Is Israel Committing Genocide?

Aryeh Neier writes for June 6, 2024 issue:

I have been engaged for six decades in the human rights movement, which has endeavored to restore peace by enforcing International Humanitarian Law…

I am now persuaded that Israel is engaged in genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. What has changed my mind is its sustained policy of obstructing the movement of humanitarian assistance into the territory.

Thank you for your service, Arieh.

Wait! What? Arieh Neier believes Israel is committing genocide in Gaza because it obstructs aid to Gazans. That’s it?

Gaza borders Egypt. Egypt decides how much aid gets in through its border with Gaza. So does Arieh think Egypt is committing genocide too? No. He doesn’t even mention Egypt.

Why doesn’t Arieh mention Egypt? Because he only cares about glory for Arieh. He cares nothing about Gazans. And he cares nothing about truth.

Human rights attracts showboats like Aryeh Neier. If he wrote an essay for NYBooks stating Israel was not committing genocide, it would attract no attention. The best way for this man to get on TV is to make flashy pronouncements.

There’s one and only one reliable source for human rights – the nation state. The state extends rights to its citizens. All other rights are wishful thinking.

CNN promotes Arieh May 26, 2024: “Human Rights Watch co-founder Aryeh Neier, who fled the Nazis as a child, tells Fareed why he has come to the conclusion that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.”

Do you think Aryeh Neier would have been interviewed on CNN if he had come to a different conclusion? He chose the conclusion that got him the most attention, just as he has devoted himself to the cause that gets him the biggest boost to his ego.

Der Spiegel published April 6, 2024: “Why the Founder of Human Rights Watch Accuses Israel of Genocide”

May 13, 2024, the New York Times reported: “…the flow of aid has come to a near-total stop, first closed off by Israel and then further restricted, officials say, by Egypt.”

Politico reported May 21, 2024:

Egypt aid restrictions are complicating Gaza cease-fire negotiations

Aid groups in Gaza say they are running low on fuel and are unable to get more from Egypt, straining their operations on the ground.

“It’s all stopped,” the official said, referring to Egypt’s shipments through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

The move by Egypt has sparked tensions between Cairo and Jerusalem. The current cease-fire deal on the table hinges in part on the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, officials say. If Egypt were to restart the shipments, it would significantly improve the aid situation on the ground, defuse tensions, and potentially allow for talks to restart, according to the two senior administration officials and two other people familiar with the situation.

…Cairo is withholding the fuel in an effort to complicate Israel’s ability to aid the humanitarian effort inside Gaza during its Rafah operation.

“It’s the blood of the response,” said Scott Anderson, the director for Gaza for UNRWA, the main aid group operating in Gaza. “The lack of fuel forces us to choose: Do you keep bakeries running or hospitals running or the sewage pumps running?”

May 24, 2024, Axios reported:

Under U.S. pressure, the Egyptian government agreed to resume the flow of aid trucks to Gaza through Israel, after deliveries were halted two weeks ago in protest of Israel’s takeover of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing.

Why it matters: The Egyptian decision two weeks ago dramatically reduced the amount of aid entering Gaza and exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave.

May 26, 2024, Times of Israel reported:

Aid has been piling up in Egypt since Israel launched an operation to take over the Gazan side of the Rafah Crossing with Egypt on May 7. That crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip, was operated by the Palestinians on its Gaza side until Israeli forces captured the area as part of a broader operation in the adjoining city of the same name.

Not wanting to be seen as complicit with Israel’s military operation to take over the crossing, Egypt has refused to reopen Rafah until Israeli troops have withdrawn from the other side.

If Aryeh Neier cares about the plight of Gazans, why does he not mention the role that Egypt plays in their suffering?

If Gaza is an open-air prison, Egypt is equally responsible for that. Yet when I put “Gaza open-air prison” into Google, none of the first ten suggestions is Egypt.

Why does Google only suggest Israel as the sole cause of Gazan suffering?

David Henderson writes for

There are four sides to Gaza: (1) two sides that border Israel, (2) the side that borders Egypt, and (3) the side that borders the Mediterranean Sea.

The Israeli government prevents people from entering Israel. The Egyptian government prevents people from entering Egypt.

What’s left is the Mediterranean… I can’t find any evidence that the government prevents them from leaving. And a friend who was in the Israeli Defense Force tells me that he has never heard that the Navy prevented people from leaving.

Israel would love for Gazans to leave but no country in the world wants Gazans because Gazans have such a horrible track record of terrorism. Gazans built their own reputation and they’re dying, in part, because of their own creation. They made their bed, they elected Hamas, and they’re paying the price for their choices.

When Palestinians moved into Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, they wrecked those societies. Name me one society that has been more improved than hurt by the presence of massive numbers of Palestinian immigrants. You can’t. Such a society does not exist. Name me one first-world country that has been more improved than hurt by the mass immigration of Muslims. Which such countries have become more prosperous and free? Where has the entrance of large numbers of Muslims raised the average IQ of a first-world nation?

If Palestinians are a curse to every society they move to, why would anyone want them around?

I don’t for a second believe that there is anything inherent in Palestinians in particular or Muslims in general that makes them incompatible with Western civilization. There’s no inherent quality to Palestinians and Muslims. Both groups are where they are in part because of their genes and in part because of their circumstances. When circumstances change, these groups may well change too.

You can’t leave a prison, but you can leave Gaza as hundreds of thousands of people have done (in addition to hundreds of thousands of people traveling to Gaza over the past decade).

Millions of Africans and Middle Easterners crossed into Europe via boats over the past decade. Why do Palestinians lack this enterprise?

Ari Zivotovsky writes for the Jerusalem Post:

…from 1948 to 1967, conditions in the Gaza Strip were harsh. Egypt essentially isolated it, refusing to integrate either the locals or the 200,000 refugees, leading to severe economic conditions. In 1955, a member of the United Nations Secretariat, James Baster, wrote in the Middle East Journal that “For all practical purposes it would be true to say that for the last six years in Gaza over 300,000 poverty-stricken people have been physically confined to an area the size of a large city park.”

In 1967, as a result of the Six Day War that was thrust upon Israel, the Gaza Strip came under Israeli jurisdiction and Jewish Israelis settled in it alongside the Arabs who were there. As one example of a goodwill gesture, Israel helped Gazans plant approximately 618,000 trees.

Between 1967 and 1982, the economic growth in Gaza averaged a staggering 9.7% per annum, bringing an era of economic prosperity. But rather than continue to prosper economically under Israeli rule, the Arabs launched the bloody first intifada in 1987, resulting in hundreds of Jewish and Arab deaths.

In 1994, following the signing of the Oslo Accords, civilian control of most of Gaza was given to the corrupt and murderous Yasser Arafat and his PLO, henceforth known as the Palestinian Authority (PA), and in 2000 the Arabs launched the bloody second intifada.

Due to the Intifada, neither Israel nor Egypt allowed unfettered passage into or out of the Gaza Strip, with Egypt keen to isolate its problematic Sinai Islamist insurgents from the Gazan terrorists.

IN AN unprecedented and – with hindsight – disastrous move, in 2005 Israel unilaterally fully withdrew from the Gaza Strip, forcibly expelling over 9000 Jews from 21 towns. Even more surprising, Israel withdrew from the southern edge of the Strip known as the Philadelphi Route, handing over full border control to Egypt. Thus, began a new era – and since 2005, Gaza has been fully self-governing. European and Arab aid money flowed in and the stage for a flourishing Middle East Singapore was laid.

In early 2006, elections were held in Gaza, and Hamas won a plurality. For the next year and a half there was internecine fighting resulting in over 600 Gazans killed by their own, and by mid-2007 Hamas had full control over the Strip. The “innocent” residents should have known what they were getting – Hamas never hid their terrorist nature and their charter calls for the complete destruction of Israel…

The ongoing Hamas belligerence has indeed led to an attempt by Egypt and Israel to control what comes into Gaza. Does that make it an open-air prison? As will be seen, if it is a blockade, it is not a very successful one.

One of the arguments is that Israel and Egypt restrict movement of the Gazan residents in and out of the territory. On September 19, 2023, Palestinian TV broadcast a program called Emigration from Gaza – what no one talks about, which claimed that in the past 15 years, about a quarter of a million young Gazans had left for abroad.

The bottleneck that has prevented more people from leaving is Hamas bureaucracy and the hesitancy of other countries to accept them. Just last month (Sept 2023) there were violent clashes involving hundreds of young Gazans outside the sole travel agency in Gaza City authorized to issue visas to Turkey.

In a prison, people might try to leave, but it is usually not possible; and if they do, do they return to visit? According to news reports, in July 2022, over 15,000 expatriates returned to the Gaza Strip for the feast of Eid al-Adha. They were excited to visit and reported that the markets were full with plenty of livestock for the festival. There seems to be an awful lot of traffic for a prison!

…life expectancy at birth (75.66 years) is comparable to its neighbors – Egypt (74.7), Syria (74.5), and Saudi Arabia (76.9).

…Is Gaza an open-air prison? In a way it is. There are many restrictions placed on the residents – what they can wear, who they can associate with, what they can think, etc. However, this is not because of Israel or any other external element but rather because of the oppressive, evil, Hamas regime that has been strangling all life in Gaza for 16 years.

In 2010, scholar Samuel Moyn published an important book on human rights — The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History:

* Historians of human rights approach their subject, in spite of its novelty, the way church historians once approached theirs. They regard the basic cause—much as the church historian treated the Christian religion—as a saving truth, discovered rather than made in history. If a historical phenomenon can be made to seem like an anticipation of human rights, it is interpreted as leading to them in much the way church history famously treated Judaism for so long, as a proto-Christian movement simply confused about its true destiny. Meanwhile, the heroes who are viewed as advancing human rights in the world—much like the church historian’s apostles and saints—are generally treated with uncritical wonderment. Hagiography, for the sake of moral imitation of those who chase the flame, becomes the main genre. And the organizations that finally appear to institutionalize human rights are treated like the early church: a fledgling, but hopefully universal, community of believers struggling for good in a vale of tears. If the cause fails, it is because of evil; if it succeeds, it is not by accident but because the cause is just. These approaches provide the myths that the new movement wants or needs.

…In a euphoric mood, many people believed that secure moral guidance, born out of shock about the Holocaust and nearly incontestable in its premises, was on the verge of displacing interest and power as the foundation of international society. All this fails to register that, without the transformative impact of events in the 1970s, human rights would not have become today’s utopia, and there would be no movement around it.

* there is a clear and fundamental difference between earlier rights, all predicated on belonging to a political community, and eventual “human rights.”

* If the state was necessary to create a politics of rights, many nineteenth-century observers wondered, could they have any other real source than its own authority and any other basis than its local meanings?

* [The human rights crusade emerged out of] “the distrust of utopia together with the desire to have one anyway.”

* Amnesty International’s origins in Christian responses to the Cold War had been unpromising, however, and its slow transformation into a celebrated human rights organization makes clear the necessity of distinguishing among the creation, evolution, and reception of such groups. Thanks to its founder Peter Benenson, AI emerged through an interesting and productive improvisation on earlier Christian peace movements. Together with Eric Baker, a Quaker, Benenson intended to provide a new outlet for idealists disappointed by Cold War stalemate, and especially after socialism had been revealed as a failed experiment. After AI’s inaugural May 28, 1961 Observer spread, “The Forgotten Prisoners,” Benenson recorded that “[t]he underlying purpose of this campaign—which I hope those who are closely connected with it will remember, but never publish—is to find a common base upon which the idealists of the world can co-operate. It is designed in particular to absorb the latent enthusiasm of great numbers of such idealists who have, since the eclipse of Socialism, become increasingly frustrated; similarly it is geared to appeal to the young searching for an ideal. . .” Quite strikingly, in private Benenson went so far as to conclude that the outlet AI would provide to idealists made its effects on victims unimportant: “It matters more to harness the enthusiasm of the helpers. . . The real martyrs prefer to suffer, and, as I would add, the real saints are no worse off in prison than anywhere on this earth.”

* Whether or not such activism made a difference on the ground, or in the larger process of constructing international norms, it succeeded first of all in giving meaning (as Benenson once hoped) to engaged lives. It was engagement of a sort whose minimalism was its enabling condition and source of power when other post-1968 alternatives were dying. Though she would go on to help found Helsinki (later Human Rights) Watch as the decade closed, Jeri Laber recalled that in the early 1970s she had never heard the phrase “human rights.” Trained in Russian studies, it was not Soviet activism that hooked her but a searing December 1973 New Republic essay written by AI activist Rose Styron on the renaissance of torture around the world. It led Laber to “do something about it.” Having been a parttime food writer for the New York Times shortly before, Laber placed an op-ed piece in that newspaper based on AI information—the first published—within a year of joining the Riverside Amnesty chapter. “I had found a successful formula,” she noted in a memoir. “I began with a detailed description of a horrible form of torture, then explained where it was happening and the political context in which it occurred; I ended with a plea to show the offending government that the world was watching.”

* If human rights have made any historical difference, it was first in their competitive survival as a motivating ideology in the confusing tumult of 1970s social movements, as they became bound up with the widespread desire to drop utopia and have one anyway. And their substitution of plausible morality for failed politics may have come at a price.

* Today it seems self-evident that among the major purposes— and perhaps the essential point—of international law is to protect individual human rights. “At the start of the new century,” one observer writes, “international law, at least for many theorists and practitioners, has been reconceived. No longer the law of nations, it is the law of human rights.” If that transformation is one of the most striking there is in modern law and legal thought, it is even more surprising that it really began only yesterday. Not only did the prehistory of international law through World War II provide no grounds for this development; for decades after, there would have been no way to believe or even to guess that human rights might become the touchstones they are today. Neither drawing from the humane spirit of founders centuries ago nor the recoil to World War II’s atrocities, human rights for international lawyers too are rooted in a startling and recent departure.

* one of the most fascinating testaments to the breakthrough of “human rights” in the late 1970s is the response of philosophers, who after a moment of confusion about their novelty assimilated them to natural rights principles that were themselves being revived.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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