Letters / On “A Textbook Case of Genocide”

For more than three weeks, Israel has waged a ferocious war against Hamas in response to the horrific terrorist attack the group conducted in southern Israel on October 7th. As of this writing, more than 8,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have already been killed by Israel, and more than a million people have been displaced. Conditions inside the crowded coastal enclave—which were already dire, largely due to Israel and Egypt’s nearly 17-year-long blockade—are rapidly deteriorating as food, drinking water, and medical supplies are running out. A humanitarian catastrophe is undoubtedly occurring.

Nonetheless, it is not accurate to say, as Raz Segal does, that Israel’s “assault on Gaza” is “a textbook case of genocide unfolding in front of our eyes.” Since Segal’s piece was published on October 13th, this claim has become common on the activist left, and has been voiced by Jewish groups like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace. To be sure, some of the deeply disturbing rhetoric coming from senior figures in the Israeli government, including the prime minister and the defense minister, dehumanizes Palestinians and raises the risk of genocidal actions. This rhetoric should not be ignored or casually dismissed. However, to claim that genocide is already occurring requires stretching the concept too far, emptying it of any meaning.

Segal argues that Israel is “unleashing deadly violence against Palestinians in Gaza ‘as such,’” and is ultimately intent on the “systematic destruction of Palestinians and Palestinian society in Gaza.” But while Israel’s relentless and devastating aerial bombing of Gaza is certainly killing many Palestinian civilians, it does not seem to be aimed at simply killing as many Palestinians as possible; if that were the case, the casualties would undoubtedly be even higher, given the military force at Israel’s disposal. Though they do not amount to genocide, the seemingly indiscriminate bombing of apartment buildings and civilian infrastructure in Gaza, with apparently little if any effort to avoid civilian casualties, appears to be a war crime under international law, as does the forced displacement of civilians. And it is clear that some within the far-right Israeli government would like to seize this opportunity to drive Palestinians out of the Gaza Strip entirely, just as they hope to do with Palestinians in the West Bank, in an act of mass ethnic cleansing. For our warnings about this frightening possibility to be taken seriously, we must avoid making unsubstantiated charges of genocide.

Dov Waxman
Los Angeles, CA

The letter writer is a professor of political science and Israel studies and the director of the UCLA Y&S Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.