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Urgent call for justice: Israel’s genocide, urbicide and cocide in Gaza

Apr 25,2024 - Last updated at Apr 25,2024

While considering the South African accusation that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) located in The Hague could also examine separately charges against Israel of urbicide and ecocide.

The December 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as “the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. This process includes urbanicide and ecocide which contribute to genocide.

Israel made its intentions clear early in its offensive in Gaza. Defence minister Yoav Gallant declared, “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. Everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly.” Israel followed his recipe.

Israel’s actions include striking densely populated urban areas with 990-kilogramme bombs, killing more than 34,000 and wounding 77,000, 70 per cent women and children, and crushing thousands beneath the rubble of their homes and shelters. Israel attacked 25 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals so they can no longer function and severely limited treatment at the remaining 11 by denying medicine, fuel to run generators, water, and food. Thousands of children have had one or more limbs amputated, some because they could not reach hospital before wounds became infected.

Israel ordered Palestinians living in the north of the strip to go to the “safe areas” in the south. There hundreds of thousands have been forced to move multiple times to escape Israeli attacks and bouts of fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas. Many civilians have been bombed by Israel while en route to the south or sheltering in alleged “safe areas”. More than 1.3 million have settled temporarily in the border town of Rafah where Israel threatens to mount a fresh offensive against Hamas. Unlike Ukrainians who fled their country after Russia invaded, Gazans are trapped in the narrow strip which has been besieged and blockaded since Hamas took control in June 2007. UN and international relief officials have said “no where is safe in Gaza”.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war by severely limiting the amount of food and water entering Gaza. Children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding mothers have died from starvation and dehydration, particularly in the north where famine has taken hold. “Hospitals are ill equipped to treat them,” HRW stated. It proposed “targeted sanctions” and suspension of arms transfers to “press the Israeli government to ensure access to humanitarian and basic services” required by international law.

Israel is also charged with “urbicide,” the deliberate destruction of Gaza’s crowded urban areas. In its interim report on the situation issued on April 2nd, the World Bank said, 72 per cent of damage inflicted by Israel is to residential buildings, 9 per cent to the commercial and industrial sectors, and 19 per cent to critical infrastructure such as water, sanitation, hygiene, education, energy and municipal services. “Nearly 80 per cent of the total damage occurred in the governates of Gaza, North Gaza, and Khan Younis,” the report said. Mosques, churches, archaeological excavations, and ancient, medieval, and historical monuments have been levelled, depriving Gazans of their millennial history and cultural identity.

The Israeli army is in the process of destroying all the structures and farmland located in a buffer zone covering 16 per cent of Gaza’s land which is being created along the fence which divides Gaza from southern Israel.

Britain-based Forensic Architecture has reported that Israel has stepped up “herbal warfare” which amounts to ecocide against Gazan farmers through the “systematic targeting of orchards and greenhouses since October 2023”.

This destruction “has exacerbated the ongoing catastrophic famine in Gaza and is part of a pattern of deliberately depriving Palestinians of critical resources for survival”.

Forensic Architecture stated, “Prior to 2023, Gaza contained 170 square kilometres of agricultural land, accounting for about 47 per cent of its total area. These fields and orchards served as a local source of food security for besieged Palestinians.” Using satellite imagery the organisation found that by March, one-third of the greenhouses and “40 per cent of the land in Gaza previously used for food production has been destroyed”. It is estimated that “more than 2,000 agricultural sites, including farms and greenhouses, which have been destroyed...[are] often to be replaced with Israeli military earthworks”.

The UN Environment Programme has estimated that Israeli bombing has left unexploded ordnance, 22.9 million tonnes of debris, hazardous material and human remains beneath the rubble. Debris and rubble can contain asbestos. heavy metals, and dangerous chemicals. Burning waste increases risks to residents.

On March 29, Kaamil Ahmed, Damien Gayle and Aseel Mousa wrote in The Guardian that “the human cost of Israel’s invasion of being compounded by an environmental crisis”. The air Gazans “breathe is heavy with pollutants and that the water carries disease”. Toxic particles are in the air and toxic matter enters groundwater. Researchers have discovered that 48 per cent of Gaza’s tree cover has been destroyed, either by Israeli actions or Palestinians cutting and burning wood for cooking or heating due to the Israeli denial of fuel and power. 

Raw sewage pours into the sea as the treatment plant cannot operate. The authors said that “potential long-term impact of the damage have led to calls for it to be regarded as ‘ecocide’ and investigated as a war crime”.

War always kills, wounds, displaces, damages and destroys, but after World War II, a body of international law was created with the aim of imposing controls on combatants and minimising the suffering of civilians caught in the crossfire. While these laws have been widely breached by all those waging war, only Israel’s defence minister declared how his country intended to violate the laws of war from the outset of Israel’s Gaza campaign.

As the representative of a country which portrays itself as a shining example of morality, his statement and similar declarations by other senior figures shocked many in the international community and provided South Africa with evidence of Israel’s intention to commit genocide in its submission to the World Court.

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