The Question of Sociocide

Dan Hanrahan
3 min readJan 28, 2024


The ICJ will likely be deliberating over whether or not to label the IDF operation in Gaza as genocide for several years. Following this reflection, I will list the standards which must be met for a state’s policies to be considered genocide under international law,* and anybody reading this can form their own conclusions on this question based on the evidence we have. What I think may be just as edifying would be to consider whether the policies in Gaza that are being dictated by the most right wing government in Israeli history constitute an act that is somewhat less laden with preconceptions, the act of sociocide.

As the neologism suggests, sociocide is the killing of a society, of the social life of a people. To obliterate the social life of a people, one must destroy the domestic spaces, the public spaces, the educational buildings and institutions, the places of worship, places of sport and recreation, government buildings housing records, hospitals and rehabilitation centers, places of commerce like stores and restaurants, and public places where one can just be — beaches, parks. Each day, these nodal points of Gazan society appear in the news as places razed by the Israeli army under the command of the far right wing Netanyahu and his ministers, several of whom are ideologically ultra right wing.

Humans are among the most social of animals. Solitary confinement is considered a form of torture, as it drives a person into psychosis and dissociation in a matter of days or less. Break the social, smash it, and it is easier to consider the people who once inhabited these spaces as less than human. This appears to be the grinding logic of the IDF project in Gaza: a shattering and rendering into dust of everything that constitutes Palestinian society.

But hold on, some may protest, all this is being done in order to get Hamas, to eliminate them. This response, which we hear quite often, brings to mind that most grimly absurd of phrases to emerge from the Vietnam War. The backstory and the phrase: “On February 7, 1968, American bombs, rockets and napalm obliterated much of the South Vietnamese town of Ben Tre — killing hundreds of civilians who lived there. Later that day, an unidentified American officer gave Associated Press reporter Peter Arnett a memorable explanation for the destruction. Arnett used it in the opening of the story he wrote: *’It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.’”*

One does not eliminate Hamas by bombing, starving and rendering homeless the civilian population. The causality just doesn’t add up. What does it seem to add up is that the Israeli political elite learned nothing from the immoral US debacle in Vietnam. It believes it can kill its way to peace, that it can defeat the enemy by terrorizing the civilian population and annihilating their society. This is a deeply stupid belief and deeply immoral, as it seeks to justify the mass scale murder of civilians and the collapse of their social cohesion.



Article 2 of the Convention defines genocide as

… any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

© Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 2[7]

Article 3 defines the crimes that can be punished under the convention:

(a) Genocide;

(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;

© Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;

(d) Attempt to commit genocide;

(e) Complicity in genocide.

— Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, Article 3[7]