Middle East Profs Ignore Realities of Current Gaza Crisis
For seven years, Israel has endured thousands of indiscriminate rocket attacks against its civilian population by Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. Until now, Israel had demonstrated uncommon restraint. Yet, many professors of Middle East Studies ignore these realities. In recent days, three prominent professors have demonstrated why their field is now viewed as politicized and in decline. Juan Cole Juan Cole is a professor at the University of Michigan and a former president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). In response to the current crisis, Cole wrote on his ironically named web log, Informed Comment, that Israel is using “disproportionate force” against Hamas in response to the rocket attacks. Cole tries to compare the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed during the last eight years. He claims that since 2000, Israel has killed nearly 5,000 Palestinians. However, Cole fails to remind his readers that in the year 2000, the Palestinians launched a war, or intifada, against Israel, rather than accepting an American-brokered peace agreement. More than half of the nearly 5,000 casualties were Palestinians that took part in unprovoked hostilities against Israel. Moreover, Cole does not specify that more than twice as many Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians (415) in 2007 as were killed by Israelis (185). It is also worth noting that Cole conveniently chooses not to discuss the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian suicide bombers. From 2000 to 2007, 542 Israelis were killed by suicide bombers and more than 8,300 injured from terror related attacks. Most of these were civilians. Nor does Cole choose to acknowledge that the 15 Israelis killed and 433 wounded by Palestinian rockets from 2001 until 2008, was not from a lack of trying. Palestinians launched at least 7,654 rockets at civilian areas over seven years, in an attempt to create civilian casualties. Cole concludes that Israel’s current actions constitute war crimes. Yet, he ignores that the Israeli air strikes are surgical, designed to hit only military targets and minimize civilian casualties. Contrast this with Hamas, which intentionally targets civilians with indiscriminate rocket fire and has never apologized for the innocents killed or injured. Joshua Landis In his web log, Syria Comment, University of Oklahoma professor Joshua Landis apologizes for Palestinian violence. Landis writes that the Palestinians, “have little choice but to strike back.” Landis conveniently ignores the fact that the Palestinians elected a government in the 2006 parliamentary elections that has brought this violence to Gaza. In 2006 they elected Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group that has been firing thousands of rockets on Israel – both before and after the election. In the face of these rockets, it is Israel that has “little choice but to strike back.” Landis also has the audacity to label a recent web log entry, “Gaza Killings Divide Arab Countries Further.” The phrase “Gaza Killings” is, itself, irresponsible, implying that Israel’s self-defense somehow constitutes a willful disregard for human life. Landis’ entry misleads his readers into believing that Israel is responsible for the “divide” and exacerbating regional tensions. He completely ignores the fact that for the last two decades, Iran has financed, armed, and trained Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza in order to wage war against the Jewish state. Let there be no doubt, Iran is the primary instigator for widening the rift among Arab states. It leads the radical camp– Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas– against the Sunni governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Rashid Khalidi Rashid Khalidi is a professor of Arab Studies and director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. This scholar-activist was once a spokesperson for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), at a time when Washington designated it a foreign terrorist organization. In a recent interview on National Public Radio about the Gaza crisis, Khalidi appears completely out of touch with Palestinian realities. He claims that Hamas is unpopular for “its stubbornness” and for “firing rockets [against Israel].” In reality, according to Palestinian polls, 64 percent of Palestinians last spring favored rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. A more recent poll concluded that 57 percent, more than half, of all Palestinians favored rocket attacks. Hamas’ unpopularity derives from the fact that it is responsible for the ongoing Palestinian civil war that it launched against Fatah in June 2007. In that conflict, according to Amnesty International, at least 350 people were killed and more than 2,000 were injured as a direct result of Hamas-Fatah fighting. Khalidi has insisted that the Palestinian people are united and any impediments towards achieving peace lay with Israel and the West. During an interview with Haaretz last June, when asked if then presidential-hopeful Barack Obama could save the two-state solution, Khalidi claimed that only settlements and the “occupation” obstruct peace. From Khalidi’s simplistic interpretation, one could infer that the Palestinian leadership shares no responsibility in the derailment of the peace process. Khalidi also claimed in his recent radio appearance that Israel systematically undermines Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) by “continuing to raid the West Bank, by continuing to refuse to release enough prisoners or lift the 600 some-odd checkpoints.” However, Khalidi omits the fact that Israel-PA cooperation has led to a crackdown of Hamas operatives and weapons caches in Nablus, Jenin, and Hebron. Thanks to Cole, Landis, Khalidi and scores of other activist professors, a generation of students is being taught selective history. Israel, like any nation, should be subject to criticism as long as it is nuanced and contextual. However, Professors Cole, Landis, and Khalidi cloud their students’ and the publics’ understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a time where greater clarity is needed most.