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CDU EXPERT: Removing the semantic fog around compassion and geno-urbicide in Gaza

Charles Darwin University 3 mins read

1 NOVEMBER, 2023

Who: Charles Darwin University forensic linguistics expert Dr Awni Etaywe. Dr Etaywe is a lecturer and researcher focusing on terrorism, incitement to hatred and violence, and digital deviance. He is a member of the Special Interest Group on Peace, Compassion and Empathy within the Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics Association. He is a former United Nations Observer/‘expert-on-mission’, with training on the law of armed conflict and the protection of civilians and children.


  • Analysis of the genocidal language used in the Israel-Hamas war.
  • The language of extremism and the role of linguistics in terrorism and social justice cases.
  • Semiotics of compassion in digital activism, particularly as strategic communication employed by resistance movements.

Dr Etaywe is available to contribute extensive analysis and commentary on this subject.

Contact details: Call +61 8 8946 6721 or email to arrange an interview.

Quotes attributable to Dr Awni Etaywe:

“‘Geno-urbicide’ encapsulates the situation in Gaza, where both systematic genocidal acts and intentional asymmetric destruction of cities occur concurrently, resulting in significant loss of life and the devastation of urban landscapes.

“Geno-urbicide can be viewed as being a strategic option adopted primarily for political reasons, aiming to intimidate, humiliate, retaliate, eliminate or force targeted homogeneous groups of population to leave their homeland, or to deprive the population of any satisfactory geopolitical and demographic settlement. A humanised response to these forms of human suffering is an act of compassion.

“Referring to the Genocide Convention, genocide hinges on two crucial elements: the deliberate mass killing or destruction of specific groups based on nationality, ethnicity, race or religion; and the expression of genocidal intent. Amidst humanitarian agencies and legal reports on the ‘unfolding urbicide of genocide of the Palestinian people’, the endstate of the destruction appears to be a national, expansionist project – as stated by Netanyahu: ‘In the final stage, we will be able to build and expand […] I would say that there is a primary national, even historical, mission here’.

“Six linguistic strategies that can offer understanding of the complex geopolitical and ideological dynamics in Gaza are:

  1. The explicit directive language of perpetrators or those inciting genocide, as in: ‘wipe out’, ‘erase’, ‘level the place’, ‘kill all Palestinians’, and ‘Turn the strip into a slaughterhouse’.
  2. Dehumanising the victims, as in Yoav Gallant’s order of a ‘complete siege’ on 'non-humans', because ‘We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly’: “I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.”
  3. Assignment of responsibility on the civilians, and blame shifting to justify a collective punishment and deliberate attack on the civilians in Gaza, as in Isaac Herzog’s declaration: ‘It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. This rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not being involved, it's absolutely not true.’
  4. Demonising children to justify a deliberate attack on children; Netanyahu describes the war as ‘a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness’.
  5. Religious legitimisation of a combined colonial project that aims for a complete dispossession of the Palestinian land: Netanyahu declares it a combined mission to realise a religious prophecy: ‘With shared forces, […] we will realize the prophecy of Isaiah 60:18’.
  6. Moral justification of destroying buildings protected by international law, such as hospitals, mosques and churches: Netanyahu’s states that: ‘Beneath the hospitals, schools, mosques, and homes in Gaza lies a horrific underworld of Hamas terrorism. In order to dismantle Hamas, we must dismantle their underground tunnel.’ This illegal action is enhanced by a pattern of divisive world structure in which Netanyahu labels Hamas as ‘terrorists’, whereas the Israeli soldiers are described as ‘an amazing army, with wonderful and heroic soldiers’ and the Israel’s navy as ‘lions’ who ‘protect the citizens of Israel’.

“If we are learning creature and want to preserve human dignity, today, we confront the tragic reality of an ‘unfolding urbicide’ in Gaza.

“It is crucial to acknowledge that the language used by the perpetrators mirrors the genocidal rhetoric witnessed in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. The devastating impact of the bombs used in Gaza is also comparable to the destructive force of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. The scale of urbicide evokes infamous historical examples of destruction, such as Sarajevo, the Roman Empire's destruction of Jerusalem, the destruction of Dresden and multiple cities in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine. With all these contexts collapsed into one, the Gaza case, fellow humans should urgently support a humanitarian truce as an act of compassion.”

Contact details:

Raphaella Saroukos she/her
Communications Officer
Marketing, Media & Communications
Larrakia Country
T: +61 8 8946 6721

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