Why Israel’s war on Gaza is textbook genocide.


From the very beginning, Israeli officials have made their genocidal intentions in Gaza clear. And in the three months since October 7, they’ve followed through on their promises, inflicting incomprehensible suffering on the over two million Palestinians trapped in Gaza. 

Now, South Africa is charging Israel with genocide in Gaza, bringing its case to the International Court of Justice, the court of the United Nations. Hearings in the Hague began today, and will continue in the next week to determine immediate provisional measures. And in the U.S., the Center for Constitutional Rights is suing President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and Secretary Austin for abetting Israel’s “genocide of the Palestinian people.”

In this Wire, we’ll explain that Israel is committing genocide — and why Israel’s prosecution under international law matters for our movement as Jews for Palestinian freedom.

The Genocide Convention

Both South Africa and the Center for Constitutional Rights are basing their cases on the Genocide Convention — the treaty that defines the crime of genocide under international law.

This definition has two requirements for determining that a state is committing a genocide: 

  1. The state must demonstrate the intent to destroy a group of people.
  2. There must be physical acts committed which put this intent into action. 

Israel’s months-long assault on Gaza clearly meets both of these legal requirements of genocide.


The Genocide Convention was drafted in the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust, in the face of a particular kind of horror: not just mass killing, but mass killing with the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.”

Intent is often understood by scholars as the most difficult component of the genocide definition to prove in court. However, Israeli government officials have repeatedly made their intent to commit genocide remarkably evident. Both their rhetoric and actions illustrate that they are targeting and bombing Palestinians in Gaza for the sole reason that they are Palestinians in Gaza.

  • On October 12, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said: “It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware not involved. It’s absolutely not true. … and we will fight until we break their backbone.” 
  • Israel has now carried out over three months of “indiscriminate” bombing in Gaza, targeting churches, mosques, hospitals, schools, U.N. facilities, refugee camps, homes, and the very roads on which Palestinians were fleeing Israeli bombing. Nowhere in Gaza is safe from the Israeli onslaught.

Physical acts 

Any of five different acts can constitute acts of genocide when they are committed with this intent. There is overwhelming evidence of the Israeli government committing at least four of these five acts, much of which is laid out in the South African case filing.

1. Killing members of the group

  • On October 7, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Nissim Vaturi said: “Now we all have one common goal — erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth.”
  • Israel has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, over 9,000 of whom have been children.

2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group

  • On October 17, Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted: “The only thing that needs to enter Gaza are hundreds of tons of explosives from the Air Force, not an ounce of humanitarian aid.”
  • More than 55,000 Palestinians in Gaza are now injured. Half are at risk of starvation. And the World Health Organization is warning that both famine and the mass spread of disease are likely to kill even more Palestinians in Gaza.

3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part

  • On October 9, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said: “No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly…Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything.” 
  • On Friday, the UN warned that Gaza has “become uninhabitable” due to the Israeli bombardment and blockade. The Israeli military has since cut off Gaza’s access to food, water, fuel, and medical supplies, intermittently also cutting off internet and electricity. Half of all homes in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged, and 30 of Gaza’s 35 hospitals are out of operation. 

4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group

  • On November 19, 2023, Major General in the Israeli Army Giora Eiland said: “Who are the ‘poor’ women of Gaza? They are all the mothers, sisters or wives of Hamas murderers.”
  • There are about 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza, all of whom are facing “uninhabitable” conditions. Women giving birth are unable to access obstetric care, an “ever-increasing number” of babies are dying from preventable causes, the risks of miscarriage and maternal death are elevated, and the Israeli military’s bombing of hospitals led in November to the deaths and severe illness of premature babies in the NICU.

Why this matters for our movement 

Decades of international impunity and U.S. support for Israeli atrocities against Palestinians make it likely that the Israeli government will disregard even a legal finding that it is committing genocide. But the cases in both the International Court of Justice and brought in the U.S. by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) remain significant as a tool for our movement. 

Decisions of the ICJ are legally binding under international law. And if the ICJ finds that Israel is committing genocide, all 152 countries that are party to the Genocide Convention are legally obligated to take steps in their own governments to penalize the state of Israel. 

These steps can include anything from the legal prosecution of individual state officials at a national level (one goal of the CCR case), unilateral economic sanctions, and political measures at the international level — like expulsion from international organizations.

All of these avenues are organizing opportunities for our movement. They are in line with the demands of BDS: to boycott, sanction, and divest from Israel as long as it continues to violate international law in its oppression of Palestinians. 

This isn’t a coincidence — the BDS movement is based in international law. It recognizes that the Israeli government systematically violates the human rights of Palestinians, and that these violations are repeatedly met with impunity. 

The exclusionary ideology of Zionism has always cast the very existence of Palestinians as a threat to the safety of Jews, in turn using this fear to justify the oppression, killing, and expulsion of Palestinians from their homes. It’s not a far leap from these policies of ethnic cleansing and mass displacement that have existed throughout Israel’s history to an all-out genocide. International human rights law — much of it drafted in the wake of the Holocaust — specifically recognizes how the dehumanization and oppression of a group of people can lead to genocide.

As Israeli atrocities are broadcast each day out of Gaza, international solidarity with Palestinians is strong and growing across the world. If the ICJ determines that Israel is committing genocide, it would help us further escalate our organizing for Palestinian liberation, giving us even greater opportunity to pressure governments around the world to end their support for the Israeli government — not only during this genocide, but for as long as the apartheid regime continues to exist.

We charge genocide.

It’s clear to people of conscience across the world that Israel is committing a genocide in Gaza. Sign the petition in support of South Africa’s case at the ICJ, the World’s Court, now — and tell President Biden to end U.S. support for Israeli atrocities.

Power Half-Hours for Gaza.

Every day at 3pm ET/12pm PT, JVP hosts Power Half-Hours for Gaza. Sign up now to take collective action toward a ceasefire alongside hundreds of other people like you. The same link will work every day, Monday through Friday. 

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