If you’re active in the struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East, you’ve no doubt frequently encountered Zionists who defend Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. You’re familiar with many of their talking points, and maybe you know how to answer many or most of them. Here are ten you’ve likely encountered, but perhaps didn’t know quite how to debate effectively–until now!
1. The Palestinian refugee problem is an unfortunate result of the Arab states launching a war of aggression in 1948 to wipe Israel off the map.
There are two principle fallacies in this argument:
One, it was not simply that Palestinians fled war. Many did flee, but this was encouraged by the Zionist forces, which also directly expelled many civilians from their homes and destroyed their villages so they could never return. It was the intent of the Zionists to ethnically cleanse Palestine of most of its Arab population in order for the demographically “Jewish state” of Israel to be established. Indeed, cleansing Palestine of Arabs was a prerequisite for this state to be created. This is why Israel refused to allow those refugees to return.
Two, this argument assumes that the Zionists’ unilateral declaration of the existence of Israel on May 14, 1948, was legitimate. It wasn’t. The Zionists had neither any legal nor moral authority to declare sovereignty over a land in which they were a minority and of which they owned only about 7 percent. While they cited UN Resolution 181 (the “partition plan” resolution) as granting such authority, in fact, this resolution neither partitioned Palestine nor conferred any legal authority to the Zionists for their unilateral declaration.
- “Benny Morris’s Untenable Denial of the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”
- Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
In Obstacle to Peace, see specifically:
- Chapter 1, Subchapter “UN General Assembly Resolution 181”
- Chapter 2, Subchapter “Resolution 194”
- Chapter 9, Subchapter “The Bias of the New York Times”
2. Israel has a right to exist.
No state has a “right to exist”. This concept is a propaganda device invented by the US and Israel for a reason that will become clear momentarily.
One might be tempted to answer this argument with: “Well, Palestine has a right to exist, too!” But this is not the proper response!
Political entities defined by lines on maps do not have rights, individuals do. The proper framework for discussion is the right to self-determination. And it is manifestly Israel that has denied that right to the Palestinians since its founding (and indeed, by the Zionists even before Israel’s founding), and not vice versa.
The necessity of redefining the framework for discussion thus becomes obvious. To say that Israel has a “right to exist” is effectively to assert that the Zionists’ unilateral declaration of Israel’s existence and the ethnic cleansing by which Israel actually came into being were legitimate. Needless to say, these were not legitimate actions on the part of the Zionists.
3. In 1967, Israel acted in self-defense by launching a preemptive attack on Egypt.
Israel’s attack on Egypt on the morning of June 5, 1967 — the event that started the “Six Day War” — was not preemptive.
Zionists will argue that Nasser’s threats, Egypt’s closing of the Straits of Tiran and Suez Canal to Israeli shipping, its movement of troops into the Sinai Peninsula, and its expelling of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) all essentially amounted to acts of war.
However, none of these actions constituted aggression under international law.
Egypt’s perspective was that the straits and Suez Canal were its territorial waterways so it had a right to deny passage to an enemy state that had already attacked it once, in 1956 (when Israel conspired with Britain and France to launch a war of aggression against Egypt). While legal scholars may debate the legitimacy of that point of view, the fact is that Israel had peaceful means available to it to seek redress for this grievance against Egypt. It did not, under international law, constitute a casus belli (justification for war).
Nasser wanted the UN peacekeeping force gone because he was being accused by Syria and Jordan of hiding behind it. His bellicose rhetoric was about saving face but was just that: rhetoric. The proposal was made to restation UNEF on Israel’s side of the border, but, instructively, Israel rejected this proposal.
Furthermore, the CIA observed that Egypt’s troops took up defensive positions in the Sinai, and Israel’s own intelligence assessed that Israel was under no threat of attack from Egypt.
In 1982, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledged, “In June 1967 we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”
Under international law, Israel’s attack on Egypt constituted aggression, defined at Nuremberg as “the supreme international crime”.
- “Israel’s attack on Egypt in June ’67 was not ‘preemptive’”
- Chapter 9, Subchapter “‘Defensible Borders'”, from Obstacle to Peace
4. UN Resolution 242 did not require Israel to fully withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967.
This is a lie. Unfortunately, it is very effective Zionist hasbara and is widely believed even by supporters of Palestinians’ rights.
There are three main components of the Zionist argument:
- The absence of the article “the” before the words “territories occupied” in sub-paragraph (i) of the first operative paragraph of this Security Council resolution means only a partial withdrawal was required.
- Sub-paragraph (ii) requires that “secure and recognized borders” be established before Israel is required to withdraw.
- Officials responsible for creating and passing Resolution 242, like Lord Caradon (UK) and Arthur Goldberg (US) have said it did not require a full withdrawal.
Briefly, here are the flaws in these arguments:
First of all, this is nonsense even on its face: the resolution does not say Israel must withdraw from “the territories occupied” so we must understand it to mean Israel must withdraw from only “some territories occupied”? This self-defeating Zionist logic is prima facie nonsense.
In truth, the absence of the article has no effect on the meaning of the resolution inasmuch as the extent of withdraw is concerned. It calls for the withdrawal of Israeli forces “from territories occupied”, plural. The Syrian Golan Heights, the Egyptian Sinai, and the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and West Bank are all “territories occupied” during the 1967 war and thus territories from which Israel was required to withdraw under the clear and unambiguous wording of Resolution 242.
In fact, the preambulatory section of the resolution emphasized the principle of international law that the acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible — and it is in the context of that emphasized principle that the resolution’s call for Israeli withdrawal must be understood.
As for sub-paragraph (ii), while it does call for the establishment of “secure and recognized borders”, it does not establish this as a precondition for the withdraw of Israeli forces. It says “both” Israeli withdrawal and establishment of such borders are required, conditioning neither one upon the other. It was not the Security Council’s intent that a people whose land was occupied be required to negotiate with the occupier over where to draw the border.
Zionists claim otherwise, but to do so, they quote Caradon and Goldberg from years after the resolution’s passage. But, first, UN resolutions are not open to unilateral interpretation, but must be understand according to the will of the Security Council as a whole; and, second, the relevant documentary record for understanding the will of the Council is from prior to and up until the resolution’s adoption.
And turning to that documentary record, it is absolutely clear that the Security Council was explicit and unanimous that Resolution 242 required Israel to return to the lines it held prior to June 5, 1967.
5. The Palestinians have rejected every generous offer from Israel to have a state of their own.
This argument assumes that Israel accepts the two-state solution and had made generous concessions in each of those “offers”, such as that made at Camp David in 2000. Those assumptions are absolutely false.
In fact, every single concession made during each of the “offers” in question — throughout the entire so-called “peace process” — was demanded or made by the Palestinians.
This Zionist hasbara, frequently propagated by US government officials and media commentators, simply frames the discussion in terms of what Israel wants rather than what it has a right to under international law.
Zionists say things like, “Israel offered the Palestinians a state in 95 percent of the West Bank at Camp David”. First of all, this is false. Israel started out demanding to annex 12 percent of the West Bank, and by the end of the talks was still demanding 9 percent. Second, none of this land was Israel’s to give. Under international law, every inch of it is recognized as “occupied Palestinian territory”. So translated into meaningful terms, we see arguments like the above equate that Israel “offered” to take only 5 percent (really 9 percent) of the Palestinians’ land.
Furthermore, these demands to annex Palestinian territory were accompanied with other unreasonable demands, such as dividing the West Bank into Bantustan-like enclaves with Jewish-only highways connecting illegally constructed Israeli settlements and Israeli military control over Palestine’s borders and airspace. In other words, Israel demanded that the Palestinians surrender more of their land, rights, and sovereignty.
If a thief steals a $100 from you and then says he will give you back $91 if you agree to certain other demands requiring you to surrender your rights, would you describe it as a “generous offer” or a “concession”?
The truth is that while the Palestinian leadership has accepted the two-state solution since the late 1980s, Israel has always rejected it. In fact, the US-led so-called “peace process” is in reality the process by which Israel and its superpower benefactor have long blocked implementation of the two-state solution.
6. Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal — the UN has said so.
Actually, the UN has repeatedly affirmed the illegality of Israel’s blockade, which amounts to a policy of collective punishment in violation of international law. This criminal policy has been condemned by numerous UN bodies; the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); and numerous international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Israeli rights groups B’Tselem and Gisha. This blockade continues in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1860, which called on Israel to end it.
So what are Zionists talking about when they claim the UN has said Israel’s blockade is legal?
They are talking about a report commissioned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon known as the “Palmer Report”. It’s true that this report expressed the opinion of its two chairmembers that Israel’s naval blockade was legal. But what Zionists don’t tell you is that they also noted in their report itself that this conclusion of theirs went beyond their mandate and that they had no authority to offer their legal opinion.
Furthermore, the arguments they employed to arrive at their conclusion were riddled with factual and logical errors. Essentially, they employed circular reasoning by adopting the conclusion as their premise: in short, they argued that the naval blockade was legal because it was not a policy of collective punishment. In fact, they went to great lengths to avoid inquiring whether the blockade constituted collective punishment under international law, and they resorted to demonstrable misrepresentations of what international law actually has to say in an effort to sustain their expressed opinion.
So why would they do that? Well, they stated the reason in their report: their mandate was not to inquire into the legality of the blockade, but the political objective of allowing Israel and Turkey to put the Mavi Marmara incident behind them.
That was the incident in May 2010 in which Israeli forces attacked the humanitarian “Freedom Flotilla” — which was seeking to break Israel’s illegal blockade and draw the world’s attention to it — in international waters and murdered nine Turkish activists on board.
Ban Ki-moon charged them with helping these two states to reconcile. Had they affirmed the international consensus that Israel’s blockade was illegal, it would have undermined their political objective. So they expressed the opinion it was not as a predetermined conclusion and then proceeded to manipulate the facts and employ fallacious reasoning to support it.
For a thorough debunking of the Palmer Report, see Chapter 9, Subchapter “The Palmer Report” in Obstacle to Peace. For more about Israel’s criminal assault on the Mavi Marmara and how to answer the arguments of those who try to defend it, see Chapter 7, “Murder on the High Seas”.
7. Israel launched “Operation Cast Lead” only after thousands of rockets had been fired at Israeli towns from Gaza.
This Zionist hasbara — frequently parroted by the US government and mainstream media — is deceit by omission. It’s true that in the years prior to Israel’s 2008-09 “Operation Cast Lead” thousands of rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza — and indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli population centers are certainly war crimes. However, what the Zionists don’t tell you is that on June 19, Israel and Hamas entered into a ceasefire agreement that was repeatedly violated not by Hamas, but Israel.
The New York Times actually reported on the most serious of those Israeli violations on the day it occurred (November 4, 2008), but thereafter tossed this fact down the memory hole. Subsequently, when it referred to the ceasefire, it merely said that it “broke down” without stating the reason why: because it was violated by Israel. More frequently, that there had even been a ceasefire — much less that it was not Hamas but Israel who violated it — was completely omitted, replaced by a false narrative in which Israel was acting in self defense against Hamas rocket attacks.
As illustrated by Operation Cast Lead, it is a modus operandi of Israel’s to take actions to attempt to provoke a violent response from Palestinian militants in order to create pretexts for its own resorts to its own violence, which occurs on an incomparably greater scale.
8. Palestinian civilians were only killed during operations like “Cast Lead” because they were being used by Hamas as human shields.
This is a lie. The truth is that Israel engaged in deliberately disproportionate use of force during its 2008-09 (Operation Cast Lead), 2012 (Operation Pillar of Defense), and 2014 (Operation Protective Edge) assaults on Gaza. In fact, it openly declared its intention to commit what amount to war crimes with its so-called “Dahiya Doctrine” — a reference to the flattening of the Dahiya district of Beirut in 2006 to punish the civilian population.
To take the example of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s war crimes are well documented and incontrovertible. It deliberately targeted the civilian infrastructure for destruction as part of a policy of punishing the people of Gaza, and the IDF routinely used indiscriminate force, such as attacks on UN schools being used as shelters, hospitals, and residential homes.
In fact, there is not a single documented case of a Palestinian civilian killed during Operation Cast Lead who was being used by Hamas at the time as a human shield.
This might seem like a shocking truth, given the US mainstream media’s mindless repetition of the IDF’s own propaganda about civilians dying only because Hamas was using them as human shields, but this operation has been extensively investigated by human rights organizations and the UN, all of which investigations have concluded that there is no evidence to support Israel’s claimed justifications for killing civilians.
On the other hand, these investigations did conclude that Israeli forces used Palestinian civilians as human shields during Operation Cast Lead, such as forcing children to walk in front of them as they cleared homes.
- Chapter 1, Subchapter “The Collapse of the Ceasefire”
- Chapter 2, “‘Operation Cast Lead'”
- Chapter 4, Subchapter “‘The Most Moral Army in the World'”
- Chapter 5, “The Goldstone Report”
- Chapter 6, Subchapter “Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ Self-Exoneration: Update”
- Chapter 7, Subchapter “Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ Self-Exoneration: Second Update”
9. The finding of the UN “Goldstone Report” that Israel committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead has been debunked.
This is a lie. What Zionist apologists for Israeli war crimes are referring to, specifically, when they make this claim is an op-ed by one of the four chairs of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, Justice Richard Goldstone.
The so-called Goldstone Report did indeed conclude that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes — and these conclusions still stand.
For his part in that report, Goldstone came under intense pressure and heavy criticism from Zionists, including threats to protest outside of and bar him from attending his grandon’s bar mitzvah. His op-ed was a transparent attempt to appease his Zionist detractors. But further than that, it was a disgraceful betrayal of truth and justice, as Goldstone outright lied about the UN report’s findings in his attempt at appeasement.
The occasion for Goldstone’s betrayal was the report of a follow-up UN committee charged with inquiring into the credibility of Hamas’s and Israel’s self-investigations into the allegations of war crimes. In this context, Goldstone wrote that had the UN Fact-Finding Mission known then what was now known, it would not have arrived at the conclusions it did.
Goldstone, however, was lying about the contents of the both the Goldstone Report and the follow-up committee’s report. He claimed the Fact-Finding Mission had not examined any evidence presented by Israel. That was false. In fact, the Mission fully took into account Israel’s own reports of its self-investigations that had occurred.
Goldstone also set up his op-ed on the premise of a strawman argument: the claim he was ostensibly now retracting was that Israel had a policy of deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians for death. In fact, this was not a finding of the Fact-Finding Mission’s report. Rather, the Mission concluded that Israel’s policy was to punish the civilian population through the deliberate use of disproportionate force. By setting up this strawman argument, Goldstone avoided having to “retract” the Mission’s actual findings.
Further, he quoted the follow-up committee’s finding that “Israel has dedicated significant resources to investigate over 400 allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza”, but he withheld from readers the fact that the committee found that these investigations lacked credibility.
After Goldstone’s disgraceful betrayal of justice, his three co-authors publicly criticized his op-ed and pointed out that information that had since come to light — including the findings of the follow-up committee Goldstone was deceptively relying on to support his own argument — did not change the Mission’s conclusions, but bolstered them.
10. Hamas was responsible for initiating the round of violence that culminated in Israel’s launching of “Operation Pillar of Defense” in 2012.
As with Operation Cast Lead, the truth is dramatically different.
Israeli apologists — including US government officials and US mainstream media commentators — cited as the initiating event a Hamas attack on an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) jeep just days before Israel launched its operation. What was withheld from readers in this Zionist hasbara was the fact that this was an attack on IDF forces that had invaded Gaza and was in part retaliation for the IDF’s murder of a thirteen-year-old Palestinian boy shortly prior.
Furthermore, just the day before Israel launched its operation, once again Hamas had agreed to a ceasefire that was then violated by Israel. In fact, Israel took advantage of the opportunity created by Hamas’s acceptance of the ceasefire to draw out and assassinate a senior Hamas official, Ahmed al-Jabari one of the initiating events of its “Operation Pillar of Defense”. Israel’s Orwellian justification for this operation was that it was intended to re-establish calm — the very calm that was shattered by its launch of the operation and assassination of Jabari.
For peace and justice to be realized, the lies have to be exposed and the true nature of the conflict must come to light. There needs to be a paradigm shift in which it is no longer feasible for mainstream media outlets — which effectively serve the role of manufacturing consent for the US policy of supporting Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians — to mindlessly parrot US and Israeli government claims and peddle deceitful propaganda.
Zionist apologists for Israel’s behavior employ numerous hasbara talking points to try to justify its crimes. Knowing how to effectively counter the propaganda is key to effecting the necessary paradigm shift for peace to be achieved.
You as an individual can play an important role in helping to effect that paradigm shift.
Empower yourself with the knowledge you need to become an effective voice for peace.
Educate yourself and gain the confidence you need to speak up and correct those around you who have been misinformed about the true nature of the conflict.
Challenge the Zionist apologists when you encounter them on Facebook or Twitter and know how to destroy their propagandistic talking points with the truth.
If we want peace, government isn’t going to get the job done. It’s up to us. Go to it!
“carefully documented and highly informative” — Noam Chomsky
“essential reading on Israel-Palestine” — Philip Giraldi
“breaks new ground in ways that fundamentally alter our understanding of the conflict and how to resolve it” — Richard Falk
“as meticulously detailed as it is readable” — Max Blumenthal
“we can take hope in the fact that some scholars still produce serious and informative books on the most critical issues of our time” — Paul Craig Roberts
“sharp and original” — Steven Salaita
“a valuable resource for every scholar and activist” — Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich
“a must for every bookshelf on the topics” — Don Liebich
“a bridge to a real peace process” — Mats Svensson
This article was originally published at Foreign Policy Journal.