Robert Shetterly in his July 28 BDN OpEd clearly has a good heart and a concern for the Palestinian people, but he lacks an appreciation for the meaning of words. The particular word in question is “genocide.”
Here’s what Shetterly wrote: “We witness today the genocide of Palestinians by Israelis.” Military action to suppress rocket attacks and terrorist incursions is not genocide, and to bandy the term about is obscene.
Genocide is the purposeful destruction of a people. Is Israel trying to annihilate the Palestinians of Gaza? What incompetents these Israelis must be if they are trying to do that. You would think that with their advanced armaments and the high population density of Gaza, the Israelis could quickly wipe out a high percentage of Gaza’s 1.7 million people, if that were their aim.
The death toll after weeks of fighting in Gaza, though, including both civilians and armed Hamas fighters, is around one-tenth of 1 percent. It’s as if 30 of Bangor’s 30,000 people were killed in war. An awful toll, but hardly genocide. And don’t forget the population of Gaza, since the Israeli victory in 1967, has climbed from 340,000 in 1970 to 1.7 million today, while the population of the West Bank has increased in equal proportion.
Does that sound like genocide?
Here’s an example for some perspective. In the same week as Shetterly’s OpEd, the BDN feature “Today in History” recalled the 1943 Allied bombing of Hamburg, Germany. In a few days, British and American bombing killed about 43,000 people, almost all civilians. The bombing of Dresden, Germany, killed about 25,000. Then there were the atomic bombs on Japan.
Unlike the Israelis, the Allies targeted civilians in pursuit of victory in that war. It was war, though, and not genocide.
Israel does what it can to avoid civilian deaths by giving residents advance notice of air strikes. Hamas deliberately stores its weapons, fires its rockets and builds its tunnels in the heart of civilian areas, including schools and hospitals. Hamas intentionally makes its own people into hostages, cynically sacrificing them just to make Israel look bad.
This is not genocide. This is war. It is not a war Israel sought, and it can no more be fought without civilian deaths than can any other war. But to accuse the Israelis of genocide is an obscenity when aimed at the very people who have in fact been subjected to one of history’s worst actual genocides.
Arnold Berleant of Castine is a philosopher and author of “Sensibility and Sense.” He is a professor emeritus of philosophy at Long Island University and past president of the International Association of Aesthetics.