanyahu reportedly warned his ministers to “be sensitive“, yet every day brings new examples of intention and incitement to genocide. This should define media coverage, and yet the fantasy that this is a war against Hamas – with a parallel debate over proportionality – is still being floated. Without Western support, Israel’s mass slaughter would immediately end. This is why we must tackle complicity: lives depend on it.
This is not simply to criticize those who continue to cheer this abomination, who if we lived in a society that values human life, would now be considered morally depraved beyond redemption. Like Jean-Paul Sartre one day declared: “Every word has consequences. Every silence too. Here is one of the greatest crimes of our time, unfolding before our eyes, described by Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti as “the world’s first live-broadcast genocide.” Rarely has such a serious crime been so honestly exposed to the world by its architects. Yet many of those who have rightly and passionately condemned Hamas’s atrocities have little or nothing to say about Israel’s actions, despite the direct involvement of our own leaders. It’s obscene – and occasional regret won’t erase the shame. Tacit acquiescence allows the horror to continue. Words can be dangerous, but so is the absence of them.
Owen Jones is a columnist at the Guardian
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