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Genocide and more: the varied forms of destruction in Gaza

February 8, 2024 at 2:50 pm

A general view of a destroyed family building, belonged to the Palestinian Bahit family, following the Israeli attacks in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on February 7, 2024. [Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency]

In the wake of Israel’s war in Gaza, thousands of lives have been lost and entire neighbourhoods lie in ruins, marking one of the deadliest and darkest times in the region’s history.

Bordering the Mediterranean Sea on one end, and Egypt and Israel on the other, vast swathes of the Gaza Strip have been reduced to rubble since 7 October under the Israeli airstrikes and bombardment.

Death and despair reign as more than 27,000 people have been killed by Israeli forces, while 85 per cent of the 2.2 million population is displaced.

People have been forced to survive on animal feed and polluted water, as Israel has suspended supplies to the besieged enclave since the beginning of the conflict, now in its fifth month.

Experts and rights organisations assert that multiple forms of destruction, tantamount to crimes against humanity and war crimes, are unfolding in the region.

READ: Humanitarian pause in Gaza reveals humanitarian catastrophe, destruction

Israel’s deadly onslaught in Gaza has been defined as genocide by UN experts, scholars, activists and politicians alike. Last month, the International Court of Justice issued an interim ruling in South Africa’s case against Israel, saying there was plausible risk of genocide taking place in Gaza.

Under the UN’s Genocide Convention of 1948, genocide refers to acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The devastating situation in Gaza has pushed scholars and activists to use well-known, as well as new terms, to describe it and the massive and extensive damage being done to the culture, environment, infrastructure and education of the Palestinian society.

“There seems to be intentional destruction of housing. There is destruction of places of worship, especially of mosques. There’s destruction of universities and schools, which seems to be intentional. They can certainly come under war crimes, it can come under crimes against humanity, and it can come under genocide,” according to Omer Bartov, Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Brown University.

Part of genocide and its definition is the destruction of a group along with its culture, he explained. While such terms “don’t really have any standing in terms of international law,” Bartov tells Anadolu, that what matters in terms of international legal definitions are those of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Anadolu has taken a look into the various forms of destruction taking place in Gaza.

Educide: Destruction of education

Israel’s deadly onslaught has led to extensive damage done in educational institutions of the Palestinian society.

Rula Alousi, an academic in the UK, defines “educide” in her research as genocide of education. The word educide was first used by Pluto Press in November 2009, according to Alousi’s research into the “systematic killing of Iraqi academics and the intellectual elite” since the US invasion of the country in 2003, and whether this could constitute a case of educide.

READ: Malaysia PM: Gaza destruction exceeds damage to Hiroshima after nuclear bomb

Of the massive death toll in Gaza, as well as hundreds more killed in the Occupied West Bank, around 4,895 are students, while 8,514 have been injured by Israeli forces since 7 October, according to media reports citing the Palestinian Ministry of Education.

Around 89 students have been arrested since the start of the conflict, according to the Ministry, which also said that more than 230 teachers have been killed and over 830 injured.

Palestinian news agency, Wafa, reports that around 620,000 students remain “deprived of enrolment” at their schools since 7 October.

According to the news agency, at least 286 government schools have been destroyed, and 65 UNRWA schools damaged or bombed by Israel.

Reports cite that 12 higher education institutions — all of Gaza’s universities — have been damaged or destroyed.

As the world awaits the ICJ's verdict, Israel's genocide continues - [Cartoon / Mohammad Sabaaneh]

As the world awaits the ICJ’s verdict, Israel’s genocide continues – [Cartoon / Mohammad Sabaaneh]

Ecocide: Destruction of environment

Israel’s war on Gaza has caused extensive damage to its environment due to the munitions it is using.

“Ecocide” refers to the “devastation and destruction of the environment to the detriment of life,” says the European Law Institute.

According to the Vienna-based non-profit, the concept was coined during the Vietnam War in the 1970s by American biology professor, Arthur Galston, as he was protesting the US military’s use of “herbicide and defoliant chemical, Agent Orange, to destroy the foliage cover and crops of enemy troops.”

According to a report exclusively shared by British daily, The Guardian, during the first two months of the war, total emissions from the conflict was the equivalent of 281,315 tons of carbon dioxide.

Zeinab Shuker, an assistant Professor of Sociology at Sam Houston State University in Texas, says in an article for The Century Foundation that Gaza’s war has poisoned its land and water.

She points out that the bombing has made all “major urban areas … uninhabitable.”

According to Shuker, Gaza’s environmental resources are being “poisoned, depleted or otherwise destroyed,” with recovery possibly taking generations.

READ: 1,000 mosques destroyed in Israeli onslaught on Gaza, local authorities say

Some 97 per cent of Gaza’s water, meanwhile, has become unsuitable for human consumption, she mentions.

“Gaza’s water and sewage treatment facilities also require electricity and fuel, sewage is flowing into the Mediterranean Sea.”

The article also cites the Norwegian Refugee Council, which states that more than 130,000 cubic meters (about 34 million gallons) of untreated sewage a day is released into the Mediterranean Sea from Gaza in October, with “dire consequences for the environment”.

The scholar also points out that the substances contained in the bombs and other munitions, including incendiary white phosphorus, which can impact rivers and aquifers.

Domicide: Destruction of housing

The war in Gaza has also shed light on the extensive damage caused to housing and infrastructure as Israel has dropped 40,000 tons of explosives on the Territory since 7 October.

“Around 69,700 housing units have been completely destroyed and 187,300 housing units have been partially damaged,” notes Euro-Med Monitor.

“The facilities that have been targeted by Israel during its ongoing attacks include 320 schools; 1,671 industrial facilities; 183 health facilities, including 23 hospitals, 59 clinics and 92 ambulances; 239 mosques; three churches and 170 press offices,” the rights watchdog said in an article in mid-January.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, said in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times that, during the three months of conflict, “a shocking 60 per cent to 70 per cent of structures in Gaza, and up to 84 per cent of structures in parts of northern Gaza, have been damaged or destroyed.”

Bartov, the Brown University Professor, tells Anadolu that another related term being used is “urbicide”, “that is, that you destroy urban centres in Gaza is, but in large part, it’s one great big urban centre and a vast amount of it — 50-60 per cent at least in northern Gaza has been destroyed.”

Destruction of culture

“The destruction of cultural heritage in Gaza impoverishes the collective identity of the Palestinian people, irrevocably denies them their history and violates their sovereignty,” says a report on the damage of Israel’s attacks to “Archives, Libraries and Museums in Gaza” by the Librarians and Archivists with Gaza network.

According to Al Jazeera, almost 200 sites of historical importance have been “destroyed or damaged in Israeli air raids on the Palestinian enclave in the past 100 days,” including libraries, museums, mosques and churches.

READ: Carbon emissions and climate costs of Israel war on Gaza

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.