Mitchell Bard is Wrong On Israel

Hamas did not start this conflict. Here's an extensive time line of events, making clear that Israel broke the ceasefire, not Hamas.
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"We have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave, and we will see where this process leads." - Moshe Dayan, former Israeli Minister of Defense speaking about Palestinians in the occupied territories.

A friend sent me Mitchell Bard's recent blog post on the Israeli invasion of Gaza to ask me what I thought about his stance. The post titled: 'Hamas Is Responsible for the Civilian Casualties in Gaza', was particularly provocative given the images on network TV of Israel brutalizing the Gaza strip. Hoping to be enlightened by a thoughtful article explaining his rationale, I found myself disappointed by a one sided diatribe devoid of any historical context or balanced perspective.

Bard's piece made a series of assertions which I will deal with one by one.

1. Hamas started the conflict after firing rockets into Israel

Hamas did not start this conflict. Here's an extensive time line of events, making clear that Israel broke the ceasefire, not Hamas. Israel, contrary to popular opinion, also never left the Gaza strip and still controls taxation, the sea, air and land borders. If China had the same control over the United States, would Bard understand if Americans wanted to defend itself? After all, the U.S went to war with Great Britain over taxation, something Bard no doubt supports in retrospect.

2. Hamas wanted Israel to attack Gaza to boost its popularity and damage its reputation internationally.

Bard offers no evidence for the assertion that Hamas wanted its own people killed, other than it is his opinion. According to serious analysts Hamas miscalculated Israel's response rather than provoked it. They do of course, bear responsibility, but evidence is required before accusations like this are thrown around.

3. Hamas is at fault for civilian casualties as it uses "mosques, schools, private residences and even hospitals as locations to manufacture, store and launch weapons at Israel and hide its leaders."

Israel cannot bomb schools and hospitals just because it believes Hamas may be hiding there. It is a direct violation of international law, and therefore constitutes a war crime.

4. "Hamas's stated intention is the destruction of Israel"

There are certain elements of Hamas that want to see the destruction of Israel, just like there are extreme Zionists who believe Palestine belongs to Jews. You can't brand an entire organization in a certain light just because it is convenient to you. Here is Khalid Mish'al, head of the Hamas political bureau in an article in the Guardian:

Our message to the Israelis is this: we do not fight you because you belong to a certain faith or culture. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for 13 centuries in peace and harmony; they are in our religion "the people of the book" who have a covenant from God and His Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) to be respected and protected. Our conflict with you is not religious but political. We have no problem with Jews who have not attacked us - our problem is with those who came to our land, imposed themselves on us by force, destroyed our society and banished our people.

We shall never recognise the right of any power to rob us of our land and deny us our national rights. We shall never recognise the legitimacy of a Zionist state created on our soil in order to atone for somebody else's sins or solve somebody else's problem. But if you are willing to accept the principle of a long-term truce, we are prepared to negotiate the terms. Hamas is extending a hand of peace to those who are truly interested in a peace based on justice.

Also, a question for Bard: Can you find another example in international law where one country was forced to accept the right of another country to exist? Was Mexico forced to recognize the United States right to exist after it took its land? Where Native Americans forced to accept the right of the United States to exist after it killed most of their people and took their country? Of course not, they simply dealt with the reality and moved on, just as some in Hamas are willing to do (ie a long term truce) rather than admit humiliating terms of defeat. There were many members of the ANC in South Africa who wanted whites to leave South Africa, and this was used by the Apartheid Government to dismiss it as a terrorist organization, just as apologists for Israeli state crimes are doing with Hamas. The only way towards peace is an acknowledgment that Hamas is a legitimate political entity and MUST be negotiated with, just as the Apartheid Government negotiated with the ANC. 5. Israel is "the only Democratic country in the immediate region" and had been systematically attacked by Arab countries since its inception.

Stating that Israel is "the only democratic country in the immediate region" in one sentence then in another saying, "the Palestinian people, given a free choice in elections, voted Hamas into power," requires no rebuttal. Israel is the only democracy in the region because Bard wants it to be. Yes, Arab countries have attacked Israel since its inception, but Arabs view the creation of Israel as an attack on them. It just depends on your point of view. 6. Israel "Seized the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 not out of imperialistic aggression, but as a means of defending itself from its neighbors."

Regardless of whether Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza out of imperial aggression or self-defense, acquisition of land through war is explicitly forbidden under the Geneva Conventions, and a direct violation of international law.

7. If a "right of return" were granted, Israel would immediately cease to be as a Jewish, secular democratic state".

I don't think Bard really understands what he is saying here, as the sentence contradicts itself on many levels. Being a 'Jewish, secular state' is a contradiction in terms. Judaism is a religion, so a Jewish state is therefore a religious one. Also, Israel's refusal to give the 800,000 dispossessed Palestinians the right of return is a huge thorn in its side when claiming to be a democracy. Under international law, dispossessed people are entitled to return to their land, so if Israel was a functioning democratic nation that followed international law, the majority of it's citizens would be Arab, and they would have the right to vote. Bard might not like the outcome, but then that is what we call democracy. 8. "Israel has showed remarkable restraint and proportionality, evidenced by the fact that an overwhelming majority of the Palestinian casualties have not been civilians. The world should be lauding Israel for its efforts to minimize civilian casualties."

Israel has just bombed two U.N schools in the Gaza strip, and have thus far killed over 700 people, 220 of them children. The 'remarkable restraint and proportionality' Israel had shown is over 100-1 in terms of the Palestinian to Israeli death toll, on top of many millions of dollars in structural damage. Bard may laud Israel for this, but the majority of the world does not. 9. "Since the Palestinian people elected Hamas to power, they have themselves to blame for the damage done to them by their leaders."

Just because Palestinians voted for Hamas does not give Israel the right to kill them. Collective punishment is explicitly illegal under international law. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states:

No protected person may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

George Bush illegally invaded Iraq, committing the supreme war crime of preemptive aggression. I don't believe Americans should be punished for his actions, even though they voted for him. Bard omits to mention international law or any historical context because if he did, his case would fall apart.

A grievous crime was committed against Palestinians when their land was forcefully taken from them in 1948. They had committed no crimes against Jews, and were not consulted when their land was given away. European nations had systematically slaughtered Jews for centuries, then laid the burden on the Palestinians, a fact that the West would rather forget. The Palestinians will never get their land back, just as Native Americans won't get theirs. But at least we can acknowledge what has happened to them, and work seriously for a lasting solution. The Palestinians are an oppressed people, and to blame them for their own predicament is simply inexcusable. The Hebrew poet Aharon Shabtai once wrote:

And when it's all over, My dear, dear reader,

On which benches will we have to sit,

Those of us who shouted 'Death to the Arabs!'

And those who claimed they 'didn't know'?

Ben Cohen is the Editor of The Daily

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