Dear Secretary General Ban:
On February 1, 2016, The New York Times published your op-ed entitled “Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Israel”. It was, I regret to say, filled with distortions and half-truths.
You begin by discussing violence. Your first paragraph states that in the past week “polarization” surfaced at the UN because you “pointed out a simple truth: History proves that people will always resist occupation.” And then you say that “some” people (obviously referring to Israeli officials, as is made explicit in the title of your piece) “sought to shoot the messenger—twisting my words into a misguided justification for violence.”
Let’s assume, for the moment, that history proves what you say it proves, and also that the presence of Israeli forces in the West Bank and on the periphery of Gaza amounts to ‘occupation’ in the relevant sense. Granting all that, you yourself must also grant that history does not prove that resistance to occupation will always be overwhelmingly violent. Resistance to British colonial rule in India was largely, although not entirely, non-violent. The same could be said to resistance to apartheid in South Africa. In contrast, Arab and Palestinian resistance to the State of Israel has been murderously violent since Israel’s birth, and long before 1967 and any ‘occupation’ of Palestinian territory. To this day, several Arab states consider themselves to be in a state of war with Israel, and these states are members in good standing of the UN.
So, a more complete statement of what history teaches is that people under occupation—and, again, I am accepting only for purposes of this argument that the Palestinians are under ‘occupation’ in the relevant sense—have a choice. They can respond violently, or they can respond non-violently. If they respond violently, then two things are responsible for that violence: the occupation, and the choice of the occupied people to respond with violence. Your op-ed implies that only one thing—the occupation—is the cause of the violence, and this suggests that Palestinians bear no moral responsibility for any of the violence that they themselves perpetrate.
You also assert: “No one can deny that the everyday reality of occupation provokes anger and despair, which are major drivers of violence and extremism[.]” I do not agree. The driver of extremism—if by “extremism” is meant Islamist terrorism as perpetrated and permitted by Hamas, the ruling power in Gaza—is a version of Islam that justifies and even makes obligatory the murder of Jews in order to liberate from Jewish sovereignty the land that constitutes Israel.
If the Palestinians tomorrow were to be granted complete control of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, Islamist groups like Hamas would continue terror attacks against Israel, because they sincerely believe that Islam obligates them to destroy the Jewish state. Nowhere in your essay does the phrase ‘Islamist terrorism’ appear. Discussing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict without using the term ‘Islamist terrorism’ is like discussing the sinking of the Titanic without using the word ‘iceberg’—an important part of the story is left untold.
You do, however, discuss a generic brand of terrorism, and you say, “Nothing excuses terrorism. I condemn it categorically.” It is precisely the categorical—that is, non-specific—nature of your condemnation that creates the problem. Leaders of Palestinian terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, would applaud and even echo your categorical condemnation. And they would then go on to contend that murdering Israeli citizens is not terrorism, but is rather legitimate ‘resistance to occupation’.
Nothing in your op-ed contradicts Hamas’ position, because you never once assert that the ‘resistance’ that Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations perpetrate and applaud is plain terrorism. You say that stabbings and vehicle rammings by Palestinians are “reprehensible”, but you do not say they are acts of terrorism. Later in your essay you insist that Palestinians must “consistently and firmly denounc[e] terrorism and tak[e] preventive action to end attacks on Israelis, including an immediate stop to Gaza tunnel construction.” Again, Palestinians of all stripes are happy to denounce terrorism, and the terrorists among them are especially happy to insist that murdering Israeli civilians is legitimate resistance to occupation and is not terrorism. Your op-ed does not even explicitly condemn Gaza tunnel construction as part of a strategy of terror, which it obviously is.
You continually urge Palestinians to denounce terrorism. Yet you never explicit state that some Palestinians engage, on practically a daily basis, in terrorism, almost all of which is Islamist terrorism. Why are you so reluctant to make that explicit statement? How can you be an impartial, fair-minded honest broker, when you continually condemn Israeli ‘occupation’ without once condemning Palestinian terrorism? Palestinian terrorists justify their actions as ‘legitimate resistance’. Your failure to label those actions as terrorism leads people to believe that you, too, might believe they amount to legitimate resistance.
Having addressed what you have to say about violence and terrorism in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Mr. Ban, I’m now going to turn to your suggestions as to steps each side should take towards resolving the conflict. You write that “Israeli authorities need to unequivocally support the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian institutions.” Does that mean that Israeli authorities are obligated to deny reality? Mahmoud Abbas, the ‘president’ of the PA, is currently in the eleventh year of his four-year term as president. That is a fact. He and his supporters are unwilling to hold another election, because they fear with good reason that a candidate of the secular Fatah party—whether Mr. Abbas or anyone else—would be defeated by a Hamas candidate.
As you know, in 2007 Hamas violently and successfully revolted against PA control of Gaza; numerous PA officials were killed in the fighting. Mr. Abbas has never even set foot in Gaza since the putsch, no doubt fearing that, if he does go, Hamas or other Islamists might well assassinate him. These are the facts on the ground, and they cannot be altered by all the UN resolutions in the world. Are the Israelis supposed to pretend that the PA controls Gaza, when in fact it does not?
You allude indirectly to the incapacity of the PA when you write that, “Palestinians must make political compromises to bring Gaza and the West Bank under a single, democratic governing authority[.]” How will the ostensibly secular PA and the overtly Islamist Hamas terrorist organization come together to form a single, democratic governing authority? I think that can be ‘accomplished’ only if Palestinians pretend that Hamas has abandoned its Islamist goal of destroying Israel, and organizations like the UN pretend to believe that that charade is a reality. Why would any Israeli government, or any Israeli citizen, ever believe otherwise?
You also write that the Palestinians must take “preventive action to end attacks on Israelis, including an immediate stop to Gaza tunnel construction.” The rockets that Islamist terrorists fire into Israel come from Gaza, as do the tunnels that extend into Israel. The PA has lost all control over Gaza, and it lacks either the force or the will, or both, to re-establish control. There is absolutely no reason to believe that, in the foreseeable future, the PA will change. All the diplomatic conferences and resolutions in the world, and all the cheer-leading from you and others, will not make the PA a single, democratic authority governing both the West Bank and Gaza. The PA is simply too weak to control Hamas and other Palestinian Islamist terrorist groups.
Mr. Ban, the message you’ve presented is not one that Israel will embrace with any enthusiasm, but I don’t think you need fear being shot by Israeli officials. That isn’t likely. Rather, what is a virtual certainty is that your message will ultimately be ignored by Israel and its supporters, because it is so hopelessly biased in favor of Palestinians and against Israelis. There are fifty Muslim-majority countries in the UN, comprising more than one-quarter of your member states. There is only one Jewish-majority member state. Perhaps it is not surprising that, as the head of the UN, you might not be a model of even-handedness.
The bias inherent in your position is highlighted by the concluding sentence in your op-ed: “Keeping another people under indefinite occupation undermines the security and future of both Israelis and Palestinians.” Clearly, this places the blame unequivocally on the Israelis. You could just as well have written: “Subjecting another people to waves of terrorism undermines the security and future of both Israelis and Palestinians.” This would have placed the blame unequivocally on the Palestinian terrorists. Or, as an alternative to either of the foregoing, you could have written: “Keeping another people under indefinite occupation, or subjecting another people to waves of terrorism, undermines the security and future of both Israelis and Palestinians.” This would have been the most even-handed formulation of all, but it is not one you chose.
David E. Weisberg