UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

A Briefing Note on Genocide


Definition of Genocide in International Law

Genocide is defined in Article II of the Genocide Convention of 1948 as committing various acts with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such, in whole or in part. The specified acts are:

  • killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group,
  • deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculation to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part
  • imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group
  • forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

The same definition is used in Article 6 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part is the characterising element of the crime. Killing a large number of people without this intent is not genocide according to this definition.


Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, has apparently stated “The leaders of the Occupation [i.e. Israel] should know, October 7th was just a rehearsal”. Hamas’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Ghazi Hamad, has been reported as stating that it will repeat the massacres of 7-9 October 2023 again and again until Israel is annihilated. Hamas’s Interior Minister, Fathi Hammad, said in 2019: “We must attack every Jew on the planet – slaughter and kill”. A copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf translated into Arabic, in which sections calling for the slaughter of Jews were marked up, was recently found in a room in the northern Gaza Strip used as a base by members of Hamas.

Together with the deliberate targeting of all civilians within reach in the massacres led by Hamas on 7-9 October, these matters could support a case that Hamas members killed and caused serious harm to Jews and Israelis with an intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial and/or religious group in whole or in part, and were thus guilty of the crime of genocide.


There is no evidential basis for asserting that members of the Israel Defence Forces have conducted operations with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part, and the facts indicate the contrary.

The Israeli government has repeatedly stated that its objective is to destroy Hamas. Hamas is not a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. No Israeli leader with authority over the conduct of the military operation has indicated an intention to destroy the Palestinian people. Claims to the contrary are based on misinterpretations of statements taken out of context. On the contrary, an Israeli Minister without command authority was suspended after he suggested that dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza was “one of the possibilities”. Israeli politicians and media have discussed how to rebuild the Gaza Strip without Hamas after the war.

The IDF evidently has power to kill most of the population of the Gaza Strip but has not done so. Although serious and tragic, the Palestinian casualties so far, including terrorists and those killed by terrorists, amount to less than 1% of the population of the Gaza Strip. Israel has repeatedly urged and helped Palestinians in the north of the Gaza Strip to move to safer areas in the south. Israel has also taken extraordinary care to provide warnings to evacuate particular targets.

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