Professor Richard Jackson and his student John Hobbs again beat an anti-Israel drum in their Newsroom article, ‘NZ lacking principles on Israel-Palestine conflict’. Their simplistic analysis ignores the essential history and context of an intensely complex situation, reducing it to a body count in order to craft a particular narrative – that Israel is an all powerful aggressor and the Palestinians hapless victims without agency. Their skewed narrative ultimately fails the Palestinian people. Implicit and explicit in Jackson’s body of work is the assumption that Israel, and Israel alone, is to blame for the plight of Palestinians.
This ignores at least seven decades of the conflict.
The writers fail to mention that a number of those who died in the recent conflict were killed by Palestinian rockets that fell short of their target. Palestinian terror groups target innocent civilians from within civilian locations, thus committing a double war crime. The only reason the Israeli body count is not higher is that Israel values life and has invested heavily in a defensive iron dome system that intercepts the majority of rockets. Also, the Israeli government requires every home to set aside a room as a bomb shelter. While these factors help to save Israeli lives, they do not mitigate the stress and trauma of hundreds of rockets raining down on Israeli communities, with as little as 15 seconds for mothers with babies, the elderly and young to get to a shelter. Israel goes to great lengths to protect, not only its own citizens, but also Palestinian civilians, by warning ahead of time of an attack, dropping thousands of leaflets, making cell phone calls and aborting missions if necessary to minimize civilian casualties. Sadly, when terrorist organisations fire from within civilian areas, civilian casualties are sometimes a tragic consequence.
It is the unrelenting terrorist activity, sponsored by Iran, that forces Israel to undertake military action. In fact, 19 Israeli citizens were murdered earlier this year by terrorists. Whether pre-emptively or in response, Israel acts to defend its citizens, as would any responsible government. Indeed, the UNSC report led by New Zealand’s Geoffrey Palmer after the 2010 Flotilla incident explicitly acknowledged that thousands of rockets had been fired on Israel citizens from Gaza and Israel had a right to defend its people. In the past year there have been thousands more rockets fired from Gaza. Jackson’s failure to mention this context is consistent with his view that terror organisations are little different to armies of democratic nations since both use violence. Such logic would have one condemn an armed Police response to an armed robber, while failing to mention the latter.
The writers ignore Palestinian agency and in particular, the choices made by Palestinian leadership. The fact is that the Palestinians could have a flourishing state, living peacefully side by side with a Jewish state, if they wanted it.
Numerous offers have been made and rejected – in 1947, 2000, 2008, 2009, 2020. The Oslo Peace Process of 1993-1994 was followed by suicide bomb attacks on innocent Israeli citizens in restaurants and buses. The Palestinian response to the peace offer of 2000 was the launching of further terror attacks on Israel that led to the death of approximately 1,184 Israelis. This spate of terrorism also led to the building of the security wall and checkpoints, which have proven successful in reducing terrorism, but have made life more difficult for Palestinians.
In 2005, Israel ordered the evacuation of all Israeli settlements within Gaza, handing over the land to the Palestinians in an attempt to establish peace. Instead of leading to the establishment of a flourishing state, it opened the way for the terrorist organisation Hamas to gain control of the strip, with a stated goal of eliminating Israel. The Hamas Charter rejects all peace talks with the State of Israel and stresses the terrorist organization’s commitment to destroy Israel through a long-term holy war (jihad).
Jackson and Hobbs also turn a blind eye to the religious element that drives the conflict. Hamas views the “problem of Palestine” as a religious-political Muslim issue, and the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation as a conflict between Islam and the “infidel” Jew. Such is a maximalist view with nil room for compromise. Antisemitic messages are routinely preached in the mosques. In addition, the Palestinian leadership cultivates hatred of Israel and Jews through its education system – funded with our tax dollars – and through its policy of financially rewarding suicide bombers and terrorists.
There has not been a free election for leadership of the areas controlled by Arab Palestinians since 2005 when President Mahmoud Abbas came to office. Abbas, who is reportedly now worth hundreds of millions, has a long-standing record of Holocaust denial and recently engaged in Holocaust inversion claiming that Israel had committed “50 holocausts”. This is the peace partner with which Israel is expected to negotiate.
All of this context, background and more is ignored by Jackson and Hobbs. They fail to acknowledge that there are two parties to the conflict, who each share a responsibility to act for the betterment of the Palestinian people.
‘The fate of “Palestine” is in the hands of the most extreme elements in Palestinian politics. Fatah, the party of Palestinian president-for-life Mahmoud Abbas, has hewn the middle road—some terrorism, some extremism, some corruption, some cooperation with Israel, lots of grandstanding, not much governance. Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip, has been hard put to govern; its popularity has shrunk as the group has failed to deliver any tangible improvements. Hamas blames the Jews; Hamas’ subjects are quietly unsure whether the Jews are to blame, or just Hamas.
However, Palestinians are not just hapless victims. There have always been brave individuals, like Bassem Eid who have spoken out against the human rights abuses within Palestinian society. More and more Palestinians are raising their voices against the corruption of their leaders and these people should be supported by the likes of Jackson & Hobbs. Recently, hundreds of Palestinian lawyers marched in Ramallah to protest against the Palestinian Authority’s practice of establishing laws by decree. The lawyers’ central demand was the cancellation of 400 decisions they say have been taken illegally by the 87-year-old Abbas in the absence of a Palestinian parliament.
Further, a new paradigm has been created by the success of the Abraham Accords, which also offers hope for Palestinians, hope that they can be more open about calling for peace, with less fear of repercussions. Following the recent 3 day war with Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, in a rare appeal directly to Gazans, stated,
“I want to turn from here to the residents of Gaza and tell them: There is also another way. We know how to protect ourselves from anyone who threatens us, but we also know how to provide work, livelihood, and a life of dignity to anyone who wants to live in peace by our side… …There is another way to live. The path of the Abraham Accords, of the Negev Summit, of innovation and economy, of regional development and joint projects. The choice is yours. Your future depends on you.”
The Abraham Accords are significant in offering a different perspective to the one that has dominated the narrative. The agreement focuses on the commonality of whakapapa links to the common ancestor of Jews and Arabs of the region. Abraham is the point of connection between the people groups and the ethical imperatives of the respective religions are called upon to “…undertake to foster mutual understanding, respect, co-existence and a culture of peace between their societies in the spirit of their common ancestor, Abraham…” Significant business and cultural relationships have been formed with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
It’s yet to be seen whether Gazans will respond to Lapid’s overtures or whether the success of the Abraham Accords will have an impact on the Palestinian conflict. But one thing is certain, to frame the conflict as though it’s a one-sided battle is not only untrue, it’s also deeply counterproductive. It leads not toward a solution but the intensification of hardline views.
The Israel Palestinian conflict will not be solved by western academics’ selective use of information to create a skewed analysis bearing little connection to Middle Eastern realities. Jackson and Hobbs would be more credible if they were to present a balanced view and show a willingness to call out the hypocrisy, corruption and ineptitude of Palestinian leaders – those who hold the fate of the Palestinians in their own hands.
(Newsroom declined to publish this response to Jackson & Hobbs).