Speaking Truth on Gaza to the International Community

France has had the courage to speak truth to the international community. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on July 13, 2014 berated the pro-Palestinian demonstrators in the Barbès area of northern Paris and in Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris, for their violent acts in looting  shops owned by Jews, shouts of cries of “death to Jews”, and for their attacks on synagogues during  protest rallies against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

 M. Valls commented that nothing could justify such violence and hatred witnessed in this demonstration in Paris. Antisemitism, “this old European disease, has taken a new form…that hides hatred of Jews behind a façade of anti-Zionism or hatred of the State of Israel.” His remarks also fit the 15,000 demonstrators in central London on July 19, 2014, many of whom exhibited swastikas, attacked Jews, and called for a “Palestine from the river to the sea.”

This analysis of a relationship between antisemitism and the hostility to Israel that has developed because of the fighting in Gaza is useful in considering the statements made by a broad range of people and organizations about the conflict. Some are relentless critics of Israel, who may not be devoid of antisemitic beliefs. One of the usual suspects is Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who loses no opportunity to declare the “The Israeli approach to the Palestinians is no different from that of Adolf Hitler.”  A larger number of people, now more frequently heard from, are those advocating a moral equivalence between the actions of a terrorist organization, Hamas, whose only real objectives are to kill Jews and eliminate the State of Israel, and those of a democratic country, Israel, with a legitimate right to defend itself against attacks on its civilian population.

All should take account of the facts. Israel, then led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, disengaged from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. All Israeli residents, 9,000 people in 21 settlements, were withdrawn, but most of the Israeli greenhouses were left for the Palestinians to use. Israeli occupation of the area ended, and except for air space and territorial waters; control since then has been in the hands of Palestinians, at first the Palestinian Authority and since 2007 Hamas. The Palestinian population of Gaza grew from 230,000 in 1967 to 1.7 million in 2014.

The consequences of that withdrawal apparently are unknown to both the relentless critics of Israel and those who profess moral equivalence in the current crisis. Palestinians in Gaza vandalized and then destroyed synagogues, and looted the greenhouses given to them by Israel. Minutes after the full Israeli withdrawal the onslaught of rockets against Israel began with attacks on Sderot and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai. Between 2001 and 2005 Palestinians fired 1272 rockets; in 2006 alone there were 1,777. Between 2006 and 2013, 9,458 rockets were fired.

Those, such as the World Council of Churches, who have “grave concern” over the escalation of military operations in Gaza, call for immediate cessation of hostilities. In a statement of moral equivalence issued on July 23, 2014 Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC appealed to “all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.”

Well-meaning though his appeal might be, Dr. Tveit has forgotten that the real intention of Hamas is to eliminate the State of Israel. A useful reminder of Hamas’s goals are the sermons and the rhetoric of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Egyptian theologian, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and friend of the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh who granted him “Palestinian citizenship” in May 2013.

Qaradawi, on January 28, 2009 in one of a number of similar statements, pronounced  that “Throughout history, Allah imposed on the Jews, people who would punish them for their corruption…Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the believers.” It is regrettable that this aspiration is apparently unknown to the WCC and to the five Nobel Peace Laureates who in a statement on July 18, 2014 said nothing about the hopes of the believers of Allah, but simply referred incorrectly to “the Israeli occupation” of Gaza, and to “the coercive and corrosive power that Israel wields over Palestinians.”

All those who argue, like the five Nobel Laureates, that the conflict will only be resolved “when Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory is ended,” say nothing about the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Hamas or the many tunnels it has built to infiltrate into Israeli civilian areas. Their eyes see not what they see. They refuse to accept the statements of reporters who said they had received death threats after issuing reports of seeing Hamas rocket firing from civilian areas in Gaza and the use of human shields. One video shows a Hamas spokesman using the safe place of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to give interviews.

Perhaps worst of all in the approach to and the commentary on the continuing conflict is the cowardice of the European members of the UN Human Rights Council. That Council, not surprisingly in view of its history, on July 23, 2014 passed a resolution calling for the launch of a commission of inquiry into alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza. It condemned “in the strongest terms the widespread, systematic, and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from the Israeli military operations carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since June 13, 2014…which has involved (Israeli) disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who has been a constant critic of Israel, at the meeting pronounced that there was a “strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.” Shakespeare must have had her in mind, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Pillay could not accept the compassion for Gaza civilians evident through the care taken by the Israelis, alerting Gaza residents by telephone, radio, and text messages, about intended strikes against Hamas terrorists. Nor in her criticism of Israeli “disproportionate” action did she indicate what might be “proportionate.” One may conclude from her statements that any and all actions taken by Israel in its self-defense are “disproportionate.” Israel is renowned for its many competent surgeons; it should be equally renowned for its attempts at surgical strikes.

This unbalanced UNHRC resolution, a travesty of the truth, was carried by 29 in favor, 1 (the United States) against, and with 17 abstentions. The European members did try, but failed, to soften the one sided resolution against Israel, and all eight Europeans, even the Czech Republic, abstained. But cautious behavior does not earn goodwill from fanatics. The new British Foreign Minister, Philip Hammond, in a bizarre statement, explained that Britain could not support the resolution which was unbalanced but abstained because “of the strength of feeling about the loss of life” expressed by other members of the Council. A more likely explanation, for the abstention of Britain and other Europeans was the fear of more violent demonstrations by Palestinians and their supporters, such as those that had already taken place in London and Paris, if they had voted against the resolution.

The World Council of Churches, the Nobel Laureates, and even some members of the UN Human Rights Council should have the intellectual acumen and integrity to recognize the reality of the struggle in Gaza. There is no moral symmetry between the parties. If Hamas stops firing rockets to kill innocent Israeli civilians, Israel will stop bombing Gaza. Though the result of Israel’s self-defense has unfortunately resulted in unintended casualties, Hamas is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, not only through its warfare against Israel but also through its cynical disregard for the lives of its own people that has extended to using civilians, especially children, as human shields.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.