Yes, it is genocide!

Cleveland Peace Action Statement on the Genocide in Gaza

            Israel’s war against Hamas and its attack on Gaza continues. As the number of dead continue to climb, one begins to ask: How much crime against humanity must occur in this war before it is considered genocide? Though politicians and pundits hesitate to attach such labels, calling a conflict a genocide has important international and legal consequences, including requiring the global community to act to stop it. 

Cleveland Peace Action condemns all state or non-state sponsored violence that puts in harm’s way innocent civilian life. We clearly condemn Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel and the killing and kidnapping of Israeli citizens and other innocents. We also forcefully condemn, if evidence shows that allegations are true, the use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war by any party. However, we make clear that Hamas is not the Palestinian people, nor do they represent the majority of Palestinians. Consequently, Israel’s response to the attacks have been grossly excessive and reckless, flattening entire neighborhoods, leading to tens of thousands of civilian deaths and the targeting of non-military and essential infrastructure, including hospitals, schools and apartment buildings. Perhaps 100,000 structures in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed. The nature of Israel’s response has made the question of genocide central to the conflict.

What Israel’s actions in this conflict has made clear is that the genocide of the Palestinian people is already a fact, and arguably has been, for some time. Article II of the United Nations’ Convention on Genocide “describes genocide as a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, in whole or in part; or deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” Legal scholars argue that Israel policy towards Palestinians going back to 1948 –  including mass killing, displacement and military occupation – constitute genocide. 

The number of dead grow exponentially. Besides the 1200 killed by Hamas, the number of Palestinians dead is, as of this writing, over 17,000, with thousands more dead trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings. The violence is also taking other forms. Without medicines, especially antibiotics, comparatively moderate injuries from bombs and bullets can be fatal. Winter is setting in and there will be deaths from exposure to the elements. There are no sewage systems so bacterial illnesses are on the rise. With intense overcrowding, hepatitis A is rapidly spreading, and cholera and dysentery are likely to follow. Starvation looms because the Israelis have stopped all aid deliveries from Egypt because of interminable fighting, and forbid UN aid trucks from using two key routes that traverse the strip to make deliveries.

Israel’s persecution of Palestinians is not limited to Gaza. For the past 50 years, since the 1967 war, the Israeli government has allowed or actively supported illegal settlements by groups of Israelis that further encroach on Palestinian lands in the West Bank. Over that time 600,000 settlers have occupied Palestinian land, despite UN resolutions for them to stop. Entire Palestinian communities have been displaced by settlers and their homes destroyed. They are forced into smaller areas of the West Bank, their right to mobility restricted and natural resources taken over by Israeli authorities. Settlers constantly attack and harass Palestinians, usually with the support of Israeli security forces. Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has funneled US assault rifles to settlers to use against Palestinian civilians.  Since the beginning of violence in October, the UN reports  that at least 132 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, 41 of them children. In 2022, that number was 158; the worst level of violence in the last couple of decades.

Cleveland Peace Action also denounces the complicit role played by the United States in Israel’s destruction of the Palestinian people. Since the 1940s, Israel has been the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign military aid, adding to over $300 billion. The Biden administration is now asking for an additional $14 billion to aid Israel in its destruction of Gaza. US aid has made it possible to occupy Palestinian territory and to finance its wars against Palestine, such as the war in 1967 and today. 

The Israel Lobby and organizations such as AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) have been a powerful force for the US continuing military support for Israel. (See the CPA sponsored talk by Dr. Walter L. Hixson on the Israel Lobby’s influence in American politics.) This influence spreads not only to national politics but on the local level, as seen in the Lobby’s push to silence the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement which pursues local, regional and international economic boycotts as a means of curbing anti-Palestinian policies in Israel. To date, thirty-five states have passed bills or executive actions that discourage protests against Israeli policy. There have also been growing numbers of employment terminations for anti-Israel comments and attempts to expel pro-Palestinian organizations from university campuses. 

This influence can be seen in Congress’ overwhelming support for Israel’s current war. Any comment that criticizes Israel’s military policy is automatically labeled “antisemitic”. On November 7, the House censured one of the key voices for a cease-fire, Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). 

“It is important to separate people and government,” Tlaib said. “The idea that criticizing the government of Israel is antisemitic sets a very dangerous precedent. And it’s been used to silence diverse voices speaking up for human rights across our nation.” More recently, the US House passed a resolution stating that opposing Zionism is antisemitic, with 14 “no” votes and 92 Democrats voting “present.” And few in Congress have supported a permanent cease-fire to protect Palestinian civilians. On November 15, twenty-four members of Congress penned a  letter to President Biden supporting a permanent cease-fire. That number is now up to 60 congresspeople and only four senators, a small minority. Sen. Bernie Sanders has recently called for conditional aid to Israel, tied to attempting to limit civilian deaths, but has fallen short of a call for a cease-fire.

Palestinians are facing dire conditions. Over 1.8 million people, about 80% of the population of Gaza, have been internally displaced. Israel has warned Palestinians to continue moving to the southern part of Gaza, but those places are also bombed and attacked. The Palestinian people have nowhere else to go. They are trapped in the borders of Gaza as Israel continues its ruthless attack, regardless of the rising death rates of women, children and non-combatants. 

The collective punishment of innocent Palestinian people is a violation of international humanitarian law and constitutes a genocide. We recognize the human rights of Israeli civilians, but we do not recognize the right of Israel, or of any state, to protect its citizens (and, in an apartheid state, not even all of its “citizens”) through indiscriminate slaughter. Cleveland Peace Action supports an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, lifting the siege of Gaza, the return of all prisoners, including approximately 140 held by Hamas and 12,000 held by Israel, that the US follow the Leahy Law and end military aid to Israel for gross human rights violations, allow humanitarian aid to Palestinians by the international community, the Palestinian right of return to their homes from 1948 to 2023, and the Palestinian right to self-determination.

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