If you haven’t been keeping up, the background is a bit complex: Three Jewish teenagers were kidnapped near Israeli settlements in the West Bank, for which Israel blames Hamas (but provides no evidence), while a Palestinian teen was killed by vigilantes in response. Israel made it seem as if it had to take action against Hamas in the West Bank to rescue the teens, even though its intelligence agencies knew they were probably already dead. The operation in the West Bank included arbitrary arrests, home demolitions, and deadly shootings.
Breaking the ceasefire agreed upon in 2012 (that Israel had broken multiple times), after Israel’s last brutal assault on Gaza, Hamas began launching rockets into Israel in response to the West Bank operation. Now, Israel is calling up army reserves and conducting air strikes to “teach Hamas a lesson,” as Israel’s interior minister put it. The US media coverage has been awful, as always, and a few myths find their way into every discussion of the conflict. Here are the myths, debunked:
Myth #1: Israel Has a Right to Defend Itself
No, not like this. First, Israel launched an assault on the West Bank that violated human rights in response to the kidnappings. Now, it’s striking innocent civilians in Gaza in retaliation to Hamas’ rockets. This is called a reprisal or collective punishment (read: revenge), and it’s illegal under international law. Hamas’ rocket fire is indefensible, but this doesn’t justify Israel’s attack on Gaza’s civilian population.
This logic hasn’t found traction in Israel. Some, like lawmaker Ayelet Sheked have chosen not to mince words: “The entire Palestinian people are the enemy.” In her Facebook post that got 5000+ Likes, she went on to call for the killing of Palestinian mothers, who “give birth to little snakes.” Such comments are not an aberration, evidenced by videos of Israeli mobs chanting “Death to Arabs.” The “moderate” former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livny said of Israel, “when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild – and this is a good thing.” In a disturbing scene, while Israeli lawmakers call for cutting electricity to Gaza, some Israeli citizens are watching the bombing of Gaza as if it were a movie.
Myth #2: Israel Doesn’t Target Civilians, Hamas Uses Human Shields
The UN has condemned Israeli air strikes, perhaps because 80% of the casualties have been civilian and over 1000 homes (not military targets) have been destroyed. Doctors have voiced concerns that Israel might be using banned weapons in the siege – after all, it used chemical weapons on Gaza in 2009, with no consequences.
As for human shields, a UN Fact-Finding Mission in 2009 found no evidence that Hamas used civilians as hostages or human shields. Moreover, it’s Israel who’s used them in the past, according to human rights organizations.
Before the conflict began, Hamas had actually tried to prevent militants from sending rockets toward Israel, and the Israeli military saw a drop in rocket fire as a result. Ever since Operation Protective Edge has began, rocket fire has increased, just like with every other Israeli offensive in the past 6 years. Bombing Gaza to stop rocket fire toward Israel makes no sense.
Myth #4: Israel Left Gaza Alone, and Look What’s Happened
Though Israel’s “disengagement” in 2005 was trumpeted by US leaders, it never actually happened. From the start, the objective was not to make peace, but to “freeze the peace process” and the creation of Palestine, according to former Israeli PM Sharon’s closest advisor.
Since 2007, Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza, which has created food and fuel shortages. The UN has repeatedly called the blockade illegal, and Amnesty International has criticized its impact on the Palestinian population. On top of that, Israel has established a large military buffer zone on the Israel-Gaza border, where it has used lethal force against civilians, destroyed property, and restricted freedom of movement.
This kind of claim simply ignores the history of the Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza, which has been vigorously denounced by human rights organizations across the board. Once one understands the everyday issues and violence perpetrated by the occupation, nothing else is needed to debunk this ridiculous myth.
Myth #6: Hamas Rejected a Proposed Truce Because It Doesn’t Want Peace – It Wants to Destroy Israel
The unity government formed by Fatah (which controls the West Bank) and Hamas (in Gaza) earlier this year would have recognized Israel. Hamas has long supported a 2-state solution in line with international law. The real reason Hamas rejected the truce proposed by Egypt is because it wouldn’t actually lead to peace for Gaza. Hamas instead proposed a real peace, one where the blockade would be eased, Gazans would be able to travel, and prisoners from Israel’s West Bank operation would be released. Unfortunately, Israel seems unlikely to accept these conditions.
Calling for Peace
With Gaza suffering from a drinking water shortage, a deepening crisis of poverty and unemployment (over 40%), and crumbling infrastructure (partly due to Israeli bombing), it’s time for a real peace. This would mean the end of the blockade, the end of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and a 2-state solution under the Fatah-Hamas unity government. Though Netanyahu has said “no international pressure will prevent” further strikes on Gaza, worldwide protests rage on, with the hope that ordinary citizens can accomplish what our governments refuse to push for – peace and justice in the Gaza Strip.