Writing in Israeli newspaper Haaretz this week, regular columnist Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie bemoaned the difficult task facing Israel’s supporters internationally, in the aftermath of the devastating, murderous assault on the Gaza Strip.
With the war in Gaza just concluded, Israel’s friends in the West are now immersed in the task of making Israel’s case to a skeptical public…ours is a media age, and the pictures of destruction in Gaza are hard to overcome.
This already tricky PR challenge has now been compounded, Yoffie wrote, by the Netanyahu’s government’s decision to declare a chunk of the West Bank as ‘state land’, a step taken prior to the construction of new settlement housing.
The point of the op-ed was that the land grab is badly-timed and will do Israel’s image no favours after the death and destruction in Gaza. But there is a further point to be made here. Developments in the West Bank do not just hinder Israel’s post-Gaza PR efforts – they actually directly undermine the ‘Operation Protective Edge’ hasbara talking points themselves.
Israel insists that the accusation of war crimes in Gaza is a gross misrepresentation of the military’s operations. Putting aside the copious evidence of atrocities – families bombed at home, youth killed while watching football in a café, indiscriminate shelling in Rafah, and so on – Israeli policies in the West Bank give the lie to the claim that its government and military have even the minimal respect for international law.
And indeed, the mass appropriation of land outside of Bethlehem in the Occupied West Bank is just such an example. Responding to the news, Amnesty International said that “confiscating land for settlements” is not only “illegal under international law” but also leads “to a wide range of violations of Palestinians’ human rights on a mass scale”. Human Rights Watch pointedly noted:
The ICC statute prohibits, as war crimes, the voluntary transfer by an occupying power of its civilians into occupied territory, the seizure of property unless imperative as a matter of military necessity, and the forcible transfer of the local population of the territory – like Israel’s practices in the West Bank. Abbas has repeatedly delayed acceding to the ICC statute.
With condemnation from numerous countries – including strong allies of Israel – it is important to note here that for Israel, its own colonisation priorities, domestic political reasons or, in the words of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, simply the “consensus in Israeli society“, all trump international law. Yet in Gaza, we are meant to believe that the Israeli military scrupulously abides by the same standards it is trampling on a few dozen miles away.
Then there is the killing of Palestinian civilians. The Israeli military has produced no end of infographics and conducted numerous ‘off the record’ briefings – as well as of course, the regular robotic performances by media spokespersons – all in an attempt to ‘explain’ the mass slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, including hundreds of children.
Yet while homes were being pulverised in Gaza, Israeli forces unleashed lethal violence against occupied, unarmed Palestinian civilians in the West Bank: according to the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, 32 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem between June 13 and August 26, and another 1,397 injured by the army and settlers.
Implausibly, and disgustingly, Israel tries to justify the killing of children in their homes in Gaza by reference to ‘rockets’, ‘terror tunnels’, and the ‘terrorist infrastructure’ of al-Qassam Brigades. But what about Khalil Anati, the 10-year-old boy shot dead by Israeli forces in al-Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron? Or 19-year-old footballer Mohammed Al-Qatari, and 45-year-old father of three Hashem Abu Maria – both shot dead by Israeli forces in the West Bank while Gaza burned.
But this is standard for ‘The Most Moral Army In the World’. 14-year-old Yousef al-Shawamrah was out picking plants when he was killed by the brave and precise “IDF” – not assembling rockets. Nadim Siyam Nawarah and Muhammad Mahmoud Salameh were not firing mortars or digging tunnels when Israeli forces killed them both in May. Yet in Gaza, we are meant to believe that the Israeli military would never deliberately kill civilians – the same way it does a few dozen miles away.
Finally, Israel tells us that it has a responsibility to protect its citizens – that its attacks on Gaza were about ‘security’ and a right to self-defence. Again, this is easily deconstructed on its own terms – but, instructively, Israel conducts illegal and discriminatory policies in the West Bank on precisely the same basis. There, the absurd disingenuousness of the security excuse is even clearer.
Checkpoints and roadblocks fragment the West Bank as part of a regime of segregation that exists purely for the benefit of the Jewish settlers living in colonies surrounded by citizenship-less Palestinians. Olive groves are demolished, farmers and herders expelled from their land. The Wall, of course, de facto annexes chunks of the West Bank – in the name of ‘security’.
Yet in Gaza, we are meant to believe that the Israeli military would never use a ‘security’ excuse as cover for collective punishment and colonial disciplining – the same way it does a few dozen miles away.
The standard Israeli version of events in Gaza is itself refutable. But the propaganda is even flimsier when you consider that, not far away from the fenced-in, battered enclave, the Israeli government and army have been doing exactly what they swear blind they were not doing in Gaza: violating international law, deliberately killing civilians, and carrying out punitive, unchecked colonialism in the name of ‘security’.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.