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Is Israel on the Precipice of Genocide?

March 06, 2023
Michael Barnett


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Michael Barnett, a professor of international affairs and political science at George Washington University, analyzes whether we are seeing the warning signs of genocide in Israel and Palestine.

At a conference hosted by Haaretz on Wednesday, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said that “the village of Hawara needs to be wiped out. I think that the State of Israel needs to do that—not, God forbid, private individuals.” Hawara has been in the news lately because of an Israeli assault that claimed the lives of ten Palestinians and injured over one hundred. Although Smotrich prefers to see Hawara’s demise through public and legal means, his horror about vigilantes belies his consistent protection for rampaging settlers who commit acts of terrorism. He and the National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir are both disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach Party was banned in Israel and labeled a terrorist organization by the US State Department. Ben-Gvir was convicted of supporting a Jewish terrorist group and Smotrich has been under suspicion for planning terrorism.

The interviewer offered Smotrich several opportunities to walk back his comments, but he abstained. And his comments were not off-the-cuff. Smotrich was clear that much of his current thinking is part of his 2017 paper on “Israel’s decisive plan that advocates `disproportionate’ retribution to Palestinian terror,” specifically “transfer”—otherwise known as ethnic cleansing. This is not a fringe idea: about 50 percent of Israeli Jews support expulsion. The ideas contained in Smortich’s paper, which were once considered fanciful, unimaginable, and reprehensible, are now part of the conversation.

Smotrich might be an outlier because he has yet to learn that there are things you can and cannot say as a government official, but he is still in office and he is part of a government in which ministers and members of parliament have advocated violence against Palestinians. Moreover, these are not empty threats. Last year more than 170 Palestinians, including at least 30 children, were killed by Israelis and Israeli forces across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. In January 2023 alone, at least 29 Palestinians, including five children, were killed, and the current total is sixty-six, including Palestinian fighters and civilians. In addition to the dead, there are scores more who have been injured, maimed, and suffered considerable property damage, including the loss of their livelihoods.

This current situation is alarming. Israel’s control over the territories has already produced a long list of alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes, but the current atmosphere has upped the ante and could be the progenitor of crimes against humanity and even genocide. The Genocide Convention defines genocide as the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” Over the last thirty years genocide research has exploded, led in part by the contemporary genocides in Bosnia, Somalia, Darfur, as well as the past genocides against the European Jews and Armenians.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.