A response to Ali A. Rizvi’s ‘7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict’ published in The Huffington Post
Nikhil Datta & James Duckworth
Some of you may have seen Ali A. Rivzi’s Huff Post article trending recently, which ultimately calls for some balance to be taken when observing the Israel-Palestine conflict. It is a well-constructed piece that to a large number may seem convincing. Nevertheless, it is riddled with fallacious arguments, cherry picked facts, apologism for military aggression, and comes with a pre-supposition that Hamas are no more than an Al-Qaeda equivalent who seeks nothing but nihilistic destruction. As a result we felt it necessary to give a point by point response.
Prior to that however, we just want to make clear what is meant by ‘Anti-Israel,’ in this instance it simply means being opposed to their foreign policy (what they perceive to be as their domestic policy), similarly how we would stand as being ‘Anti-America’ in the same regard. The key concern in this instance is with the monstrosity of Israel’s horrific ongoing engagement with Palestine, and with any disingenous apologism for it.
1. Why is everything so much worse when there are Jews involved?
The situations in Syria and Iraq are incomparable to the one in Israel/Palestine. These are effectively countries mired in civil war, and at least there is a certain symmetry to the battles going on there; whereas what’s happening in Israel is the ruthless invasion of a much smaller, weaker country by a mini-superpower, whose borders this weaker state lies within. It almost resembles a refugee camp being flattened by its host nation.
Further to that, if you really want to draw comparisons, we should draw a more accurate one; i.e. the subject of unjust invasion of a weaker country by a superpower. One of this article’s points is that there has been no comparable outcry to other global tragedies being perpetrated. But what about Iraq? Three million were motivated to march on London in 2003. There have been numerous organised efforts to prevent the invasion and since then to pull out – Stop the War, CND were involved, MP’s resigned, etc etc. The author is using the argument that “Because nobody speaks up about Syria and ISIS, protests against Israeli foreign policy must be based on an undercurrent of Anti-Semitism.” Nonsense; a fallacious argument designed to silence protest. Comparisons to other outcries can be drawn, if we look in the right places.
Moreover, just because an injustice is being perpetrated doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something about it. This is like a man charged with assaulting his wife appearing in court, and his advocate arguing “What’s the issue? There are loads of other wife beaters out there.” What we would say is, know when to pick your battles. What the hell can we do about ISIS or Syria? Invade the Middle East again? However, if the West (especially the US) can be persuaded to turn their backs on Israel’s foreign policy, there’s a realistic chance of ending the massacre while there are still some people left alive in Palestine.
2. Why does everyone keep saying this is not a religious conflict?
As is well known, individual religions have many different interpretations, sub-denominations and splinter factions. And need it be said that most religious texts carry with them no small number of contradictions and abrogations, and that therefore any political decisions taken in the name of religion are going to be based on cherry-picked verses to support their desired interpretation? For example, a homophobic Christian needs only to look to Leviticus 20:13 to find this gem – ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.’ Obviously not all Christians are homophobic, and not all homophobic individuals are Christians; conflating Zionism with Judaism is the equivalent of synonymising homophobia with Christianity.
Furthermore there are a number of Jewish organizations who protest Israeli policy – Jews for Justice, Anarchists against Wall, Jews Against Genocide, the True Torah Jews… Perhaps the key difference when identifying the difference between Judaism and Zionism is that one has the ability to function harmoniously with other groups of society, the other carries an inherent and bloody external cost.
3. Why would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians?
‘If Israel truly wanted to destroy Gaza,it could do so within a day, right from the air’, writes Rizvi. As Noam Chomsky has clearly pointed out before, Israel’s key desire is to maintain the status quo, over the past 60 years they have slowly expanded and swallowed up what was previously Palestinian land. If they were to wipe out an entire nation in one fell swoop they would arguably score a lot less friends. Israel is following a depressingly familiar pattern: they look for a reason to break the ceasefire, and then slowly but surely demolish what is left of the refugee camp-cum-prison that is known as Gaza. It’s a slower strategy, but one that is far easier to sell to the international media.
4. Does Hamas really use its own civilians as human shields?
Information in this paragraph isn’t just misleading, it’s entirely inaccurate. To begin with, the UNRWA school that rockets were stored in was in fact vacant (http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/isolated-weapons-find-vacant-unrwa-school-cannot-justify-israels-gaza-slaughter); furthermore a number of Human Rights Watch investigations into this claim have shown that there is no evidence that the ‘human shields’ argument is true. Gaza being as densely populated as it is, it’s almost impossible not to fire rockets from residential areas, and as a 2009 Amnesty report pointed out ‘there is no evidence that they did so with the intent of shielding themselves.’
The same report also pointed out ‘In the past, Israeli soldiers have frequently taken over Palestinian homes, effectively imprisoning their occupants, to use as military observation and firing positions. In other cases, they have forced Palestinian civilians, at gunpoint, to go before them into buildings from which they feared attack.’
5. Why are people asking for Israel to end the “occupation” in Gaza?
The 2005 Withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza strip seems to be being sold as some form of gift to the Palestinians, when in reality they still had no control over their borders, sea or airspace and the territory was still a fraction of the original land that was meant to exist in 1947. Rather than criticizing the Gazans for looking a gift horse in the mouth, perhaps their resistance should be celebrated as showing that they were not willing to become infected by some form of Stockholm syndrome.
Moreover, more attention is needed to the point that Gazan-Palestinians had no control over their sea- there are two major gas fields in Palestinian waters which rightfully belong to them. However, following his 2001 election victory, Ariel Sharon stated “Israel would never buy gas from Palestine”, and since has contested their ownership both legally and through force.
Finally the 2005 withdrawal of Gaza did not come without expense to the West Bank, as Chomsky points out in his 2009 article in Peace News: “It made more sense to turn Gaza into the world’s largest prison and to transfer settlers to the West Bank, much more valuable territory, where Israel is quite explicit about its intentions, in word and more importantly in deed. One goal is to annex the arable land, water supplies, and pleasant suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that lie within the separation wall, irrelevantly declared illegal by the World Court. That includes a vastly expanded Jerusalem, in violation of Security Council orders that go back 40 years, also irrelevant. Israel has also been taking over the Jordan Valley, about one-third of the West Bank.”
6. Why are there so many more casualties in Gaza than in Israel?
This point suggests that Hamas want Gazans to die so as to fuel some sort of twisted PR campaign, which, when considered against the effectiveness of Hasbara, Israel’s ongoing ‘public diplomacy’ campaign, is almost comedic, as well as being factually wrong.
(See point 4 re: the human shields fallacy.)
All this point really highlights is how technologically and militarily asymmetrical the conflict is, and the argument that Hamas spend all their resources on armaments rather than protecting civilians is, once again, factually wrong. It’s important to bear in mind that Hamas are a democratically elected party, and one of the key reasons they were elected (aside from the failings of Fatah) is that they have support amongst Palestinians as a result of the number of charitable organizations they run.
Finally, this point (and indeed the entire article) seems to demonise any form of resistance from Palestinians. Putting aside the fact that Israel cast the first stone in this current battle, Hamas is left with a choice; fight back or live, degraded and destitute, under blockade, within the “world’s largest prison”, at the mercy of a trigger-happy and awesomely powerful military force.
7. If Hamas is so bad, why isn’t everyone pro-Israel in this conflict?
Finally, the author mentions some realities: “Settlement expansion is simply incomprehensible. No one really understands the point of it. Virtually every US administration — from Nixon to Bush to Obama — has unequivocally opposed it. There is no justification for it except a Biblical one.” And then Christopher Hitchens: “I’m afraid I know too much about the history of the conflict to think of Israel as just a tiny, little island surrounded by a sea of ravening wolves and so on. I mean, I know quite a lot about how that state was founded, and the amount of violence and dispossession that involved.” I completely agree that “there are now at least two or three generations of Israelis who were born and raised in this land, to whom it really is a home, and who are often held accountable and made to pay for historical atrocities that are no fault of their own.”
Nobody with any sense of compassion wants to see a similar fate brought upon the Israelis, in the same way that we can’t expect to see the US population forcibly ejected from North America, or the Spanish and Portugese from South America. Not only would it be unfeasible, it would be monstrous. But let’s not forget that Hamas have been putting forward a two-state solution for years, consistently approaching the US with diplomatic suggestions. There is plenty of evidence they want to make it work. You get factions and variations of opinion within any organisation, but this notion that they are nothing but a nihilistic organisation seeking nothing but the utter destruction of Israel is propaganda.
Bear in mind, on the other hand, this reality: In the first three months following the November 2012 cease-fire, not a single rocket came out of the Palestinian territories. Israel, however, carried out numerous unprovoked attacks and incursions, killing innocent civilians and violating the cease-fire.
In an interview with Ha’aretz, former Israeli PM Ehud Barak was asked what he would have done if he had been born a Palestinian:
“I would have joined a terrorist organization.”