Setting the Record Straight on Gaza

Setting the Record Straight on Gaza

Last week, a post from an incoming Stanford freshman named Yousef AbuHashem went viral on Instagram. Yousef lives in the Gaza Strip, which was targeted this month by Israeli airstrikes in response to thousands of rockets launched at Israeli civilians by the terror group Hamas, which controls Gaza. In his post, Yousef wrote about the tragic anxiety he and his family faced amid the Israeli strikes, which after 11 days, ended in a ceasefire mediated by Egypt.

...Right now, we’re under indescribable Israeli airstrikes for the 9th day in a row, and no one knows if we’re going to come alive out of this night...
If I wasn’t in Stanford the upcoming year for any reason, please remember me as a live, personal, evidence on the apartheid and genocide that Palestinians are facing...
Meanwhile, some students of our same university, and same class, are currently serving in the IDF, blowing up houses, deepening a trauma inside of me and my family, and will be joining you on the Fall...

What’s happening in Gaza – where Yousef, his family, and about two million other human beings live – is heartbreaking. But heartbreaking subjects are not exempt from critical inquiry, and on this topic specifically, a popular but misleading narrative among students has been allowed to metastasize following Yousef’s post. I mean no disrespect to Yousef, but I must correct the record.

First: under no internationally-accepted definition of “genocide” does the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, or Israel’s military strikes against Hamas, qualify as one. It is simply not true that Israel is committing – or has ever committed – genocide against Palestinians.

Second: the post implies that some Stanford students are complicit in the alleged genocide because they served in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). Aside from the falsity of the implication, it is a mistake to divide students up based on military service like this. It singles out one specific group of students for negative attention: Israeli Jews, who are required by law to serve in the IDF.

After Yousef’s post, Stanford SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) distributed a pre-written email for students to send to Stanford administrators, encouraging them to divest the University's endowment of Israeli companies. In it, they also unleash a deluge of nonsense and propaganda. Here is the unhinged opening salvo of the SJP email which is now cluttering poor Susie Brubaker-Cole’s inbox:

“We are writing to you today to address the ethnic cleansing taking place right now in Palestine as a result of Israeli settler-colonial violence. The recent atrocities are but one chapter in a continued oppression of the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination and sovereignty over their homeland. Amid these cruelties, we are also witnessing a huge resurgence in Palestinian movements towards liberation by any means necessary across the globe. Yet none of this is represented in the public life of an American university that maintains its commitment to silence about its own role in this modern apartheid regime.”

In Gaza, Israel is conducting rocket cleansing, not ethnic cleansing. Every civilian death in Gaza is a tragedy, but the number and rate of civilian deaths is much lower in the Israel-Hamas conflict than in many other wars (including the three wars launched by Israel’s neighbors to destroy it). It is ridiculous to suggest that this constitutes “cleansing,” much less “ethnic cleansing.”

Gaza is not under siege because the people who live there are Arabs (or Muslims or Palestinians, for that matter). Gaza is under siege because it is controlled by a psychopathic militant terror regime with the explicit intention of conducting a second Holocaust against the Jewish people. Israeli military operations in Gaza are not intended to kill civilians (though they sometimes do, despite their precision). They are intended to stop indiscriminate rocket fire at Israeli civilians.

There is no doubt that Israel has done terrible things while protecting itself, which is utterly unremarkable for a nation at war. But there are key moral and legal differences between Israel and its enemies.

Here’s the bottom line: Israel consistently takes steps far beyond its international legal obligations under the laws of war to protect civilians when it engages militarily with Hamas. Israel is not obligated to place personal phone calls to civilians begging them to evacuate their homes to keep their children safe. Israel is not obligated to spare any building if it is being used to store Hamas terror rockets or other weapons of war.

In contrast, Hamas seeks at every turn to maximize casualties in Gaza. They do this by storing illegal weapons and military hardware in civilian buildings, including schools and hospitals, which is itself a war crime. For Hamas, maximizing the deaths of children in Gaza is the single best way to increase international pressure on Israel from the United States, Canada, Europe, and others with diplomatic leverage. Hamas eagerly employs this strategy, and sadly, it is incredibly effective. Israel has never used the decisive force necessary to destroy Hamas completely, because Israeli leaders know that the human cost in Gaza would be impossible to defend.

Several times throughout, the SJP email refers to Israel as an “apartheid regime.” Is that the case?

Israel itself is obviously not an apartheid state. Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the same individual and political rights as Jews, though undoubtedly there is some level of discrimination, which is the case in all countries with ethnic diversity.

As for whether there is an apartheid relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, it's a more complicated question. It's plain for anyone to see that Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza lack many political and individual rights. But is it the fault of Israel that the Palestinian Authority hasn't held an election in 15 years, or that Hamas would rather spend resources on terror than improving the lives of its hostage citizens? No.

And to the extent that the individual rights of Palestinians are limited by Israel – freedom of movement between the Palestinian territories and Israel, for example – we should be honest about why these rights are limited.

Gaza is closed off because suicide bombings used to be regular occurrences in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Since 2008, Gazans have been unable to freely travel in and out of Gaza, and there hasn’t been a successful suicide attack since. Can a security policy like this – with the express purpose of stopping suicide bombings – be considered apartheid?

Overall, the apartheid comparison is a lazy one. South Africa was an explicitly racist state where a tiny white minority exercised totalitarian political control over a majority-black population. There is no such arrangement in Israel or in the Palestinian territories.

The email goes on, again invoking apartheid:

“The reality is that this issue is not complex. Like any colonial struggle, whether it be apartheid in South Africa, or the genocide of the Indigenous peoples of America, there is one oppressed population, and one oppressor.”

Not complex? If there’s ever been a better example of academic post-colonialism frying the brains of its adherents, I haven’t seen it. First, leftists concoct a convoluted academic theory about geopolitics that ignores 95% of human history; next, they impose it as a lens on every conflict so that they don’t have to spend any energy thinking critically about it. The result? Always one oppressor, one oppressed; one white, one brown; one bad, one good; you get the idea.

Israelis and their descendants are largely refugees that fled the Arab World, Europe, and the Soviet Union to a state founded by Holocaust survivors which has been invaded thrice by its neighbors and never been at peace. But remember the dogma: there is one oppressed population and one oppressor.

The email concludes:

“Therefore, Israel’s cleansing of the Palestinian people based on their national and ethnic origin is in violation of our Fundamental Standard and should be immediatley [sic] denounced.”

This – I must hand it to the activists here – is really something. I knew they didn’t have a firm grip on the laws of war, but I will admit that I overlooked the foolproof strategy of accusing Israel of violating an American university’s student code of conduct. Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? What’s next - Israel isn’t following the golden rule?

So, to my Stanford peers, especially you lefties who are new to this issue, here’s some free advice: get off Instagram, drop the buzzwords and slogans, talk to some Israelis and Palestinians if you can, and try to find some information that doesn’t immediately confirm your own biases. I will always defend your right to speak on the issues, but right now your hysterics are a very bad look for students at a university where we’re taught to think, not scream.

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