Gaza and the dilemmas of genocide scholars Opinions

Interestingly, Israeli leaders and their allies in Washington were the first to introduce the term “genocide” into the conflict in Gaza. In the wake of the Hamas attack on October 7, they repeatedly made references to the Holocaust.

A number of Holocaust and genocide scholars and centers have followed suit in condemning Hamas. Among them was a group of more than 150 Holocaust scholars, who signed a statement issued in November condemning “the atrocities committed by Hamas… (which) inevitably bring to mind the mentality and methods of the perpetrators of the massacres that paved the way to the final solution.” “. .

This prompted another group of more than 50 Holocaust and genocide scholars to publish a statement on December 9, condemning Hamas, but adding a warning about “the risk of genocide in the Israeli attack on Gaza.”

These initiatives were accompanied and followed by an endless stream of media interventions, demonstrating rising polarization and politicization. A number of prominent intellectuals also joined the battle – from the German “left” philosopher Jürgen Habermas and the French intellectual activist Bernard-Henri Lévy to the American political theorist Michael Walzer and the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

This public division among scholars prompted the Journal of Genocide Research, the leading and oldest journal in the field, to organize a forum on the theme “Israel-Palestine: Atrocity Crimes and the Crisis of Holocaust and Genocide Studies.” It invited a small number of prominent figures in the field to provide their contributions with the aim of imposing greater restraint and wisdom in the discussion. I was one of the scientists who was asked to join.

Like all fields of social science, Holocaust and genocide studies have an ambivalent relationship to their subject matter. As a “science,” it must distance itself from it sufficiently to gain “objectivity” and authority. But it must also be engaging enough to achieve relevance and impact. Another dilemma stems from its subfield, Holocaust studies, which insists on its uniqueness and uniqueness. If these characteristics are accepted, this hinders drawing lessons on prevention and determining “never again”.

These two paradoxes have converged in the current Gaza conflagration, where academics have too easily abandoned their formal ivory towers in favor of partisanship. The unique significance of the Holocaust has been emphasized, while at the same time condemning the October 7 attacks by Hamas as a repetition of them has been rejected. It has also been used to protect Israel as a self-proclaimed symbol of Holocaust survivors from condemning its indiscriminate retaliation against Gaza and characterizing its actions as genocide.

The challenge for forum participants was to be sufficiently nonpartisan in their writing for the authority of the project while remaining relevant in addressing the issue of the day. With this challenge in mind, the organizers invited scholars representing a wide range of positions.

In this brief critical review of the debate, I focus on just two points: the key question of whether Israel’s actions in Gaza qualify as genocide and the extent to which the field of Holocaust and genocide studies has been revalidated (or harmed) by taking the initiative. In this discussion.

Regarding the first question, in his first intervention, “Inevitable Genocide,” Martin Shaw emphasized the genocidal consequences of the massive Israeli bombing of Gaza, which “represents a strategic choice” and not just an unfortunate tactical incident. In this sense, the term “genocide” remains relevant and cannot be replaced by the term “alternatives.” However, Shaw adds that Hamas deliberately provoked and is therefore complicit in Israel’s genocidal acts. In this sense, Hamas committed genocide on October 7, and is also guilty of luring Israel into committing genocide against the people of Gaza.

Zoe Samudzi, in it condition ‘We Are Fighting the Nazis: Forms of Genocide in Gaza after October 7’ concludes that Israel committed ‘almost all of the acts set out in Article II[of the Genocide Convention]… which constitute the ‘most comprehensive destruction of the national pattern’ of the oppressed class’ The author critically deals with a number of points that might seem like extenuating circumstances, such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) targeting systems. She adds that “the use of algorithmic reasoning… is not necessarily illegal” because it operates within the international legal system that has been created. Colonial “state-manufacturing of genocide.” Samudzi argues that because of Israel’s de facto “legal impunity,” “the question of genocide in Palestine goes beyond the applicability of the Genocide Convention.”

In his book “Gaza 2023: Words Matter, Lives Matter More,” Mark Levin Approves Although the word “genocide” is inescapable in this context. He writes that he admitted early in the conflict that Israel was “on the verge of committing genocide in Gaza.” Using Dirk Moses’ concept of “permanent security” as an alternative to genocide, as well as terms such as “territorial extermination,” genocidal war, social death, etc., he attempts to acknowledge the decision to make genocide. But whatever term is used, it is clear, he says, that “this time the Israeli state has removed any remaining vestiges (if any) of moral immunity.”

Levin’s important insight is that this genocidal trajectory is rooted in the fact that “Israel’s entire reality since 1948… has been based on a protective securitization, which amounts to a perpetual state of war.” It was not the Hamas attack that sparked the attack, but the shock it provoked and the call for the “final erasure of what is perceived as the cause of the insult.” In light of the loud calls for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians besieged in Gaza by extremists in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, “the charge of genocide (becomes) legitimate.”

In her book “A World Without Civilians,” Elise Smerdjian Discusses the Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s statement on October 13 that the entire people of Gaza are responsible for the October 7 attacks is part of a broader phenomenon of modern warfare in which civilians are increasingly targeted. Gaza, as the scene of the “First AI War,” has also become a “laboratory of dead capitalism,” where weapons are field-tested on Palestinians to “bring higher dollars to the market.” However, these “smart” bombs destroyed entire neighborhoods “as crudely as Syrian barrel bombs.”

But given the extent of the damage to civilian infrastructure, the distinction between targeted “humanitarian” bombing and indiscriminate bombing in Gaza – as in Syria and Chechnya – appears to have largely disappeared. By highlighting the additional dimension of settler-colonial “slow genocide” and its “exclusionary logic against indigenous people,” Palestine becomes a case in point, where slow violence can do the work of nuclear weapons.

For his part, Ugur Umit Ungur begins his contribution “Screaming, Silence, and Mass Violence in Israel/Palestine” by asking why acts of mass violence committed by Israel attract more attention (and outrage) than the more massive acts of genocidal violence in neighboring Syria; Or why there is more focus on the conflict in Gaza than on similar conflicts in Darfur, China, Armenia, etc. Many inconclusive answers have been given and refuted, with the faintest suggestion that Israel might be held to a higher standard.

Ungor also suggests that the October 7 attacks may fall into the category of “subordinate genocide,” where subaltern violence generates feelings of humiliation, fear, discontent among the stronger party, and disproportionate retaliation. At the same time, he adds that the current Israeli attack on Gaza “is annihilating entire communities,” and aims to make “Gaza unlivable and make the future unimaginable.” Ungor concludes that the apartheid logic underlying this genocidal dynamic, underpinned by “military self-aggrandizement and racial distortion,” will persist after the end of the current war.

In his book “Gaza as Laboratory 2.0,” Shmuel Lederman says that Gaza has not only become a laboratory for testing Israeli weapons and security technologies, but has also become a laboratory for crushing human dignity through multiple insults. Since October 7, it has additionally become a “laboratory of genocidal violence.” Lederman deliberately avoids calling Israel’s action genocide, arguing that Israel’s intention is to suppress Hamas as a military and political force, and to cause enough suffering to deter Palestinians in Gaza from supporting Hamas again – although he accepts that the insults to its people encourage this. “Extremism.” His careful analysis accepts that Hamas had multiple goals and concerns that led to its attack, which represented a literal manifestation of the colonial “boomerang effect.”

Finally, my country to interveneThe Futility of Post-Gaza Genocide Studies begins by refuting the “subaltern genocide” hypothesis in general and in the case of Gaza in particular, pointing to the near consensus in the field that genocide is almost invariably committed by states. A protectorate state like Israel cannot be threatened by a poor and besieged enclave like Gaza. In contrast, the genocidal intent and consequences of the Israeli attack are becoming more indisputable day after day.

You can’t do all this random destruction if you care about human life. Also noteworthy is the fact that the Palestinian issue is rarely addressed from a genocidal perspective, although some authors have begun to describe the Nakba and its aftermath as a “slow genocide,” while others have linked it to settler-colonial genocide.

The paper concludes that genocide studies are under threat because their normative assumptions are under attack. “The field adopts a firm stance against mass atrocities, regardless of the identity of their perpetrators or their excuses, and assumes a firm international rapprochement on this matter. In the absence of one or both, its cohesion becomes threatened, and its audience disappears. “This is not only a crisis for the industry, but a disaster for humanity.”

This brings us to the second key point in the debate: the “crisis” of the field of Holocaust and genocide studies. This debate has arisen, as Samudzi and Shaw remind us, out of discordant academic responses to the Gaza war, “mired in competing historical, social, and legal interpretations of the very concept of genocide.”

With the Holocaust viewed as a model of genocide, this has overshadowed the field’s purpose of explaining the global scope of genocidal atrocities. In this sense, epistemological differences that challenge conservative interpretations of genocide centered on the Holocaust “represent a long overdue disciplinary engagement with the so-called ‘Palestine question’,” says Samudzi.

Most entries refer to Dirk Moses’ concept of “permanent security,” about how insecure systems seek “permanent security” by protecting against current and future threats, whether real or imagined. Perhaps a better term would be “permanent insecurity,” which corresponds to what I call “hyperinsurance.” Musa wants his mandate to replace “genocide.”

However we look at it, Israel seems to be in a constant and frantic search for the illusion of complete security, specifically through “the establishment of barriers of separation… (which) have enabled Israelis to pretend that the Palestinians live in another distant world” – as Levin notes – and sometimes by Trying to uproot and erase it.

Overall, at the forum, there was varying concern about the health of the field, but there was near consensus that what Israel is doing in Gaza is certainly “genocide,” if not outright genocide. In my view, if an act is so heinous that people debate whether it is genocide, then it is evil enough to condemn it and harmful enough to make it urgent to prevent it.

I also stand by my view that the increasing polarization and partisanship in the field, combined with “major democracies” simultaneously assuming the role of participants and deniers, constitutes a very serious blow to the entire endeavor to prevent genocide.

This forum was held before South Africa filed its case on 29 December against Israel before the International Court of Justice, alleging that genocide was being committed in Gaza. However, it has been pointed out by several contributors. Its findings may call for a reconsideration of some of the claims and expectations regarding Israel’s legal immunity, or the restrictions that render the UN Genocide Convention unenforceable.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

(Tags for translation)Opinions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *