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It's Genocide. Full Stop.

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Stunned and outraged, the world watched as Israeli air and ground forces ushered in the new year by slaughtering defenseless, captive Palestinians in Gaza.  From the surprise air attack that caught children on their way home from school, through the repeated targeting of unarmed families, women, children, and United Nations personnel, to the last hours before Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a unilateral ceasefire so the bloody massacre would not distract from news coverage of the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama, the wildly disproportionate violence of the Israeli military campaign revealed the hideous reality of the world's most heinous crime, genocide. 

Hundreds of thousands protested Israel's attack on Gaza in cities and towns around the world.  Many spoke the name of the crime, among them the world's highest ranking elected official, the President of the 63rd General Assembly of the United Nations, H. E. Father Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, M.M.  

"'The number of victims in Gaza is increasing by the day ... The situation is untenable. It's genocide,' d'Escoto said at the U.N. in New York.  About 970 Palestinians have been killed and 4,300 injured since Israel began its Gaza offensive on December 27, which it says is to stop Palestinian fighters attacking Israel with rockets," reported Al-Jazeera on January 14. 

Born in the United States, Fr. d'Escoto spent his childhood years in Nicaragua but returned to attend the Catholic seminary at Maryknoll in New York and was ordained in 1961.  He later earned a Master of Science degree at the Columbia University School of Journalism.  From 1979 to 1990, Fr. d'Escoto served as the foreign minister of Nicaragua.  He played a prominent role in the Nicaraguan Government's 1984 claim at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against the United States for supporting military and paramilitary actions against the country.  The ICJ subsequently ruled in favor of Nicaragua. 

In late 2008, after Fr. d'Escoto criticized Israel with language reminiscent of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's statements about apartheid, a campaign of death threats directed at Fr. d'Escoto caused alarm at UN headquarters.   

In the aftermath of the Israeli attack on Gaza, unsurprisingly, Israel, its operatives, supporters, and useful idiots have reacted to widespread public expressions of anger and indignation by denying that genocide occurred. In an article published on February 2, by Al-Jazeera, Mark LeVine, a professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine argued that, "however horrific the situation in Gaza, it does not meet the definition of genocide used by the main bodies that prosecute such crimes, such as the European Court of Human Rights, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice. All of these bodies define genocide as involving the intention to bring about the 'physical-biological destruction' of a large enough share of an 'entire human group' (national, ethnic, racial or religious) as to put the group's continued physical existence in jeopardy," wrote LeVine.   

LeVine, perhaps best known as the author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam, based his argument and his definition of intent on statistics, numbers of dead and percentages of dead compared to total numbers of targeted groups in Warsaw, Gaza, Rwanda, and Bosnia while avoiding the definition of genocide found in Convention on Genocide. 

Jeffrey Weiss, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Peace Education Director, Central Region, bestirred himself to suggest Israel's innocence of the crime of genocide even before the Israeli assault ended.  Weiss's remarks came toward the end of his presentation on "International Law and Gaza" at an event described as an informational forum at the Des Moines Public Library on the afternoon of Saturday, January 17.  The event, which drew about 85 people to the library's main meeting room, was organized by the Middle East Peace Education Project, an umbrella group sponsored and directed by AFSC personnel. 

"As ... a student of international law and history, I am uncomfortable with the term 'genocide' and I am uncomfortable with the term 'holocaust.'  That's my personal perspective, but, I, you can read the Genocide Convention and draw conclusions as always based on 'what is genocide?'  But since the word 'genocide' has been used, I personally would not use 'genocide' to refer to what is taking place today," said Weiss. 

The featured speaker at the event, Sheik Ibrahim Dremali, of Austin, TX, had presented a media program and talk titled "The Gaza Narrative from a Palestinian Perspective." 

Weiss's remarks indicated disagreement with Dremali, who had referred to Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip and mass murder of civilians as "genocidal" and a "holocaust" just three days after Fr. d'Escoto's use of the term "genocide" in New York. 

Weiss's suggestion that Israeli attack did not constitute genocide – even before the slaughter ended and prior to any official investigation – struck this reporter as unseemly and impolitic at best.  During the Q&A, I asked Weiss if numbers were included in the Convention on Genocide's definition of the crime and asked him elaborate on his previous comments. 

"I think there is a siege and on-going violations of the Geneva Conventions. … If you were teaching a class on, sometimes I call it the 'G' word, you would have a lot of people disagree about what it is," said Weiss.   

The Convention on Genocide's definition of the crime does not include specific numbers, said Weiss, but "oftentimes refers to the systematic destruction of an entire people." 

"So, there may be some people who would argue that the siege, the death toll, the ongoing occupation reached 'genocide'.  My personal perspective on 'genocide', the word and what it means, is that it should be reserved for the Pol Pots and the Hitlers," said Weiss, who was sporting eyewear with high-contrast yellow lenses.  

The most obvious and glaring flaw in the argument of those who insist on defining genocide by relying on huge numbers of dead and on numbers of dead compared to the total numbers in targeted groups is that they are useful only after the worst has occurred and the numbers of the dead, in their millions, can be estimated – when it is too late for the law to serve a prevention function.  Reliance upon such definitions robs the Convention of its intended prevention function. 

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Michael Gillespie is a contributing editor at The Independent Monitor, the national newspaper of Arab Americans. His work also appears regularly in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. His analysis and opinion pieces have been published (more...)
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