Israel-Hamas war should not be called a genocide

Gaza solidarity encampments incite violence, use inaccurate language aimed at demonizing, eradicating Israel
Art by Hannah Singer
Art by Hannah Singer

As I move between food stands, weaving through an open-air market in Seoul, South Korea during spring break, a faint chorus of whistles and chants echo off the surrounding highrise buildings. I regroup with my family just as a horde of protesters, decked in keffiyeh and black “Free Palestine” T-shirts, round the corner.

It’s not the woman who attempts to hand me a flier nor the “Cease-fire Now” signs that catch my attention. Instead, it’s the identical posters every protester holds above their heads depicting an Israeli flag covered in bloody handprints that shock me. As the throng proceeds, protesters begin to scream in English, “Globalize the Intifada.” 

“Intifada” in Arabic translates to “uprising” and sounds like a call for Palestinian activism. However, the word has been used for decades to describe violent uprisings against Jews and Israel, usually resulting in Israeli civilian injuries or deaths. And since this phrase is so closely associated with violence, as demonstrated by the bloodied Israeli flags illustrated in the posters, the indiscriminate use of it may accidentally encourage more violence against Jews and Israeli institutions.

Since the Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas, protests have erupted around the globe in response to Israel’s retaliation in Gaza. And in recent weeks, pro-Palestinian encampments at United States universities have sprung up across the country, inspired by Columbia University’s “Gaza Solidarity Encampment.”

While I disagree with some of the protesters’ demands from universities, I support their right to protest peacefully. However, many of the encampments have turned into breeding grounds for violence, some protesters going as far as disrupting classes and graduations, occupying buildings, harassing Jewish students and targeting protest dissenters with antisemitic vitriol. When the right to free speech transforms into threats of violence, universities must step in to protect all students and continue their educational services.

Interestingly, most protesters, supported by organizations like the Columbia University Apartheid Divest, say they will continue to hold student demonstrations to achieve justice by “any means necessary,” a slogan echoing and justifying the barbaric actions of the internationally recognized terrorist organization, Hamas. Indeed, most of CUAD’s demands from Columbia are aimed at delegitimizing, weakening and even eventually eradicating the state of Israel.

Like the majority of organizations responsible for college and university encampments, CUAD’s main demand for Columbia is to divest its finances from companies that “profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine.” Comparisons have also been made to the Holocaust. Let’s focus on the language utilized by CUAD and so many other pro-Palestine supporters and organizations.

Israel is not an apartheid state. Israel, like all other countries with ethnic diversity, has a way to go in terms of dismantling its institutionalized bias and inequity. But Israel has well-established, legal safeguards that ensure equal treatment of Jews and Arabs.

When compared with the United Nations definition of an apartheid state, Israel does not legally discriminate, segregate, disenfranchise or violently coerce any of its citizens based on race or religion. Not only is describing Israel as an apartheid state factually inaccurate, it also polarizes and inflames discussions regarding the current conflict and distorts reality through language, which seems like part of a larger strategy to simply slander Israel.

In addition, the war in Gaza is not a genocide. Most, if not all, of the protests and encampments in opposition to the war in Gaza demand that universities and government officials denounce the “ongoing genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people.”

Gaza is a war zone. Because Israel has killed thousands of Palestinians does not mean these actions are intended to ethnically cleanse the world of Palestinians. If Israel wanted to commit genocide, it could have decimated Gaza and everyone in it the day after the Oct. 7 massacre. But it didn’t. In fact, although Israel has reduced more than half of all buildings in the Gaza Strip to rubble, a total of 34,000 people, including known Hamas operatives, have been killed. While the loss of any innocent life, Jewish or Arab, is abhorrent, these numbers are not indicative of genocide – they demonstrate a nation attempting to protect its citizens, retrieve hostages and eradicate Hamas without annihilating those living in Gaza.

Naming the Israel-Hamas conflict genocide also represents a glaring double standard, inflamed by the United Nations. The North Korean government-induced famine in the late ‘90s led to the starvation of more than two million North Koreans. The U.S.’s post-9/11 wars resulted in a total of more than 4 million deaths, according to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. And since 2017, the Chinese government has placed more than a million Muslims, most of which are Uyghur, into “re-education” camps where many have been “systematically raped, sexually abused, and tortured,” according to the BBC. None of the above have been convicted for genocide in the UN International Court of Justice, yet within months of this conflict, the ICJ leaped to a discussion of genocide, although ultimately rejecting it.

Any conversation on genocide should be focused on the real offender of international law: Hamas. Hamas’s founding charter is overtly based on genocidal ideology, calling for Israel to be “obliterated” and for Muslims to kill Jews as they “hide behind stones and trees.” 

Also seen in demonstration signs and various pro-Palestine organization language is the comparison of Israel’s war in Gaza to the Holocaust. Not only does the exploitation of this terminology diminish the recent historic genocide of 6 million Jews in World War II, but it shamefully insinuates Israelis are like Nazis, thus further demonizing Israel.

CUAD’s ultimate demand, present since the start of Israel’s retaliation in Gaza following Oct. 7, is for universities and the government to “release a public statement calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza.” 

Even if a permanent ceasefire deal was agreed on, protesters would still not achieve what they so aggressively advocate for – a Palestinian government focused on creating a peaceful and prosperous nation – due to Hamas’s continued control. Hamas hasn’t achieved it in the past decade, and there is no reason to believe they would succeed now. 

It is also crucial to understand that Hamas, which triggered this newest violent conflict, presently maintaining it by holding children and elderly hostages, would not hesitate to repeat and resume the violence if given the chance. Its leaders have vowed to repeat Oct. 7 “a second, a third, a fourth” time, as translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. Hamas would continue to attack Israel, as indicated by its violation of six “permanent” ceasefire agreements since 2007. Not to mention that the Israeli hostages would be held indefinitely.

Hamas could have prevented this latest round of violence by not starting it in the first place. Israel, like any other nation, has a right to defend itself against terrorist attacks, retrieve the remaining hostages and eradicate Hamas. Hamas attacks border crossings through which aid is delivered and barbarically uses its own population as human shields, spending innocent lives to gain international commiseration and political leverage.

As demands for a ceasefire continue, it begs the question of why these ultimatums are being spread by groups that claim to advocate for universal human rights. But if the true demands are to save innocents, then why aren’t they fighting for 4-year-old Ariel Bibas and his brother Kfir, who was nine months old when he was abducted? Why aren’t they fighting for the 132 hostages still being held in Gaza, dead or alive? Why aren’t they fighting for the eradication of Hamas, who slaughtered women and carried their severed heads around like trophies, who gang raped young women and mutilated their vaginas?

Instead, these protests have conflated human rights campaigns and radical, anti-Zionist campaigns designed to eradicate the state of Israel. Ironically, even if Israel was eradicated, these hard-left protesters would still not achieve the “peaceful” world they so desperately fight for.

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