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Thursday, January 15, 2009


"Massacre", "Genocide", and "Holocaust"

A discussion on another blog turned to the discussion of Jenin, a previous Israeli massacre of Palestinians which defenders of Israel like to insist really wasn't a massacre, because there were fewer people slaughtered by the Israelis than were initially reported. Of course the same discussion occurs again as to how to characterize the current death toll. So I'd just like to rerun something I wrote years ago:
Massacre: "The act or an instance of killing a large number of humans indiscriminately and cruelly." How many is a "large number"? Perhaps the most famous "massacre" on American territory, the Boston Massacre, involved the killing of five men by British soldiers. The equally famous St. Valentine's Day Massacre involved the killing of seven men. What makes these events a "massacre" is their one-sided nature; the fact that the people killed were not fighting back, but were simply gunned down in cold blood.
At least 400, and probably many more, unarmed Palestinians have now been slaughtered in Gaza. If that doesn't qualify as a "massacre," I have no idea what does.

Is it "genocide"? There's a legal nature to that word, which I'll leave alone, since not only am I not a lawyer, but international law is pretty much of a joke anyway. War crimes trials are reserved for the weak and the defeated, while far bigger war criminals walk free. But in a non-legal sense, "genocide" involves the killing of people because of their religion or nationality. Which is precisely what is going on in Gaza right now. If you don't think so, ponder this: the Israelis see (or claim to see) someone firing a rocket from in front of a school or a hospital, and have no compunction about retaliating, hoping to kill the shooter but knowing that dozens of innocent people will die at the same time. Now imagine an admittedly improbable circumstance - a Hamas rocket firing squad has managed to infiltrate Sderot, and fires their rocket from in front of a school or hospital in Sderot. Do you really think for one second that the Israelis would fire on those people, knowing that the dozen or so civilians they would be killing at the same time would be Israelis rather than Palestinians? Of course they wouldn't. Because they value Israeli lives, while to them, the lives of innocent Palestinians are worth nothing. That's genocide.

What about "holocaust"? Well, that's an awfully loaded word historically, and in general one wants to associate it with really large-scale war crimes like the murder of Jews, gypsies, and others by the Nazis or the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the firebombing of Tokyo, and so on. Clearly, the death in Gaza doesn't approach that level. But I'll just note one thing - one of the few people to broach that word in conjunction with Gaza was the Israeli deputy defense minister, Matan Vilnai, who said Palestinians risked a "shoah" if Israel were to invade Gaza (this was before the current assault). "Shoah" is the Hebrew word Israelis use to describe "the" Holocaust.

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