WASHINGTON -- Protestors against Israel's operation in Gaza should pay close attention to what is happening tonight in northern Iraq. From a mountaintop, with a view over enemy combatants from a clear moral high ground, the United States is acting against the pending threat of actual genocide: the intentional, regime-sponsored systematic extermination of a people based on their identity.
Genocide is not a word often uttered by American presidents. In part, that is because genocide is an exceptionally rare crime. But when the act occurs, it is unmistakeable in its scale and its hallmarks: the world knows what has happened, because historically, its perpetrators hold a worldview that their murderous actions were justified.
In that tradition, the medieval Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, has made no secret of its goal to rule a "caliphate" full of zealot Sunnis, where women are enslaved and mutilated, and nonbelievers are tortured and beheaded. Tens of thousands of innocents have run for their lives from its warpath without much help from the international community— until now, from the United States, which has committed its military to the enforcement of that very basic international norm.
Can we expect mass protests in Vienna, Paris and Berlin calling for the protection of the oppressed of Iraq? The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says over 1 million have been displaced across Iraqi territory in the last month alone, with over 100,000 Christians, Yazidis, and many Muslims now seeking shelter.
This is what the threat of genocide looks like, for all those confused by its definition. Yazidi children are dying of thirst on the peak of a low mountain, without roofs over their heads to protect them from the August Iraqi sun, in flight from their homes because ISIS believes their families should submit and convert or perish. ISIS wants these people dead at their hands; the acute travesty unfolding in Iraq is just that simple.
International norms require the world make every effort to protect these innocent men and women stranded on Mount Sinjar, regardless of their religion, creed or ethnicity. Thankfully, due to the hard-fought successes of liberal democracies, that standard applies to all peoples, everywhere, including the Jews of Israel and of the diaspora, and the desperate Palestinians of Gaza.
Unfortunately for Gazans, they are ruled by a government that, like ISIS, makes no secret of its intention to kill, systematically, on a massive scale. "For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave," Hamas' charter reads, "so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated."
Not two weeks ago, Hamas officials called for the killing of all Jews worldwide. And a week before that, Hamas' leadership said that the objectives of the group, as listed in their charter, are more important than the cherished lives of the people in Gaza that they claim to represent.
Nevertheless, this organization has mobilized the support of parties throughout Europe, after building an infrastructure with minimal resources that facilitates the indiscriminate targeting of not only Jews, but of all people throughout the lands of a sovereign neighboring state.
Quite transparently, the group seeks the targeted, regime-sponsored systematic extermination of a people based on their identity.
Terrorists in the Middle East today, driven perversely by Islamic fundamentalism, operate from a paradigm that does not value human life— and certainly not liberty, taken for granted by those demonstrating freely throughout the streets of Europe. A xenophobic interpretation of the Quran, instead, justifies to some the mass control and killing of men as the will of God.
Israel seeks the basic rights of a state, and has demonstrated its desire to protect Gazan civilians from military actions against those who attempt to deny those basic rights: sovereign borders, free from the daily threat of attacks against its people. And yet throughout the last month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and PLO ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour, have openly charged Israel with actions tantamount to this stark charge of genocide.
Put succinctly: Leadership of the Palestinian Authority, considered the moderate representation of the Palestinian people, have equated Israel's operation in Gaza to ISIS' operations in eastern Syria and northern Iraq.
"It is shameful and disgraceful that these terrorists are doing this in the name of religion, killing the people whose killing Allah has forbidden, and mutilating their bodies and feeling proud in publishing this,” Saudi Arabian King Abdullah said of Hamas' tactics last month, at the height of the conflict. "They have distorted the image of Islam with its purity and humanity and smeared it with all sorts of bad qualities by their actions, injustice and crimes.”
Way too many people have died in Gaza, and the tactics and wisdom of Israel's operation should be matters of fierce public debate. They surely will. But such cries of genocide, crimes against humanity and other war crimes are accusations of an intent among Israelis that go far beyond the reality of those supporting and executing Operation Protective Edge.
Genocide is what happens when a people are discriminated against, corralled, and led to slaughter; misrepresenting the deed does an injustice to all of its true victims, and complicates good-faith efforts to prevent the crime from happening again.