Response to Texas Stands with Gaza piece offers up shoddy talking points in defense of Israel

Kelly Houck and Patrick Higgins

Editor's Note: Due to an editing error, a number of links were excluded from the original version of this firing line. They have been added to the parenthetical sentence discussing the bombings carried out by Israel on Gaza in the run-up to Operation Protective Edge.

In a letter in response to Dania Hussein’s recent op-ed on the Texas Stands with Gaza protest, Raquel Reinstein makes apparent her conviction that there is not a single horror that cannot be rationalized by mere mention of the word “Hamas.”

In attempting to paint a portrait of a “democracy” defending itself from “terrorists” — the thousands of Palestinians bombed into dismemberment, post-traumatic stress and death are the necessary collateral for such a task, you see — Reinstein makes several assertions. Each assertion contains wild disinformation.

We will address them in turn.

Reinstein claims that the Israeli Defense Forces send “leaflets and text messages in addition to performing roof knocks to prevent civilian deaths.” She leaves out the geographic realities of Gaza that render escape impossible. Gaza comprises 139 square miles and hosts a population of roughly 1.8 million; each of its borders is closed to them, by the Israelis to the north, east and west (where Israel patrols the seas), and by Israel in coordination with Egypt in the south.

During Operation Protective Edge, the name of Israel’s latest bombing campaign and land invasion, the entirety of the territory has been under fire. (Those who do escape death have to attempt life amid destroyed infrastructure.) As The Washington Post reported, the kinds of spaces bombed by Israel have included “an evacuation shelter, cemeteries, a school, mosques and al-Aqsa Hospital…” Under such conditions, Israel’s leaflets amount to a PR move, and a particularly sadistic one at that.

But communiqués leaked by Wikileaks reveal that Israeli commanders themselves do not observe strict differences between civilians and combatants, rendering each of Reinstein’s claims pertaining to the matter irrelevant. In one document, Major-General Gadi Eizenkot is described as referring to Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine, “an already approved plan” to “use disproportionate force upon any village that fires upon Israel,” treating them not as “civilian villages,” but as “military bases.” In other words, Israel targets entire villages and justifies it by labeling civilians “militants.”

In another leaked document, a mentioned UN report, investigating nine cases involving UN sites in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead of 2008 and 2009, details Israel’s history of blatant disregard for human life. The report found that “the IDF breached the inviolability and immunity of UN premises, that such inviolability and immunity cannot be overridden by demands of military expediency, and that the IDF did not take sufficient precautions to fulfill its responsibilities to protect UN property and personnel and civilians taking shelter therein.” So here is a case, investigated by the UN, in which Israel did not even take the most basic of precautions to avoid civilian deaths.

Reinstein insists there exists footage of Hamas beating Palestinians attempting to flee a warzone. The description for the video to which she links says the footage depicts Palestinians attempting to leave an area after receiving warnings from the IDF. In fact, the clip is taken from a 2009 German documentary about Hamas and the footage depicts moments from the 2007 inter-Palestinian conflict between Hamas and Fatah. This conflict involved acts of brutality from both sides, but we suggest readers consult “The Gaza Bombshell,” an article published in Vanity Fair, to get an idea of the role played by Israel and its allies, particularly the United States, in creating and fueling that conflict in an attempt to divide Palestinian leadership. The Bush administration funded and helped to plan Fatah’s armed coup attempt against Hamas in order to undermine Palestinian democracy after Hamas gained an electoral advantage through peaceful means.

In Reinstein’s warped logic, Israel’s 2005 “withdrawal” from Gaza was a showing of peace, even though it marked the beginning of Israel’s brutal siege policy. A popular phrase to describe the condition of Gaza under the siege is “open-air prison”; this descriptor is accurate. To us the transformation of Gaza into the world’s largest open-air prison does not much sound like peace; it sounds like a form of terror.

Reinstein’s letter brings up the worn-out talking point that Hamas in its charter incites anti-Jewish sentiment. We see no need to discuss the 1988 Hamas Charter here, as it is not politically operative. Hamas official Khaled Meshaal has stated as much. He has also stated that Hamas would accept a two-state solution along the 1967 borders. We do not necessarily endorse this solution and accept that it is a matter for Palestinians to decide. Nonetheless, we would like the facts of Hamas’ political program to be known.

The video clip provided by Reinstein to bolster the claim that Hamas wants to destroy Jews, featuring Hamas official Osama Hamdan, does not contradict the policy outlined above. In the clip, Hamdan makes clear that Hamas does not have any problem whatsoever with Jews. Hamas takes issue with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, he says.

Apparently, the terror facing Gazans is, according to Reinstein, a “blockade” rather than a “siege.” Both words in fact apply. The blockade keeps goods out of Gaza; the policy accelerates into siege routinely, as Israel swoops into Gaza and drops bombs upon it at will. (Israel had bombed Gaza just about every month of this year, before Protective Edge began, in January, at least three times in February, March, April and June.) But we will not press the matter too far — we are happy to leave Reinstein to split hairs about whatever word for collective torment fits her propaganda best.

Reinstein says Hamas shoots at aid trucks coming in through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. No evidence for this claim is provided other than IDF testimony. Some materials make it into Gaza, and Gazans are, we suppose, expected to jump for joy, for their imprisoners weaken them by starvation rather than outright kill them by starvation. (As the past weeks have shown, Israel has plenty of other means to kill Palestinians outright.) Still, documents obtained by the BBC show the extent of the cruelty of Israel’s policy, including commissioning reports to find out the absolute minimum of calories possible to keep Palestinians in Gaza alive.

Finally, on the casualty numbers. They are provided to international media by the UN, which works with the Palestinian Ministry of Health (obviously), and also has representatives in Gaza. Reinstein’s source, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center, is located in Israel. It determines the “occupation” of the deceased by running Internet searches. Its reports do not provide links to the exact pages it uses as sources. We wonder why, as this would have provided us with the opportunity to examine them and make our own judgments.

Reinstein’s “arguments” are not even arguments; they are talking points, astonishingly easy to take down. There was leaked a handbook, published by The Israel Project, advising Israel supporters on the most effective language to use—in other words, a PR guide. Reinstein parrots these guidelines to parodic levels, from her opening display of empathy (page 4 of the handbook: “Show Empathy for BOTH sides!”) to her insistence that the beginning of Israel’s siege policy was a showing of peace (page 9 of the handbook: “Despite making an overture for peace by withdrawing from Gaza…”).

We are happy to have addressed Reinstein’s points in order to expose their extreme shoddiness. But we reject more than Reinstein’s points; we reject the very premises on which they were forwarded. The assumption undergirding Reinstein’s letter is that if it can be shown that there are weapons in Gaza, and some Palestinians operating them, the destruction of Gaza and the mass slaughter of its population can be justified.

The population in Gaza is comprised of refugees, created by the establishment of the State of Israel, and their progeny. As targets of an expansionist settler-colonialist campaign, removing them to make way for a growing population of Israeli settlers, they have yet to be granted a homeland. As a population of refugees, they lack a formal military to protect them. Those Palestinians who have taken up arms to protect their families in (illegally, to be redundant) occupied land have been labeled “terrorists” by Israel, the United States (Israel’s chief funder) and much of the international media. In this paradigm, the Palestinian right to self-defense has been assumed impossible. We do not only think the Palestinian right to self-defense possible — we insist that recent events prove more than ever its necessity.

We reject the idea that so long as Palestinians do not passively accept their fate and stage themselves as eternal victims, their cause for self-determination cannot be defended. We simply refuse to affirm the premise that Palestinians are subhuman.

Higgins and Houck are graduate students in the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. They are both from Austin.