Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Debunking the Debunking of Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza

This goes out to Ian S who finds it  astonishing that a "well-regarded" commentator on the Israel-Palestine conflict can be wrong on every point she makes"

Noara Erakat's article Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza—Debunked argues against five of Israel’s recurring talking points" I will look at her arguments and hopefully demonstrate that they are false. I have listed the full text of her argument .

1) Israel is exercising its right to self-defense.
As the occupying power of the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Territories more broadly, Israel has an obligation and a duty to protect the civilians under its occupation. It governs by military and law enforcement authority to maintain order, protect itself and protect the civilian population under its occupation. It cannot simultaneously occupy the territory, thus usurping the self-governing powers that would otherwise belong to Palestinians, and declare war upon them. These contradictory policies (occupying a land and then declaring war on it) make the Palestinian population doubly vulnerable.
This is a clever argument essentially stating you cannot make war on yourself and that nations have an obligation to protect their citizens.  Let's take them one at a time. 

First, as I will discuss further under point #2 (if that one is invalid this one is invalid too) Israel is not the occupying power in Gaza.  In 2005, the the country pulled out of every inch of the Gaza Strip.  Nor does Israel "controI" Gaza in the way suggested here.  One of the reasons Israel pulled out in 2005 was because the area was virtually uncontrollable.  Also, if Israel was able to maintain "Effective Control" in the Gaza strip do we really think that rockets launched from the area would be raining down on major Israeli cities?  I also suggest that there would be no terror tunnels unless Israeli control included attacking itself. 

Second, the writer is correct that a nation must protect its citizens.  In this instance that means that Israel as true democracy must protect its Jewish, Muslim and Christian and atheist citizens  (all of whom can vote) from rocket attacks.  

The precarious and unstable conditions in the Gaza Strip from which Palestinians suffer are Israel’s responsibility. Israel argues that it can invoke the right to self-defense under international law as defined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. The International Court of Justice, however, rejected this faulty legal interpretation in its 2004 Advisory Opinion. The ICJ explained that an armed attack that would trigger Article 51 must be attributable to a sovereign state, but the armed attacks by Palestinians emerge from within Israel’s jurisdictional control. Israel does have the right to defend itself against rocket attacks, but it must do so in accordance with occupation law and not other laws of war. Occupation law ensures greater protection for the civilian population. The other laws of war balance military advantage and civilian suffering. The statement that “no country would tolerate rocket fire from a neighboring country” is therefore both a diversion and baseless.

Oh boy, where to start with this one.  The International Court of Justice ruled in 2004 before the Gaza pullout. A ruling on whether Israel could legitimately invoke the right of self-defense in 2004 is simply irrelevant in 2014.  This is a terrific example of using irrelevant facts to to mislead.  This entire paragraph rest on the assumption that Israel is an occupier in Gaza which is completely erroneous as discussed under #2.  

Israel denies Palestinians the right to govern and protect themselves, while simultaneously invoking the right to self-defense. This is a conundrum and a violation of international law, one that Israel deliberately created to evade accountability.

Here we have Erekat's editorial comment and it is preposterous. Israel allowed Gaza to hold free elections.  That is called governing and is nowhere near "Israel denies Palestinians the right to govern.  In terms of denying Palestinians protection, I have two thoughts: 
1) if Hamas were not lobbing rockets at Israel there would be no reason for the citizens to protect themselves.  It hardly makes sense for Israel to go from controlling the Gaza strip to handing it over to the Palestinians with the intent of attacking the populace.  

2) if Hamas had spent its financial aid building bunkers for the Palestinian people (defensive) rather than terror tunnels to enter Israel and kidnap and slaughter citizens (offensive) the Palestinian people would be far better protected.  Of course, if they were to build malls and schools and institutions of democracy they would be even better protected. 

So now we come to the important #2. 

2) Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005.
Israel argues that its occupation of the Gaza Strip ended with the unilateral withdrawal of its settler population in 2005. It then declared the Gaza Strip to be “hostile territory” and declared war against its population. Neither the argument nor the statement is tenable. Despite removing 8,000 settlers and the military infrastructure that protected their illegal presence, Israel maintained effective control of the Gaza Strip and thus remains the occupying power as defined by Article 47 of the Hague Regulations. To date, Israel maintains control of the territory’s air space, territorial waters, electromagnetic sphere, population registry and the movement of all goods and people.
The core of this argument is that Israel maintains control of the Gaza Strip because it controls air space, territorial waters, and movement of goods and people. So let me be completely and utterly clear on this point: the Gaza naval blockade and other issues raised are fully approved and enforced by the UN as being within International law. Why? Well, in 1993 and 1995 Israel and the leaders of the Palestinian people agreed to the terms in the Oslo accords.  In those terms, Israel made it very clear that the territorial waters around Gaza were to remain theirs.  That was fully agreed to by the Palestinians!  

Israel does restrict Gazan airspace and territorial waters for the purpose of preventing weapons transfer into Gaza. 

I am not sure what an Electromagnetic sphere is, I will assume it  is referring to Radio, TV, Telecommunications and Internet. Hamas has it own rabidly anti semitic TV station which encourages kindergarten children to murder of Jews. Is Israel controlling that? Since 2007, Hamas has blocked the radio station of the Palestinian Authority. These are not signs of Israeli control. Gaza has relatively open internet despite the burning down of internet Cafes by Islamists. 

As by the Oslo accords Israel keeps a copy of a population registry, having one's name in the Israeli copy of the registry can  allow certain privileges to a Palestinian. As by the Oslo accords Article II.1.f.(5)  The right to vote in Palestinian Elections they are in either the Israeli or Palestinian register. Israel also uses the register to determine whether or not to issue Palestinians with a work permit in Israel. This has nothing to do with controlling Palestinians in Gaza. 

Israel controls the movement of goods and people between Israel and Gaza. The Rafah Border Crossing between Gaza and Egypt is not controlled by Israel, thus it is false to say the control the movement of all goods and people. Every country has the right to control the movement of goods and people between their country and its neighbours.  Note the policing of the U.S. and Mexico border as an example.
Israel argues that the withdrawal from Gaza demonstrates that ending the occupation will not bring peace. Some have gone so far as to say that Palestinians squandered their opportunity to build heaven in order to build a terrorist haven instead. These arguments aim to obfuscate Israel’s responsibilities in the Gaza Strip, as well as the West Bank. As Prime Minister Netanyahu once explained, Israel must ensure that it does not “get another Gaza in Judea and Samaria…. I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

Wow.  This paragraph makes complete sense.  Perhaps because these are not Erekat's ideas but those taken from elsewhere.  
Palestinians have yet to experience a day of self-governance. Israel immediately imposed a siege upon the Gaza Strip when Hamas won parliamentary elections in January 2006 and tightened it severely when Hamas routed Fatah in June 2007. The siege has created a “humanitarian catastrophe” in the Gaza Strip. Inhabitants will not be able to access clean water, electricity or tend to even the most urgent medical needs. The World Health Organization explains that the Gaza Strip will be unlivable by 2020. Not only did Israel not end its occupation, it has created a situation in which Palestinians cannot survive in the long-term. 
This is just completely false.  Either Erekat is so blinded by hatred that the mistake is honest or its a deliberate attempt to mislead.  What was the first election if not a day of self-governance (not to mention all the days leading up to the election)? Furthermore, the naval blockade was put in place AFTER Hamas declared all out war with Israel and started shelling it's cities. Israel is fully entitled under to international law to put in place a blockade in it's own territorial waters as a means of self defence. The UN has never challenged this action because it is so completely water tight. Finally, the election of Hamas in 2006 was the most forceful rocket Palestinians have launched at Israel.  Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by most democratic countries around the world.  The United States added Hamas to their list of terrorist organisations in 1997 -- well prior to the events of the World Trade Center bombing.

Ultimately, the Palestinians had a chance to govern themselves. They elected a terrorist organisation that started firing rockets at a democracy.  In short, Erekat's statement is almost true.  We can fix it by adding the word "good" so the sentence should read: "Palestinians have yet to experience a day of good self government.

As for in habitants not being able to access electricity etc., Israel provides 100 megawatts of electricity to Gaza. The Palestinian Authority owes Israel Electricity Company around half a billion dollars in unpaid electricity bills. On July 13th, some areas in Gaza lost electricity which was promptly blamed on Israel.  The reason for the outage was that a Hamas rocket hit the power lines running into Gaza. Israel repaired the line at its own expense while risking the lives of its own population.  As a final comment, Israel allows medical products and food and other non military products through it borders to Gaza.

So now back to Netanyahu's comments about Gaza. The test of self-rule in Gaza has been a disaster for Israel and an utter disaster for the Palestinians themselves.  Whatever Israel allows has been turned against them.  They pulled out and allowed Gazans to elect a government.  What did they get? A terrorist organisation.  They allowed goods to flow across the borders and what did Hamas bring in?  Rockets that they promptly started firing in 2007.  Israel put in place a blockade to try stem the rockets but allowed in cement, iron and other building products and what did they get? Massive underground tunnels beneath their border and beneath the homes of civilians in Gaza. There is no advantage in these activities for the people in Gaza and it only makes sense in a world where Hamas believes one dead Jew is worth the sacrifice of a hundred Palestinians.  As I said, there is simply no good government.

Edit I am including this excellent link I debating the above two points

3) This Israeli operation, among others, was caused by rocket fire from Gaza.
Israel claims that its current and past wars against the Palestinian population in Gaza have been in response to rocket fire. Empirical evidence from 2008, 2012 and 2014 refute that claim. First, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the greatest reduction of rocket fire came through diplomatic rather than military means. This chart demonstrates the correlation between Israel’s military attacks upon the Gaza Strip and Hamas militant activity. Hamas rocket fire increases in response to Israeli military attacks and decreases in direct correlation to them. Cease-fires have brought the greatest security to the region.
This is a deliberate attempt to mislead less sophisticated readers or Erekat has no clue about numerical analysis.  It is disingenuous to claim that Hamas rocket fire is a response to Israeli aggression because a chart shows they are correlated.  It will just take a cursory examination of news articles over the years to show that this analysis is, like their rockets, off target. When Israel responds to initial rocket fire from Hamas , Hamas escalates the rate of rocket fire and the statistic increases. That is why there is a "correlation" between Israel's military operations and rocket fire.  Glancing at the graphs without examining the exact timing of each incident is uninformative but if you like this kind of statistical stupidity you can find more by looking at the relationship of skirt length to the U.S. stock market and dream about how shorter skirts are going to make you money. 
During the four months of the Egyptian-negotiated cease-fire in 2008, Palestinian militants reduced the number of rockets to zero or single digits from the Gaza Strip. Despite this relative security and calm, Israel broke the cease-fire to begin the notorious aerial and ground offensive that killed 1,400 Palestinians in twenty-two days. In November 2012, Israel’s extrajudicial assassination of Ahmad Jabari, the chief of Hamas’s military wing in Gaza, while he was reviewing terms for a diplomatic solution, again broke the cease-fire that precipitated the eight-day aerial offensive that killed 132 Palestinians.
I'm not sure I see the relevance here other than to build no the ridiculous analysis already discussed and to blame Israel for the deaths of people in Gaza.   
Immediately preceding Israel’s most recent operation, Hamas rocket and mortar attacks did not threaten Israel. Israel deliberately provoked this war with Hamas. Without producing a shred of evidence, it accused the political faction of kidnapping and murdering three settlers near Hebron. Four weeks and almost 700 lives later, Israel has yet to produce any evidence demonstrating Hamas’s involvement. During ten days of Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank, Israel arrested approximately 800 Palestinians without charge or trial, killed nine civilians and raided nearly 1,300 residential, commercial and public buildings. Its military operation targeted Hamas members released during the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011. It’s these Israeli provocations that precipitated the Hamas rocket fire to which Israel claims left it with no choice but a gruesome military operation.
This is absurd. Israel has provided evidence that Hamas was behind the kidnapping and murder of three innocent teenage boys. Israel named the two chief suspects Amar Abu-Eisha, 33, and Marwan Kawasmeh, 29. They are both Hamas operatives. Israel has released a tape recording of the voices of the Hamas suspects taken when Naftali Frenkel attempted to call the police with his mobile phone. Erakat refers to them as settlers although only one of the three lived in the West Bank and could therefore be classed as a settler by the commonly accepted definition.  

There are so many erroneous facts here it's hard to tell what's going on but stick with me. If you examine the time line of the events proceeding this operation you can see that the claim Israel started this is just wrong.  First off, Israel arrested 422 Palestinians, not 800 and raided 2218 homes not 1300. Nine civilians were not killed during the raids. Each of the deaths has its own background, 3 were heart attacks and others were in response to attacks and were not civilians. 

Ultimately, consider a the situation: Three civilians are kidnapped.  The evidence points to Hamas and Israel brings in Hamas operatives to ascertain where the boys are.  Hamas response is not to help Israel locate the missing children but to fire rockets at civilians. That's the narrative behind the numbers. 
4) Israel avoids civilian casualties, but Hamas aims to kill civilians.
Hamas has crude weapons technology that lacks any targeting capability. As such, Hamas rocket attacks ipso facto violate the principle of distinction because all of its attacks are indiscriminate. This is not contested. Israel, however, would not be any more tolerant of Hamas if it strictly targeted military objects, as we have witnessed of late. Israel considers Hamas and any form of its resistance, armed or otherwise, to be illegitimate.
Yes, Israel considers attacks on its population to be illegitimate.  Erekat said in the first paragraph that the state is responsible for protecting its citizens and cannot have it both ways.  That said, attacks on legitimate military targets would have a lot more supporters within Israel.
In contrast, Israel has the eleventh most powerful military in the world, certainly the strongest by far in the Middle East, and is a nuclear power that has not ratified the non-proliferation agreement and has precise weapons technology. With the use of drones, F-16s and an arsenal of modern weapon technology, Israel has the ability to target single individuals and therefore to avoid civilian casualties. But rather than avoid them, Israel has repeatedly targeted civilians as part of its military operations.
Earlier, Erekat blamed Israel for going after Hamas leadership with a targeted attack but is now advocating those same targeted attacks.  But this is where things are just preposterous once again.  Erakat admits that Hamas targets civilians because they have crude weapons.  If Israel were to use similar weapons would the targeting of civilian populations be OK with Erakat?  Israel spends a fortune on advanced weapons systems to AVOID civilian casualties to the degree possible and should be applauded for making that investment.  Crude weapons are indiscriminate and are intended to create terror.  That's why Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation.
The Dahiya Doctrine is central to these operations and refers to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks on Lebanon in 2006. Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said that this would be applied elsewhere:
What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. […] We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.
Israel has kept true to this promise. The 2009 UN Fact-Finding Mission to the Gaza Conflict, better known as the Goldstone Mission, concluded “from a review of the facts on the ground that it witnessed for itself that what was prescribed as the best strategy [Dahiya Doctrine] appears to have been precisely what was put into practice.”
According to the National Lawyers Guild, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, Israel directly targeted civilians or recklessly caused civilian deaths during Operation Cast Lead. Far from avoiding the deaths of civilians, Israel effectively considers them legitimate targets.
Hamas Hamas digs terror tunnels and their planned to invade Israel during the Jewish New Year and kill and kidnap as many civilians as the could There have also been three other attempted incursions in recent days, the motives which are unclear, but would surprise none if the target was indiscriminate. Unsubstantiated estimates suggest around  child labourers died constructing the terror tunnels, 600,000 of tons of cement  are estimated to have been used in the subset of tunnels so far discovered by Israel Military. In wars sadly there are always unintentional civilian deaths, just as there are always friendly fire deaths, war is chaotic and stressful and human errors happen. No army even the ones with the most sophisticated weapons can avoid this, it has never happened. Nato, US, UK and other ethical armies always inflict civilian deaths.  Israel's environment is arguably the most challenging of all a densely populated urban region where there are multiple documented cases of  Hamas attacking from civilian areas and even the frequent use of human shields. The number of civilians killed in Gaza  is very contestable and both sides gain by either inflating or deflating the ration of civilian to enemy combatant  casualties. The measures Israel takes to minimise civilian deaths are well known. and include roof knocking, telephone calls, text messages, and abandoning strikes if civilians are spotted.  Erakat claims without basis the ""Israel, however, would not be any more tolerant of Hamas if it strictly targeted military objects" It is without basis since there is no precedent of Hamas only attacking military targets.
With regards to the Goldstone report Richard Goldstone distanced himself from the report. Erakat's fails to mention this fact since she is obviously trying to mislead the reader. 
5) Hamas hides its weapons in homes, mosques and schools and uses human shields.
This is arguably one of Israel’s most insidious claims, because it blames Palestinians for their own death and deprives them of even their victimhood. Israel made the same argument in its war against Lebanon in 2006 and in its war against Palestinians in 2008. Notwithstanding its military cartoon sketches, Israel has yet to prove that Hamas has used civilian infrastructure to store military weapons. The two cases where Hamas indeed stored weapons in UNRWA schools, the schools were empty. UNRWA discovered the rockets and publicly condemned the violation of its sanctity.
International human rights organizations that have investigated these claims have determined that they are not true. It attributed the high death toll in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon to Israel’s indiscriminate attacks. Human Rights Watch notes:
The evidence Human Rights Watch uncovered in its on-the-ground investigations refutes [Israel’s] argument…we found strong evidence that Hezbollah stored most of its rockets in bunkers and weapon storage facilities located in uninhabited fields and valleys, that in the vast majority of cases Hezbollah fighters left populated civilian areas as soon as the fighting started, and that Hezbollah fired the vast majority of its rockets from pre-prepared positions outside villages.
In fact, only Israeli soldiers have systematically used Palestinians as human shields. Since Israel’s incursion into the West Bank in 2002, it has used Palestinians as human shields by tying young Palestinians onto the hoods of their cars or forcing them to go into a home where a potential militant may be hiding.
To deny that Hamas uses homes, mosques, schools to store weapons is crazy there are multiple documented photos and video of homes, schools and mosques being used systematically to store weapons. The UN acknowledged that weapons were stored in two of it's schools one of which was vacant. Hamas does store many rockets in bunkers and encourages its civilian population to act as human shields. In early July 2014 Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri appeared on Al-Aqsa TV and encouraged Gaza residents to act as human shields. There are multiple videos online. There were some allegations of isolated cases of Israel using Human shields in previous operations, as far as I am aware no allegations have been made in the current operation and to claim this illegal and abhorrent practice is systematic is completely false.

As promised I have shown all five points made by Noura Erakat to be wrong. She is a scholar and Attorney and has the resources and knowledge to do a far better analysis than I have, I do it in my time I should be relaxing or sleeping.  Luckily for me I have the far easier side of the argument since I have the truth on my side.


  1. I have seen many analyses of the situation, and this one is by far the most thorough. Really, it's nothing short of brilliant.