‘Human Animals’: The Sordid Language behind Israel’s Genocide in Gaza

Ramzy Baroud
Saturday 28 Oct 2023

The shocking parallels between Israel's dehumanizing rhetoric and historical genocides are now translating into real-life horrors in Gaza.


“(Tutsis) are cockroaches. We will kill you.”

Arabs are like “drugged cockroaches in a bottle.”

The first quote was a line repeated frequently by the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, a Rwandan radio station, which is largely blamed for inciting hatred towards the Tutsi people. 

The second was said by former Israeli army Chief-of-Staff, Gen. Rafael Eitan in 1983, speaking at an Israeli parliamentary committee.

Rwanda’s hate-filled radio station operated for only one year (1993-94), yet incited one of the most tragic episodes in modern human history: the genocide of the Tutsis.

Compare ‘Radio Genocide’ to the massive Israeli-US-Western propaganda machine, dehumanizing Palestinians with almost identical language to that used by Hutu media decades ago.

Many seem to forget that, long before the Gaza war, on October 7, and even long before the establishment of Israel itself in 1948, the Zionist-Israeli discourse has always been one of racism, dehumanization, erasure and, at times, outright genocide. 

If one is to randomly select any period of Israeli history to examine the political discourse emanating from Israeli officials, institutions and even intellectuals, one is to draw the same conclusion: Israel has sustained a constant narrative of incitement and hatred, even advocating the genocide of Palestinians.

Only recently, this genocidal intent has become obvious to many people. 

“There is (...) a risk of genocide against the Palestinian people,” stated UN experts on October 19. But this ‘risk of genocide’ has not emerged purely out of recent events. 

Indeed, effective political or military actions anywhere in the world hardly take place without an edifice of text and language that facilitates, rationalizes, and justifies those actions. Israel’s perception of Palestinians is a perfect illustration of this claim. 

Before the establishment of Israel, Zionists denied the very existence of the Palestinians. Many still do. 

When that is the case, it becomes only logical to conclude that Israel, in its collective mind, cannot be morally culpable of killing those who have never existed in the first place. 

Even when Palestinians factor into the Israeli political discourse, they become “bloodthirsty animals”, “terrorists” or “drugged cockroaches in a bottle”.

It would be too convenient to label this as merely ‘racist’. Though racism is at work here, this sense of racial supremacy does not exist to merely maintain a socio-political order, in which Israelis are masters and Palestinians are serfs. It is far more complex.

As soon as Palestinian fighters from Gaza crossed into the southern border of Israel, killing hundreds, not a single Israeli politician, analyst or mainstream intellectual seemed interested in the context of the daring act.

The post-October 7 language used by Israelis, but also many Americans, created the atmosphere necessary for the savage Israeli response which followed.

The number of Palestinians killed in the first eight days of the Israeli war against Gaza has reportedly exceeded the number of casualties who were killed during the longest and most destructive Israeli war on the strip, dubbed “Protective Edge”, in 2014.

According to DCI–Palestine, a Palestinian child is killed every 15 minutes and, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, over 70% of all of Gaza’s casualties are women and children.

For Israel, none of these facts matter. In the mind of Israeli President Isaac Herzog, often perceived as a ‘moderate’, the “rhetoric about civilians not (being) involved (is) not true.” They are legitimate targets, simply because they “could’ve risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime”, he said, referring to Hamas.

Therefore, “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible,” according to Herzog, who promised payback.

Ariel Kallner, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, explained Israel’s goal behind the Gaza war. “Right now, one goal: Nakba! A Nakba that will overshadow the Nakba of 1948,” he said.

The same sentiment was conveyed by Israeli Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, the man responsible for translating Israel’s declaration of war into an action plan: “We are fighting human animals and we will act accordingly,” he said on October 9. ‘Accordingly,’ here, meant that “there will be no electricity, no food, no fuel. Everything is closed.” And, of course, thousands of dead civilians.

Since Israel’s top political authorities have already declared that all Palestinians are collectively responsible for the October 7 events, this means that all Palestinians are, per Gallant’s assessment, ‘human animals’, deserving no mercy.

Expectedly, Israel’s supporters in the US and other Western countries joined the chorus, likewise using the most violent and dehumanizing language, and thus cementing mainstream Israeli political discourse among ordinary people.

US presidential hopeful, Nikki Haley, told Fox News on October 10 that the Hamas attack was not just on Israel but “an attack on America”. It was then that she made her sinister declaration while looking directly at the camera: “Netanyahu, finish them, finish them (..) finish them!”

Though US President Joe Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not use the same words, they both made comparisons between the October 7 events and the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The meaning behind this requires no elaboration.

For his part, US Senator Lindsey Graham rallied American conservative and religious supporters, declaring on October 11, also on Fox News, “We are in a religious war here. (...) Do whatever the hell you have to do. (...) Level the place.”

Much more, equally sinister language was - and continues - to be uttered. The outcome is being broadcast around the clock. Israel is ‘finishing off’ Gaza's civilian population, it is ‘levelling’ thousands of homes, mosques, hospitals, churches and schools. Indeed, it is producing another painful episode of the Nakba.

From Golda Meir’s “Palestinians did not exist” (1969) to Menachem Begin’s  Palestinians are “beasts walking on two legs” (1982), to Eli Ben Dahan’s “Palestinians are like animals, they aren’t human” (2013), to numerous other racist and dehumanizing references, the Zionist discourse remains unchanged.

Now, it is all coming together, the language and the action in perfect alignment. Perhaps, it is time to start paying attention to how Israel’s genocidal language is translating to an actual genocide on the ground. Sadly, for thousands of Palestinian civilians, this awareness is simply too late.
*Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is ‘Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak Out’. His other books include ‘My Father was a Freedom Fighter’ and ‘The Last Earth’. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

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