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Normalising UN terminology leads to normalising genocide

February 27, 2024 at 5:40 pm

Man holds a protest sign with written “Cease fire now” during the Pro-Palestine Demonstration in Milan, Italy on February 24, 2024 [Stefano Guidi/Getty Images]

The unfolding genocide committed by Israel in Gaza is being muted by terms which, for decades, did nothing to even alleviate the consequences of settler-colonialism for Palestinians, let alone provide any safety or liberation. Every time that the root cause of the violence is not mentioned by politicians, diplomats or the media, Israel’s impunity increases, as does its presence in Palestine. Palestinians, meanwhile, are deprived of the little space they have left, and their presence is subject to annihilation by Israel.

While the UN has used terms such as international law, ceasefire, humanitarian aid, forced displacement, settlement expansion and many others that refer to specific violations committed by Israel, what is missing from the narrative is Israel’s settler-colonial identity and presence in Palestine. Normalising UN terminology leads to normalising genocide.

From 1967 onwards, when Israel established its military occupation over Palestine as another step in its settler-colonial objectives, the international community found it easier and more comfortable to speak of “ending the occupation” and establishing “a two-state solution”. Settler-colonialism was almost completely eliminated from the narrative of what Palestinians have endured since before 1948. Decades of delays established settler-colonialism in Palestine, and the UN still refuses to acknowledge this fact. Of course, the UN’s role in enabling and maintaining Israel’s settler-colonial existence plays a major role in glossing over Israel’s origins and what it set out to achieve in the 1948 Nakba.

The current scenario is that of a settler-colonial entity committing genocide against the indigenous Palestinian population in Gaza.

Yet a major part of media dissemination speaks in terms of specific violations without referring to genocide. The mass starvation of Palestinians is not just an action that goes against international norms and conventions which Israel is supposed to follow; it is an act of genocide. Ceasefires to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and the release of hostages are merely a sliver of what a ceasefire should entail. Primarily, the ceasefire should serve as an end to the current genocide of Palestinians, not a pause that allows Israel to recalibrate ready for its next round of bloodletting.

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Subjecting Palestinians to overcrowding in Rafah, making them even more vulnerable to the Israeli military, exhibits both the intent and the action as regards genocide. Each time Israel commits a violation, it needs to be linked to genocide, which in turn, in this case, is a direct manifestation of Israel’s settler-colonial expansion.

While world leaders enjoy their sporadic debates on ceasefires, let it be remembered that the current genocide must be traced back to its colonial roots. The West does not want to reverse colonialism, but colonialism can be reversed if the indigenous people can reclaim their political space. The UN has no right to set up compensation schemes for the colonised without holding the colonisers to account. Palestinians do not need to be told what to do, what to accept, how they should fit into a humanitarian paradigm that fits the diplomatic narrative set up by the UN, which has no intention of halting Israel’s colonisation of Palestine. And if the UN has no intention to address Israel’s settler-colonial existence, then what will does the international organisation have to address the ongoing genocide in Gaza?

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