The Futility of Genocide Studies after Gaza


Abdelwahab El-Affendi | Journal of Genocide Research – TRANSCEND Media Service

Genocide Studies and Its Growing Absence of Scholarly Integrity, Intellectual Substance or Moral Foundations — Maung Zarni

18 Jan 2024 – A major question raised by the ongoing, largely one-sided, confrontation in Gaza is that of the so-called “subaltern genocide”: Can marginalized and occupied minorities and peoples perpetrate genocide against their oppressors and/or occupiers?Footnote1 Many scholars argue that genocide is almost exclusively perpetrated by states.Footnote2 Yet powerful state-like or state-backed minorities can and have committed genocides, especially in colonial settings, where minorities enjoy imperial backing. The Jews were a minority in Palestine (26 per cent) when they inflicted the Nakba (calamity) on the Palestinian Arabs in the form of the pre-meditated uprooting in 1948,Footnote3 judged by some as the start of a “slow-moving” genocide of the Palestinian people focused on their social destruction.Footnote4 However one characterizes the dislocation in 1948, it should be noted that the Jews in Palestine enjoyed British colonial support for much of the time and so arguably were not a marginalized minority. More recently, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia in Sudan committed, in its ongoing war with the incumbent regime, a series of genocidal massacres against particular ethnicities in Darfur. While the militia is minority-based, its capacity to perpetrate genocide was a function of its own centrality in a weak state, and its role in its partial collapse; in addition to support from influential regional actors.Footnote5

Marginalized minorities could still engage in mass violence, by which I mean killing where the perpetrators envisage no ceiling on the casualties they inflict, as acts of mass terror. However, the aims of genocide and terrorism are fundamentally divergent. Terror has a “communicative function,”Footnote6 and the power differential between non-state and state actors often places limit on damage a terror group can inflict. Genocide, by contrast, aims to end all communication with the target group. In Hamas’s case on 7 October 2023, the aim to maximize casualties is consistent with mass violence and terrorist aims. However, Hamas’ limited capacity to inflict violence, mitigated in part by Israel’s mass confinement of Gazans, coupled with its plan to take hostages for “communicative” bargaining over prisoner release, belie a genocidal intent to eliminate all Israeli Jews. The real issue on 7 October was the surprisingly prolonged paralysis of the Israeli state in front of the shock and awe breach of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s “iron wall,” where “at least seven Israeli military installations and more than twenty surrounding residential communities” were attacked, in broad day light. Israeli inaction permitted the bands to roam and commit atrocities unchecked for hours.Footnote7 Without this belated response, Hamas, or even hostile states like Syria, could not have inflicted such damage on Israel, let alone perpetrate genocide against the population of such a garrison state.

Accusing marginalized groups of genocidal designs is as old as the Bible. The elite in ancient Egypt reportedly deemed the Israelites a demographic threat, having “multiplied and become more numerous than we are” (Exodus: 9). This called for repressive measures, including enslavement and the murder of male babies to contain the “threat” (Exodus: 10–14). In the Quranic version of the story, the threat was Moses and Aaron requesting the liberation of the Israelites. “These are but two sorcerers,” the Pharaoh declared, “intent on driving you from your land by their sorcery, and on doing away with your time-honoured way of life” (Quran 20:63). Thus the request for permission to leave Egypt was framed as an assault on Egyptian culture, and a design to uproot Egyptians from their homeland. This sounds as plausible as Netanyahu’s claim that impoverished Gaza is an existential threat to Israel that deserves the total destruction meted to the Biblical Amaleks.

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