The suffering in Gaza continues unabated. The strip is blockaded from land, sea and air and bombed from land, sea and air. The death toll has climbed past 550, including at least 100 Palestinian children.
Yet, still, silver-tongued Israeli officials continue to take to the airwaves to defend the indefensible. On Tuesday I appeared alongside Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, on BBC Radio 2’s The Jeremy Vine Show, to discuss the Gaza crisis. I wasn’t able to debate the ambassador directly: I answered Vine’s questions first while Taub sat silently next to me; then he answered Vine’s questions while I (with great difficulty and much self-restraint) sat silently next to him. You can listen to the full interviews below, including my points about Israel’s brutal ‘Dahiya doctrine’ and the horrific effects of the siege on Gaza’s 1.7m-strong populace.
Given I wasn’t able to respond to Taub’s points on the show, however, and given the ambassador was able to have the last word, I thought I’d deal with some of the myths he pushed, live on air, in this particular blogpost.
Here are nine things that the Israeli ambassador to the UK conveniently didn’t mention – or got flat wrong – during his radio interview yesterday, based on nine of his quotes from that interview:
1) “We pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005… we pulled out of every inch.”
Israel likes to pretend that the occupation of Gaza ended with Ariel Sharon’s ‘unilateral disengagement’ from the strip in August 2005. It didn’t. Israel is still, legally, the occupying power and continues to control Gaza’s territorial borders, coastal waters and airspace. In fact, as Harvard University Middle East expert Sara Roy noted in the Boston Globe in 2012: “Israeli-imposed buffer zones — areas of restricted access — now absorb nearly 14 percent of Gaza’s total land and at least 48 percent of total arable land. Similarly, the sea buffer zone covers 85 percent of the maritime area promised to Palestinians in the Oslo Accords, reducing 20 nautical miles to three…” Israel also continues to control the Palestinian Population Registry, which has the power to define who is a “Palestinian” and who is a legal resident of Gaza. Does Gaza sound sovereign, independent or un-occupied to you?
2) “Hamas took over the Gaza Strip by force.”
Yes it did, in June 2007, after being elected to office in January 2006. But what Taub omitted to mention is that it did so in order to pre-empt a coup planned by the Bush administration and egged on by the Israelis. As investigative journalist David Rose pointed out in his acclaimed Vanity Fair piece on the coup, based on leaked documents from the US State Department, it was “President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams [who] backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever.”
3) “At the end of the day democracy is… some sort of commitment to basic democratic values.”
Put to one side the fact that Israel rules over millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem while denying them the right to vote in Israeli elections, let’s take a look for a moment at the ‘democratic’ fate of Palestinians who live legally inside of Israel as citizens of the Jewish State. There are, according to Ha’aretz, “695 communities, located in regional councils that control about 80 percent of the state’s land” which have vetting committees, protected by law, that prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from buying or renting property in those communities. Israel also operates discriminatory citizenship laws – chief among them, the 1950 Law of Return and the 1952 Citizenship Law – which privilege Jewish citizens over Palestinian citizens. What happened to “basic democratic values”?
4) “Hamas has brutalised the people of Gaza.”
Yes it has. Hams is undoubtedly guilty of massive human rights abuses inside Gaza. But does that excuse Israel’s 47-year brutalisation of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories? Consider this Reuters report from June 2013: “A United Nations human rights body accused Israeli forces on Thursday of mistreating Palestinian children, including by torturing those in custody and using others as human shields. Palestinian children in the Gaza and the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, are routinely denied registration of their birth and access to health care, decent schools and clean water, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said.” Is this not brutalisation? Is this not a massive abuse of Palestinian human rights? How about bombing a cafe in which Gazans were watching the World Cup? Or bombing ashelter for Gaza’s disabled residents?
5) “Israel has been trying to show restraint.”
If “restraint” results in 500-plus dead in a matter of days, the vast majority of them civilians, including kids on beaches and disabled people in shelters, then I wouldn’t want to see what Taub defines as a lack of restraint. Also, as I mentioned in my remarks to Vine, Israel is using the Dahiya doctrine which, as the 2009 United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict noted, is an Israeli security concept coined by former IDF general Gadi Eizenkot that involves “the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations”. Targeting civilian populations and properties isn’t evidence of “restraint”, it’s evidence of war crimes.
6) “This was a [ceasefire] proposal that was presented to both Israel and Hamas.”
This isn’t true and Taub knows it. The proposed ceasefire deal last week was struck between Egyptian president al-Sisi and Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, with the help of ‘peace envoy’ Tony Blair – but without any Hamas involvement. Hamas official, Mushir al-Massri, told Al Jazeera, “that the group was never involved in the formulation of the ceasefire and only learned about it from media reports. He said his group rejected the proposal ‘in style because no body consulted with us in formatting it, [and] in content because its articles are a free service to the [Israeli] occupation’.” To quote Sharif Nashashibi: “It is extraordinary that a supposed mediator between two warring parties would exclude one of them from the process.”
7) “Hamas has been obstructing people from getting the food and the medicines that they need.”
Maybe, but are we expected to believe that the Israelis care about the health and well-being of the people of Gaza? According to a ‘secret’ US State Department cable, based on conversations between US diplomats and senior Israeli officials, revealed by Wikileaks in 2011: “Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis.. As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed … on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.” Also, official Israeli documents, released to the Gisha human rights organisation under Freedom of Information legislation, showed that “the Israeli military made precise calculations of Gaza’s daily calorie needs to avoid malnutrition during a blockade imposed on the Palestinian territory between 2007 and mid-2010” and then refused to allow in enough trucks of food to meet those “daily calorie needs”.
8) “I have absolutely no idea what reports [about flechette shells] you’re referring to.”
Perhaps Taub, who stuttered as he responded to Vine’s very simple question on flechette use, should read the Guardian: “The Israeli military is using flechette shells, which spray out thousands of tiny and potentially lethal metal darts, in its military operation in Gaza. Six flechette shells were fired towards the village of Khuzaa, east of Khan Younis, on 17 July, according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Nahla Khalil Najjar, 37, suffered injuries to her chest, it said. PCHR provided a picture of flechettes taken by a fieldworker last week. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) did not deny using the shells in the conflict… The munitions are not prohibited under international humanitarian law, but according to B’Tselem, ‘other rules of humanitarian law render their use in the Gaza Strip illegal.'”
9) “The tragedy is that Hamas… are stopping civilians leaving from the areas of fighting.”
Whether or not Hamas is indeed “stopping civilians” from leaving “the areas of fighting”, where are those Palestinian civilians in Gaza supposed to go? Which part of their “prison camp”, to quote David Cameron in 2010, can they legitimately and safely take shelter in, given Israel is bombing houses, schools and mosques on the grounds that they’re all allegedly being used by Hamas to hide their rockets? To quote the inimitable Jon Stewart, of the Daily Show: “Evacuate to where? Have you f**king seen Gaza? Israel blocked this border, Egypt blocked this border. What, are they supposed to swim for it?”