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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 children.

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 the 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 would 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 Initiative.

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.

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