Middle East

Israeli officials accused of inciting war crimes in Gaza with violent rhetoric

As Israel's attacks on civilians in Gaza trigger worldwide protest, Israeli officials' threats, inhumane rhetoric also draw criticism

Can Efesoy  | 18.11.2023 - Update : 18.11.2023
Israeli officials accused of inciting war crimes in Gaza with violent rhetoric


While Israel's attacks on the blockaded Gaza Strip continue, violent and hateful language used by Israeli politicians and military officials have sparked backlash as an invitation to commit war crimes.

Many international legal experts argue that in addition to the attacks on Gaza, decades of Israel's systematic settler policy amounts to a war crime in itself.

As Israel's attacks on civilians, civilian facilities, hospitals, and refugee camps in Gaza trigger protests worldwide, the threatening and inhumane rhetoric of Israeli politicians and military members has also drawn criticism.

While international legal experts discuss whether such rhetoric constitutes war crimes, the question of how the International Criminal Court's (ICC) investigation in Gaza will conclude remains unanswered.

Netanyahu likens Palestinians to 'Amalek'

In a press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likened Palestinians to a tribe known as Amalek referenced in the Hebrew Bible.

The passage urges Israelites to exterminate every living being without discrimination of women, children, the elderly, or even livestock and the destruction of cities in their war against the Amalekites.

Referring to the text, Netanyahu said: "You must remember what Amalek did to you, says our Holy Bible."

"We remember, we fight. Our brave forces and warriors in Gaza, around Gaza, and in all other regions of Israel join this chain of Jewish heroes."

Netanyahu, stating that this chain started 3,000 years ago, added: "Our heroic forces have a main goal, to completely destroy the bloodthirsty enemy and ensure our existence in this country."

'Voluntary' migration from Gaza

In one of many controversial statements, Israel's far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich took to Facebook to argue in favor of the "voluntary" evacuation of Gazans to countries around the world.

He expressed that this would be a humanitarian solution to end decades of suffering in Gaza and the region caused by poverty, displacement, and other dangers.

Stating that most of the inhabitants of Gaza are fourth- and fifth-generation descendants of refugees displaced during Israel's establishment in 1948, Smotrich claimed that they were being held "hostage" in poverty and overcrowded conditions and that they symbolized the desire to overthrow the state of Israel and return refugees to cities like Jaffa and Haifa.

The Israeli minister emphasized that Gazans had a lack of opportunity for long-term economic and political independence, concluding that the "only solution, with the generous financial support and aid of the international community, including the State of Israel, is for refugees to be accepted by countries around the world that truly wish for their well-being."

Wiping out all Hamas supporters

Another minister in the Israeli government, Itamar Ben-Gvir, meanwhile, called for the elimination of anyone supporting or sympathizing with Palestinian resistance group Hamas.

In these remarks, National Security Minster Ben-Gvir argued that support for Hamas and other such groups were enough to make a person a target for Israel.

These comments raised concerns about freedom of expression and collective punishment.

Threat of nuclear strike

Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu, who, like Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, are far-right members of Netanyahu's coalition, also made controversial remarks in a radio program about Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Eliyahu, known for his hostility towards Palestinians and extreme right-wing views as a member of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, demanded the reversal of a 2005 decision by Israel to withdraw its troops and settlers from Gaza.

"They (Palestinians) can go to Ireland or to the deserts. The monsters in Gaza should find their own solution," he said.

Responding to a question on whether a nuclear bomb could be dropped on Gaza, Eliyahu said it would be an "option."

After backlash, Eliyahu defended his remarks on X, saying his comment on dropping an atom bomb was "metaphorical."

The Israeli Prime Minister's Press Office stated in a written statement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had suspended Eliyahu from Cabinet meetings indefinitely.

Call for Gaza's destruction

Moshe Feiglin, the founder of Israel's right-wing Zehut Party, has called for the complete destruction of Gaza.

He advocated an aggressive approach against the enclave, which has been under Israeli bombardment for over 40 days, drawing parallels with historical events like the World War II bombings of the German city Dresden and the Hiroshima in Japan.

Gaza to become place 'where no one can exist'

More dehumanizing came from Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, who heads Coordination of Government Activities in the Palestinian Territories (COGAT) forces.

Alian claimed that Hamas was celebrated, not feared, by Palestinians in Gaza, comparing them to animals and implying that the enclave's inhabitants would be punished with a lack of electricity and water.

"There will be no electricity and no water (in Gaza), there will only be destruction. You wanted hell, you will get hell," he said.

Israeli defense chief threatens Lebanon

In a visit to a military base in northern Israel, Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant commented on rising tensions on the Lebanese border, claiming that Hezbollah was dragging the Beirut into a possible war with Tel Aviv.

"I am saying here to the citizens of Lebanon, I already see the citizens in Gaza walking with white flags along the coast and moving south," said Gallant, referring to Palestinians displaced from northern Gaza due to Israeli attacks.

"If it makes mistakes of this kind, the ones who will pay the price are first of all the citizens of Lebanon. What we are doing in Gaza we know how to do in Beirut," he said.

Opposition to entry of fuel into Gaza

Israeli lawmakers Ariel Kallner and Tally Gotliv, meanwhile, opposed any decision to allow fuel into Gaza, much needed for the continued functioning of hospitals and other crucial infrastructure.

Kallner claimed that every drop of fuel entering Gaza would be used by those harming Israelis.

Gotliv, for his part, accused Hamas of exploiting humanitarian aid, calling for more relentless attacks on Gaza.

Israeli officials inviting war crimes

International figures, including former Human Rights Watch Director Kenneth Roth, expressed concern about the rhetoric coming from Israeli officials.

He highlighted the need for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider these statements in its ongoing investigation into the conflict.

Legal experts pointed out that Israel could be held responsible for statements inciting war crimes.

Possible legal culpability of Israel

Michelle Burgis-Kasthala, a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh's Law School, emphasized that there was nothing new about Israeli officials' rhetoric.

She said it was based on thought-out and systematic stance on the Palestinian people, Gaza, the occupied West Bank, and the region as a whole.

Pointing out that similar rhetoric has been used before, Burgis-Kasthala said the current Gaza conflict allowed these thoughts to be expressed in the mainstream.

Burgis-Kasthala said such statements containing hate and violence may be used to hold Israel legally responsible if a connection is uncovered with the government's policy or if the government does not take action against them.

Referring to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, Burgis-Kasthala drew attention to the obligation of states not only to refrain from committing genocide but also to punish those who speak in favor of committing genocide.

She emphasized that Israel was responsible in this regard.

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