From the moment I started addressing Israel in the context of the crime of genocide, I became acquainted with the numerical counter-argument. The argument usually goes something around the lines of “Israel really sucks at genocide, the Palestinian population has increased eight- fold.” As time went by, since 2014, we’ve seen the word ‘genocide’ more commonly applied to Israel’s practices against the indigenous Palestinian people, and the numerical counter-argument became more common as well, including numerous chart memes, illustrating the point, which are making the rounds on social media (left).
No one who is arguing that Israel’s actions constitute genocide, can- or attempts to- argue that the Palestinian population hasn’t grown (nine-fold actually, not eight). That’s simply a fact, and it’s attested to by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
The argument to a crime is generally done by proving an act was done (Actus reus), and that there was intent (Mens rea). So for example the crime of murder requires someone who killed with malice (the intent of obtaining the result of killing) and forethought (proof of a plan).
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide provides a list of acts (which are not necessarily killing), with “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such**”.
As the links in the second paragraph of this section argue, Israel is in fact knowingly and with intent committing acts of genocide. I leave Levels of Mens rea to the experts. The point being that a failed murder attempt (I shot you in the heart hoping you’d die, but the doctors saved you), is no less severe in the eye of the law than a successful murder, but is more severe than threatening death.
When arguing genocide however, murder (and many other crimes, including murder attempts and threatening death) occurs over and over again, so the argument of a “failed genocide” is null and void in any case.
Genocide Denial By Numbers
The numerical counter argument to genocide can be attributed to several misunderstandings of the legal definition of genocide.
- Not knowing that the crime of genocide isn’t predicated on numbers– Nowhere in the definition of the crime of genocide is there a numerical qualifier. When smaller groups are the victims of genocide, or when the main means of genocide is other than killing, often public debates are framed around the comparably smaller numbers of deaths. More often than not, those who make the numerical argument, base it on the assumption that “not enough” members of a targeted group have been killed. In itself a rather genocidal argument, that allots for a lot of killing.
- Misunderstanding of the legal definition of the crime of genocide and confusing it with the crime of extermination (p.6):
- The perpetrator killed one or more persons, including by inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population.
- The conduct constituted, or took place as part of, a mass killing of members of civilian population.
- The conduct was committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.
- The perpetrator knew that the conduct was part of or intended the conduct to be part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population.
You’ll note the similarities to the Crime of Genocide, but with a focus on killing (including by calculated unsurvivable life conditions), and without the element of the victim’s identity.
It’s interesting to note, in regards to the numerical counter-argument, that the legal liability of an individual, pertaining to the crime of extermination, killing one person is enough, if others were also being killed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population.
3. Misattributing legal liability – When discussing crimes with a mass component, people are often understandably confused about liability. Mass crimes are committed by a mass of perpetrators. So if we at least agree on the facts- Israeli soldiers kill, and cause serious bodily and mental harm to Palestinians on a mass scale- then one who is intent on playing Israel’s advocate asks themselves “are all of Israel’s soldiers individually liable?”
One could argue that should the crime of extermination take place in a military context, Element 4 may be used to exonerate low-level soldiers who actually commit the violence, and redirect liability to those who planned and ordered it, limiting judicial procedures to high ranking officers and government officials. In the crime of genocide, Article II plays the same role, when mentioning “intent”. None of this, of course, precludes trying the soldier for the crime of murder, and any other charges that may go along with abuse of power.
The legal argument would be that a systematic lack of judicial redress for crimes such as killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, etc., create an atmosphere of impunity for the single soldier to commit such crimes, and in fact embodies the crime of genocide, putting the responsibility in the hands of government officials and the courts.
Despite the fact that the above three misunderstandings are derived from ignorance, I argue that none of them are argued in good faith. It is an astounding testament to how violent human society is, that it might ever venture to argue that “not enough” people are being killed. Or that the destruction of a people and their culture may only be counted as such, if they are completely exterminated. Or that if everybody carries an amount of responsibility then nobody is guilty.
The Numerical Counter-Counter-Argument
Though I’m loathe to do so, because of the inherent immorality of the numerical counter-argument, I’d still like to address a numerical component of the genocide of the Palestinian people, that is never addressed: Refugee Population growth vs. local population growth.
Let us first acknowledge the indigenous status of the Palestinian people. Israel’s colonial erasure of that status, simultaneously erases Israel as a colonialist endeavour. While colonialism aims at obtaining real-estate, it specifically does so using an identity politics, more often than not, stated as a sort of messianic divine destiny. Accordingly, the reason Israel aims to erase Palestinian indigenous identity, is because this identity translates into claim to land.
Israel’s goal, as a colonial entity, is the taking over of land. It achieves this aim not so much by killing (though it does so in the hundreds every year on average), but rather by land grab, which is achieved, chiefly, by removal of indigenous individuals from their homes, on a mass scale. Israel’s biggest achievement, in that respect, is its initial campaign of mass exile of the indigenous Palestinian population, in the year between 1947-1948.
That year, the indigenous population of Palestine was halved; one half managed to stay in what was very well recognised under the British occupation as Palestine (despite its goal to usurp it), and the other was exiled, dispersed as refugees across the globe.
Today, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) there are over 13 million Palestinians world wide. In Palestine there are about 6.4 million, which would mean about 6.6 million live outside Palestine. Data about Palestinians outside Palestine is incomplete, because it’s conducted based on registered UNRWA refugees, which only accounts for 6.2 million Palestinians, according to the PCBS report. So already we’re missing 400,000 people, and that count includes Palestinians in refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza- so Palestine.
Trying to find other sources of information, a Wikipedia census, whose source dates back to 2012, amounts to 6,962,912 people, not including micro-communities and those in Palestine, which would account for the missing 400,000 people in the PCBS census. Conservatively calculating, we can safely say that with world population average annual growth rate at 1.07%, that between 2012 to 2019, that number should have risen by 521,522, bringing the number of Palestinians outside of Palestine to 7,484,434.
Why all these numbers? Well, because one might ask how Palestinians in Palestine, with a growth rate of 2.4% a year, number 1.2 million less than Palestinians outside of Palestine, under a conservative world average growth rate calculation, when both groups started off with an approximately equal amount? Where are over one million people? What could possibly bring to such a dramatic stunting in population growth? Why is the Palestinian population abroad thriving, compared to the Palestinian population in Palestine, under Israel’s regime?
** I didn’t want to include this argument in “The Facts” section, because it delves into political constructs of identity, and those are arguably arguable, but in case the reader is confused by what “as such” means in the Genocide Convention; it refers to destroying the expressions of one of the above group’s identity, thus ultimately destroying the group. Identity is without a doubt contextual, and as such often argued by oppressing groups as “non-existent”, and that in itself is an inherently genocidal argument, as I explain later in this article.