Americas, Middle East

Ex-UN official calls Gaza situation 'genocide,' says Israeli actions listed in Genocide Convention

By supporting Israel and repressing dissent at home, US and West are complicit in attacks on Gaza, Craig Mokhiber tells Anadolu

Serife Cetin  | 11.11.2023 - Update : 11.11.2023
Ex-UN official calls Gaza situation 'genocide,' says Israeli actions listed in Genocide Convention


Craig Mokhiber, a former top UN official, called the ongoing situation in Gaza a "genocide," explaining and supporting his assessment by referencing "many of the specific actions" outlined in the UN Genocide Convention.

Mokhiber, former director of the New York office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, resigned from his position last week in response to what he perceived as a tepid reaction from the organization during the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

In an interview with Anadolu, he said he advocated for a stronger stance, especially speaking out against influential nations like Israel and the US, despite potential pressure from lobby groups.

Mokhiber emphasized the need to "speak the truth" and warned that he would leave the organization if it did not adopt a more assertive approach. Following escalating violence in Gaza in October, notably Israel's subsequent response, he wrote a detailed letter criticizing the international community and the UN's approach to human rights in Palestine, calling for a change in strategy.

The letter was subsequently leaked and gained widespread attention, leading up to his resignation after 32 years with the organization.

Clear evidence of 'genocidal intent'

Mokhiber described the situation in Gaza as "genocide," highlighting several aspects that he believes support this characterization. He pointed out that "many of the specific actions" listed in the Genocide Convention, such as "mass killings" and "causing serious harm including bodily harm," were evident in Gaza and Palestine.

"There's a line about imposing conditions … that are designed to bring about the destruction of the group in whole or in part. Well, that's obvious because we've had, for many, many years now, a closure and a siege of Gaza, which is specifically designed to prevent Gazans from having adequate food, medicine, water, sanitation, health care, freedom of movement – all of the things that are necessary for a decent life," said Mokhiber.

In his remarks, Mokhiber underscored the rarity of having clear evidence of "genocidal intent," often the hardest element to prove.

In the Gaza case, he said there is an unusual situation, adding: “The atmosphere of impunity around Israel has been so great that we've actually got senior Israeli leaders publicly and on the record expressing their genocidal intent. And so we've had statements of genocidal intent from the president, the prime minister, ministers in the government, senior military officials, and think tanks associated with the Israeli government.”

Furthermore, he stressed the importance of understanding the historical context, referencing the events since 1948, such as the Nakba, and the continuous "ethnic purges of Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories."

Considering all these factors, he said: "There is at least a prima facia case of genocide that is occurring here.” Mokhiber believes there is a clear obligation of the international community to "act accordingly" in response to these findings.

Complicity of US, West

When asked to clarify his comments describing the situation in Palestine as a European ethno-nationalist settler colonial project, Mokhiber told Anadolu: “This would not be the first time that the West was implicated in settler colonialism. It is something that grew very much out of the West.”

“We have seen active complicity because while these assaults are happening, take the United States for example, we've seen the US financing, arming, providing intelligence support, providing diplomatic cover and even providing a veto in the Security Council to facilitate the Israeli actions in Gaza,” he said.

“This is complicity in legal terms for which the United States is also accountable. So absolutely, the West is involved. We've seen this with the US, with the UK, with a number of European governments, quite shockingly, who not only have been supporting what Israel has been doing, but they have been repressing dissent inside their own countries by prohibiting protests to defend Palestinian human rights and to call for accountability for the Israeli violations. And that combination of factors says to me, that a number of these Western countries are in fact complicit," he noted.

'Continuation of the Nakba'

When asked if he thinks the situation in Gaza could evolve into a new Nakba, Mokhiber responded: "I think it's the same Nakba."

Mokhiber views the current events as part of a persistent series of "successive ethnic purges of the Palestinian people," which started with the Nakba and then extended into various areas, including Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“And then, of course, the massive wholesale purging of the north of the Gaza Strip and beyond is an indication of a continuation of the Nakba, a continuation of ethnic cleansing. And as I've said a part of … the genocide that is unfolding,” he added.

The Nakba, which means "catastrophe" in Arabic, refers to the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Turning to the Israeli policy in the West Bank and settlers, Mokhiber noted that Israel's intention is to take over all historic Palestine.

“The purging of these additional villages in the West Bank is a continuation of the confiscation of Palestinian territory that's been going on for a very long time,” he said.

Mokhiber believes the idea of a two-state solution is "an absurdity," citing the current map of the West Bank and saying nothing is left for a sustainable Palestinian state there.

“So, I think the intention is very clear. It is to continue this ethno-nationalist settler colonial project and to replace the indigenous Palestinian population with Israeli settlers, all the way across Gaza, across the West Bank, across Jerusalem,” he added.

UN has 'obligation to stand up to' pressures

Mokhiber criticized the UN's political leadership and intergovernmental bodies like the Security Council for their shortcomings in two key areas.

He stated that they have "allowed themselves to be intimidated by strong demarches from the Western states," including the US, UK, and some European countries.

Additionally, Mokhiber highlighted the influence of Israeli lobby groups, which he accused of not only promoting "impunity on the part of the Israeli government" but also engaging in "smearing of the United Nations human rights defenders."

Despite finding such smear campaigns "intimidating" and "disquieting," Mokhiber said that the UN has an "obligation to stand up to" these pressures rather than succumb to them, suggesting that yielding to these influences has "weakened the position of the organization."

"Starting with the Oslo process 30 years ago, the UN basically abandoned the old approach of focusing on international law, international human rights, and equality in Israel and Palestine," he added.

'Double standard in ICC'

On the International Criminal Court (ICC)'s prompt response to Russia's actions in the Ukraine war and the lack of it on Israeli attacks on Palestinians, he stated that “external pressure from powerful Western states and lobby groups" has led to a double standard in the ICC, particularly in its prosecutor's office.

Mokhiber highlighted the disparity by comparing "the rapidity with which (the ICC) responded to appeals for action on Ukraine" against "the foot-dragging of the prosecutor in the court over many years now" regarding "war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine."

However, he expressed his support for the ICC, acknowledging its necessity but also recognizing that it "has a long way to go" to demonstrate its global commitment to justice.

"International Criminal Court has a long way before it's going to prove to the world that it's just not a mechanism set up to try people in Africa, that it is actually an international criminal court that is dedicated to a global regime of international criminal law and that it's ready to hold accountable Western perpetrators like those in Israel and those who are complicit with them," he added.

Attacks on UN refugee agency

Regarding the continued attacks by Israel on the UN Palestinian Refugees Agency (UNRWA), Mokhiber said the agency is being attacked because it "represents the possibility for the continuation of indigenous Palestinian life."

"And that I think is a threat to the settler colonial project... UNRWA is an extraordinary organization," said Mokhiber, highlighting that it is composed of mostly Palestinian refugee employees.

He stressed that without UNRWA, "there wouldn't be education about the human rights to which all Palestinian people, like the rest of us, are entitled."

"It is UNRWA that allowed much of the Palestinian society" to promote and celebrate their culture.

More than 100 UNRWA workers have been killed in the Israeli strikes in Gaza so far.

*Servet Gunerigok contributed to the story.

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