The niece of Palestinian Authority (P.A.) chief negotiator Saeb Erakat, Erakat's tone was calm and measured, her demeanor pleasant, and her partisanship unmistakable, even when couched in the dispassionate language of international human rights law.
Seated in a conference room before an audience of approximately forty, many of them fellow academics, Erakat began by noting that because this was "not a legal audience," she would depart from her planned presentation and instead focus on "setting the framework for the lead-up" to the war and on providing "the legal and political context" for the situation in Gaza.
Referencing a recent report from Breaking the Silence, an NGO that presents the anonymous "testimonies" of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers who ostensibly oppose their government's military policies, Erakat promised that it would "illuminate the rules of engagement in Gaza" and "help us comment on whether Israel is the most moral army in the world, as it insists." Her next statement answered her rhetorical question: "Israel's engagement with the laws of war made it possible to kill as many civilians and destroy as much civilian infrastructure as it did." Hewing to this approach, she added:
Israel insisted it was within the bounds of law, let's examine . . . the legal context to help explain the high humanitarian register of death and destruction, which was unprecedented, even if the campaign wasn't.
Claiming that, "since 1993, Israel has been keen on separating Gaza from the rest of the conflict," Erakat distorted the nature of Gaza's terrorist rulers:
[They] say that Gaza is, for all intents and purposes, different because of the presence of what I would describe as a political party with an irregular combat force and [what] Israel would describe as a terrorist organization: Hamas.
Instead, she proposed that "Israel would be in a much better position . . . were it to deal with Gaza as it does the West Bank." Since Gazans fire rockets indiscriminately into Israel and dig tunnels that enable kidnappings and terrorist attacks—and Hamas's charter calls for the destruction of Israel—her recommendation was either disingenuous or naïve.
Erakat extended her antipathy towards the U.S., lamenting that Israel's "powerful military has the unequivocal support of the world's superpower, which we are all beneficiaries of. We're all the beneficiaries of our empire." In an act of naked scapegoating, she complained that the Obama administration's proposal that Israel retreat to the indefensible pre-1967 borders was stymied "because of the response from the Israel lobby."
She summed up the Gaza war as an Israeli "killing campaign" to which the "Palestinian population" had been "arbitrarily submitted." Although she acknowledged the IDF's unprecedented policy of providing warnings before bombing targets where civilians might be present, she downplayed them by asking, "Were the warnings adequate?" Citing the number of UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) shelters targeted, she failed to note that Hamas routinely uses these sites for launching rockets and storing weapons in order to avoid retaliation. Nor did she acknowledge Hamas's frequent use of civilians as human shields, instead lamenting the "collapse of who is a civilian" according to Israel's interpretation of the Geneva Conventions' Principle of Distinction between Civilians and Combatants. That Hamas makes no pretense of adhering to the Geneva Conventions, while the P.A. merely pretends to do so, counted for nothing; the burdens of international law rest upon Israel alone.
Erakat concluded that along with a "deliberate policy of impoverishment," Israel's goals in the Gaza strip were always the "annexation" and "acquisition of land." She dismissed Israel's disengagement from Gaza in 2005 because, she alleged, it "didn't change its status as occupied territory." Moreover, she claimed, "Israel was interested in putting boots back on the ground in the Gaza strip," as if nonstop aggression following voluntary withdrawal had no bearing on Israel's actions.
Maintaining that, "Israel's campaign against Gaza is not Gaza-specific, it's Palestinian-specific," Erakat declared that, compared to the "success of colonialism" in the U.S. and Canada, the war "showed the weakness of Israel's hegemonic project," although for the Palestinians, "it was a show of resistance." Yet, she added, unless "political pressure" is applied by the U.S., "Gaza will become unlivable in 2020. They're going to die while everyone's watching or while no one's watching." Apparently the vaunted international sphere isn't watching for, as she earlier conceded, "Not a single home [in Gaza] has been rebuilt despite pledges from international community."
During the question and answer period, an audience member took her up on her offer to "discuss" various contentious issues following the talk. In the course of responding, Erakat asserted that Hamas is now in favor of the two-state solution, which was news to the questioner. In fact, Hamas had claimed as much, using characteristically slippery language, on a number of occasions leading up to the 2014 conflict, but was predictably disingenuous. Earlier this year, senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk did so again in order to secure funding for Gaza from the Middle East Quartet, but still refused to recognize Israel, issued the usual untenable demands in return, and called it a "temporary solution." If this was the source of Erakat's revelation, it's as reliable as a Hamas hudna (temporary truce).
Despite Erakat's pose as a disinterested observer of human rights and international law, her animus towards Israel and sympathy for Palestinian irredentism was obvious. The ranks of Middle East studies are filled with such "moderate" academics who are, in truth, as biased and politicized as any fire-breathing radical. The question is who is more dangerous?