Via: Middle East Monitor.
In 1948, following the horrors of World War Two and the atrocities committed by the Nazis against millions of people across Europe, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to ensure that no such actions would ever take place or go unpunished again.
However, in a strange twist of fate, the very people who the framers of the Convention had in mind, namely the primarily Jewish victims of the Holocaust, find themselves currently represented by a state, Israel, that claims to speak on their behalf and which is now the perpetrator of similar crimes against another group of innocent people, namely the Palestinians.
But what is genocide? Derived from the Greek word “genos” which means a race or tribe and the Latin word “cide” which means killing, the term “genocide” therefore literally means the killing of a group of people united by tribal, racial or ethnic ties.
Global leaders and, indeed, the population of the world at large are increasingly viewing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people as an unmitigated form of genocide. The recent United Nations’ Goldstone Report concluded that in Gaza last year Israel committed gross “violations of international human rights and humanitarian law and possible war crimes and crimes against humanity.” While that related to a military assault on the Palestinians, there is another element of genocide which is too often ignored by the world at large, and that is “cultural genocide”. It is vital that this aspect of the assault on the Palestinian people is not ignored and there are very strong arguments to be made which demonstrate that Israel is engaged in a daily and increasingly vindictive campaign of cultural genocide against the Palestinians.
Although cultural genocide has never been defined by international law (contrary to the wishes of Raphael Lemkin – the man who coined the term genocide) it can be as equally devastating in its impact as genocide itself. Essentially:
“Cultural genocide extends beyond attacks upon the physical and/or biological elements of a group and seeks to eliminate its wider institutions. This is done in a variety of ways, and often includes the abolition of a group’s language, restrictions upon its traditional practices and ways, the destruction of religious institutions and objects, the persecution of clergy members, and attacks on academics and intellectuals. Elements of cultural genocide are manifested when artistic, literary, and cultural activities are restricted or outlawed and when national treasures, libraries, archives, museums, artifacts, and art galleries are destroyed or confiscated.”
In many ways, cultural genocide (which is also referred to as “ethnocide”, “sociocide” and “deculturation”) sets out to achieve the same goals as a physical genocide. As Professor Stuart Stein from the University of the West of England has pointed out, “the same objective, the eradication of a group of people differentiated by some distinct traits, such as ethnicity, race, religion, language, nationality, or culture, can be achieved just as effectively in the mid-to-long-term, by gradual processes, as it might be by their immediate physical liquidation.”
Furthermore, proving that a cultural genocide has taken place can be a very significant first step towards showing a country’s specific intent to wipe out a group of people. Lawyer and researcher David Nersessian, for instance, points out that:
“First, acts of cultural genocide conduct violating what the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) referred to as the “very foundation of the group” tend to establish the genocidist’s specific intent to destroy the protected group. The ICTY, for example, held that Serbian destruction of Muslim libraries and mosques and attacks on cultural leaders established genocidal intent against Muslims in the former Yugoslavia.”
This insidious cultural aspect of genocide is therefore an issue of vital importance as it can be symptomatic of a much more deadly malaise.
In the context of the situation in Palestine, however one chooses to define culture, every aspect of Palestinian culture has in some way been subject to desecration or destruction by Israel. There is no element of Palestinian society that has been left unspoiled by the acts of the Israeli government. When it is not Israeli tanks doing the destroying, then it is the Israeli government’s policies. Aspects of Palestinian society that have been decimated by Israel include, inter alia, houses, historical sites, ancient artefacts, places of worship, agricultural land, educational infrastructure, medical and healthcare facilities, economic institutions and so on. The list is almost endless and all such destruction is, without doubt, in breach of international laws and conventions.
It would be impossible to catalogue the full extent of the devastating effects of Israeli policies on Palestinian social and cultural institutions here. Nevertheless, this report will highlight a few examples of how elements of Palestinian culture are being attacked constantly by Israel in what amounts to a concerted campaign of cultural genocide.