Debbie Hall

Open Letter to Todd Gitlin

I’m writing this article in response to Todd Gitlin’s latest column in Tablet Magazine, True Confessions of a Non-Zionist Jew.”

Dear Todd,

Let me start by saying I share some of your concerns about Israel’s behavior and I too was appalled at Bibi’s racist remarks about Arabs being bussed to vote during the election, an election overseen by an Arab judge who sits on the Israeli Supreme Court.

That said, I take issue with how you characterized Israel’s behavior and your claim to be a Non-Zionist Jew and I’ll explain why.

First, you referred to Israel’s “Quasi-colonial Occupation of the West Bank in violation of international law, in particular U. N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.” The land that Israel “occupied” was land that was part of Israel upon its declaration of statehood in May of 1948 due to the Arab rejection of the UN Partition Plan of 1947. Israel was attacked and that land was then “occupied” by Jordan. It was never part of Jordan and it wasn’t sovereign, so the UNSC Resolution 242 is inherently flawed. 242 also called for all parties to cease military actions against one another, yet, the Arab factions continued to attack the Israelis.

What I would agree with you on is how Israel treated the Arabs who lived in the West Bank after 1967, since Israel governed the entire land, didn’t annex it, built on it, and kept the Arabs as non-citizens and people without a country, essentially. Jordan even revoked citizenship of many of the Arabs to whom they’d previously given citizenship during their occupation. Because 242 is flawed, so is 338. The UN is not in a position to demand that land be evacuated when it legally belonged to Israel in the first place. So we can agree that the Arabs living there were not treated well, but you cannot call it “quasi-colonial occupation” when it was legally their land.  The annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights did set a precedent, but it wasn’t really necessary in the legal sense to do that.  I will agree that settlements are not helpful and demonstrate a lack of good will on Israel’s part, but speaking in legal terms, especially after Oslo dividing the land between the two people, Israel is allowed to build in Area C of the West Bank, which is the only place they’re currently building in the West Bank.

Second, you referred to Israel’s “Extreme, disproportionate violence against civilians in Gaza.”  You don’t seem to be a stupid person, so I can only imagine you stated it this way because your emotions got the better of you and facts weren’t considered when you put those words on paper.  Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens in armed conflicts, as every country does.  If Israel is being attacked by rockets, 4,800 of them, plus 1,700 mortars last summer, which are Amnesty International’s numbers, Israel is legally obligated to stop those rockets to protect their citizens under International Humanitarian Law.

Israel took every measure possible to avoid civilian casualties on the other side when fighting an enemy that hides among civilians.  Amnesty International and the UN have confirmed that Hamas violated International Humanitarian Law by putting its civilians on the battlefield, storing rockets in shelters, hospitals and schools.

Wars are never won with “proportionate force” and I’m not even sure why anyone ever utters that term in the context of a war.  That’s simply a ridiculous notion and anyone who has ever read Sun Tzu’s, “The Art of War” knows this.  Wars are won not by proportion, but by disproportion.

The blame for the civilian casualties, the numbers of which are specious as they came directly from Hamas, also lies directly with Hamas.  They chose to initiate a military battle. They built tunnels to smuggle weapons instead of building bomb shelters.  They chose to fire rockets from populated and residential areas. They chose to use a hospital as their central command and store weapons in schools, shelters, and mosques.

Moreover, you admitted that Hamas does this, yet you use the adjective “cynical.”  I’ve never seen a more inappropriate adjective.  The words and phrases you use when discussing Hamas tend to be mild, such as the aforementioned “cynical,” “aggression,” and you refer to human shields and humanitarian law violations “…as covers.”  The words and phrases you use when referring to Israel are “occupation,” “violence,” “humiliation,” “extreme,” “haughtiness,” “cruelty,” “revulsion,” “racism,” “outrage,” and so forth.  You get the idea and you somewhat admit your bias against Israel.

Now I’m gathering from your written words in the Tablet Magazine piece, the first time I’ve seen your writing, that you fancy yourself a righteous humanitarian of strong moral fiber who stands for justice and equality.  Yet, as I’ve lain out here, you’re demonizing one country because you feel you’re unwittingly connected to it, while you gloss over the enemy that has sworn to massacre the people who mainly comprise that country.  The country you’re demonizing is a secular, liberal (by US standards), democratic state and their enemy, which you minimize, is a theocratic, conservative gang of ruthless fascists who brutalize their own people and others in the name of their god.  Do you see the cognitive dissonance that’s occurring here?  You may have thought that you mentioned them in a sufficiently negative way by linking their Covenant, but that was simply your obligatory way of being able to say, “Look, I criticized Hamas too” without really criticizing them on the same level you did Israel.

In your first paragraph, you stated that your emotions were not impervious to evidence.  I beg to differ.

And as this righteous humanitarian with a strong, moral fiber and a penchant for justice, you claim you’re not a Zionist, yet you’re a Jew.  Please explain to me how you can be against the right of one of the most oppressed people on this planet to have the right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland, which is all Zionism is?  You wax on and on about the suffering of Palestinians, and I agree their suffering is legitimate, although recent and largely brought on by their own leaders, yet you are infuriated that Jews would dare demand the same self-determination you seem so eager to grant the Palestinians.

Your entire article seems to be an introspective exercise in justifying your hatred for Israel, but instead of justifying it, you’ve shown that it’s really not Israel that you despise.

About the Author
Debbie Hall is a writer and activist living in the diaspora.