Smells Like Genocide

If it looks like genocide, sounds like genocide, and smells like genocide, chances are it’s genocide. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) will rule provisionally on whether that is what Israel is committing against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip. The Republic of South Africa filed the complaint, which is ironic because Israel was a staunch ally of South Africa’s former apartheid regime.

The official complaint is welcome, but thanks to social media, each of us already has ample evidence from a large variety of sources showing Israel’s assault on the Gazans. Just watch the abundant video evidence that has accumulated since October 7, when Hamas fighters and perhaps other Gazans committed unspeakable atrocities against Israeli civilians after breaking through the fence that has kept them in an open-air prison for many years.

Since that horrible day, the Israeli Defense Force has brutally and indiscriminately pounded the 2.3 million people, about half of whom are children, who live in that 25×5-mile, densely populated strip. The conservatively estimated death toll – there must be many victims under the rubble – now stands at over 23,000, about half of whom are kids. Hundreds of thousands of residences have been destroyed or damaged. People have been displaced. Infrastructure and medical facilities have been rendered inoperable. Gaza resembles nearly Hiroshima after the U.S. government dropped the atomic bomb.

Moreover, one need not advocate strictly limited government (or no government at all) to be appalled at the U.S. government’s complicity in that genocide, a word I do not use casually and have, I think, never written before.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted after the Nazi nightmare, formally defines as genocide several “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” (My emphasis.) Those acts are:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Israel argues that it is not killing Gazans indiscriminately because they are members of a particular ethnic or religious group; rather it tries to minimize collateral damage while rooting out lethal Hamas and its infrastructure. But is that credible? So many babies, toddlers, elderly, and seriously ill have been killed or maimed, so many homes, hospitals, and sanitation facilities destroyed.

South Africa’s 84-page application to the ICJ is a well-documented comprehensive paper and bill of indictment against the state of Israel’s conduct. In great detail and with much background, it enumerates both the Israeli government’s genocidal actions and the many public statements made by Israeli civilian and military officials that declare in no uncertain terms their intention to do what is defined as genocide under the international convention.  Israel is a signatory to that convention, as is the United States.

At this stage, South Africa is requesting an immediate provisional order for a cessation of Israel’s onslaught while the merits of its case are considered.

South Africa’s application states:

South Africa unequivocally condemns all violations of international law by all parties, including the direct targeting of Israeli civilians and other nationals and hostage-taking by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. No armed attack on a State’s territory no matter how serious – even an attack involving atrocity crimes – can, however, provide any possible justification for, or defence to, breaches of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide …, whether as a matter of law or morality. [My emphasis.]

Note the condemnation of Hamas for its atrocities. It goes on:

The acts and omissions by Israel complained of by South Africa are genocidal in character because they are intended to bring about the destruction of a substantial part of the Palestinian national, racial and ethnical group, that being the part of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip…. The acts in question include killing Palestinians in Gaza, causing them serious bodily and mental harm, and inflicting on them conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction.

This threat to the Palestinians has not passed, says the application, so a provisional cease-and-desist order is imperative right now:

…Israel has engaged in, is engaging in and risks further engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza. Those acts include killing them, causing them serious mental and bodily harm and deliberately inflicting on them conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction as a group. Repeated statements by Israeli State representatives, including at the highest levels, by the Israeli President, Prime Minister, and Minister of Defence, express genocidal intent. That intent is also properly to be inferred from the nature and conduct of Israel’s military operation in Gaza, having regard inter alia to Israel’s failure to provide or ensure essential food, water, medicine, fuel, shelter and other humanitarian assistance for the besieged and blockaded Palestinian people, which has pushed them to the brink of famine. It is also clear from the nature, scope and extent of Israel’s military attacks on Gaza, which have involved the sustained bombardment over more than 11 weeks of one of the most densely populated places in the world, forcing the evacuation of 1.9 million people or 85% of the population of Gaza from their homes and herding them into ever smaller areas, without adequate shelter, in which they continue to be attacked, killed and harmed.

As of the filing in late December,

Israel has now killed in excess of 21,110 named Palestinians, including over 7,729 children – with over 7,780 others missing, presumed dead under the rubble – and has injured over 55,243 other Palestinians, causing them severe bodily and mental harm. Israel has also laid waste to vast areas of Gaza, including entire neighbourhoods, and has damaged or destroyed in excess of 355,000 Palestinian homes, alongside extensive tracts of agricultural land, bakeries, schools, universities, businesses, places of worship, cemeteries, cultural and archaeological sites, municipal and court buildings, and critical infrastructure, including water and sanitation facilities and electricity networks, while pursuing a relentless assault on the Palestinian medical and healthcare system. Israel has reduced and is continuing to reduce Gaza to rubble, killing, harming and destroying its people, and creating conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction as a group.

And no end is in sight. The Israeli government has said the attack will go on for months, even a year. The Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, said on television that “every school, every mosque, and every second house has an access to a tunnel… and of course ammunition.” When asked if that meant all of Gaza should be destroyed, she responded, “Do you have another solution how to destroy the underground tunnel city?”

That was just the latest in the many official Israeli statements – from the prime minister and president on down – indicating that the target of the onslaught is the entire population of Gaza, whether by bombing or by systematic deprivation of food, water, fuel, and medical supplies. (Even ambulances have been attacked.) Those statements are documented in the South African application because they demonstrate the Israeli government’s genocidal intention. As a South African representative told the ICJ on Thursday, “The evidence of genocidal intent is not only chilling, it is also overwhelming and incontrovertible.”

This death, injury, starvation, dehydration, and utter destruction of homes and infrastructure is perpetrated by a nation whose most devout supporters worldwide believe it has a holy mission to be a “light to nations.” (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, and 60:3) Yet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rallied his troops by invoking the biblical story of the divinely commanded Israeli destruction of the Amalekite men, women, and children. Before the ICJ, Israel tried to explain that invocation by fully quoting Netanyahu, who told the troops, “The IDF is the most moral army in the world, and IDF does everything to avoid harming the uninvolved….” The point is that the Israeli leaders have said that no Gazans are uninvolved.

While the application was filed against Israel, the U.S. government – for obvious reasons – should not regard itself as off the hook: the genocide convention also prohibits “complicity in genocide.” Moreover, a complaint has been filed in another court, the International Criminal Court, against President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for their role in helping Israel. Moreover, the prohibitions in the genocide convention have counterparts in U.S. law.

The Biden administration opposes South Africa’s application, though it admits it has not investigated the matter. Revealingly perhaps, an Israeli government spokesman dismissed South Africa as an “advocate for the devil.”

Sheldon Richman is the executive editor of The Libertarian Institute and a contributing editor at He is the former senior editor at the Cato Institute and Institute for Humane Studies; former editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education; and former vice president at the Future of Freedom Foundation. His latest books are Coming to Palestine and What Social Animals Owe to Each Other.