As an example, most sources don't cite the expulsion of Germans from Sudetenland as an example of a "genocide". However the proposed expulsion of Gaza residents into Egypt is sometimes quoted as "genocidal" in news outlets.

Is there an official definition of what counts as "genocide"? I was under the impression that only killing a group of people counts as such but apparently this is not the only interpretation of the word.

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    One wonders why the Q states I was under the impression that only killing a group of people counts as such. There have been questions about specifically what constitutes genocide here before. Same OP. And the top voted answer was pretty clear that it was not limited to killing. Now, some people may regret adding too many "non-killing events" to genocide (I find it problematic myself), but this definition is well known already. Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 0:47

10 Answers 10


If you look at legal definitions, the case is abundantly clear. The Rome statute of the International Criminal Court lists crimes that constitute genocide in Article 6, and crimes that constitute Crimes against Humanity in Article 7. The "Deportation or forcible transfer of population" is listed in Article 7, not 6.

A different case is looking into the literature of sociology and historcal science. There the case has been made that ethnic cleansing, forced expulsion and genocide intertwine. Some authors try to establish a relationship between those terms that keeps clear qualitative boundaries, but others see a sort of "continuum". Wikipedia has a long footnote citing various authors. One position is issued by Martin Terry:

Ethnic cleansing is probably best understood as occupying the central part of a continuum between genocide on one end and nonviolent pressured ethnic emigration on the other end.

Carrie Booth Walling voices the opposite position:

It is important - politically and legally - to distinguish between genocide and ethnic cleansing. The goal of the former is extermination...Ethnic cleansing involves population expulsions, sometimes accompanied by murder, but its aim is consolidation of power over territory, not the destruction of a complete people.

The most extreme position is denying there is a meaningfull distinction to be made. Martin Shaw is quoted to say:

How could ‘forced deportation’ ever be achieved without extreme coercion, indeed violence? How, indeed, could deportation not be forced? How could people not resist? How could it not involve the destruction of a community, of the way of life that a group has enjoyed over a period of time? How could those who deported a group not intend this destruction? In what significant way is the forcible removal of a population from their homeland different from the ‘destruction’ of a group? If the boundary between ‘cleansing’ and genocide is unreal, why police it?

Brian Brivati has published a longer review of Shaw's book in Dissent Magazine.



Temporary relocation, if unavoidable, is legally permissible (art 49 Geneva conventions). Permanent expulsions, would be considered a crime against humanity per Rome Statute (article 7). (Considering either by itself, without other aggravating circumstances). And UN experts are debating whether ethnic cleansing can be linked to genocide.

Well, why not go get it from the horse's mouth, i.e. the UN's Convention on Genocide:

Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in
whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) 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

So, yes, talking about "Genocide" in the context of getting Palestinians out of the area of Israeli military operations in Gaza does seem, more than a bit, hyperbolic. Not least because there's so far little indication that Israel is planning long-term deportation. Nor is there much indication either that Egypt would acquiesce to any large scale movements of refugees. Certainly, if Egypt was to take in refugees on its border, it would behoove everyone to get firm Israeli commitments to their right of return to Gaza.

If Israel did permanently expel Gazans, at scale, in 2023, that could classify as "ethnic cleansing" whose statute as a crime is still being debated about in the UN:

As ethnic cleansing has not been recognized as an independent crime under international law, there is no precise definition of this concept or the exact acts to be qualified as ethnic cleansing. A United Nations Commission of Experts mandated to look into violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia defined ethnic cleansing in its interim report S/25274 as "… rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area." In its final report S/1994/674, the same Commission described ethnic cleansing as “… a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.”

The Commission of Experts added that these practices can “… constitute crimes against humanity and can be assimilated to specific war crimes. Furthermore, such acts could also fall within the meaning of the Genocide Convention.

However the Rome statute is clearer as far as classifying it as a crime against humanity:

Article 7: Crimes against humanity


(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population;

But, again, that is getting far ahead of the current events.

And getting back to current events, Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions(txs Fizz) has two things to say:

Article 49 - Deportations, transfers, evacuations Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.

Nevertheless, the Occupying Power may undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand. Such evacuations may not involve the displacement of protected persons outside the bounds of the occupied territory except when for material reasons it is impossible to avoid such displacement. Persons thus evacuated shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.

  • 3
    As to the last quote, there is a distinct difference between "undertaking total or partial evacuation of a given area" (which suggests actually organizing said evacuation) and telling that area that they'd be best off evacuating to somewhere else unspecified.
    – Flater
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 6:01
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    "little indication that Israel is planning long-term deportation" Except for the millions of people who are living with the consequences of previous long-term deportation measures, and various Israeli officials advocating for exactly that.
    – User65535
    Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 13:41
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    @User65535 Re. the past, that's why I included ", in 2023,". Re the future, Israel should definitely not be allowed to do as it pleases after it has suppressed Hamas. Fantasies of things like "cutting Gaza loose" and assuming no responsibility for residents' welfare, while simultaneously denying statehood and exerting full control over border exchanges are mutually incompatible. After this phase - taking out Hamas as much as possible - is over the world really needs to push Israel towards better behavior and good faith negotiations. With a whole lot less settlement-ing. Commented Nov 1, 2023 at 21:54

To answer the Q narrowly, genocide is probably not the right term, even Albanese, the "UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory", (who otherwise made some questionable remarks) called such an attempt just "ethnic cleansing".

BTW, three courts were happy to quote each other that ethnic cleansing is not necessarily genocide:

As the ICTY has observed, while 'there are obvious similarities between a genocidal policy and the policy commonly known as "ethnic cleansing"' (Krstić, IT-98-33-T, Trial Chamber Judgment, 2 August 2001, para. 562), yet '[a] clear distinction must be drawn between physical destruction and mere dissolution of a group. The expulsion of a group or part of a group does not in itself suffice for genocide.' ..."

— ECHR quoting the ICJ.

OTOH some scathing critics of this Israeli counter-attack have called the whole operation genocide, but in this they include killings that result as part of the military campaign. Whether their assessment is (remotely) reasonable I won't address here because it's far from your original Q.

As for the more strict legal terminology to apply to such events, this actually has evolved a bit from "crime of deportation" (yeah, one would not consider deportation a crime in most circumstance, but it was the word used in some early international instruments, albeit prefixed with "crime of") to "deportation or forcible transfer of population".

Prior to the coming into force of the International Criminal Court (ICC) treaty, international criminal law sometimes did not distinguish between the crime of deportation, defined as "the forced removal of people from one country to another," and the crime of forced population transfer, defined as the "compulsory movement of people from one area to another within the same State." Deportation has been recognized as a crime against humanity in each of the major international criminal instruments prior to the ICC, including the Nuremberg Charter, the Tokyo Charter, the Allied Control Council Law No. 10, and the statutes of the international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. The long-standing definition of "deportation" as a crime against humanity included the crime of forced population transfer within a state's borders.

The Statute of the ICC, which came into force on July 1, 2002, includes among its definition of crimes against humanity "deportation or forcible transfer of population." According to one commentator, forcible transfer of population was specifically included "to make it expressly clear that transfers of populations within a State's borders were also covered." The crime of forcible transfer of population includes "the full range of coercive pressures on people to flee their homes, including death threats, destruction of their homes, and other acts of persecution, such as depriving members of a group of employment, denying them access to schools, and forcing them to wear a symbol of their religious identity."

In order to be recognized as a crime against humanity under the requirements put forth by the ICC, the forced transfer of population also must be committed as "part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack." The "attack" does not necessarily need to be a military attack as defined under international humanitarian law, and "need not even involve military forces or armed hostilities, or any violent force at all." In the landmark Akayesu judgment, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda defined "attack" to encompass the forced transfer practices used by Iraq and described in this report, stating:

An attack may also be nonviolent in nature, like imposing a system of apartheid, which is declared a crime against humanity [by the] Apartheid Convention of 1973, or exerting pressure on the population to act in a particular manner, may come under the purview of an attack, if orchestrated on a massive scale or in a systematic manner.

Slightly interesting perhaps, the Allied Control Council Law No. 10 defined "ill treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose, of civilian population from occupied territory" as a war crime rather than a "crime against humanity", although that law also included deportation in the latter category as "deportation, imprisonment, torture, rape, or other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds whether or not in violation of the domestic laws of the country where perpetrated". The Nuremberg Charter did pretty much the same. It seems only later on deportation was relegated exclusively to "crimes against humanity".

Wikipedia calls the 1979 events, in which Cambodians refugees were forced back from Thailand into Cambodia, the "Dangrek genocide" because many were killed in the process, by Thai gunfire and Cambodian mines. So ultimate intent seems to have mattered little there in how the event was later called. OTOH it gives the alt name "the Preah Vihear pushback", so I guess not everyone uses the genocide term for that event. TBH searching either of these terms in Google Books returns a very small number of results (zero for the former--the term appears to come just from a paper--I can confirm it's somewhere in the body [p. 462], and I found one GB hit for the latter term), so one probably can't infer much from this.


I don't see how this could be considered literal genocide. As JMS's answer quotes, genocide is an attempt to kill or seriously harm a significant portion of an ethnic group. If they force all the Gazans into Egypt, it would only be genocide if they expect Egypt to harm these migrants (and then it would certainly be arguable that Egypt is directly responsible for the genocide, not Israel).

If they only expelled the children, it would fall under the "forcibly transferring children of the group to another group" criterion. That might be considered genocide.

Those who say this would be genocide are using hyperbole for rhetorical purposes. It might be more appropriate to say that it's "tantamount to genocide." But even this seems like a gross exaggeration. The Holocaust was a genocide of Jews. But if the Nazis instead forced all the Jews to migrate to other countries (as many did by themselves to escape the Nazis), that would not have been considered nearly as serious. Diasporas can dilute the purity of ethnic groups, as they assimilate into the societies they move to, but doesn't generally destroy them.

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    Downvoted per Godwin's Law. There are several genocides which primarily operated via mass deportation and forced removal; the deaths suffered en route were sufficient to destroy cultures. Good examples include the Armenian genocide and Trail of Tears.
    – Corbin
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 13:04
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    @Corbin: It's a fair point. IDK if you also DV my answer for similar reasons. But the OP inquires about a hypothetical casualty-free event... The issue IMHO is more with the Q than (such) answers. It's also clear just from the Nuremberg statutes chaining all those in a few sentences that the drafters saw them as interrelated events, although the word genocide had not entered (widespread) use then. Slightly aside, but Lemkin's original use was broader than the later legal definitions digitalcommons.usf.edu/gsp/vol13/iss1/14 Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 13:49

According to the criminal court: https://www.icc-cpi.int/sites/default/files/RS-Eng.pdf

Article 6 on genocide: (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

This includes forcing them to leave their homes or denying them food.

But if, in addition to expelling them from their homes, you bomb the camps where they take refuge, as happened in Bureij, killing civilians, then there is no longer any doubt.

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    I'm sorry but it seems that like many others, you misunderstood the meaning of a "Palestinian Refugee Camp". As you can check out on Google Maps, those camps are in fact regular cities, which retain their title as "refugee camps" since they were originally built for Palestinians who have been relocated during the 1948 war. If you wish, many major Israeli cities can also be called refugee camps, since they were built during the same time period, for Jews escaping fighting Arab countries (which expelled their own Jews to Israel) and parts of Israel which were then taken over by Jordan.
    – Jacob3
    Commented Nov 4, 2023 at 18:56
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    Bombing civilians is always a bad deal when it comes to legitimacy, whether they are in refugee camps, cities, or refugee camps in or near cities. Will we agree on that?
    – Pau
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 15:19
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    First Israel is not bombing civilians intentionaly, in the contrary they are trying to do the most possible to prevent civilian deaths. But I wasn't refering to that; you wrote that Israel is expelling Palestinians from their homes and then bombing the "camps" where they take refuge - This is a misunderstanding of the simple facts. Palestinian "Refugee Camps" are not camps which are operating "now" as official places of refuge for Palestinians displaced in the "current" war. 1/1
    – Jacob3
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 17:30
  • Those camps were built over 75 years ago for Palestinians displaced in the 1948 war, and have meanwhile developed into regular cities, where Palestinians are already living permenantly for generations. You can see this first hand by checking out those "camps" on Google Maps. In Israel there are also many cities which were built originaly in order to house refugees (like Rosh Ha'ayin and Beth Shemesh), but their title as "refugee camps" is not being preserved. The reason that those Palestinian cities retain the title of "refugee camps" after 75y is in order to misguide people like you.
    – Jacob3
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 17:36
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    I feel much more relieved now that I know they are unintentional bombings....
    – Pau
    Commented Nov 10, 2023 at 8:17

It depends.

After WW2, when a lot of borders shifted, there were plenty of forced expulsions, e.g. the Benes decrees. Those, while tragical enough, are not considered genocidal because most of the forcibly expulsed survived to resettle somewhere else.

If, on the other hand, the intention of the forced expulsion is that the expulsed should not survive, then one may argue an equivalence of the expulsion and genocide. E.g., in the actions of the German colonizers against the Herero and Namaqua, tribes were forcibly displaced from usable land into the desert. Thus, the act of expulsion may be counted more as an act of indirect killing rather than mere resettlement.

Whether any of this applies to the situation in Gaza, only future historians can tell, since the situation is fluent, currently ongoing and the outcomes are presently unclear.



Is "forced expulsion" equivalent to "genocide"?

This is a hypothetical question which I don't believe Israel would do. Besides the obvious moral and political issues, Egypt is an important country which has had nearly 50 years of peaceful coexistence with Israel. I don't think Israel would want to return to the days of periodic troubles with this country 12 times it's population. Hypothetically though would Israel be doing this "forced expulsion" to ethnically, religiously, or racially purify Gaza?


According to Article 2 of the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; 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; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."

I also think the word "forced" in forced expulsion kind of sanitizes what would need to occur. 2.2 million people in Gaza aren't leaving their homes and entering Egypt's desert against Egypt's will and laws without a lot of force. It would be a humanitarian catastrophe of Israel's making nobody could ignore or dispute.

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    It has been a humanitarian catastrophe, yes. It's been going on for decades and is not as "hypothetical" as your framing implies. I could be convinced to upvote this answer if it were less disconnected from history and current events.
    – Corbin
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 13:07
  • @Corbin, Forced expulsion, I took to mean the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza and or the West Bank into Egypt as stated in the OP. Which has not been done before and is a hypothetical. As for dealing with history, I prefer to keep my answers to current events unless the question specifically calls for a historical perspective, or the question is dependent on such. This question specifically asks, could the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza be considered genocide. A hypothetical, which is not dependent on how we got here. By the UN definition of genocide, yes.
    – user47010
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 13:43

Genocide is the intentional destruction of a people in whole or in part.

If defined so, simply moving the people between the two locations, without intention to destroy or otherwise harm them, would not be genocide, even if forcibly done.

This would be true for a case like volcano is going to erupt (as now happened in Iceland). In such and comparable cases it is not unusual to make evacuation mandatory. Centralia mine fire is a comparable case when people of the town have been ordered to leave. Pripyat has been forcibly evacuated after disaster in the nuclear power plant nearby.

The laws related to the concept of the eminent domain allow to take away homes and land of the people, forcing them to leave. There are valid reasons for the eminent domain outside the disasters (like building the railroads), but for sure the attempt to destroy the local population is not between these reasons.

People may be forcibly moved in large numbers, like when the area is flooded after the dam is built on the river. China relocated 1.3 million people during the 17 years it took to complete the Three Gorges dam. This is far from great but likely not exactly genocide as well.

However forced relocation from here to there (and especially if later backwards, and then again) is a convenient way for "imposing living conditions intended to destroy the group", and if used in this capacity, it would be genocide. Hence it may be important to check why it has been done, how, and with that outcome.

  • Isn’t there some reasonable threshold for the number of premature deaths in the group before which “genocide” cannot be claimed? Commented Feb 1 at 17:00
  • If they left in cars, how many accidents could you expect? Road accidents happen and may be more in a rush, but obviously not a lot.
    – Stančikas
    Commented Feb 1 at 17:05

i have to say, that directly the "forced expulsion" is not counts a genocide by the UN law, but only because It doesn't have this term.

Josh Paul said(US official resigns over Biden’s ‘destructive, unjust’ arms to Israel(the Guardian)):

Le meurtre de civils par des terroristes lors d'un rave ou le meurtre de ceux qui récoltent leurs oliviers sont les ennemis de ce désir. L'enlèvement d’enfants, les menaces à main armée dans des kibboutz, tout comme la punition collective, le nettoyage ethnique, l’occupation, l’apartheid sont les ennemis de ce désir.

It is looks like it is easy to move people from one place to another, but it is not work when:

  1. this people does not have country that agreed take them all(more then 1 million) and their refuges status = the apartheid - people without own country and citizenship. It is more then "forced expulsion", it is looks like to make civilians - non-civilians, but the problem that most of the Internation Laws are working only if a civilian. So the "forced expulsion" can mean alienation of the legal status for the human. And in fact Palestinians are not going, because no place there can go.

The main that must be say that there is "No diplomatic recognition" of the Palestine by the US, UK, Japan, German, France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Canada and some others...

  1. Obama told Abbas that they would veto any United Nations Security Council move to recognize Palestinian statehood. Wiki
  1. The "forced expulsion" is realizing while under bombing the refuge's places and ways of the people running. For this moment over then 9,061, including 3,700+ children, 2300+ woman are dead(at 23 october that was 5000+ by the UN official and 15k wounded, with 67% woman and children). A people wounding is calculating 1 dead to 3-4 wounded, you are able to calculate by self.

Craig Mokhiber, the director of human rights body calls this "a genocide"):

“Once again we are seeing a genocide unfolding before our eyes and the organization we serve appears powerless to stop it.
“The current wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people, rooted in an ethno-nationalist colonial settler ideology, in continuation of decades of their systematic persecution and purging, based entirely upon their status as Arabs … leaves no room for doubt.”
“This is text book case of genocide”

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths has said:

Israel's bombing of the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza is just "the latest atrocity" to befall the Palestinian people living in the enclave.

Amnesty International: 'Incontrovertible' evidence Israel has used white phosphorus in Gaza and Lebanon.

For this moment, the countries cut ties with Israel over the war: Bolivia, Chili, South Africa, Columbia, Jordanian, Bahrain...

But that does not matter what wordplay you use a "latest atrocity", a "forced expulsion", a "genocide", "collateral damage", it must be stopped as fast as it can.

No words that justify the dead of the civilians<humans in any conflict.


If we look at the word's etymology, combining the Greek word genos with the Latin suffix -caedo ("act of killing"), we understand that semantically it is a out killing the genus.

Genus is "a group of animals or plants, more closely related than a family, but less similar than a species".

From this we understand that the object of killing activity is what makes the difference. It's not just people or general 'group if people', it's the relationship they have with each other that is being killed. So the people may way be alive, but the genus will be gone. The relationship with the place they identify themselves with can be ruined as well, and they will have to change their way of life to adapt to their new country.

In this logic, revolution is a genocide, when a group of people and a way of life such as "class" is being eliminated, like aristocratic class. I understand that such word isn't used in this sense, but could be.

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