On condemning the Gaza genocide without mentioning Hamas

Three kite-shaped banners being held by demonstrators in a London street, reading "If I must die, let it be a tale" and "if I must die, let it bring hope" both attributed to Refaat al-Areer. The street in the City of London has stone buildings on both sides; there is a NatWest bank sign on one of them.
Kites bearing the words of the Gaza martyr Refaat al-Areer (@itranslate123) in London yesterday (9th Dec).

In last month’s controversy over the open letter from Stella Maris, the student rector at St Andrew’s university in Scotland, I noticed that the authors of the open letter to Ms Maris complained that she had not mentioned an incident in St Andrews where two Jewish students had been attacked because of their religion, and also for calling for a ceasefire — i.e. an end to the genocide in Gaza — without “address[ing] Hamas’ central role in starting this war”. Demands for a ceasefire or criticism of Israeli behaviour in both Gaza and the West Bank have generally been met with the observation that the calls do not mention the 7th October attacks and sometimes resolutions demanding a ceasefire or the observation of international law or human rights are vetoed on the grounds that the October attacks or some other prior Hamas attack is not mentioned. The simple answer is that, when we talk of genocides, pogroms and other crimes against humanity, we do not generally talk about the event that led to it.

Most such events had trigger events, often an assassination or other real or alleged crime by the population targeted in the subsequent atrocity. Quite often, were we not sympathetic to the victims of that atrocity, we would condemn the trigger event as an act of terrorism or at least murder. The Lidice massacre in what is now the Czech Republic, in which the entire population of a village was murdered by the Nazis, was in response to the assassination of the Nazi official Reynhard Heydrich by forces loyal to the Czechoslovak government in exile in London; the Nazi pogrom known as Kristallnacht was triggered by the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, by a Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan whose family had suffered in Nazi persecutions. The 2002 Gujarat pogrom was staged as a reaction to a fire on a train in the state, blamed on Muslim merchants at the station who had been harassed and assaulted by some of the Hindu pilgrims on board, but the fire is believed by some authorities to have been an accident; it is, however, still touted as a justification by Hindu extremists as an excuse for the subsequent violence, most of whose victims had nothing to do with whatever happened on the train. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 was triggered by the assassination of the president, Juvénal Habyarimana.

Sometimes, the pretext event was misinterpreted or downright fabricated. The Tulsa race massacre in 1921, in which a prosperous Black district, Greenwood, was destroyed in a white pogrom involving men appointed as deputies and armed by city officials, was instigated after a Black shoe-shiner was accused, most likely falsely, of sexually assaulting a white lift operator (such accusations were common pretexts for lynchings in the American South), and pogroms against Jews in eastern Europe were sometimes triggered by accusations against Jews, some involving the Blood Libel. In this case, there has been a large volume of propaganda issued by Israel that has turned out to be false, such as videos purported to be sourced from Hamas that anyone who spoke Arabic could tell was voiced by Israelis rather than Palestinians or any other native Arabic speakers. (It is noticeable that Israel’s ‘evidence’ video has been shown only to hand-picked audiences and have not been scrutinised by Arabic speakers to identify the accents.) This past couple of weeks there has been a surge in demands from western feminists to ‘believe’ claims about mass rape of Israeli women by Hamas; meanwhile, reports from Israeli survivors of the attacks that there was much indiscriminate Israeli gunfire and crossfire which was the cause of a large proportion of the death toll have been downplayed. 

However, when the death toll in the reprisals dwarfs that of the original incident, anyone not sympathetic to its perpetrators tend not to dwell on what prompted it. By the same token, when we demand an end to police racial harassment or brutality or justice for its victims, it’s only racists that mention the victim’s (often irrelevant or trivial) criminal record or sometimes “Black-on-Black crime” in general. The death toll from 7th October continues to be revised downwards, while the death toll from the Israeli attacks on civilians in Gaza rises daily, thought to be in excess of 23,000 at this point; it is abundantly clear that prominent civilians, notably doctors and journalists, are being targeted deliberately along with their entire families. Cultural centres, places of worship, libraries, public archives and other facets of civilisation are being destroyed and there have been videos circulated of Israeli soldiers smashing up Palestinian shops and looting their homes. This is genocide and large-scale war crimes and even if Israel’s version of the 7th October events is truthful, which it very likely is not given their prodigious lying, it doesn’t approach the barbarity of the Israeli response.

We should also remember that Israel and its supporters demand unequivocal condemnation of Palestinian terrorism (indeed, often demand that Muslims not be accepted without condemnation of terrorism on demand, apropos of nothing), and when Palestinians or their allies counter with examples of prior Israeli oppression or violence, we are met with indignation and shrieks of “no moral equivalence”. Terrorism and genocide are not morally equivalent; the wholesale destruction of a people is internationally acknowledged to be of such enormity that in theory it requires prompt military action to arrest it (in practice, of course, this never happens as either the perpetrator is too powerful, the area is too geographically remote or the atrocities are perceived, conveniently, as not quite genocide until after the event). What happened on 7th October does not matter anymore, and this should be our response to all the racist, pro-genocide whataboutery.

Image source: Bothayna Al-Essa (@Bothayna_AlEssa), via Twitter.

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