Israeli Minister Threatens "Holocaust" As Public Demand Ceasefire Talks
Israeli officials began damage limitation efforts after the country's deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai threatened Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip with a "holocaust."
The comments came a day after Israeli occupation forces killed 31 Palestinians, nine of them children, one a six-month-old baby, in a series of air raids across the Gaza Strip.
Speaking to Israeli army radio today, Vilnai said, "the more Qassam [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves."
A report on the BBC News website headlined "Israel warns of Gaza 'holocaust'" noted that in Israel the word "holocaust" -- shoah in Hebrew -- is "a term rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi genocide during World War II."
The BBC later reported that "many of Mr. Vilnai's colleagues have quickly distanced themselves from his comments and also tried to downplay them saying he did not mean genocide." An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Arye Mekel, claimed that Vilnai used the word "in the sense of a disaster or a catastrophe, and not in the sense of a holocaust."
The attempt to limit the damage of Vilnai's comments is not surprising. It was recently revealed how another Israeli official, Major-General Doron Almog, narrowly escaped arrest at
Incitement to genocide is a punishable crime under the international Genocide Convention, adopted in 1948 after the Nazi holocaust.
"The 8 Stages of Genocide," written by Greg Stanton, President of Genocide Watch, sets out a number of warning signs of an impending genocide, which include "dehumanization" of potential victim groups and preparation, whereby potential victims "are often segregated into ghettoes, deported into concentration camps, or confined to a famine-struck region and starved." 
Vilnai's holocaust threat, however much Israeli officials attempt to qualify it, fits into a consistent pattern of belligerent statements and actions by Israeli officials.
As The Electronic Intifada has previously reported, dehumanizing statements by Israeli political and religious leaders directed at Palestinians are common (see "Top Israeli rabbis advocate genocide," The Electronic Intifada, 31 May 2007 and "Dehumanizing the Palestinians," Ali Abunimah, The Electronic Intifada, 21 September 2007)
On 28 February, Vilnai's colleagues added their own inflammatory statements. Cabinet minister Meir Sheetrit stated that
And today, Tzachi Hanegbi, a senior member of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima party said that Israel should invade Gaza to "topple the Hamas terror regime" and that Israeli forces, which now enforce the occupation of Gaza from the periphery and air, should prepare to remain in the interior of the territory "for years."
While Israeli leaders escalate the violence and threats, some other top officials and a vast majority of the Israeli public support direct talks with Hamas to achieve a mutual ceasefire, something Hamas has repeatedly offered for months.
"Sixty-four percent of Israelis say the government must hold direct talks with the Hamas government in
Knesset Member Yossi Beilin, leader of the left-Zionist Meretz-Yahad party, called for an agreed ceasefire with Hamas, noting that "there have been at least two requests from Hamas, via a third party, to accept a cease-fire," Haaretz reported on 29 February.
The question remains as to why when the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians, some senior Israeli officials, and Hamas leaders are all talking about a ceasefire, the Israeli government refuses to accept one and the US refuses to call for one. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has blamed the escalating bloodshed entirely on Hamas, and has failed to call for a ceasefire. This echoes her support for Israel's merciless 2006 bombardment of Lebanon which she notoriously celebrated as being "the birth pangs of a new Middle East."
The Palestinian and Israeli populations are exhausted by the relentless bloodshed, however unequal its toll. They are paying the price of a failed policy, pushed by Washington and its local clients, which attempts to demonize, isolate and destroy any movement that resists the order that the United States seeks to impose on the region.
-- Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah is author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (Metropolitan Books, 2006).
Endnotes  See: http://www.genocidewatch.org/aboutgenocide/ 8stagesofgenocide.html