Genocide Begets Genocide: Rafah Waits for the Hammer to Fall

Palestinian refugees in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Jeremy Salt

Disgracefully, shamefully, favoring the perpetrator, as Rafah awaits its turn for the hammer to fall, western governments continue to shut their eyes to all of this.

In Palestine, the descendants of the victims of genocide are now accused of genocide. Whether the “plausible” accusation is eventually upheld by the International Court of Justice remains to be seen but what we can see, livestreamed around the world every day, are the horrifying consequences of what Israel is doing.

Gaza is “uninhabitable,” says Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) humanitarian affairs; Gaza is “gone,” says  Doctors Without Borders.

Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been hounded into the south near the Egyptian border: nearly 30,000 men, women and children have been killed in Israeli missile and land attacks. Thousands of other bodies lie entombed under rubble which can only be removed by hand because there is no fuel for machines.

Neither is there any anesthesia for the hospitals, most of which have been bombed, some repeatedly. Most are now closed down or closed to new patients. Wounded children are treated on blood-smeared floors because there are no more beds.

The dead are buried within hospital compounds because anywhere and anyone can be the target of missile strikes. Anywhere near the hospital or leaving a hospital, staff, patients, or family members, are likely to be shot.

Disgracefully, shamefully, favoring the perpetrator, as Rafah awaits its turn for the hammer to fall,  western governments continue to shut their eyes to all of this, consigning their own civilization and sham laws into the rubbish bin of history.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported very recently that since October 7 the Israeli military had launched 378 attacks on healthcare facilities in Gaza, killing 659 people (340 staff and 319 civilians) and destroying close to 100 ambulances. From 2019-2021, the WHO reports, the army of occupation had attacked 563 attacks on healthcare facilities in Gaza and on the West Bank so there is nothing aberrant even in its current wave of destruction.

The current main target is the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, which is besieged by tanks and soldiers sniping even through the hospital windows from a short distance away and further terrorizing staff and patients with threats and abuse.

In one especially despicable event recently, soldiers sent a young Palestinian man into the hospital wrapped in a white robe, with wrists bound and a mock yellow paper crown on his head,  to tell everyone to leave. When he walked out he was shot dead – murdered – by the same soldiers.

Yellow, of course, was the color of the star Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis during their genocide. Was the intention just to taunt the Palestinians, or in the minds of these murderers, was the yellow intended to send the message to the Palestinians that now it’s your turn?

Just by late December, cases of diarrhea among children were up 50 percent, UNICEF reported; 90 percent of children under the age of two were suffering from “severe food poverty.” The health of more than 155,000 pregnant/breastfeeding women was similarly threatened.

By early January 2024, 70 percent of housing in Gaza – 300,000 out of 439,000 dwellings – along with shopping malls, bakeries, churches, mosques and more than 200 heritage and archaeological sites had been destroyed. Almost all buildings that have not been completely flattened are too badly damaged to be repaired.

The still living squat in tents, with no heating and little food. They are making flour from bird seed. Essential water, health and sanitation systems have been damaged or destroyed and diseases are spreading. Terrorized, scarcely able to survive, they wait in fear while the Israeli regime decides when to unleashed its next concentrated wave of terror, on Rafah.

The killing and destruction fits Achille Mbembe’s definition of necropolitics as living conditions which reduce  the life of a subjugated population to the status of the living dead. This is not accidental but deliberately imposed.  Other descriptions would be sociocide and urbanicide, all of them adding up to genocide.

On the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians have been killed since October 7 by soldiers and settlers and drone attacks on refugee camps. Thousands have been abducted by Israeli soldiers: many are being held in ‘administrative detention.’ Their treatment is a replay of the humiliation heaped on Palestinian men in Gaza.

According to OCHA, Israeli soldiers have videoed and photographed themselves “abusing, degrading and humiliating Palestinians,” by stripping the men naked or half-naked, blindfolding and cuffing them and physically abusing them, leaving them screaming in pain.  They have also been humiliated by being forced to pose with the Israeli flag, sing songs in Hebrew and dance with soldiers.

‘Not a Village Must Be Left’

The eradication of Gaza is not accidental but deliberate, the end product, up to this point, with possibly even worse ahead, of a process beginning in the late 19th century with Theodor Herzl’s solution to the problem of establishing a Jewish state in a land already populated by someone else.

In a well-known quote from his diary he wrote of its “penniless population” being “spirited out” beyond Palestine’s borders, at the blow of a whistle, as he put it. The “land without a people for a people without land,” the Zionist slogan, was a lie, at best a self-deserving delusion. Herzl knew the ‘Arabs’ were there and so did the leaders of the Zionist movement who followed him.

Despite  public declarations of meaning no harm,  the problem for the Zionist leadership was not how to live with the Palestinians but how to live without them – how to get rid of them.

Only in the privacy of their diaries or letters did David Ben-Gurion and others reveal their true intentions. Thus, Joseph Weitz, the Polish head of the land and afforestation office of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) wrote in his diary that “it must be clear that there is no room in this country for both peoples .. there is no way but to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries, to transfer all of them. Not one village must be left, not one tribe.”

Ben-Gurion, the future prime minister, regarded partition only as a first step towards the establishment of a Jewish state over all Palestine. Where there was resistance, for example in the Naqab (Negev), “We must expel the Arabs and take their place.” In February 1948 he wrote that “The war will give us land. The concept of ‘ours’ and ‘not ours’ are peace concepts only, in war they lose their whole meaning.”

The Zionist leadership knew ‘the Arabs’ would resist and began paramilitary preparations early with the establishment of the Watchtower movement to protect their colonies.

In the 1930s Palestinian resistance was aimed at Britain, which had handed Palestine to the Zionists and given them senior positions in the  occupation regime, including ‘immigration’ and law.

British garrisons were reinforced and the Palestinian uprising of 1936-39 crushed through military force, collective punishment and the execution of ‘rebels.’ About 6000 Palestinians, including Shaikh Izz al Din al Qassam and many others who would have led the Palestinians in 1948, were killed.

Still numerically weak, the Zionists declared the doctrine of havlagah (restraint) but by the late 1930s they were rolling barrel bombs into Palestinian markets and killing dozens of people.

Increasingly, with a European war on the horizon and Britain backing away from some of its more extreme pro-zionist policies, British police stations and soldiers as well as the indigenous population became the targets of Zionist militias

In 1944, Lord Moyne, British minister of state for the Middle East, was assassinated in Cairo by agents of the Lehi movement, later the Stern gang, a collaborator with the Irgun in the Deir Yassin massacre of Palestinians (one of many) in 1948.  Moyne was Churchill’s friend and Churchill was shocked at the “ingratitude” of a movement he had supported so strongly for so long, now culminating in “the smoke of assassins’ pistols.”

In 1948 the Zionists felt strong enough to go to war to take what they wanted.  Far from being surrounded by an Arab ‘ring of steel,’ they knew that the Arab states were weak, poorly armed and either dominated by the imperial powers or dependent on them for economic and military aid.

White House Bullying

Talking publicly of the threat of extermination, in private Chaim Weizmann, who was to be Israel’s first president, was confident of victory over the Arab forces sent to Palestine.

The partition plan of 1947 had only recommended the partition of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states, the smaller portion going to the numerically dominant native population and the greater to European colonialist settlers.

At a time when self-determination and decolonization were guiding principles at the UN, the partition resolution tabled in the General Assembly would never have passed – as it did, by a bare majority – but for the bullying of vulnerable delegations by the White House.

The war of 1948 was a war of necessity for the Zionists, as by that time they had managed to purchase only 5-6 percent of the land.

Furthermore, had the terms of reference of the partition resolution been observed, the ‘Jewish state’ would have had almost as many Palestinian Muslims and Christians inside it as Jews.  In such a situation a ‘Jewish state, at least a democratic Jewish state, would have been a contradiction. The Palestinians would have to be removed and a war was needed to do it.

Between early 1948 and the signing of truce agreements in 1949, the Zionists seized 78 percent of Palestine, 24 percent more than the ‘Jewish state’ had been allocated in 1947.  However, winning the war was not enough.  For the Zionist program to succeed, Palestine would have to be eradicated.

The story of the nakba – or the first stage of the nakba – is too well known to need repeating here except for the worst of it. About 800,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed, driven out into Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Gaza.  Some 500 of their villages and hamlets were destroyed, all their land seized and the western half of Jerusalem captured before a ceasefire prevented the Zionists from taking everything.

Weizmann was gleeful at the flight of the Palestinians and the vast quantity of their agricultural land that had been seized,  describing the  nakba as a “miraculous simplification of Israel’s task.”  The fact that it had all fallen into Israel’s hands at no cost was further cause for celebration.

In the 1950s Israel began launching ruthless attacks on Gaza, then in the hands of Egypt, but whoever was in charge, Gaza has been a focal point of Israeli military operations ever since.

As a garrison state bent on consolidating its occupation and settlement of Palestine, Israel could only survive by crushing anyone that got in its way, through war,  military ‘incursions’ and assassination within Palestine and across borders. The tactics have not changed in 75 years.

Only especially Horrifying 

The destruction and atrocities we are seeing in Gaza now are especially horrifying only because that they are worse than anything we have seen before, not because Israel has not behaved like this before. Previous outrages include massacres in surrounding countries, including Lebanon, where close to 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese civilians were killed in Israel’s 1982 onslaught.

The savagery in Beirut included the slaughter of 1200-3000 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps by Israel’s Lebanese fascist iron guard. Israel was fully in charge of the operation.  It surrounded the camps, organised the killers and ushered them into the camps, even lighting them up at night.

The genocide of Palestinians has been incremental and pursued by violence, semi-legal and illegal means, indeed, anything that would move Israel closer to the goal of absorbing all of Palestine. The nakba was not one event in 1948 but an incrementally realised rolling series of events.

In 1967 another war which Israel launched gave it the opportunity to drive   350,000 Palestinians – many already refugees from 1948 – out of the West Bank into Jordan or off the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. The colonisation of land occupied in 1967 has continued relentlessly since that time, with complete disregard by Israel of, or contempt for, international law.

The ‘peace process’ of the 1990s was all process and no peace, a well-publicised sham that left the Palestinians worse off than before and set up a framework that allowed Israel to continue expanding its settlements. On the West Bank a collaborationist ‘Palestinian Authority’ was reminiscent of an earlier attempt – the ‘village leagues’ project of the late 1970s – to put a Palestinian stamp on the occupation.

In Gaza a Hamas government, democratically elected,  ruled since 2006, despite the combined efforts of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the US to destroy it. Just in the past 15 years Gaza has been savagely attacked many times, with thousands of civilians killed, including many hundreds of children on each occasion.

Israel’s onslaughts have had the same consequences in Lebanon. At no stage has Israel been punished in any way for its violations of international law; at no stage have any of these attacks caused any outrage, let alone the outrage triggered off by Hamas’ military response to 75 years of occupation on October 7.

The statement by UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres that October 7 “did not happen in a vacuum” was a wild understatement.  The Palestinians have been fighting against the occupation of their land ever since the British government decided to give what it did not own to the Zionists in 1917.

The Palestinians have not fought intermittently but literally every day, establishing their resistance as one of the longest in history if not the longest. Their determination in sticking to their rights and fighting for them has been extraordinary. Even if they had accepted Jewish statehood on their land, Israel had no right under any law or UN resolution to drive them off it.  Their rights remain as intact now as they were in 1948. Nothing Israel does can rub them out.

The settlements on the other side of the Gaza fence were built on land from which the Palestinians were ethnically cleansed in 1948.  The settlers know or should know that they are living on land belonging to people living as refugees just a few kilometers away.

One of the settlements attacked on October 7 was Sderot, whose residents only a few years ago were sitting outside on garden chairs at night cheering the latest round of destruction of Gaza from the air by the Israeli military. Now a number are dead.  Some may have been sitting on those same chairs.

– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press) and The Last Ottoman Wars. The Human Cost 1877-1923 (University of Utah Press, 2019). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out


  1. Very heartbreaking reading this. These occupiers learned genocide from their Nazi Holocaust experiences and then did the same on the land and people they never owned. This time Palestinians should have what belongs to them in the first place in a truly freed and free Palestine.

  2. Thank heavens that finally the world has awakened full-cry to Israel’s decades of crimes against the Palestinian people. It is horrifying that this awakening comes as Israel continues its genocide in Gaza and its ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. I reported from the West Bank periodically between 1979 and 2009, and each year “the situation” seemed worse, the settlements spreading like a cancer throughout the region. What is taking place now is beyond nightmarish. One can only hope that Israel will become a pariah nation not only in the global South but worldwide.

Comments are closed.