Maurice Hirsch, an international lawyer and director of legal strategies for Palestinian Media Watch, (PMW), spoke to a March 28 Middle East Forum Webinar (video) about the Palestinian Authority's (PA) persistent assertions of victimhood even as it claims victory over Israel. He asked how the Israeli government can counter the PA's manipulations on both fronts.
According to Hirsch, the Palestinian Authority engages in a persistent "propaganda war" to destroy Israel centered on cry of perpetual victimhood in order to ensure a steady flow of aid from the international community. Its global messages to demonize Israel repeat the same themes: "Palestine is occupied"; "Israel is planning to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque"; and "Israel denies the Palestinian refugees the right of return." The PA falsely claims that UN resolutions guarantee the return of Arabs who lived under Britain's Mandate for Palestine and fled their homes in 1948 at the urging of surrounding Arab countries.
Hirsch refuted each of the PA's lies, which raises the question of why UN members "vote in favor of the Palestinians and will always vote against Israel." He said the lies "[feed] into the biases they all want to hear" and noted these countries "voted for the infamous 'Zionism is racism' resolution." A case in point is the UN's Human Rights Council, which "twice yearly" singles out Israel as a "human rights' violator" by basing its reports on "other reports written by Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) ... some of whom are actually ... terrorist organizations" funded by the international community. The PA relies upon a straightforward formula: "use simple emotion" to manipulate a willing audience that refuses to hold the PA to "any standard of proof."
Hirsch, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), served as the former head of the IDF's Military Prosecution for Judea & Samaria and is very familiar with the PA's claims of victimhood, including that "Palestinian minors are held in solitary confinement." The PA deliberately ignores international law which requires that detained minors be held in detention "separately from adults." Ergo, the PA lies to demonize Israel's supposed treatment of Palestinians.
Another claim of victimhood the PA generates is "the modern-day trope of settler violence." Hirsch said the 650,000 Israelis residing in Judea and Samaria live in the area that was the "cradle of Judaism" where Jews have lived continuously "for 3,500 years, apart from a small period of time, 1929-1967." Hebron, the biblical resting place for the progenitors of the Jewish people, is located in Judea and Samaria, but most of its Jewish inhabitants left in 1929 because "Arabs murdered 67 people in one day," almost eliminating the community. International law deemed that Judea and Samaria should be part of "Israel proper," but the Jordanians captured the area in the 1948 war and renamed it "the West Bank" [of the Jordan River].
PA revisionism has made inroads with the international community to the degree that, at a recent press conference held in Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken opened his comments by asserting "Israel must stop building in Judea and Samaria." PA claims of "settler violence" carried out by anyone who does not live in Judea and Samaria are rolled into the phrase demonizing "settlers" and repeated by Blinken, "giving credence to all these arguments," which Hirsch believes "the world just wants to hear."
Thomas Nides, U.S. ambassador to Israel, supports U.S. funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), but "doesn't understand why promoting and supporting an organization that has, as its main and only goal, the destruction of Israel is something which is detrimental to Israel's security." Hirsch explained that UNRWA was formed to "perpetuate the idea of Palestinian refugees." He said, "that plays into one single narrative that Israel will one day be forced to allow these now 5.6 million refugees and their families and their other descendants to flood Israel and democratically destroy Israel." Hirsch asked why the Arabs who live in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza are still considered refugees. Arabs who vacated Israel during the 1948 war have lived in surrounding Arab countries for the past seventy-three years, but are "used by the Arab countries as pawns in their battle to destroy Israel."
PMW investigated another of the PA's oft-made claims, that "Gaza is under siege," only to find that statistics countering the lie are posted on the UN website for its Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the "Occupied Territories." A 2021 post noted "there were 358,366 entries and exits from Gaza." Hirsch noted "that means one in every six Gazans entered ... or exited Gaza." Many of them entered Israel for trade or medical treatment, which belies the PA's specious claim of a "siege," while others crossed Gaza's southern border, which is controlled by Egypt. Hamas, Gaza's terrorist rulers, has dug tunnels under the southern border, through which it smuggles weaponry to attack Israel. Yet, these clear facts do not prevent "almost every single UN organization, including OCHA," from parroting the PA lie.
Hirsch said the root cause of the PA's blatant propaganda war against Israel can be found in the 1993 Oslo Accords. Israel agreed to create the Palestinian Authority, "an absolute monster which runs the lives of the Palestinians, on the one hand, but on the other hand, is in charge of almost every single one of the evils that Israel needs to deal with." Under its terms, Israel collects taxes on behalf of the PA, turns them over the PA, and the PA uses the money to attack Israel.
The international community contributes to the salaries of the PA's teachers, health care workers, and the Palestinian needy, but "on every single level, every time the UN or the international community" gives aid to the PA, the upshot is that the funds can by used by the Palestinians "for all of their own purposes."
Hirsch explained that those "purposes" include "the incitement in in the Palestinian school books" praising Jews' killers as heroes. Then there are "the endless maps of Palestine that wipe out every single reference to Israel, the teaching of scientific rules by showing kids firing rocks at soldiers using slingshots, the discussion of Palestinian kids of how they watched an Israeli bus go up like a barbecue after kids from the neighboring village through Molotov cocktails at the bus."
Yet when Israel takes steps to exact consequences for the PA's misuse of funds, the PA issues announcements condemning "Israel's theft of 'our money.'"
Even after Israel exposes the PA farce to the European Union (EU) and withholds funding because of the "insidious nature" of its textbooks, the PA whines that it lacks funds to pay teachers, and the next organization willing to turn a blind eye to the PA's hypocrisy steps up to fill its coffers.
International organizations roll out the welcome mat for the PA, thereby affording it a legitimacy it has leveraged to attain observer status at the UN and join the International Criminal Court (ICC). Its membership in these organizations has enabled the PA to press its cause through the ICC and bring legal actions against Israel. The PA takes these endorsements as further reason to claim victory and reassure its people that the PA is gaining more acceptance "as a state." Pushing its advantage, the Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, enacted a plan to expand illegal Palestinian structures in Area C. Under the Oslo Accords, Area C is the portion of Judea and Samaria allotted "entirely to Israeli control," while area A is under Palestinian control and Area B under joint Israeli-Palestinian control. Areas A and B constitute forty percent of Judea and Samaria, but when Israel objects to the PA's illegal encroachment into its sector, the PA claims it has to resort to such illegalities "because Israel doesn't allow us to receive building permits."
Hirsch said the PA's excuses are to further its strategy of "establish[ing] facts on the ground" which they have, over the last ten years, by encroaching into Area C with 30,000 illegally built structures, many constructed with money from the UN, the EU, and other "international players." Hirsch said "the unfortunate" aspect of this travesty is that the PA is left unchecked to abuse its boundaries because Israel refuses to enforce the law permitting Israel to demolish illegal PA buildings. Hirsch said that, of all the demolition orders issued by the Israeli government, covering "only about 12% of all the illegal structures, only 1% of all the structures ... are actually demolished."
After Israel imprisons captured terrorists, the PMW exposed the PA's "pay for slay" policy whereby the PA pays Palestinian prisoners while they serve their sentences. While in prison the terrorists collect a PA salary and earn an educational degree. The Israeli Prison Service has even gone so far as "allowing prisoners who have siblings in other prisons" to have "family visits."
The numerous examples of the PA strategy to destroy Israel, which Israel has ignored, led Hirsch to conclude that the "first and foremost thing that Israel can do is just grow a backbone." He said that Israel needs to face the fact that "the Oslo experiment failed" and enforce the law because "there is no partner for peace." The raison d'être of the PLO-PA is to "continue to fight for Israel's destruction."
Hirsch's second prescription to counter the PA is to realize that there are "alternatives" to the PA. Once Israel accepts that reality, the "logical conclusion" is that post-Oslo Israel must: 1. "Turn off the money" to the PA that Israel controls, and 2. Publicly assert its "unwavering claim to Judea and Samaria ... the historical homeland of the Jewish people" ceded to Israel "by international law, [the] Balfour Declaration, the San Remo conference in 1920, and ... the mandate for Palestine."
If Oslo continues, Israel "needs to assert our authority" in light of the PA's "breach of the Oslo Accords" by stating unambiguously that Israel's money can no longer be used by the PA to wage attacks, reward terrorists, or join international organizations to attack Israel. Hirsch stressed the need for Israel to "retake Area C [and] demolish illegally built structures ... and retake the prisons." As for the international community and UN organizations engaged in steps to "defame Israel, to libel Israel, to lie about Israel, to support the enemies of Israel," Hirsch insisted that Israel must "stand up" to them and be "asked to leave Israel." He said Israel needs to tell the EU that if they prefer to waste their money on funding any more of the PA's illegal structures built in area C, they will be promptly demolished.
Hirsch said that even though the Israeli public has voted in right-wing governments that would be expected to enforce PA compliance, the politicians change direction and don't "implement policies ... to stand up to the international community." Hirsch admitted that "sometimes there is a trade-off of priorities," and when Netanyahu stood up at the UN, it was to prioritize the Iranian threat rather than take on the UN organizations, or "ensure ... law enforcement in Judea and Samaria." Despite challenging political realities, Hirsch observed, "If Israel were to respect itself more as a country, it would also return more of the respect of the international community."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.