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Israeli colony of Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank on the outskirts of Jerusalem is pictured on November 26, 2019 Image Credit: AFP

History is unsparing in how it judges a superpower that responds indifferently, or not at all, to genocide, whether it is mass slaughter, ethnic cleansing or the callous destruction of a people’s culture and national identity — and rightly so, given the fact that a superpower, by definition, commands a dominant footing in the world, which enables it to exert influence, project faculty and set standards of intercourse in the global dialogue of cultures. But that history can be grimly merciless in its judgement when that superpower is itself complicit in genocide.

You cannot exaggerate the magnitude of the incendiary decision of the current American administration, made public by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on November 18 — a kludgy decision clean out of left field — that the building of colonies on occupied Palestinian land “is not inconsistent with international law”, effectively giving the occupying power carte blanche to freely build colonies on expropriated Palestinian land and to transfer to them for permanent colony segments of its population — a violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Two days after Pompeo gave his statement to a stunned gaggle of reporters, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (ignore for now the oxymoronic nature of the man’s title) told the UN Security Council in a long report that the colonies are very much a “flagrant violation of international law”. A chorus of condemnation came from virtually every capital around the world, including, ironically, the American capital.

Sociological implications

In a long piece in the ‘Outlook’ section of the Washington Post last Sunday, representative of the mainstream media’s consensus, Aaron David Miller and David Kurtzer, both renowned academics and think tank veterans who had watched “four decades of [American] acquiescence to settlements [colonies]”, wrote: “The United States and the current Israeli government are now outliers and isolated.

The decision — untethered as it is from any serious strategy to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace — has further compromised, if not killed, Washington’s credibility and its role as an honest broker in any conceivable peace deal for the remainder of the presidency.”

The unique riddle of glory that defines little peoples in struggle, all the way from Ireland to Vietnam, has been — as a paraphrased Confucius maxim has it — not in never falling, but in rising every time they fall. From Balfour to Trump, Palestinians have evinced historical spine.

- Fawaz Turki

Though isolated and an outlier it may have become, Washington, especially under this administration, clings to its hauteur as a superpower: The devil with international law. Superpowers can spin international law whichever way they please.

But, look, what this new posture by Washington does, coming close on the heels of its recognition of Occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, is to bring into sharper focus the genocidal assault that the US has launched against the people of Palestine. And, hyperbole aside, genocide is what we’re looking at here.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a major reversal of the US' longstanding policy on Israeli colonies in the occupied West Bank, rejecting State Department legal opinion that deemed the colonies "inconsistent with international law." Image Credit: AFP

You see, genocide is not just action taken by an aggressor to physically annihilate a people. The term, first coined by Raphael Lemkin, an American legal scholar of Polish-Jewish descent, in his landmark 1945 book, Genocide: A modern Crime, has sociological implications as well.

You kill a people’s soul, if not their body, by killing their culture, which leads to the erosion of their will-to-meaning, their fabric of sanity, the symbols they draw on to conceive of their identity and so on. And you wreak all that havoc on their internal psychic economy by taking away their land — land that their families had lived on, tilled and developed an intimately emotional, even teleological nexus with since time immemorial.

That’s what Israel has done in the past, what it is doing today and what it plans on continuing to do in the future. Its enabler? The United States of America.

Complicit in genocide

As Lemkin underlined in his work, genocide does not necessarily have to signify physical aggression. He writes this: “More often genocide refers to a coordinated plan aimed at destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups so that these groups wither and die like plants that have suffered a blight. The end may be accomplished by the forced disintegration of political and social institutions [and] it may be accomplished by wiping out all basis of personal security, liberty, health and dignity.”

Any Palestinian living under Israeli occupation today will surely nod in assent.

The US, I say, is complicit in genocide — incremental genocide, to be sure, but genocide nevertheless — against a little people whom it feels, as a superpower, it can walk all over.

The unique riddle of glory that defines little peoples in struggle, all the way from Ireland to Vietnam, has been — as a paraphrased Confucius maxim has it — not in never falling, but in rising every time they fall. From Balfour to Trump, Palestinians have evinced historical spine.

History loves spine in little peoples and never fails to reward them, when the time is right, with its imperatives.

Fawaz Turki is a writer and lecturer who lives in Washington and the author of several books, including the Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.

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