Gaza airstrike victim

Palestinian civil and rescue team members carry a victim of Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on November 7, 2023

(Photo: Mohammad Zanoun/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images)

Amid Rising Internal Dissent, US State Dept. Claims Israel Not Guilty of Genocide

"The U.S. 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 U.S. complicit," argued one attorney.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said Monday that the Biden administration does not believe the Israeli military's assault on Gaza and displacement of more than 70% of the enclave's population amounts to genocide, rejecting the conclusions of outside experts who argue the ongoing attack is a clear case of the most severe international crime.

Vedant Patel, the State Department's principal deputy spokesperson, said during a press briefing that the U.S. government has "a rigorous process for evaluating whether something constitutes genocide, and we have not made that assessment in this case."

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Patel's remarks came amid rising dissent inside the State Department over the Biden administration's unwavering support for the Israeli government, which has killed more than 10,000 people in the Gaza Strip in a month of large-scale, indiscriminate bombing.

Shortly before Monday's press briefing, Politico obtained an internal memo in which unnamed State Department staffers criticize the Biden administration's "tolerance" for the high and rising death toll in Gaza and refusal to support a cease-fire.

The memo was reportedly organized by Sylvia Yacoub, a foreign affairs officer in the State Department's Bureau of Middle East affairs who has publicly accused President Joe Biden of being "complicit in genocide," pointing to his decision to continue arming Israel as it carries out mass atrocities in Gaza.

"We must publicly criticize Israel's violations of international norms such as failure to limit offensive operations to legitimate military targets," the memo states. "When Israel supports settler violence and illegal land seizures or employs excessive use of force against Palestinians, we must communicate publicly that this goes against our American values so that Israel does not act with impunity."

The memo comes a week after human rights attorney Craig Mokhiber resigned from his United Nations position and warned that "once again, we are seeing a genocide unfolding before our eyes, and the organization that we serve appears powerless to stop it."

"The current wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people, rooted in an ethno-nationalist settler-colonial ideology, in continuation of decades of their systematic persecution and purging, based entirely upon their status as Arabs, and coupled with explicit statements of intent by leaders in the Israeli government and military, leaves no room for doubt or debate" over whether Israel is committing genocide, Mokhiber wrote in his resignation letter.

"One thing we know about genocide is that it often begins with ethnic cleansing. In fact, that's what happened in the Holocaust."

During Monday's State Department briefing, journalist Sam Husseini invoked Mokhiber's letter when pressing Patel on possible U.S. complicity in genocide.

Patel responded that the U.S. will continue to urge Israel to "make a distinction between Hamas terrorists and Palestinian civilians," a plea that has not stopped the Israeli military from bombing refugee camps, homes, bakeries, schools, and healthcare facilities.

Legal experts and scholars of genocide, including prominent Israeli historians, have argued that Israel's relentless bombing and siege of Gaza—combined with dehumanizing rhetoric used by top Israeli officials and leaked ethnic cleansing proposals—represent stark examples of potentially genocidal acts. Israel has quietly been pressuring Egypt to accept hundreds of thousands of Gazan civilians for the duration of the war, a proposal that has thus far been rejected due to fears of permanent displacement.

Raz Segal, an associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University, has called Israel's military campaign in Gaza a "textbook case of genocide."

In an appearance on MSNBC over the weekend, Omer Bartov, an Israeli-American professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Brown University, said that "the possibility of genocide is staring us in the face."

"One thing we know about genocide is that it often begins with ethnic cleansing," said Bartov. "In fact, that's what happened in the Holocaust."

Brad Parker, an attorney and senior policy adviser at Defense for Children International—Palestine, wrote in an op-ed for Middle East Eye last week that "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."

"The U.S. 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 U.S. complicit," Parker added. "Israeli warplanes are entirely U.S.-sourced and the munitions killing Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are overwhelmingly American-made weapons."

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