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Israel-Palestine war: In Gaza, the US is an active partner in genocide

It was a signatory to the 1948 Genocide Convention, but the US, through its unconditional backing for Israel's slaughter in Gaza, is supporting the gravest crime under international law
A demonstrator holds up a sign featuring images of US President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, at a protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, in London, Britain on 21 October 2023 (Reuters)
A demonstrator holds up a sign featuring images of US President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, at a protest in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, in London, Britain on 21 October 2023 (Reuters)

On 25 October, when confronted with the escalating Palestinian death toll and asked if Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had ignored his requests to minimise civilian casualties, President Joe  Biden took the opportunity to casually cast doubt on Palestinian death statistics and declared: “I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s the price of waging a war.”

Biden’s comments suggest he is completely unconcerned by the scope and scale of Palestinian civilian harm as a result of Israeli military attacks in Gaza, or the fact that, day by day, he is actively becoming evermore complicit in an Israeli military campaign where Israeli forces are killing Palestinian children with impunity, constituting the crime of genocide.

During the past 24 days of hostilities, Israeli forces have killed at least 3,542 Palestinian children in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, with estimates of over 1,050 children reported missing and presumed to be trapped or dead under the rubble, awaiting rescue or recovery.

During this same time, Israeli forces have killed 36 Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank.

To put the intensity of the current Israeli bombardment into context, Israeli forces in the past 24 days have killed more than two times the number of Palestinian children killed in Gaza in all previous Israeli military offensives combined from January 2006 to 6 October 2023.

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Prior to 7 October, my colleagues and I at Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCIP) had documented and verified a total of 1,171 Palestinian children killed in Gaza.

Grave violations against children

I first worked with DCIP in the summer of 2009, just after the Israeli military offensive on Gaza during December 2008 and January 2009, known as Operation Cast Lead, where DCIP documented and verified 353 Palestinian children killed in Israeli attacks.

I pored over documentation collected by our DCIP field researchers in Gaza to draft evidence-based reports on Israeli attacks on schools and hospitals, civilian homes, and direct attacks on civilians. 

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The high water mark for Israeli war crimes against Palestinian children in Gaza was reset during the 50-day Israeli military offensive in July and August 2014, known as Operation Protective Edge. Our investigation into Palestinian child fatalities found overwhelming and repeated evidence that Israeli forces committed grave violations against children amounting to war crimes.

DCIP independently verified the deaths of 547 Palestinian children among the killed in Gaza, 535 of them as a direct result of Israeli attacks. Nearly 68 percent of the children killed by Israeli forces were 12 years old or younger. 

The US is not simply standing by, failing to prevent or punish genocide against Palestinians - it is actively enabling and supporting the gravest crime under international law

To put the scale of Palestinian children killed into a broader context, Israeli forces have killed more children in Gaza in the past 22 days than the total number killed in armed conflict globally over the course of a whole year, for the last three years.

International humanitarian law prohibits indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks and requires all parties to an armed conflict to distinguish between military targets, civilians, and civilian objects.

Deploying explosive weapons in densely populated civilian areas constitutes indiscriminate attacks and carrying out direct attacks against civilians or civilian objects amounts to war crimes. 

Yet, the near complete impunity delivered by the United States and enjoyed by Israeli officials and armed forces means they essentially know no bounds.

Each Israeli military offensive from Operation Cast Lead to now has been met with little to no international pressure to hold any actor accountable, simply perpetuating systemic impunity as the norm.

The previous failure of the international community to hold Israeli officials accountable for war crimes, and, maybe even more importantly, to sit back and not challenge the United States’ unconditional support for Israel, has led us to where we are now. 

Apartheid policies

Children in occupied Gaza account for nearly 50 percent of the total 2.3 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Nearly all of them now have grown up under 16 years of Israeli siege and closure and repeated Israeli military offensives that created an increasingly unlivable human-made humanitarian situation prior to 7 October.

In the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Palestinian children experience an unceasingly oppressive and increasingly violent Israeli military occupation where Israel’s leadership is more intent than ever on relying on apartheid policies and intentional lethal force to manage an unjust, oppressive, and entirely unsustainable military occupation.

In addition to the current threat of indiscriminate Israeli air strikes on residential buildings and civilian infrastructure, Palestinian children face further imminent threats due to mass internal displacement and Israeli government restrictions on food, water, fuel, and other humanitarian assistance being able to reach them and their families.

The medical system in Gaza is collapsing as Israeli forces continue to escalate their bombardment of Gaza by air, land and sea.

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Under international law, genocide constitutes the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group, in whole or in part. Genocide can result from killing or by creating conditions of life that are so unbearable it brings about the group’s destruction.

What we are witnessing, and in the case of DCIP documenting in real-time, is Israeli forces actively committing the crime of genocide against Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, as they carry out unlawful attacks with complete disregard to international law, in an attempt to depopulate Gaza. It is happening with the full and unconditional support of the United States government.

The United States, as a signatory to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, has a duty to both prevent and punish the crime of genocide. Beyond that, Biden and other US government officials should know that the Genocide Convention criminalises not just the commission of genocide, but also attempts to commit genocide and, importantly, complicity in genocide. 

Bold US leadership needed

The US is not simply standing by, failing to prevent or punish genocide against Palestinians - it is actively enabling and supporting the gravest crime under international law, making the US complicit.

Israeli warplanes are entirely US-sourced and the munitions killing Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are overwhelmingly American-made weapons. 

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When confronted with the widespread and systematic Israeli military attacks against an overwhelmingly youthful civilian population in Gaza and the routine unlawful killing of Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank, the Biden administration has responded with unconditional support to Israel.

It has used its diplomatic support to paralyse the United Nations Security Council to ensure Israeli forces can continue the onslaught, and has pledged another $10.6bn in US taxpayer-funded military assistance and American-made weapons.

This is on top of the $3.8bn in US military assistance already provided annually to Israel.

If Biden is not concerned about the current Palestinian death toll, then I have no illusions that obligations under the Genocide Convention will make him shift his policies.

With no end in sight, there is a dire need for bold US leadership to take immediate action to prioritise the preservation of human life, given the worsening hostilities and humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

How many Palestinian children do Israeli forces have to kill before someone steps up to lead in an incredibly urgent humanitarian and political moment?

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

Brad Parker is an attorney and Senior Policy Adviser at Defense for Children International - Palestine. He specializes in issues of juvenile justice and grave violations against children during armed conflict and leads DCIP’s legal and policy advocacy efforts on Palestinian children’s rights. He is a co-leader of the No Way to Treat a Child campaign.
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