OP-EDS

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June 2, 2005

Weissmann's characterization of the situation in Israel is deeply flawed

There is a lot of poorly informed, ignorant analysis published about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's usually easier to ignore it, but occasionally an article is so full of falsities and misrepresentations of reality, that it can't be left to stand unchallenged. Unfortunately for both the MAROON and the University of Chicago, Adam Weissmann's piece ("A very long disengagement from Israel") is one of these.

Weissmann is unhappy about the upcoming Israeli disengagement from Gaza, or as he would call it the ‘transfer,' of 7000 Israeli individuals from Gaza. These individuals ought not to be called ‘settlers' in his opinion, as that implies they are "squatters on others' land…a distortion of both history and the current situation." In fact, according to Weissmann, the settlers' presence in the Gaza Strip is not contrary to international law.

This amazing assertion suggests a flight of fantasy, or perhaps common garden-variety ignorance, on Weissmann's part. I would direct him to article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention: "The occupying power shall not…transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." Even a strict reading of this article, assuming that Israel had to be involved in, rather than simply allowing, the transfer of Israelis into the Gaza Strip, would still render the settlers' presence illegal. The state of Israel not only allows the settlers to use the Israeli army as their own personal security agency, but it has also provided financial incentives in the form of tax breaks and subsidized housing to settlers for years.

Next, Weissmann would have us believe that, even if we don't care about the settlers and their biblical attachment to the land, we should all fear the disengagement because in its wake Gaza will "become a base for terrorist operations against Israeli, American, and European interests." While this is a nice attempt to suggest that support for the disengagement amounts to support for terrorism against ‘the West,' broadly defined, it has no basis in reality. Hamas, the strongest armed group in Gaza, has virtually no history of targeting non-Israelis, and no history at all of attacks outside the Occupied Territories and Israel. It is a violent religious nationalistic movement, with no cause to attack European and American interests abroad, unless Israel and all its citizens are now defined as U.S. and European ‘interests.'

Further, however, Weissmann prophesies that the disengagement will strengthen "the fortitude of terror groups that currently hesitate to strike Israel." Once again, the basis for this belief is left to the reader's imagination, perhaps because there simply is no basis. The Palestinians have little to gain and increasingly more to lose by allowing Gaza to become home to groups like Al Qaeda. The Palestinians tolerate their own violent nationalist movements only grudgingly. They know that each suicide bombing brings Israeli retaliation upon them ten-fold, and even in the absence of any improvement in their standard of living they are increasingly unhappy with this cycle.

However, with the disengagement, their lives might just stand a chance of improving relatively significantly, thus dramatically reducing their tolerance for acts that will send them back to the misery they are currently experiencing.

Which brings me neatly to the final and perhaps most ridiculous claim Weissmann makes about the disengagement plan - that it "threatens Israel's moral character."

Has Weissmann any idea what Israeli occupation has made life in the Gaza Strip like for the Palestinians? I must assume not - for this is the only way that he could assume the disengagement from Gaza, rather than the Israeli presence there in the first place, would damage Israel's moral character.

Having visited and worked in Gaza, I do have an idea about what life there is like. Put simply, it is a nightmare. Even if we ignore the house demolitions, and the army incursions, the tank fire, the snipers and the aerial bombardment, we are still left with the more insidious, less newsworthy facts of occupation.

A virtually impenetrable fence surrounds Gaza. Often, aid and goods may not pass into the area, and Palestinians themselves are rarely allowed out. Even within Gaza, movement is constantly restricted - a Rafah sniper tower prevents students from entering school from the front gates, the Abu Hol checkpoint separates southern Gaza from the middle and north. It may close, without warning or explanation. It could reopen in minutes, or hours, or not at all. The Palestinians have to guess, they have to turn back and make alternate arrangements.

These are the things that weaken Israel's moral character. The measures that make possible the presence of 7000 Israeli settlers and thus render the lives of Gaza's Palestinians virtually unlivable are the real ‘threat' to Israel's moral integrity.