Monthly Archives: August 2014

Bill Stewart’s Egregious Errors about the Hamas-Israel Conflict

Bill Stewart’s August 9 column (“Toward Israel: A Double Standard?”) includes many distortions and factual errors. In some cases he seems to have accepted Palestinian propaganda uncritically.  I sent this into the Santa Fe New Mexican as a rebuttal but they have, apparently, chosen not to include it in their Sunday opinion pages:

Limited space permits an examination of only some of the many errors in Stewart’s column:

1.  The most recent war was caused by the murder of three Israeli teens.

The death of the teens was not why Israel attacked Hamas in Gaza. If Hamas had not started its indiscriminate rocket attacks Israel would have investigated the teens’ murders as they did of the Palestinian teen’s murderers and brought the responsible parties to justice.

Hamas went to war against Israel (yes, Hamas started it) for a different reason, however. As Dennis Ross, a much more current actor in the Middle East than Stewart, pointed out in his Washington Post article of August 8, “it was Hamas’ political isolation and increasingly desperate financial situation. The group was broke after Egypt closed the smuggling tunnels into Gaza, Iran cut off funding because of Hamas’ opposition to Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad, and Qatar was unable to send money through the Rafah border crossing, which Egypt controls.”

It’s not uncommon for the media to perpetuate myths associated with cause and effect in the Arab dispute with Israel – that Ariel Sharon caused the second intifada in 2000 is another example.

2.  Hamas was freely elected, and therefore “cannot be ignored.”

A single free election does not make for a democratic government. It does not provide the liberties on which a Western democracy is based. It does not automatically mean a rational, reasonable actor willing to negotiate. Indeed Hamas has been unwilling to compromise or negotiate with Israel in any way. Its charter and continued avowed purpose is to eliminate Israel and all Jews. (Yes, all Jews – read its charter. It wants to commit genocide.)

Since Hamas was elected it has acted as a ruthless regime, enforcing arbitrary executions, threatening the press from reporting the truth, lacking any transparency with its constituency, forcing out Christians, persecuting gays and lesbians, and severely curtailing women’s rights.

3.  Israel’s defense has successfully protected its people, therefore the Israeli response has been disproportionate.

Stewart swats away the threat of the 3500 rockets Hamas shot at Israel as being a non-threat because of Hamas rocket-building incompetence and Israel’s effective Iron Dome system. He cites the unfortunate death toll of Palestinians in Gaza as an ipso facto indication of disproportion.

This is clear nonsense. No nation sits back and lets an aggressor continue to assault its citizens indiscriminately. Israel has a sovereign duty to eliminate the source of the threat. If the enemy has placed its citizens in harms way, then it is the enemy’s fault if there are large casualties of its own residents. For Stewart to ignore all of the actions Israel took to reduce such casualties is irresponsible journalism, analysis, and understanding of the concept of “disproportion” in international law.

If Hamas had established bomb shelters, if Hamas had encouraged their citizens to heed the multiple warnings from the Israelis before they counter-attacked, if Hamas (or the UN for that matter) had established safe havens for non-combatants in unoccupied areas (yes, there are such areas in the Gaza Strip) instead of right in the middle of where rockets are fired and military command-and-control posts are established, the Palestinian death toll would have been considerably lower.   What reasonable civil authority puts its citizens in greater jeopardy rather than protecting them?

The Israeli military, in the past proven to have more credibility in documenting casualties than Palestinian and UN sources, estimates that 500-800 of the Palestinian dead were Hamas combatants, a similar ratio from other Hamas-Israel disputes, and a lower ratio of civilian-to-combatant deaths than any conflicts in modern history.

4.  Israel’s settlements in the disputed areas are illegal. 

The ad infinitum repetition of this mantra does not make it true.  First, of course, there are no Israeli settlements or soldiers in the Gaza Strip. They left in 2005.

Second, given the history related to international proclamations, treaties, legal precedent, and wars, international legal experts like Eugene Rostow (US undersecretary of state for political affairs during and after the 1967 Six-Day war), Judge Schwebel (former president of the International Criminal Justice Court), and Julius Stone (renowned international expert from Australia) affirm that Israel’s claims on the territories are stronger than any other entity, and that the settlements are not illegal.

5.  There is not yet a secure peace between the Palestinians and Israel; Israel has been “appallingly unfair” to the Palestinians.

The Israelis were not the occupants of the disputed territory from 1948-1967, yet nothing was done to establish a state for the people now called Palestinians – the Arabs proclaimed their intent to drive Israel into the sea – or to re-settle the refugees. The Palestinians have been kept in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. Except in Jordan, Palestinians have been prohibited from voting, holding certain jobs, owning land, and having other full rights accorded other citizens.

There were no long fences dividing Israel from Gaza or the West Bank until the Palestinians took up terrorist ways, forcing the Israelis to defend themselves with checkpoints and fences. The Israelis offered long-term peace treaties in a two-state solution at least twice in the past 14 years, only to have been rejected by the Palestinians and most of the rest of the Arab world.

The Gaza strip was not embargoed before Hamas came to power and began its 2005-6 cross-border attacks on areas that had allowed Gazans to move goods into and out of Gaza. It was Hamas’ actions that caused the siege of the Gaza Strip, not Israel’s desire to do so. Further, it is not just Israel that now embargoes Gaza, but Egypt as well – Egypt experienced the hegemonic terrorist activities of Hamas in the Sinai Peninsula, and has tightened the border as strongly as Israel.

After the 2012 Hamas-Israel war Israel increased building supplies going into the Gaza Strip, including an estimated 600,000 tons of cement. Instead of being used for hospitals, schools, bomb shelters, and other infrastructure, the cement went to building an underground network of tunnels for secret movements that were to be used for an assault on southern Israeli towns and villages on Rosh Hashanah this year. Captured documents show Hamas’ intention to kill thousands of Israelis.

6.  Peaceful resolution was possible in Ireland, why not here?

Maybe this isn’t so much a factual issue as simply a naïve one – or just Stewart’s rhetorical hyperbole trying to sound profound without any underlying substance.

Stewart’s question, “Are the Jews and the Arabs any different” than the Irish and British, fails to reflect an understanding of cultures, geographies, security needs, neighborhoods, histories, and credible broad-based threats. What did he learn in his years at the State Department and as an international journalist?

Maybe it’s been much too long since he’s been out in the field? Or maybe he just has a double standard when it comes to Israel?


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