As Israeli bombs devastate entire areas of Gaza and claim the lives of civilians who cannot flee these attacks, many accuse the Jewish state of genocide. Are we witnessing the eradication of the Palestinian people live? It is too early to reach this conclusion, experts responded to Devoir, who however point out that war crimes have been committed.
The situation is serious in this region of the world since October 7. As early as October 19, the United Nations sounded the alarm: there is a “risk of genocide” against the Palestinian people in Gaza, said the international organization, which also noted possible crimes against humanity there a week ago previously.
It is indeed premature to speak of genocide, confirm the specialists consulted. However, they are very clear: this does not mean that what is happening in Gaza is tolerable. “This is not at all to minimize the very serious crimes committed there,” underlines Muriel Paradelle, professor of law at the University of Ottawa and specialist in extreme and mass violence. And “this does not mean siding with Israel either.”
Genocide is a “legal term,” clearly defined by international law, explains Marie Lamensch, project coordinator at the Montreal Institute for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights at Concordia University. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide specifies that it is perpetrated through acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group.” .
We cannot therefore deduce this “will to destroy” of a people following a single “spontaneous” reaction, that is to say the imposition of reprisals on Hamas following its bloody attacks launched in Israel on October 7, Ms. Paradelle said. That day, fighters from the Islamist movement killed around 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians in their homes, launched rockets and took more than 200 hostages.
To speak of genocide, it is necessary to prove the “intention” to annihilate the targeted people – which is “very difficult”, according to the two experts. “In my opinion, this desire is not present” for the moment, at least not according to the information currently known, specifies Professor Paradelle. This is also Ms. Lamensch’s opinion: “It’s often afterward that we can see it. »
Because a few weeks after the start of hostilities, not all the information is public: neither Israel's plans and objectives, nor the human toll of the bombs launched on Gaza. But people around the world watch helplessly as the death and destruction plaguing Gaza and want it to end, arguing, among other things, that a “genocide” is taking place before our eyes.
< p>This term is used to provoke a strong reaction from the international community, explains Professor Paradelle. Genocide, “it’s the crime of crimes, it’s the ‘megacrime’,” she sums up. However, she considers it “essential” to use the right words. Otherwise, “we are muddying the waters”, at the risk of allowing future genocidaires to claim that the term has lost all its meaning, she argues.
The genocide can be deduced from a whole range of elements. In order to demonstrate the intention to annihilate a people, we can notably look at the words of state leaders. In Rwanda, Tutsis were called “cockroaches” to dehumanize them — one of the stages of a genocidal process, according to Genocide Watch. Since October 7, Israel's Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, has notably described Hamas fighters as “animals”, underlines Ms. Lamensch.
However, it has been difficult to gain recognition the crime of genocide throughout history, she recalls. If this was the case for the Holocaust, it was because the Nazis left a large quantity of incriminating documents in their wake. And in Rwanda, the leaders' speeches were used as evidence against them.
A genocide does not happen quickly, continues the expert. And if it is not necessary to prove the existence of a “plan” as such, a certain organization and a certain preparation remain necessary to carry out this crime, specifies Professor Paradelle.
In the context of the current conflict, it should also be noted that only the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is hiding, is currently targeted by Israel's reprisals, and not the entire Palestinian Territories.
If the criteria for genocide are not met, can we then speak of “ethnic cleansing”? There is no precise definition of the concept, although it is generally recognized as referring to a policy aimed at making an area ethnically homogeneous through violence or intimidation. In short, ethnic cleansing has a territorial purpose. However, the confinement of Palestinians in a specific area began well before October 7.
Several critics of the Jewish state are rightly of the opinion that the genocide of the Palestinian people, subject to conditions of miserable lives for decades, began well before that date. One of the criteria for this crime is also “the intentional subjection of the group to conditions of existence intended to result in its total or partial physical destruction.”
However, “we do not have the gravity” required to demonstrate it, maintains Ms. Paradelle. International bodies have not recognized it either, although human rights abuses have long been denounced, adds Ms. Lamensch.
Could it be said that there was a long-standing intention on Israel's part to eliminate the Palestinian people, and that the country was just waiting for an opportunity — the October 7 attack — to put its plan into action? ? This was seen in Rwanda, notes Professor Paradelle. There, preparations for genocide were demonstrated: weapons were piled up and members of different ethnic groups were singled out. An attack on the plane of the country's president then triggered this deadly mechanism.
Was the Hamas attack the excuse Israel expected? This remains to be seen, replies the academic, who nevertheless doubts that a warlike Hebrew state could choose “as an opportune moment” an assault that “completely discredited” and took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by surprise.
On the other hand, it is undoubted, according to the two experts, that “war crimes are being committed on both sides.” And perhaps even crimes against humanity, if it is proven that the Jewish state had a plan to attack the civilians of Gaza.
As for genocide, the future will say, they assert.
Definition of genocide
Genocide means any of the following acts, committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:
a) murder of members of the group;
b) serious bodily harm or mental health of members of the group;
c) intentional subjection of the group to conditions of existence intended to bring about its total or partial physical destruction;
d) measures aimed at preventing births within the group;
e) forced transfer of children from the group to another group.
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide