The Shameful Journey from “Prelude to Genocide” to “Slow-motion Genocide” to “Rampant Genocide”

And the international community won’t intervene

Israel’s illegal control over the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza has for decades prevented the Palestinian people from exercising their right of self-determination and full and effective self-governance. UN Resolution 3246 calls for all States to recognise that that right applies to all peoples subjected to colonial and foreign domination, including the Palestinians.

The warning signs of genocide in Gaza had been there for all to see. But the lack of will on the part of UN members to implement 3246 not only let it happen but then failed to stop it even when its ferocity passed all comprehension.

When October 7 erupted the West attempted to airbrush the pre-existing conditions Israel had imposed on Gaza and pretended Hamas started the ‘war’. But 1,000 lawyers, scholars, and practitioners immediately sounded the alarm about “the possibility of the crime of genocide being perpetrated by Israeli forces against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip” and issued an open letter as early as 15 October.

For a start they reminded everyone that in 1982 the UN General Assembly condemned the massacre of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps as “an act of genocide”.

Pre-existing conditions in the Gaza Strip had prompted discussion on genocide before, with warnings given over the years that the siege of Gaza (from 2006 onwards) might amount to a “prelude to genocide” or a “slow-motion genocide”.

And since 2007, shortly after Hamas won the Palestinian elections, Israel had defined the Gaza Strip as an “enemy entity”.

Earlier in 2023 Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich called Palestinians “repugnant”, and “disgusting” and proposed “wiping out” the entire Palestinian village of Huwwara in the West Bank.

Here’s a timely reminder of what else the open letter said.

• In the short space of time between 7 October and 15 October (when the open letter was written), 2,329 Palestinians were killed and 9,042 Palestinians injured in Israeli attacks on Gaza, including over 724 children, huge swathes of neighborhoods, and entire families across Gaza were obliterated.

• Israel’s Defence Minister ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip prohibiting the supply of fuel, electricity, water, and other necessities. This intensifies an already illegal and potentially genocidal siege turning it into an outright destructive assault.

• The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) stated that orders to evacuate, coupled with the complete siege, are incompatible with international humanitarian law. Almost half a million Palestinians have already been displaced and Israeli forces have bombed the only possible exit route that Israel does not control (the Rafah crossing to Egypt) multiple times.

• The World Health Organisation published a warning that “forcing more than 2000 patients to relocate to southern Gaza, where health facilities are already running at maximum capacity and unable to absorb a dramatic rise in the number of patients, could be tantamount to a death sentence”.

• In the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, since 7 October, Israeli settlers backed by the IDF and police, have attacked and shot Palestinian civilians at point-blank range (as documented in the villages of a-Tuwani and Qusra), invaded their homes, and assaulted residents. Several Palestinian communities have already been forced to abandon their homes, after which settlers arrived and destroyed their property.

• Between 7 and 15 October, Al-Haq documented the killing by the Israeli military and settlers of 55 Palestinians in the West Bank with 1,200 injured there.

• Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared on 9 October: “We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly”, and afterward announced that Israel was moving to “a full-scale response” and he had “removed every restriction” on Israeli forces, also stating: “Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything.”

• On 10 October, the head of the Israeli Army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, addressed a message directly to Gaza residents: “Human animals must be treated as such. There will be no electricity and no water, there will only be destruction. You wanted hell, you will get hell”.

• Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari acknowledged the wanton and intentionally destructive nature of Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza: “The emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.”

• On 7 October, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Gazans would pay an “immense price” for the actions of Hamas fighters and asserted that Israel will wage a prolonged offensive that will turn parts of Gaza’s densely populated urban centers “into rubble”.

• Israel’s President emphasized that the Israeli authorities view the entire Palestinian population of Gaza as responsible for the actions of militant groups, and subject accordingly to collective punishment and unrestricted use of force: “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible.”

• Israeli Minister of Energy and Infrastructure Israel Katz added: “All the civilian population in Gaza is ordered to leave immediately. We will win. They will not receive a drop of water or a single battery until they leave the world.”

• On 12 October UN Special Rapporteurs condemned “Israel’s indiscriminate military attacks against the already exhausted Palestinian people of Gaza, comprising over 2.3 million people, nearly half of whom are children. They have lived under unlawful blockade for 16 years, and already gone through five major brutal wars, which remain unaccounted for”.

• UN experts warned against “the withholding of essential supplies such as food, water, electricity and medicines. Such actions will precipitate a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where its population is now at an inescapable risk of starvation. Intentional starvation is a crime against humanity”.

• On 14 October the UN Special Rapporteur, on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, warned against “a repeat of the 1948 Nakba, and the 1967 Naksa, yet on a larger scale” as Israel is carrying out “mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under the fog of war”.

• The Palestinian population of Gaza appears to be presently subjected by the Israeli forces and authorities to widespread killing, bodily and mental harm, and unviable conditions of life – against a backdrop of Israeli statements that evidence signs of intent to physically destroy the population.

Article II of the Genocide Convention provides that “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as # Killing members of the group; # Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; # Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; # Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; # Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

• The Convention provides that individuals who attempt genocide or who incite genocide “shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals”.

• The International Court of Justice has clarified that “a State’s obligation to prevent, and the corresponding duty to act, arise at the instant that the State learns of, or should normally have learned of, the existence of a serious risk that genocide will be committed. From that moment onwards, if the State has available means likely to have a deterrent effect on those suspected of preparing genocide, or reasonably suspected of harboring specific intent (dolus specialist), it is under a duty to make such use of these means as the circumstances permit”. (The many means available to the British Government include sanctions – readily applied to other delinquent nations – and withdrawal of favored-nation privileges, trade deals, and scientific collaboration).

• Competent elements of the United Nations, particularly the UN General Assembly, are required to take urgent action under the Charter of the United Nations appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide. Emphasis is on the General Assembly given that the Security Council is compromised by the US and UK (both permanent veto-holding members) sending military forces to the eastern Mediterranean in support of Israel.

• All relevant UN bodies, including the Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, as well as the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, are called on to immediately intervene, carry out necessary investigations, and invoke the necessary warning procedures to protect the Palestinian population from genocide.

Chock-full of hate

All this was quickly followed by the UK Lawyers’ Open Letter Concerning Gaza of 26 October 2023, which contained important warnings regarding international law — for example:

⦁ The UK is duty-bound to “respect and ensure respect” for international humanitarian law as set out in the Four Geneva Conventions in all circumstances (1949 Geneva Conventions, Common Art 1). That means the UK must not itself assist violations by others.

⦁ The UK Government must immediately halt the export of weapons from the UK to Israel, given the clear risk that they might be used in serious violations of international humanitarian law and in breach of the UK’s domestic Strategic Export Licensing Criteria, including its obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty.

So, within 3 weeks it was clear to everyone paying attention that the Israeli leadership, chock-full of hate, were set on a course of vicious and brutal genocide. Yet the following month John Kirby, the White House National Security Communications Advisor, dismissed claims that Israel was committing genocide and told everybody that “Israel is not trying to wipe the Palestinian people off the map. Israel is not trying to wipe Gaza off the map. Israel is trying to defend itself against a genocidal terrorist threat. So if we’re going to start using that word, fine. Let’s use it appropriately.”

Yes, and let’s use the term “right of self-defence” appropriately. In Gaza and the West Bank it only applies to the Palestinian resistance, not the belligerent illegal occupier.

Incredibly, we’re now entering the 9th month of the genocide in Gaza and it has gone from bad to much, much worse. And there is still no let-up. People worldwide have been watching day after day mainstream and alternative media reports, seeing for themselves the horrors endured even by children, and aghast at the wholesale and wanton destruction of the Palestinians’ homeland. They cannot believe how depraved, immoral and spineless the international community has become, and how paralysed the UN in allowing the slaughter to continue. They are especially sickened by the conduct of the so-called ‘major powers’ and by the lunatic Netanyahu whom their own politicians call ‘friend and ally’ who thinks he can still dictate what happens in Gaza after he eventually condescends to end the butchery.

If he thinks Israel can now grab Gaza by conquest he may be disappointed. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter expressly prohibits aggressive war and Article 5(3) of General Assembly Resolution 3314 (XXIX) of 1975 (which includes the definition of Acts of Aggression) nullifies any legal title acquired in this way. And 5(3) says “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations“.

In carrying through its genocidal assault on Gaza’s civilians and their homes, infrastructure and livelihoods Israel cannot possibly claim to abide by international law or honour their obligations under the Charter. And by encouraging Israel — and supplying the weaponry — neither can the US and UK.

And now we have Biden, Israel’s loony protector, setting ‘red lines’ which Israel must not cross while merrily carrying on with their genocide. But they are so elastic that, with US permission, the hateful maniacs can almost do as they please to satisfy their genocidal lust. Biden arrogantly overrules the red lines on war crimes and crimes against humanity that are already set out by international law.

Stuart Littlewood, after working on jet fighters in the RAF, became an industrial marketeer in oil, electronics and manufacturing, and with innovation and product development consultancies. He also served as a Cambridgeshire county councillor and a member of the Police Authority. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and has produced two photo-documentary books including Radio Free Palestine (with foreword by Jeff Halper). Now retired, he campaigns on various issues, especially the Palestinians' struggle for freedom. Read other articles by Stuart, or visit Stuart's website.