About Martin Shaw
Martin Shaw is research professor of international relations at the Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals (IBEI) and the University of Sussex, and professorial fellow in international relations and human rights at the University of Roehampton. Among his books are War and Genocide: Organised Killing in Modern Society (Polity, 2003); The New Western Way of War: Risk-Transfer War and its Crisis in Iraq (Polity, 2005); and What is Genocide? (Polity, 2007). His website is here
Articles by Martin Shaw
This week's editor
Mandela: the global icon
The reports of an upsurge of violence in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) may at a glance appear little more than a continuation of the persistent conflict in the country over much of the last two decades. Yet a closer look reveals not just the particularity of what is happening in one corner of Africa, but the ingredients of a wider arc of endemic conflict across a huge swathe of the continent.
An intense political engagement over the question of West Bank settlements is continuing between the Barack Obama administration in the United States and the government of Binyamin Netanyahu in Israel. A failure to resolve the issue would be fatal to any chances of real progress towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
A particular rhetorical weapon is being employed by self-proclaimed supporters of Israel in the United States in relation to the settlements: that any dismantling of these communities and removal of their inhabitants would amount to "ethnic cleansing". The use of such a term makes an explicit association between any withdrawal of the settlers from the West Bank and (among many other cases) the systematic expulsions that took place during the wars of ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The argument is being made for immediate political purposes, as the pace of engagement in the new round of regional diplomacy quickens (see Alex Spillius, "Obama close to securing Middle East peace talks", Daily Telegraph, 26 August 2009). But some of its rhetorical potency derives from the fact that it connects to historical experience and political reference-points in the region as well as beyond. The "ethnic cleansing" case thus deserves closer examination: but might it lead in directions that its proponents would not wish to go?
A subtle warning
A prominent Republican pollster, Frank Luntz, has circulated a report to sympathetic individuals and organisations on behalf of the Israeli Project (TIP). This outlines what it calls "the best settlement argument": "The idea that anywhere that you have Palestinians there can't be Jews, that some areas have to be Jew-free, is a racist idea. We don't say that we have to cleanse out Arabs from Israel. They are citizens of Israel. They enjoy equal rights. We cannot see why it is that peace requires that any Palestinian area would require a kind of ethnic cleansing to remove all Jews" (see Gilad Halpern, "Pro-Israel group: Obama settlements policy backs 'ethnic cleansing' of Jews", Ha'aretz, 23 August 2009).
The advice of the Israel Project - whose board of advisors includes twenty members of the US Congress, from both parties - represents an interesting variation in the response to perceived threats. Israeli politicians and their allies have long argued that Arab and Islamist opposition to Israel's existence portends a new holocaust. The most prominent example is the reaction to the anti-Israel rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the holocaust-denying Iranian president, in 2005 (interpreted by no less than the International Association of Genocide Scholars as a "public expression of genocidal intent"). The Israel Project's approach (albeit now somewhat qualified by its founder) represents a subtler and apparently more realistic warning of a new, inherently anti-Semitic, threat. The "ethnic cleansing" argument - given that this concept is so often used as a euphemism for genocide - keeps the genocide threat to the fore without conjuring the fear of a mass slaughter of Jews, which is obviously implausible in the context of any likely peace settlement.
The political context and motive of the "cleansing" argument may make it appear little more than a shallow propaganda move. Certainly the way the Israel Project presents it - denying any threat to "cleanse out Arabs from Israel" and asserting Israeli Arabs' citizenship and "equal rights" - is doubly disingenuous. The desirability of "transferring" Israeli Arabs out of the state is a recurring theme on the not-so-far shores of Israeli politics, and on no serious assessment can Arabs be said to have equal rights in what is, after all, the "state of the Jewish nation". The current proposals to demand that Arabs take a loyalty oath to the Jewish state only emphasise the deepening crisis of the Arab community's position within Israel (see Laurence Louër, "Arabs in Israel: on the move", 20 April 2007).
The historical code
But if the Israeli Project's focus on "ethnic cleansing" hits a deeper nerve, this is precisely because of the way that all political issues in the Israel-Palestine conflict, including the settlements, are defined in terms of communal interests. Sixty years ago hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs were expelled and terrorised into flight by the emergent Israeli state - a certain episode of "ethnic cleansing" and indeed of genocide (to the extent that there was a concerted policy to destroy a large part of Arab society). For the last forty years, Israel has used its occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem to continue the process of dispossessing Palestinian homes and land, in slow-motion and by means which are ostensibly legal in domestic law (if not in international law, since the occupation itself remains illegal).
In this light, is it not then plausible to consider the proposal to dismantle Israeli settlements a kind of "ethnic cleansing" in reverse? It is clear that there have been many such genocidal "cleansings" in history, including the wholesale "revenge" expulsions of Germans in the closing stages and aftermath of the second world war in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia. True, there can be no suggestion that the mere "freeze" on new and extended settlements currently proposed by President Obama could fall into this category, since no one will be dispossessed or expelled from anywhere as a result (although a freeze may save a few Palestinians from this fate). But since any even half-reasonable peace settlement must hand over some Israeli settlements to Palestinian control (without this there is no possibility of a coherent and viable Palestinian state), the situation of the Jewish population in these settlements is a real, complex and potentially difficult issue.
It is clearly relevant that many settlers, as well as settlement leaders, have been in the vanguard of Israel's illegal expansion in the occupied territories, and their parties are the most aggressively anti-Palestinian in the current Israeli political scene. No able-minded adult settlers can truly have been wholly ignorant of this context, and in this sense all can be regarded as complicit to some degree. However these facts cannot justify the compulsory removal of an entire population, including children and the mentally incapable - as well as those settlers whose motives have been primarily socio-economic rather than expansionist. Such an expulsion might indeed be considered, like the Israeli expulsions of Palestinians since 1948, "racial" in character (whatever the specific ideological motives). Even if neither Israel nor Jews have collective rights to occupied Palestinian lands, it can be argued that individuals and families may have acquired personal rights to stay in homes in which they have lived for years or even, in some cases, decades. The key to the question, then, is the reconciliation of these rights with justified Palestinian demands for political control over the occupied lands in which settlements have been built - and the rights of former Palestinian landowners to compensation.
The political twist
So if "peace" does not "require that any Palestinian area would require a kind of ethnic cleansing to remove all Jews", three things would be necessary to achieve peace without "cleansing".
First, Israeli advocates must stop talking euphemistically about a "Palestinian area", and face up to the unanswerable case (in the absence of any realistic prospect of a single bi-communal state) for a viable Palestinian state. Second, Israel must acknowledge the terrible consequences of its own "ethnic cleansings" of Palestinians, starting with 1948 and including those that have taken place recently to allow the building of the settlements, and make proposals to address the continuing injustices arising from them. Third, Israel must address the poor and deteriorating situation of the Arab minority within its own borders, dropping all constitutional provisions which make Arabs second-class citizens and ensuring that "equal rights" become a reality.
For if the continued existence of a Jewish population in the settlements requires a Palestinian state in which minorities can be confident that their individual and communal interests will be respected, the latter needs to be matched by an Israeli state which demonstrates the same standards. A Palestinian state should not be a racially Arab state; but neither should the Israeli state be defined as the state of the Jewish people. Unless both states can be defined both by secular, non-racial constitutions and by clear, well-founded and widely-supported policies of minority inclusion, the prospects for Jewish residents in any settlements handed back to Palestine - and for Israeli Arabs - will continue to be poor.
The Israel Project offers nothing in this direction. It supports policies that would continue to confine Palestinians to Bantustan-style "areas", deny the abuses they have suffered over sixty years and their unequal status within today's Israel, and do everything to sustain the present illegal status of territory- and land-grabbing settlements.
The group's advocacy touches on a real issue, but by seeking to block any serious compromise with legitimate Palestinian claims its campaign only makes more likely the kind of "cleansing" which it says it wants to avoid - and that when compromise comes, as it must, a number of Israeli settlers will be forcibly removed. Most probably this will be done, as in Gaza in August 2005, by the Israeli state itself.
This makes it ever more important now to distinguish between the rights of settler families and the ideological interests and purposes of the Israel Project and its allies. For in the context of the just and secure two-state agreement that Israelis and Palestinians alike desperately need, such ostensible support for Israel turns on closer inspection into its opposite.
Also in openDemocracy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2009:
Paul Rogers, "Gaza: hope after attack" (1 January 2009)
Ghassan Khatib, "Gaza: outlines of an endgame" (6 January 2009)
Avi Shlaim, "Israel and Gaza: rhetoric and reality" (7 January 2009)
Paul Rogers, "Gaza: the Israel-United States connection" (7 January 2009)
Paul Rogers, "Gaza: the wider war" (13 January 2009)
Paul Rogers, "After Gaza: Israel's last chance" (17 January 2009)
Tarek Osman, "Egypt's dilemma: Gaza and beyond" (12 January 2009)
Menachem Kellner, "Israel's Gaza war: five asymmetries" (14 January 2009)
Khaled Hroub, "Hamas after the Gaza war" (15 January 2009)
Prince Hassan of Jordan, "The failure of force: an alternative option" (16 January 2009)
Fred Halliday, "The greater middle east: Obama's six problems" (21 January 2009)
Conor Gearty, "Israel, Gaza and international law" (21 January 2009)
Paul Rogers, "Gaza: the war after the war" (22 January 2009)
Mustafa Kibaroglu, "Turkey-Israel relations after Gaza" (26 January 2009)
Sadegh Zibakalam, "Iran and the Gaza war" (26 January 2009)
Khaled Hroub, "The ‘Arab system' after Gaza" (27 January 2009)
Hugo Slim, "NGOs in Gaza: humanitarianism vs politics" (30 January 2009)
Lucy Nusseibeh, "The four lessons of Gaza" (4 February 2009)
Prince Hassan of Jordan, "Palestine's right: past as prologue" (11 February 2009)
Colin Shindler, "Israel's rightward shift: a history of the present" (23 February 2009)
Faisal al Yafai, "What makes the Arabs a people?" (25 February 2009)
Eyal Weizman, "Lawfare in Gaza: legislative attack" (1 March 2009)
Akiva Eldar, "The United States and Israel: moment of truth" (18 May 2009)
Gershon Baskin, "The state of Israel: key to peace" (19 May 2009)
Gideon Levy, "Barack Obama: Israel's true friend" (25 May 2009)
Karim Kasim & Zaid Al-Ali, "The Cairo speech: Arab Muslim voices" (8 June 2009)
Akiva Eldar, "Binyamin Netanyahu's mirage" (15 June 2009)
Gershon Baskin, "Israel's path: from occupation to peace" (7 July 2009)
Akiva Eldar, "Iran, the Arabs and Israel: the domino-effect" (27 July 2009)
Hazem Sagheh, "Israeli settlement, Arab movement" (28 July 2009)David Gardner, "Israel-Palestine: solving the refugee question" (18 August 2009)
The war in Afghanistan is intensifying, especially in the southern province of Helmand where western coalition forces are attempting to take the fight to the Taliban. The inevitable result is an increase in deaths and injuries (often disabling ones) among British, American and other national contingents.
The civil war in Sri Lanka is receding from the international headlines, as crises in Iran and celebrity deaths occupy the media's limited space and attention-span. A very large number of its Tamil victims are still, more than six weeks after the fighting ended, confined in government forces in a complex of forty camps in the north east of the country. An estimated 280,000 civilians - originally displaced from their homes by the fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (Tamil Tigers / LTTE), and in some cases fleeing from the brutal regime in the LTTE's former "liberated" zone - are being held, generally against their will.
Martin Shaw is a historical sociologist of war and global politics, and professor of international relations and politics at the University of Sussex. His books include War and Genocide (Polity, 2003), The New Western Way of War (Polity, 2005), and What is Genocide?(Polity, 2007). His website is here
Also by Martin Shaw in openDemocracy:
"The myth of progressive war" (11 October 2006)
"Genocide: rethinking the concept" (1 February 2007)
"The International Court of Justice: Serbia, Bosnia, and genocide" (28 February 2007)
"The genocide file: reply to Anthony Dworkin" (6 March 2007)
"My Lai to Haditha: war, massacre and justice" (16 March 2008)
"Israel's politics of war" (19 January 2009)
"Uses of genocide: Kenya, Georgia, Israel, Sri Lanka" (9 February 2009)
"Sudan, the ICC and genocide: a fateful decision" (11 March 2009)
"The Kosovo war: between two eras" (31 March 2009)
"A century of genocide, 1915-2009" (23 April 2009)
"The trouble with guns: Sri Lanka, South Africa, Ireland" (10 June 2009)President Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his "victory speech", told Sri Lanka's parliament that "our heroic forces have sacrificed their lives to protect Tamil civilians", and he took "personal responsibility" for protecting Tamils. Yet his government is now scandalously confining this huge population - who have already suffered not only from the LTTE but from Sri Lankan bombardments which caused probably tens of thousands of deaths and injuries - in squalid conditions. The government has officially backtracked, under international pressure, on plans to hold the displaced, while screening them for potential "terrorists", for up to three years; it now says that 80% will be resettled by the end of 2009.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) comments: "The government's history of restricting the rights of displaced persons through rigid pass systems and strict restrictions on leaving the camps heightens concerns that they will be confined in camps much longer, possibly for years."
In the shadows
The eruption in Iran has in a twisted way done the Sri Lankan government a service. In any case, Colombo has been ruthless in restricting international journalists and rights organisations: in May 2009 even the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was barred from Menik Farm, the largest camp, and Channel 4's Nick Paton Walsh was deported. Sinhala nationalism remains oppressively dominant within the majority population, and critics of the government face an atmosphere of intimidation and even terror: Sri Lankan journalists have frequently been murdered, assaulted and detained.
Although human-rights organisations and western governments have continued to protest at the situation, the Sri Lankan government has found friends in the United Nations's new Human Rights Council; it was able to pass a resolution there on 27 May 2009 praising its own commitment to human rights (endorsed by such notable bastions of freedom as China, Cuba, Russia, Pakistan and Egypt). The vigorous campaigns by members of the Tamil diasporas have ensured that the situation has not been entirely forgotten, but the interned Tamils don't have the mobile-phone access that (in the early post-election stages at least) so embarrassed the Iranian regime. There are some pictures of the camps on the internet, but no iconic images of Tamil suffering have entered the commercial, established media in the manner of Iran's Neda Soltan - or indeed of Fikret Alic, the emaciated prisoner pictured behind barbed-wire in the Trnopolje camp in Bosnia in summer 1992.
It is often said that pictures tell their own story. However what is important is the media narrative and the momentum behind the issue: in both the Iranian and Bosnian cases the crises were much more strongly established in the dominant media (and the exposure of the experiences of Neda Soltan and Fikret Alic) fed this. In the case of Sri Lanka, sadly, the level and intensity of coverage - despite the impressive Tamil campaigns - has not matched these.
Moreover, what was important in Bosnia was that Trnopolje was described as a "concentration"camp - so the image facilitated the connection between the atrocious treatment of Bosnian Muslim prisoners and the murderous history of concentration camps in Europe under Nazism. The Bosnian-Serbian government that was responsible for Trnopolje naturally disputed this appellation, describing it merely as a holding centre for "refugees"; today the lowest-common-denominator descriptor seems to be a "detention" camp.
The Sri Lankan government also prefers its camps to be seen as "refugee" camps. However once people are detained, camps are clearly more than that; and where there is a sustained policy of concentrating detainees then the term "concentration camp" applies. In war, these camps - invented at the beginning of the 20th century to describe the enclosures in which the Spanish detained Cubans and the British detained Boer farmers and their families during the South African wars - are usually designed to corral a civilian population seen as potentially sympathetic to a guerrilla enemy (as Tamils evidently are still seen despite the LTTE's defeat).
Totalitarian regimes, including Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, have also used camps to concentrate other civilian groups - actual and potential political opponents, trade unionists, and ethnic "enemies" such as Jews. The complication in using the "concentration camp" category is that such regimes went on to develop their camps into something more - in the Soviet case, labour camps, in the Nazi case, extermination camps. Clearly, not all concentration camps are "death" camps in the Nazi sense; but all concentration camps tend to produce death, as well as widespread physical and mental harm. Since their premise is enmity towards the interned civilians, the history of concentration-camps has been marked, from the Boerwar onwards, by callous disregard for their welfare, and often worse.
As Human Rights Watch remarked of the Sri Lankan situation on 11 June 2009:
"Virtually all camps are overcrowded, some holding twice the number recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Food distribution is chaotic, there are shortages of water, and sanitation facilities are inadequate. Camp residents do not have access to proper medical services and communicable diseases have broken out in the camps."
What is more, "the military camp administration has imposed numerous restrictions on humanitarian organizations working in the camps, such as limiting the number of vehicles and staff members that can enter the camps, which has delayed the provision of much-needed aid. The military does not allow organizations into the camps to conduct protection activities, and a ban on talking to the camp residents leaves them further isolated.'"
If reports of violence and disappearances are added to this, the situation of the interned Tamils appears dire.
A "rolling" genocide?
The western fixation with the Nazi holocaust means that there is an obvious political temptation to link all anti-civilian violence with the Nazi model.The pro-Tamil United States-based academic Francis Boyle, in his posts, sees a sixty-year "rolling" genocide in which Sinhalese governments of Ceylon (the country's name at independence in 1948) and Sri Lanka have sought "to annihilate the Tamils and to steal their lands and natural resources. This is what Hitler and the Nazis called lebensraum - "living space" for the Sinhala at the expense of the Tamils." In this perspective, the camp system is all too clearly the latest stage of genocide - although other Tamil advocates date genocide back to the anti-Tamil pogroms in 1983 in response to which the LTTE campaign began.
The idea of "rolling" genocide, applied by Madeleine Albright to distinguish the Sudanese campaign in Darfur from the "volcanic" genocide in Rwanda, suggests discontinuity in a history of genocide - albeit, in the Darfur case, within two or three years rather than six decades. However in many cases, there may be genocidal "moments" (as the genocide historian, Dirk Moses, has suggested of colonialism) in stories of oppression - decades or even centuries long - which do not, taken as a whole, constitute processes of genocide (see A Dirk Moses ed., Empire,Colony, Genocide: Conquest, Occupation, and Subaltern Resistance in World History [Berghahn, 2008]).
There may be sporadic genocidal massacres, rapes and expulsions, or even sustained campaigns, at particular points in these histories. Something like this seems to be true in the Sri Lankan case: no one doubts the long history of Sinhalese nationalist oppression against the Tamil community since independence, which includes moments like 1983 which can be plausibly seen as genocidal outbursts. But the history as a whole is not simply one of genocide.
Indeed the dedication of the LTTE to armed struggle against the Sri Lankan state helped turn a history of oppression and resistance into one of brutal insurgency and counterinsurgency (see The trouble with guns: Sri Lanka, South Africa, Ireland", 10 June 2009). We know however that counterinsurgency is one of the most common contexts of genocidal violence. It remains to be seen - since most of the survivors are locked away from the world's media and the Sri Lankan government is blocking all attempts at independent investigation of the recent violence - how far the Sri Lankan army went in the direction of deliberate atrocity as opposed to brutal disregard for civilians. Here, indiscriminate allegations of a long-running Sri Lankan genocide paradoxically blunt the real questions: what kind of violence did the Sri Lankan state commit against its Tamil civilian population in the concluding prosecution of the war, on what scale and with what intentions?
The continuing concentration of over 250,000 people in the camps both blocks the search for answers to these questions, and itself constitutes a most serious crime. If the doors are not opened quickly, this will raise questions of whether the government seriously intends a restoration of Tamil society in the conquered zone. This would indeed pose a question of genocide, in the sense of the deliberate destruction of a population group in its home territory.
Also in openDemocracy on Sri Lanka‘s war:
Sumantra Bose, "Sri Lanka's stalemated conflict" (12 June 2007)
Meenakshi Ganguly, "Sri Lanka under siege"(30 January 2009)
Meenakshi Ganguly, "Sri Lanka's displaced: the political vice" (8 April 2009)
Nirmala Rajasingam, "The Tamil diaspora: solidarities and realities" (17 April 2009)
Luther Uthayakumaran, "Sri Lanka: after war, justice"(21 May 2009)
Rohan Gunaratna, "Sri Lanka's challenge: winning the peace" (27 May 2009)
Also in openDemocracy on modern genocide:
Ed Vulliamy, "Srebrenica: ten years on" (6 July 2005)
Hrant Dink, "The water finds its crack: an Armenian in Turkey" (13 December 2005)
Gérard Prunier, "Darfur's Sudan problem" (15 September 2006)
Peter Balakian, "Hrant Dink's assassination and genocide's legacy" (29 January 2007)
Anthony Dworkin, "The law and genocide: Bosnia, Serbia, and justice" (2 March 2007)
Ben Kiernan, "Blood and soil: the global history of genocide" (12 October 2007)