LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
It is good to know that the Muslim Student Union joins Chancellor Drake in condemning terrorism and reaffirming UCI’s “commitment to dialogue and democratic rule, not violence.” One imagines that he is referring to the speech by Malik Ali both supporting terrorism and calling Jews the “new Nazis,” although he does not address Ali’s talk directly.
I would like to point out, however, that there is an inaccuracy in Mr. Abdelgany’s description of the nature of Israeli rule in the Occupied Territories. For well over 20 years scholars, including Israelis, have used the term “Apartheid” to describe the situation in the West Bank and Gaza. Indeed, South Africans, including Jewish South Africans who lived under Apartheid, have described aspects of the Occupation that are worse than the situation for blacks under Apartheid.
But Mr. Abdelgany errs in using the term genocide to describe the situation in the Occupied Territories. However immoral and even illegal Israeli actions may be in the Occupied Territories, and particularly Gaza, they clearly do not meet the definition of genocide used by the main bodies that prosecute such crimes, such as the European Court of Human Rights, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.
All of these bodies define genocide as involving the intention to bring about the “physical-biological destruction” of a large enough share of an “entire human group” (national, ethnic, racial or religious) as to put the group’s continued physical existence in jeopardy. Thus, the Warsaw Ghetto was used by the Nazis to confine Jews into the smallest possible space, eventually in preparation for their ultimate extermination – which became official Nazi policy within a year of the ghetto’s creation. Out of an initial population of over 400,000 Jews, 100,000 had died of disease and starvation by the time the uprising began in 1943. To be comparable, by 2007 over 300,000 Gazans would have to have died from similar causes.
The upwards of 7,000 Gazans killed by Israel since it unilaterally withdrew its soldiers and settlers in 2005 equals somewhere around half a per cent of the population of the Strip.
In comparison, according to most sources upwards of 75 percent of Rwanda’s Tutsi population, about 800,000 people, were murdered during the 100 days of genocide in 1994. Over 200,000 Bosnian Muslims (10 percent of the pre-war Muslim population) were killed by Serbs between 1993 and 1995.
Pointing out that the suffering endured by Gazans or Palestinians more broadly is not comparable in scope to the Holocaust (another term to which the MSU has used to compare the Occupation) or other well-known genocides, does not diminish the Occupation and the disaster it has brought upon Palestinian society. Rather, it grounds it in a reality from which hard discussions and debate can begin.
Especially in a university setting, it is crucial to provide accurate historical context to the current conflict, otherwise how can the community achieve a baseline of knowledge from which to engage in passionate yet reasoned debate?
Using language such as genocide and holocausts makes such debate impossible, because by definition, those who engage in such actions are beyond the pale of humanity and, as with Hitler, can only be met with force, including terrorism – whether by states (such as in the “terror bombings” of German cities in World War II) or resistance groups (whether the Jewish underground before 1948 or Hamas today). This is precisely the rationality of Mr. Ali’s speech, and why his counterparts such as David Horowitz, continually label Muslim activists as “Hitler Youth” in order to completely de-legitimize anything they might say regardless of its accuracy.
It is, I believe, the same lack of attention to facts and accuracy that contribute to bringing in speakers such as Malik Ali, who have no expertise in any issue related to Palestine, Israel or the conflict between them, and whose goal in using language such as calling Jews the “new Nazis” is clearly to foment increased hostility and anger rather than greater understanding and even sympathy. The invitations to right wing personalities to speak at UCI by other campus groups similarly contribute to the dumbing down of debate on campus.
In this time of severe budget cuts, might one suggest that student groups on campus who seek to engage the community on issues of intense debate and conflict use the limited resources available to them to bring in scholars and activists who have actual knowledge and experience surrounding the issues under debate, and who are looking for new ways to help resolve them. Especially when the UCI Administration, faculty and students have worked hard to develop courses, programs and initiatives that do just that.
It’s time to leave the bigots, racists, and propagandists – whether on the Right or the Left – to Fox News, AM radio and fringe websites, where they belong.
Professor, Dept. of History