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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Palestinian Genocide?

One of the stories that has been rumbling away all week in the British press has been the controversy over Britain's official Holocaust Memorial Day, January 27th (the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz). Some Muslim groups have been complaining that it is, as they put it, 'unfairly exclusionary' to only focus on Jewish suffering. They would like, instead, for there to be a 'Genocide Memorial Day'. Here's an excerpt from an article the Times published on Sunday:

ADVISERS appointed by Tony Blair after the London bombings are proposing to scrap the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day because it is regarded as offensive to Muslims.

They want to replace it with a Genocide Day that would recognise the mass murder of Muslims in Palestine, Chechnya and Bosnia as well as people of other faiths.

The draft proposals have been prepared by committees appointed by Blair to tackle extremism. He has promised to respond to the plans, but the threat to the Holocaust Day has provoked a fierce backlash from the Jewish community.

Holocaust Day was established by Blair in 2001 after a sustained campaign by Jewish leaders to create a lasting memorial to the 6m victims of Hitler. It is marked each year on January 27.

A member of one of the committees, made up of Muslims, said it gave the impression that “western lives have more value than non-western lives”. That perception needed to be changed. “One way of doing that is if the government were to sponsor a national Genocide Memorial Day.

“The very name Holocaust Memorial Day sounds too exclusive to many young Muslims. It sends out the wrong signals: that the lives of one people are to be remembered more than others. It’s a grievance that extremists are able to exploit.”

The recommendation, drawn up by four committees including those dealing with imams and mosques, and Islamaphobia and policing, has the backing of Sir Iqbal Sacranie, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

He said: “The message of the Holocaust was ‘never again’, and for that message to have practical effect on the world community it has to be inclusive. We can never have double standards in terms of human life. Muslims feel hurt and excluded that their lives are not equally valuable to those lives lost in the Holocaust time.”

Ibrahim Hewitt, chairman of the charity Interpal, said: “There are 500 Palestinian towns and villages that have been wiped out over the years. That’s pretty genocidal to me.”

I have a few thoughts on this. The main one, really, has to be: Palestinian genocide? What the hell are you smoking, Ibrahim Hewitt?

I don't have any personal stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so I tend to avoid writing about it, but as a trained historian it drives me utterly around the bend to see people make such baldly historically incorrect statements to bolster their political case; hopefully the government will not go along with such foolishness. This idea, that 'Israel is treating the Palestinians in the same way that the Nazis treated the Jews', is one of the stupidest ideas to have taken hold of sections of public opinion in recent years. It's not surprising that Palestinian advocates have picked up on it, as they probably feel that it bolsters their case (although I'd argue more that it makes them look like morons), but why anyone else believes such nonsense is beyond me. It's so stupid that it isn't really worth debunking, but I sort of feel like it, so here we go.

Consider: The second article of the UN's Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as such:

"any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:"

  • (a) Killing members of the group;

  • (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

  • (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

  • (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

  • (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
  • Let's ponder this list in light of Israeli actions. In terms of (a), well, the Israeli military has, in the course of fighting a number of conventional land wars and counter-insurgency campaigns, quite obviously killed a number of Palestinians over the last six decades, but have they killed with the intent of 'destroying the Palestinian people'? Can the IDF be considered similar to the einsatzgruppen or the interahamwe? Well, quite clearly not, and quite frankly anyone who thinks so is demented.

    Before straying too far back in time, let's look at recent events. The Muslim Council of Britain, perhaps the most important Muslim activist group in Britain, who have been pushing strongly for a revision to a genocide day, have previously characterized Israel's actions in response to the Second (or Al-Aqsa) Intifada as 'creeping genocide'. This is a serious charge. It is also complete nonsense. Whether you think Israel is a 'racist apartheid state' or a 'single beacon of democratic modernity in a sea of obscurantist autocracy', one thing is indisputable: its military has not been involved in anything that is even vaguely like genocide. Making the charge just devalues the term. According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, since September 2000, Israeli security forces have been responsible for the deaths of 3,670 people in the Palestinian territories. This is unfortunate, a sad state of affairs, but it hardly stacks up against the butchery practiced by others elsewhere in the region in recent decades, let alone against the monstrous depredations perpetrated by Hitler's regime.

    Does Israel seek to 'destroy the Palestinian people'? Well, it has certainly taken a lot of land on the West Bank for settlements, yet Israeli government policy has repressed the wildest anti-Palestinian forces, such as the banned Kach Party, who advocated the 'transfer' (ie ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians to 'beyond the Jordan'. Israel has not done anything like demolish the Dome of the Rock to build the Third Temple.

    As far as points (d) and (e) go, no one, but no one, could say that Israel has pursued such policies. Consider the fertility rate in the occupied territories. As you can see, the Gaza Strip has a TFR of 5.91 children per woman, the West Bank has a TFR of 4.4 children per woman, while Israel itself has a TFR of only 2.44 children per woman. Whatever else this shows, it is quite clear that Israel has not undertaken any method "to prevent births within the group". Nor has Israel transferred Palestinian children to Jewish homes. It just hasn't happened.

    Israel may be many things, but it just isn't genocidal.

    || RPH || 9:45 AM || |