Interrupting Genocide: Humanity Challenged as Never Before


Richard Falk | Global Justice in the 21st Century – TRANSCEND Media Service

25 Nov 2023 – This is a modified version of a piece published in CounterPunch yesterday. The ‘pause’ or ‘truce’ as it frequently called, in Western media is detached from the genocide that preceded and closely linked to the Hamas Attack of 7 Oct, which is characterized as ‘terrorism’ whereas Israeli genocidal violence is treated as Israel defending itself or less approvingly as an excessive and disproportionate recourse to violence that seemed to focus its fury on target inflicting massive casualties on Palestinian civilians. Sustained warfare almost inevitably produces suffering for the innocent, often minimized as ‘collateral damage,’ but the Israeli campaign has seemed to aim at maximize acute suffering of the whole of civilian Gaza. If this is not ‘terrorism,’ public language serves as a tool to validate the priorities of the powerful while casting the actions of its adversary as pure evil, distorting expectations about a reasonable outcome.

The ‘humanitarian pause’ started on 24 Nov after elaborate negotiations between adversaries who must interact despite an atmosphere of intense hostility and bitter resentment. The pause now often referred to as a ‘truce’ is supposed to last for four days, but is thought likely to be extended if Hamas can be induced to release additional hostages. Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu, and leaders of Israel’s unity government repeatedly pledge to renew their ‘war’ when the pause ends, and resume pursuing its earlier objectives in Gaza until all are achieved.

We in the public, are not told very clearly about the attitude of Hamas toward the pause but we can imagine that any relief from Israel’s devastating 24/7 attacks brings welcome relief, yet is accompanied by a sense a continuing resolve on the part of the Hamas leadership to resist Israel’s oppressive occupation of Gaza, and its preferred outcome that seems to include substantial ethnic cleansing in the form of permanent forced evacuation of more than half of the 2.3 million Palestinians from northern Gaza leaving what remains of the Palestinian in the previously overcrowded southern Gaza to be utterly dependent on UN relief efforts for the necessities of life including housing and daily needs. If funding becomes available on more that a subsistence level of ‘bare existence’ it will undoubted come, not from Israel, but  from those ‘humanitarian’ governments,  guilt-ridden by their positive entanglement with Israel’s genocidal onslaught, especially if it resumes in a few days.

We know something about ‘the fog of war,’ the hidden motivations and the confused perceptions, the devious methods and justifications, and the subtle unacknowledged change of goals, but most of us trust the specious clarity of mainstream media and ‘never-wrong’ leaders despite the ‘discourse fog,’ that is, the partisan use of language and ‘facts’ by opinion-maker twist ‘the hearts and minds’ of viewers and readers. Even when, as during this period since October 7th, the events and images are so rending and so extreme if regarded from a humane angle, there is a deliberate, unacknowledged, perhaps automatic tendency, to create perceptions of ethical symmetry between antagonists and indulge ‘war is hell’ reactions in which both sides are locked in a death dance.

In all respects, going back to before the establishment of Israel as a state and member of the United Nations in 1948, Israel has worked hard to neutralize criticism based on law and morality, by itself occupying the high moral ground based on empathy for the victimization of Jews, on the myth of ‘a land without people for a people without land,’ on the romanticizing of the kibbutzim and ‘making the desert bloom,’ on the Orientalist reductive distortions of ‘the dirty Arab’ or the Arab mind that only can be tamed to behave properly by ‘pressure,’ a coded word that acts as a synonym for genocide in the context of the Israel Operation of Iron Swords (Biden implicitly chooses these tropes and partial truths to cast Hamas into a realm of outer darkness while staying mum about moral and legal accountability on the Israeli side), on the master premise of modernist world order that deifies the state and demonizes its victimized adversaries that is in denial about the minor premise of rights of resistance that rose up to defeat the superior military forces at the disposal of the imperial Global West. The Palestinian ordeal epitomizes the confluence of these and other adverse features of political life during the last hundred years to produce an appalling human catastrophe made worse because it has unfolded so transparently and exposed the pathetic weakness of moral scruples if clashing with strategic interests of onlooking political leaders.

The rhetoric of ‘humanitarian pause’ is illustrative of a media disinformation campaign designed to affirm certain attitudes and stigmatize others. For instance, the Israeli pledge to resume the war after this brief interlude of relative calm rarely includes critical comments on the sinister nature of this commitment to reengage Hamas by recourse to genocidal warfare victimizing the entire population of Gaza. In contrast, when released hostages report humane treatment by their captors this is either belittled or altogether ignored, whereas if released Palestinian prisoners were to make analogous comments about how they enjoyed Israeli prisons their words would be highlighted. We can only imagine the harsh response of Western media outlets to Russia’s participation in a comparable pause in the Ukraine War, dismissing any humanitarian pretensions by Moscow as cynical state propaganda, and insisting with righteous indignation that the pause be transformed into a ceasefire unless the war was going well for the Ukrainians. A critical media would feast over the double standards and moral hypocrisy, but that presupposes what doesn’t any longer exist, an independent media on global issues.

Unless properly addressed the whole provenance of ‘humanitarian pause’ is misunderstood. Remember that Israel’s political leaders went ahead with such an alternative only when it was made clear that Israel had no intention of converting the pause into a longer-range ceasefire, to be followed by ‘day after’ negotiations as to the viability of continuing occupation and a new agreement as to governance arrangements for Gaza and the role to be played by Hamas. Rather than sustaining their statist cult by dismissing Hamas as ‘terrorists’ the security of Israel would almost certainly be dramatically enhanced by treating Hamas as a legitimate political entity, which although guilty of violations of international law, is far less guilty than Israel if an objective comparative evaluation is made, and some account is taken of Hamas’ long-term ceasefire diplomacy summarily rejected by Israel, although a preferable security alternative than the decades of cross-border violent eruptions that kill, deepen enmity, and solve nothing.

In retrospect, I understand better the rationale behind this apparently genuine Hamas efforts, which I received first-hand contact with as a result of my extended conversations with Hamas leaders living in Doha and Cairo while I was UN Special Rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories a decade ago. Israel could not take seriously what appeared to be beneficial from its security perspective of such Hamas initiatives or the 2002 Arab Peace Proposal issued in Mecca. Both Hamas and the Arab proposal conditioned peace on withdrawal from the Occupied Territory of the West Bank, which has long been in the gun sights of the settler wing of the Zionist Project, and consistently privileged over Israeli security by its leaders, long before Netanyahu’s Coalition Government made this unmistakably clear when it took over in January of 2023. Israel never convincingly accepted the internationally presumed notion that a Palestinian state would include the West Bank and have its capital in East Jerusalem, despite gesturing at various times in such a direction, but always framed in a manner that was so one-sided as to ensure Palestinian rejection, although the Palestinian leadership did their cause no good by failing to put forward a counter-offer or make a stronger effort to achieve unity as between the PLO and Hamas so long as the liberation struggle was not resolved.

It is this unwillingness to take account of the master/slave structure of a prolonged, abusive occupation that renders plausibility to the both sides’ narratives embodying the delusion that Israel and Occupied Palestine are formally and existentially equal as profoundly misleading. Such narratives equate, or invert, the Hamas attack with the Israeli genocidal onslaught that followed, regarding the former as ‘barbaric’ while the latter is generally sympathetically or at least neutrally described as Israel’s reasonable and necessary entitlement to defend itself. Variations of such themes are integral to the apologetics of former US mediating officials such as Dennis Roth or liberal Zionist casuists such as Thomas Friedman.

A final observation relates to the inappropriateness of the word ‘humanitarian’ if the object is to understand and express the motivations of Israel. Of course, Israel seeks both security for its Jewish citizens, including the settlers, but when forced to choose between security and territory it has consistently opted to pay the costs associated with fulfilling the territorial goals of the Zionist Project. The current unity government of Israel only accepted the pleas of the hostage families and succumbed to pressures from Washington after its several security services and military commanders gave reassurances that Hamas could not take tactical advantage of the pause, and that the Israel campaign could resume within the pre-pause unrestrained parameters after it was over. In other words, the pause was politically motivated as a way of allowing Israel to seem responsive to domestic and external humanitarian pressures without the slightest show of responsiveness to the governments throughout the Global South that called for a ceasefire to halt genocide and by the enraged protesters in city streets in all parts of the world. The ‘humanitarian pause’ as the deal has been presented is totally an initiative rooted in the Global West, admittedly with support from a scattering of autocratic governments elsewhere. We do not know why Hamas went along with such a plan, but a safe conjecture is that it sought some days of relief from Israel’s tactics of devastation and may have wanted to reduce its responsibilities of caring for children and injured or elderly hostages under such dangerous circumstances.

As the ‘humanitarian pause’ goes into effect, it is bound to create surprises and impart a greater understanding of the ‘fog of humanitarianism.’ What it should not do is to induce complacency among those who honor the fundamental commitment of the Genocide Convention to do all in their power to prevent the onset or continuation of the crime of crimes and to take steps to punish its most prominent perpetrators.


Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global Law, Faculty of Law, at Queen Mary University London, Research Associate the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Tellus Institute. He directed the project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy at UCSB and formerly served as director the North American group in the World Order Models Project. Between 2008 and 2014, Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. His book, (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (2014), proposes a value-oriented assessment of world order and future trends. His most recent books are Power Shift (2016); Revisiting the Vietnam War (2017); On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization and Disarmament (2019); and On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative, ed. with Victor Faessel & Michael Curtin (2019). He is the author or coauthor of other books, including Religion and Humane Global Governance (2001), Explorations at the Edge of Time (1993), Revolutionaries and Functionaries (1988), The Promise of World Order (1988), Indefensible Weapons (with Robert Jay Lifton, 1983), A Study of Future Worlds (1975), and This Endangered Planet (1972). His memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim was published in March 2021 and received an award from Global Policy Institute at Loyala Marymount University as ‘the best book of 2021.’ He has been nominated frequently for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2009.

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