In response to Alan Dershowitz: Recognizing genocide and the humanity of Palestinian people

From the outset, I humbly ask my Jewish brothers and sisters to remain open to this message. Hate directed at you, your family and your faith directly assaults our shared prospect of equality, and your liberation is inextricably tied to liberation for myself, Palestinians and indigenous peoples across the world.

While critical of Israeli state actions, this article will not denigrate Judaism as a religion or Jewish people as a culture, ethnicity or community. Such conflations of criticism of Israeli policy with criticism of Judaism are antisemitic in themselves, inaccurately implying that Israel could represent and speak for all Jewish people across the globe.

Last month Students Supporting Israel at the University of Miami invited Alan Dershowitz as a guest speaker. After his remarks, I hoped to shed light on misrepresentations and lies of omission littered throughout his defense of Israel’s ceaseless bombing of civilians in Gaza.

I asked: “As the International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently found Israel is plausibly committing genocide in Gaza, massacring more than 12,000 children and blocking food, water and medicine to 2 million innocent civilians, should the U.S. government be found complicit for arming and funding this genocidal campaign?”

His response offered a diatribe of predictable talking points justifying the ongoing atrocities. While I wanted to pick it apart point by point in real-time, the floor and the microphone were his. Thus, I’m left to correct a few of his more egregious misrepresentations in writing.

To begin, Dershowitz boldly proclaimed that “Anyone who would refer to what Israel is doing as a genocide is a Holocaust denier!”, a statement which on its face is patently ridiculous and in no way addresses the meaning of the word genocide.

No, Mr. Dershowitz, recognizing and seeking to prevent the genocide unfolding before our eyes in no way denies the genocide of Jews (and transgender, Romani, disabled and non-White peoples) during the Holocaust. Acknowledging that Jewish people experienced genocide does not negate the genocides faced by Armenians during WWI, indigenous North Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries, nor the attempted ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza today. Indeed, if we hope to have learned any lesson from the Holocaust, it should be “never again,” a promise that demands the courage to call out and prevent such atrocities committed against any people.

Normally, establishing intent is the most difficult aspect of genocide cases in the ICJ. However, indiscriminate hostility and violence toward the Palestinians, belying such intent, has been repeatedly demonstrated from low-level Israeli Defense Force (IDF) troops to the highest-ranking Israeli officials.

IDF soldiers have shot and killed unarmed civilians waving white flags, including three of their own hostages yelling for help in Hebrew, and murdered dozens of civilians execution-style near a Gaza schoolyard. In the occupied West Bank, where Hamas is not in control, at least 350 Palestinians have been killed between October and January, including dozens of children, with thousands more detained without charges. We even see IDF soldiers preparing to enter Gaza admitting genocidal intent, chanting “there are no uninvolved civilians.”

Such actions are directly in line with dehumanizing statements calling for the destruction of Palestinians made by the most powerful people in the Israeli government. This includes Prime Minister Netanyahu telling troops to “remember what Amalek has done to you,” citing a biblical passage in which Israelites were commanded to “put to death men and women, children, and infants.” In announcing the complete siege of Gaza, cutting off food, water and medicine to 2.3 million Palestinians, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated “we are fighting human animals.” Abundant similar examples include Deputy Knesset speaker Nissim Vaturi proclaiming Israel’s goal is “erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the Earth.”

In stating that “women and children can be terrorists too,” Dershowitz joins these Israeli officials in engaging in a rhetorical strategy of dehumanization, finding rationalizations for the mass execution of tens of thousands of non-combatants.

Indiscriminate application of the “terrorist” label to Palestinians is strikingly similar to the labeling of Jews as “vermin” by Nazis or the use of “savage” to describe indigenous resistance to European settler occupation. Such dehumanization is a necessary precursor to tactics such as targeting hospitals and schools or systematically blocking food to 2 million people on the brink of famine.

The best way to guarantee security, for both Israeli citizens and everyone in the region, is to ensure the necessities of life and basic human dignity to all human beings regardless of race, religion, culture or language. Offer life to the Palestinian people, primarily because it is just, but even if only for the self-interested motivation of Israeli security. As long as civilian populations and infrastructure continue to be indiscriminately destroyed, more people will be radicalized to violence. This does not have to be the case, as human rights groups across the world strive to end the apartheid and occupation.

Call on your representatives to pass ceasefire resolutions and condition future aid to Israel on operating within international humanitarian law. Do not let genocidal narratives go unchallenged, because “never again” starts with each of us, right here, right now.

While we cannot change the Israeli government’s approach, we in the U.S. must choose whether we want our tax dollars and weapons employed to perpetrate these atrocities. I call upon you to get organized and educate each other about the history that led to this situation. Join your local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace or another group in the South Florida Coalition for Palestine. Teach yourself about the long history of occupation and apartheid leading into the current situation. Learn how attempts at non-violent resistance against Israel’s blockade of Gaza during the Great March of Return were met with IDF violence, killing hundreds and injuring thousands of Palestinians. Let sunlight be our disinfectant as we come together to learn from each other and collectively struggle for a just peace for all.

Dr. Morgan Gianola is a T32 Postdoctoral Scholar for Behavioral Medicine Research in Cardiovascular Diseases, working under mentors Dr. Maria Llabre and Dr. Neil Schneiderman. He earned his Ph.D. in the Department of Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience track, at the University of Miami and his Bachelor of Arts in neuroscience and Spanish from Carthage College.