Tena koe Kanoa,

I’m writing regarding your interview with Mike McRoberts about the Israel/Gaza conflict
aired on 18 May 2021.

I am Māori and an historian who has studied this issue closely over many years. I know that this conflict is very difficult to understand from afar, so I wanted to address some of the problematic content of your programme.

From the on-line article:

Mike McRoberts: “It’s come about from some pretty onerous decisions by Israel over access to some holy sites for the Palestinians.”

There is a range of complex issues that have contributed to the current situation, but the most significant, ignored by most media, is the inter-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians were hoping to be able to vote for new leaders after more than 14 years. That election was postponed by the Palestinian Authority because Hamas was expected to win. Hamas threatened violence at the time if elections were cancelled and followed through on that threat. As has been the case before, Hamas saw the opportunity to win points by a display of power and by attacking Jews.

Hamas has intentionally incited violence in its manoeuvring for political power in the wake of the election cancellation.

To give but one example, a Hamas senior offical, told the Palestinians of Jerusalem:

People of Jerusalem, we want you to cut off the heads of the Jews with knives. With your hand, cut their artery from here. A knife costs five shekels. Buy a knife, sharpen it, put it there, and just cut off [their heads]. It costs just five shekels. With those five shekels, you will humiliate the Jewish state.

Hamas cultivates a culture that glorifies martyrdom – dying for the cause is considered an honour. Terrorism is a win-win for Hamas as long as the media ignores these facts and focus instead on a perverse scorecard of bodycounts. If civilians in Gaza are killed, Hamas gains international sympathy, if Israeli citizens are killed, Gazans rejoice in the streets.

MM: “No, this is a conflict about land, but religion has always been the proxy for those disputes.…it is all about land and what both sides want.”

The history of the conflict shows that, for Israel, it is not primarily about land, but rather peace. Israel has made several offers of land in exchange for peace being prepared to return 97% of the land with land swaps for the rest. If the conflict were primarily about land, why would Israel have unilaterally withdrawn from Gaza in 2005, forcibly evicting the Jews who lived there?

On the other hand, the Palestinian leadership has never demonstrated a willingness to live in peace with a Jewish state. The original Hamas charter declared its commitment to Israel’s destruction. Hamas’s actions and statements to its people, affirm that this goal has changed little. This is a long game for Hamas.

Hamas has poured millions of dollars into building a terrorist network and stockpiling supplies, rather than prioritizing the construction of schools, hospitals and homes; or even bomb shelters and defensive systems. This is why there is a blockade on the borders of Gaza – enforced by both Israel and Egypt. Thousands of rockets have still managed to get through and have been launched into Israel.

KL: “It sounds maybe a tiny bit like colonisation, (sic) tiny bit familiar to me as a Māori person in New Zealand. Would that be fair or is it a totally different ball game?”

As a Māori and a historian, I would categorically say, it is not “a tiny bit” like colonisation. It is not colonisation at all. Jews have lived in the land for over 3,500 years. They were expelled by the Assyrians, Babylonians and Romans, but always returned. Some never left. There has always been a Jewish presence in the land, sometimes small, keeping ahi kaa. The connection to the land is present in Jewish worship (praying three times daily, facing Jerusalem), their cultural practices and annual festivals, and most importantly through their whakapapa. Their tupuna are buried there and many tapu sites are scattered through the land. To say that Jews returning to their indigenous lands is colonisation, even “a tiny bit”, is to ignore history and the meaning of the term.

MM: “I think people are looking at what’s happening and asking questions about the control that Israel has over the Palestinians, the subjugation they have of a population, and that’s not good, that never is good.”

Israel’s control over the Palestinians is limited. Palestinians are ruled by their own leaders, who are corrupt, undemocratic and ineffective. The power structures of the different regions in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank; A, B and C) were determined by the Oslo Accords. Israel controls the borders for the safety and protection of its citizens, which is the responsibility of good government. The last week has demonstrated why it is necessary.

MM “On the other hand of the equation, what the Israelis are doing are far more targeted strikes that they say are against Hamas leaders and what have you. We still don’t see the evidence of that, but okay, if that is to be believed, they are firing these incredible ordnance (sp) into a very densely populated area.”

There is plenty of evidence from past conflicts of Israel’s strategy and they have been correctly called the most humane army in the world.

Indeed the Israeli Defense Force takes extraordinary measures to minimise civilian casualties, including warnings before targeted buildings. Those, like the American administration, who have privileged access to the intelligence, have seen the evidence on the current conflict. They firmly support Israel’s right to defend itself. As Anthony Blinken said,

“As we’ve said before, Israel has the right to defend itself. There is no equivalence between a terrorist group indiscriminately firing rockets at civilians and a country defending its people from those attacks. So we call on Hamas and other groups in Gaza to end the rocket attacks immediately”.

MM: “Gaza is tiny and there are two million people living in there, so if you do hit a building that has a Hamas leader in it, there’s every chance you’re going to hit a civilian building as well or there will be some sort of spillover.”

This makes Hamas’s actions all the more egregious. They knowingly set up military centres in heavily populated areas – schools, mosques, hospitals, and yes, even media centres. They commit a double war crime by targeting civilians and using their own civilians as human shields. Three to four hundred of their own rockets have landed in Gaza and killed their own civilians.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health does not take that into account when it publishes its death toll.

In the last day, Hamas has targeted a humanitarian civil aid shipment organised by Israel, killing two foreign aid nationals and preventing Covid-19 vaccines, food and supplies from reaching the people of Gaza.

Finally, the series of maps you showed are grossly inaccurate and amount to political propaganda. They have been debunked numerous times, for example, see MSNBC’s apology after it broadcast a similar map.

It is irresponsible for a respectable media outlet to use the images.

I write this in the hope that it might give a more balanced perspective. Hundreds of New Zealanders have some connection to Israel, have visited, have friends and family living there and many understand the complexity of the situation. What we hear in mainstream media does not do justice to the situation and generally has an anti-Israel bias. Furthermore, our Jewish community must face the backlash. There has been a steep uptick in antisemitic attacks as a consequence of all the misinformation.

As one who has the power to shape the narrative I would ask that you please consider the other side of the argument and work harder to bring a balanced perspective. I am happy to discuss this further.

Nga mihi nui,

Dr Sheree Trotter

 

Images: screenshots from Newshub, The Project