How Can We End Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide Forever?
How can we end the terrible scourges of ethnic cleansing and genocide—forever?
Is it even possible? Yes, I believe it is ...
a Primer for Students, Teachers and other Educators
by Michael R. Burch,
an editor and publisher of Holocaust
and Nakba poetry
I believe we can end ethnic cleansing and genocide forever—and eventually war as well—if we go back to the basics and study
history. We have to learn from the past if we don't want to keep repeating the
same errors (or, in this case, the same horrors). The movie Judgment at Nuremberg is a good place to start
our studies because it
clearly illustrates how ethnic cleansing and genocide can take place even in
highly literate, advanced industrial nations like pre-World-War-II Germany. I highly recommend
the movie for anyone who has world peace at heart and who wants to make the
earth a safer, happier, healthier place for everyone, including highly
vulnerable babies and
How does ethnic cleansing begin? I believe history reveals that it begins with racism and tribalism:
the prehistoric idea that "they" are different from "us" and are therefore
"inferior," "not to be trusted" and "dangerous." I call this the
"chosen few sin-drome." The thinking (I use the term loosely) is that
we are the "chosen few" and people who are different from
us can be
discarded or driven away. We see the same thing happening in our schools, when
one group of students puts on airs and treats other students like pariahs.
But this air of superiority that we call "racism" is not sufficient for ethnic cleansing to occur.
Why? Because as long
as people are protected by fair laws and courts, they cannot be stripped of
their rights, freedom, land, homes, farms, businesses, jobs and property. So
something else is required: the subversion of justice.
This subversion of justice can clearly be seen taking place in Judgment at Nuremburg. The movie,
an all-time classic which was
nominated for eleven Oscars, is about the post-WWII trial of German judges by a panel of
international judges over what we now call the Holocaust. Spencer Tracy plays
American judge who heads the tribunal. Burt Lancaster plays a highly regarded
German judge who confesses the terrible truth: that German courts and judges
subverted justice by allowing Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, communists, homosexuals and
other "inferior" people to be "cleansed" from German society.
The Holocaust did not begin with people being mass murdered. It began with
people being found "guilty" by association with disfavored
groups, after which they were robbed of everything they possessed, including
their homes, businesses and jobs. This left them unable to
provide for themselves and their families. Thus, they became the destitute,
homeless wards of a state that cared nothing about them. They were then exiled
to walled ghettoes and concentration camps where at best they were subjected to
cramped quarters, malnourishment, disease and despair. At worst they were
subjected to slave labor, torture, rape, medical experimentation and murder. As
the number of people exiled grew into the millions, the cost of even minimal
care became enormous, and the Nazis finally made the decision to install gas
chambers and ovens in their diabolical "final solution." But it is important to
understand that none of this could have happened if Germany had established
and maintained fair, nonracist laws and courts.
The same is true for other Holocausts as well. For example, American slavery and the Civil War
never have happened if American laws and courts had not been subverted to
allow white Americans to take advantage of black Americans. The Trail of Tears
and the ethnic cleansing and genocide of millions of Native Americans could
never have happened if American laws and courts had not been subverted to allow
white Americans to take advantage of American Indians. South African apartheid
could not have occurred if South Africa's laws and courts had not been subverted
to allow whites to take advantage of blacks. The ongoing Nakba ("Catastrophe")
of the Palestinian people could never have happened without Israel creating
racist laws and courts expressly designed to allow Israeli Jews to continually
steal land and water from Palestinians, while demolishing their homes and
refusing to grant them permits to build new ones. This is a classic case of
ethnic cleansing, as the maps below clearly illustrate. In 1946 Palestinians
occupied over 90% of the land of Israel/Palestine. By the year 2000, the
Palestinians possessed only a small fraction of the land, and yet they had not been
compensated for the land they lost. How can it be "legal" for people of one race
to steal the land of people of another race? This can only happen when laws and
courts have been deliberately subverted to favor one race over another.
Ethnic cleansing in Palestine has been very similar to the ethnic cleansing of
Native Americans, with the bulk of the land changing hands on a racial basis
without the people losing their land being compensated for it. As a result,
millions of completely innocent Palestinian women and children have suffered
terribly, and many have died prematurely. To cause the premature death of an
innocent person is murder. To cause the premature deaths of large numbers of
innocent people is genocide. Since Israel continues to demolish the homes of
Palestinians while denying them building permits, the "cantonization" of
Occupied Palestine will continue, as more and more Palestinians are crowded onto
less and less land. Israel already faces the same predicament as the Nazis:
being forced to provide for millions of unwanted people who have become wards of
a state that cares nothing about them.
But there is a simple solution to this terrible problem, although "simple" does
not mean "easy." The simple solution is to require every government on earth to
establish fair, nonracist laws and courts. Then ethnic cleansing and genocide
cannot occur. But how can this be accomplished, in the real world?
In the real world, law evolves by custom and precedent. At one time child
sacrifice, cannibalism and slavery were permitted in many parts of the world.
For instance, slavery was permitted in Israel (we know this from the Bible). As
Christianity became the dominant religion in the West, slavery spread to the
Americas because slavery was clearly condoned in the Old Testament, while Jesus
and Paul never clearly condemned slavery in the New Testament. (Jesus never said
a word against slavery. Paul actually returned a runaway Christian slave,
Onesimus, to his Christian master, Philemon.)
Christians could quote verses in the Bible that condoned not only slavery, but
sex slavery: for example, Exodus 21 (which allowed fathers to sell their
daughters as sex slaves, with the option to buy them back if they didn't "please"
their new masters) and Numbers 31 (in which Moses commanded his warriors to
slaughter defenseless women and children, keeping only the virgin girls alive,
obviously as sex slaves).
But Western custom and precedent eventually came to regard slavery as an
abomination after hundreds of thousands of Christians killed each other during
the Civil War over the issue of slavery. (While there have been attempts by some
revisionists to claim that the Civil War was "not about slavery, but states'
rights," the four Southern states that issued public statements about their
reasons for seceding from the Union made it abundantly clear that slavery was
the pressing issue of the day. But in any case today even
"Bible-believing Christians" no longer believe the Bible verses that
command and/or condone slavery and sex slavery.)
So what we need today is an international legal precedent that not
only declares ethnic cleansing and genocide to be illegal, but proves that
establishing fair, nonracist laws and courts is the key to racial peace and
harmony. And I think we have the key within our reach, as I will now explain.
Just as the Civil War helped set an international precedent for ending slavery,
I believe the Nakba can help us set an international precedent for ending ethnic
cleansing and genocide, now and forever. If this new Holocaust can be ended by
the creation of fair, nonracist laws and courts in Israel/Palestine, then no one
anywhere in the world can ever say that war, terrorism or violence are
necessary, anywhere in the world. Since wars are always fought over land and the
"right" of one group of people to exert control over another group of people,
this same international legal precedent could be used to abolish war.
The key to ending ethnic cleansing and genocide is simple, which again does not
necessarily mean easy. But the basic idea is easy to understand. Here it is:
The Burch-Elberrry Peace
I hope you will consider this simple idea: that the way to end ethnic cleansing
and genocide forever is to establish an international legal precedent. We need
to prove, once and for all, that establishing fair, nonracist laws and courts is
the path to a nonviolent, just peace.