A symposium titled ‘Human Rights and Gaza' held at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) sponsored by its Center of Near East Studies (CNES) on January 21, 2009, concerned with the recent conflict in Gaza, communicated more falsehoods and malicious slander about Israel that could be found in any academic setting. And given the fierce hostility to Israel on American and European college campuses, that is saying a great deal.
There was no balance at all on the speaker's panel. All of the participants were openly and virulently hostile to Israel, and none presented an Israeli perspective on the conflict. The speakers were Richard Falk, a UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University and currently visiting Professor Global and International Studies at UC Santa Barbara; Lisa Hajjar, Associate Professor and Chair, Law and Society program, UC Santa Barbara; Saree Makdisi, Professor English Dept. UCLA; Gabriel Piterberg, Professor, History Dept. UCLA and Moderator: Susan Slyomovics, Director, CNES. Inaccuracies, distortions and glaring falsehoods streamed at breathtaking speed from all of these speakers.
Israel was accused (as usual) of using "disproportionate force" on the basis of either the casualty count or the difference in weaponry, which in no way could be seen as valid criteria. As clearly spelled out in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Article 2), a disproportionate attack is to be measured by losses "which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated." Besides, Hamas' use of human shields – a practice that is becoming growingly apparent as eyewitness reports are obtained – puts the responsibility of the civilian deaths in Gaza squarely on Hamas and not on Israel. Hamas' despicable disregard for human life is condemned in no uncertain terms by the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 28) and its First Protocol (Article 51). But you would be searching in vain for any clear condemnation of Hamas in this symposium.
None of the participants ever mentioned that Hamas is a terrorist organization; that all civilized countries view them as such; and that a number of UN Security Council Resolutions were adopted under Chapter VII (i.e. absolutely binding on all UN members) precisely to act against terrorist groups such as Hamas.
UNSC Res. 1337 (2001) demands that all states …
- "refrain from providing any form of support, active or passive, to entities or persons involved in terrorist acts"
- "deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support, or commit terrorist acts, or provide safe havens"
- "prevent the movement of terrorists or terrorist groups by effective border controls and controls on issuance of identity papers and travel documents.
UNSC Res. 1566 (2004) is even more specific: it …
• "calls upon States to cooperate fully in the fight against terrorism, especially with those States where or against whose citizens terrorist acts are committed";
- "recalls that criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public …are under no circumstances justifiable by considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or other similar nature, and calls upon all States to prevent such acts and, if not prevented, to ensure that such acts are punished by penalties consistent with their grave nature."
Not only were the panellists completely silent about Hamas' relentless and ongoing campaign of terrorism against Israeli civilians since the early 1990s, they also failed to mention the many atrocities committed by Hamas against other Palestinians, as documented by Ziad Abu Ein, vice-minister of the Palestinian Authority. Instead, the speakers chose to whitewash Hamas as a mere "militant" organization.
One of the speakers, Prof. Saree Makdisi, may be a good story-teller, but he opens a floodgate of disinformation when it comes to Israel in his quest to discredit her as a Jewish State while blaming her for the human misery brought upon the Gazans by Hamas' actions. He and his colleagues pressed on the old boring tune, blame Israel and America for any and all short comings of Gaza/West Bankers, and the Arab world. And what is the crimes against the Gazan children by Hamas, blame Israel. He had the audacity to accuse Israel of "this policy [that] were put into effect as a state policy thought through clearly, premeditated planned, deliberately… put to practice" to stunt the growth of the Gazan children by starving them. Among other things, he stated that Gaza is "occupied territory." He should know that a) Israel entirely evacuated its civilian population and withdrew its military personnel from Gaza in 2005; and b) that the Fourth Hague Convention (1907) defines territory as occupied "when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army… and the occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised" (Article 42). Clearly, Israel does not exercise such authority in Gaza.
Professor Richard Falk accused Israel of subjecting the Palestinians to "an 18-month blockade" prior to the attack of December 27, presumably to depict Israel as the initiator of hostilities. He did not mention that Israel permitted thousands of tons of humanitarian supplies to reach Gaza during this period. Some blockade!
It is beyond belief that a professor with Falk's credentials could ignore all of the above and blame Israel for the "blockade", particularly in view of the massive humanitarian aid provided through Israel's crossings even at the height of the military operation. To the extent that the civilian population of Gaza has suffered any shortages of supplies, it has been the result of Hamas' ruthless and more or less open theft of these supplies, either for use by its fighters, or for reselling to the Gaza populace at extortionate prices. There have been extensive reports of such diversions by Hamas, including attacks on the crossing points used for the delivery of truckloads of supplies. To the extent that Israel bears any blame at all for the diversion of the humanitarian supplies, it is because it did not insist on strict observance of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 23, which clearly specifies that any humanitarian aid "is subject to the condition that this Party [Israel] is satisfied that there are no serious reasons for fearing that the consignments may be diverted from their destination."). Why didn't we hear about any of this in the symposium?
Worse still, Professor Falk disfigures the truth when he castigates Israel for "collective punishment prohibited by the Geneva Conventions." First, collective punishment would only be envisaged if Israel had engaged in criminal penalties against the Gaza population, which it had not. Second, international law does not include sanctions and blockades as collective punishment. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention – which Prof. Falk erroneously alludes to – defines "collective punishment" as "acts of terror … and pillage against protected persons."
Professor Falk continued to spin his fairy tales when he implicitly praised the generosity of Hamas in their willingness to "extend the ceasefire for up to 10 years, which Israel refused to even acknowledge." Let us review the facts: when the six-month "lull" or "calm" (not the same as a ceasefire) agreed to by Hamas in June 19 expired on December 19, 2008, it was Hamas, not Israel that refused to renew the "lull." In any case, Hamas fired hundreds of rockets and mortars at Israel while it was supposedly observing the "lull," thus proving that any proposals it may make for a cessation of, or even a reduction in, hostilities, are meaningless.
As for the 10 year "ceasefire" (better known as hudna), Hamas proposed it in 2004, more than four years before the current fighting– but only on condition that Israel totally withdraw to its 1967 borders and relinquish the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem before the hudna would even begin! This same proposal was reintroduced in 2006 when a Hamas delegation visited Britain. But the British Foreign Office, like Israel, was wise enough to refuse even to meet the Hamas delegation, knowing full well their obligations under the UNSC Resolutions listed above. Moreover, anyone with a cursory knowledge of Arabic and Islamic history would know that the true meaning of that hudna, as Hamas interprets it, is a temporary reprieve to regroup, rearm and fight another day, at a time of their choosing. Needless to say, before and after this proposal, Hamas kept firing its rockets into southern Israel. How naïve could Prof. Falk be? How gullible does he think his audience is?
But Prof. Falk doesn't stop there. In his unfettered "jihad" against Israel, he invents a new cause for the hostilities: the "November 4 incursion" into the Gaza Strip as a provocation by Israel. Again, let us review the facts. On November 4, Israeli intelligence provided information on an imminent attempt by Hamas to abduct IDF soldiers through a tunnel dug through the security fence. The IDF responded by infiltrating the Gaza Strip and within 250 meters they found the other end of the tunnel. They engaged the Hamas terrorists, killed a number of them and suffered six casualties, two of them seriously wounded. This pre-emptive attack in the face of a clear and imminent danger is anything but an aggression. Prof. Falk's naked inversion of aggression and self-defence would be disingenuous if it were not as malicious as it was intended.
Prof. Falk concludes his diatribe by complaining that "a civilian population has been locked into a war zone and denied the option of becoming refugees." He like Professor Makdisi conveniently forget that the Gaza Strip also has a border with Egypt which was kept intentionally closed by the Egyptian authorities during the three-week military operation. The total absence of any blame pointing to Egypt tells us much more about Prof. Falk's preconceived agenda than about his purported sympathy toward the Gaza population. He also omitted the well documented efforts by the Hamas thugs to forcibly prevent the civilian population from leaving their homes, to better use them as human shields. We should also remember that whenever Israel has allowed Palestinians to leave a combat zone, it has been accused of expelling innocent civilians from their homes, turning them into refugees and promoting "ethnic cleansing!" Undoubtedly Professor Falk and the other panelists would have made such a claim if Israel had facilitated a refugee "exodus" from Gaza.
The final round of applause from the duped audience followed Prof. Falk's repetition of the mandatory mantra about "the unlawful West bank settlements." Why not? After disfiguring international law in such a shameless way for over an hour, no one expected him to show any intellectual integrity and remind the audience of the provisions of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (1922), which are valid to this day, and which not only authorize Jewish settlements in the whole of Palestine, but specifically encourage them.
If you thought the performance of Prof. Falk was a textbook study of Orwellian propaganda hard to outperform, consider Prof. Gaby Piterberg, who threw in an analogy with "the excessive violence by France in Algeria during the Algerian War of Independence." There you have it: Israel is no more than a colonial power with no rights whatsoever in the foreign land it occupies. Another professor, another nonsense, another class of students to be indoctrinated by the vilest propaganda in one of the most prestigious centers of higher learning in America.
When supposedly knowledgeable people, claiming expert status, indulge in such a disfiguration of reality, there can only be one reason: to divert guilt and responsibility from Hamas, where it belongs, to Israel, the eternal culprit in their eyes; and to denigrate the State of Israel selectively, for the sole reason that it is a Jewish State. There is a name for that malicious hatred, and the participants must surely know it, no matter how much they indulge in obfuscation. When falsehoods, malice and cowardice about facing the truth all join together, it can only be called hateful propaganda. Et tu, UCLA? CRO
Salomon Benzimra and John Landau contributed to this article.
copyright 2009 Rachel Neuwirth
Rachel Neuwirth is president of Middle East Solutions. Visit www.MiddleEastSolutions.org