A good example is the 2006 war in Lebanon. Despite the scandalous extent of Israeli destruction in the land of the cedars in response to a trivial border incident, Zionist zealots insist that the actions were not disproportionate. For instance, in a primer titled How to talk about the Crisis in Israel, a rabbi instructed his readers:
Israel's response, particularly in Lebanon, is not “disproportionate,” as some have charged. Israel is attacking only targets directly related to the terror unleashed upon Israel. Because Hezbollah hides rockets in and around civilian homes, the loss of life in Lebanon is a tragic but unavoidable consequence, and is entirely Hezbollah's doing. Israel, like all of us, is deeply saddened by the loss of civilian life in Lebanon.
A think tank, for its part, moaned:
Israel's overall response was not disproportionate when considering the enemy Israel was fighting, the tactics Hizballah used, and the past unprovoked attacks that had been left unaddressed.
However, the Israeli government itself never called into question the disproportionality of the response. In fact, Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, stated before a US audience at the time:
Let us finish the job! You know better than anyone else that what we are doing is doing your own work: fighting terror.... And to those countries who claim we are using disproportionate force, I have only this to say: you're damn right we are!
In fact, disproportionate force has since been unabashedly adopted as policy by the Israeli army. As commander Gadi Eisenkot stated to the newspaper Yediot Ahronot:
"We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are military bases," he said. "This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized."
The candid Eisenkot had no qualms calling a spade a spade. He may have his reasons for supporting the measure, but he does not deny the disproportionality of the proposed response -- unlike Israel apologists.
Something similar happens with the concept of occupied territories. While the Israeli government does not use the term to describe the situation in the West Bank, it doesn't object, not at least actively, to the adjective "occupied" being applied to the territory. And in Israeli national discourse, whether there are legal loopholes that may allow the territories to be called "disputed" is a nonissue. Israel fanatics, however, think otherwise, and believe that if only they can put together a complicated legalistic argument the world will be convinced that the West Bank is not occupied.
One such apologist is British pundit Melanie Phillips. In a recent article in The Spectator, Phillips lambasts the British government over its decision to enforce an EU boycott of produce from Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Phillips reports she asked the Foreign Office the reasons behind the decision; the FO answered, quite reasonably, that it was because Israel was illegally occupying the West Bank.
Wrong, Phillips alleges; Israel is not occupying the West Bank:
First, Article 2 of the Geneva Convention provides that the agreement applies ‘to all cases of partial or total occupation of the territory of a high contracting party’, or sovereign territory. Thus the Convention cannot apply to the West Bank, nor to East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip for that matter, because these have never been recognized as sovereign territory. As part of Mandatory Palestine, they never belonged to any sovereign state but were occupied and administered illegally by Jordan and Egypt between 1948 and 1967 after the Arab war of aggression against Israel in 1948.
This is pure nonsense. The Geneva Convention does apply to the West Bank according to an International Court of Justice advisory opinion issued in 2004. Notice, also, the extremely legalistic approach which, nevertheless, does not explain why Israel has any right to settle the West Bank. The fact that a territory has never been sovereign does not mean it's up for grabs to the first country that wants to take it. The rights of the people already living there certainly trump the rights of newcomers.
Philips continues with her Hasbara:
Second, Article 49 of the Geneva Convention provides that an occupying power ‘shall not deport or transfer part of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’ This was designed to prohibit inhumane practices such as by the Nazis and the Soviets before and during the Second World War in forcibly transferring or deporting people into or out of occupied territories. But the Israeli settlers in the West Bank went there voluntarily. They have not been ‘deported’ or ‘transferred’ by the government of Israel.
There are several layers of deception in this paragraph. In the first place, Phillip's version of what Article 49 was intended for is her personal interpretation, not a ruling or an advisory opinion of any legal body. My interpretation, and I think many others would concur, is that the prohibition for a country to deport or transfer its citizens to an occupied land is primarily designed to protect the rights of the occupied people and avoid the creation of "facts on the ground."
Next, she rewrites the Oxford English Dictionary to restrict the meaning of "transfer." If the Convention says "deport" and "transfer," it's because "deport" is forcible, and "transfer" not necessarily so. Not that she's not aware of this: a few years ago, the Moledet party in Israel made the "voluntary transfer" of Arabs from Israel to any of their 21 countries part of its program. The party was not expelled from the Knesset precisely because the proposed transfer was voluntary. Yet Phillips, a well-informed person where Israel is concerned, did not raise her voice against Moledet reminding them that transfer was necessarily forcible. So that the Geneva Convention, by forbidding "deportation" and "transfer," in fact banned both forcible and voluntary movements of people to occupied territories.
Finally, Phillips deceives her readers by inflating the level of "voluntariness" involved in the transfer of Israeli Jews to the West Bank. Many, if not most, went there because they were subsidized to a degree that they could afford housing out of their reach in Israel proper. I.e., economic pressure was used.
But Phillips has further reasons to scold the British FO:
[T]he West Bank is not Palestinian land in any sense. As said before, it was originally part of the British Mandate and then illegally occupied by Jordan. Nor have the settlers occupied individual Palestinians’ land, but have mainly built on empty space. I do not condone the actions of some of these settlers against their Arab neighbours, nor their attitudes; and I would like them to leave most of these territories, in Israel’s own interests. But the claim that Israel has ‘stolen’ Palestinian land is simply a lie.
Note that, in the face of extensive settler violence in the West Bank, Phillips does not "condone the actions of some of these settlers," but says nothing about the Israeli government that does condone those actions by not jailing the settlers. That aside, the claim that "the claim that Israel has ‘stolen’ Palestinian land is simply a lie" is itself a lie. Earlier this year, Haaretz reported:
All 450 homes in Ofra, the "mother of settlements" in Samaria, were built on privately owned Palestinian land, Vice Premier Haim Ramon said during a session at the Knesset State Control Committee two months ago. (...)
According to the transcript of the February 25 meeting, which addressed the outposts and the implementation of the Sasson Report, committee chairman MK Zevulun Orlev asked Ramon: "To add 20 more homes in Ofra has political implications? I want to understand the point." Ramon responded: "From many standpoints Ofra is not a good example for you, because all of it is build on private Arab land, private Palestinian property."
Ramon said the pressure to enlarge Ofra and other settlements does not stem from a housing shortage, but rather is an attempt to undermine any chance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians.
But formal settlements are only part of the story. A big chunk of land grab is done through informal outposts established on private Palestinian property with the Israeli government turning a blind eye. In 2006, State prosecutor Talia Sasson reported that:
- The housing ministry supplied 400 mobile homes for outposts on private Palestinian land
- The defence ministry approved the positioning of trailers to begin new outposts
- The education ministry paid for nurseries and their teachers
- The energy ministry connected outposts to the electricity grid
- Roads to outposts were paid for with taxpayers' money
I.e., the State fully supported the stealing of Palestinian land by settlers establishing outposts.
Just to cite another of Phillips' disingenuous inaccuracies, she also claims that:
Israel is ‘occupying’ the West Bank (which on a day-to-day basis is not ‘occupied’ but ruled by the Palestinians) entirely within its rights under international law[.]
To borrow a term from the Brits, this is bollocks. The West Bank consists of three areas. Area A comprises 17% of the land but 55% of the Palestinian population and is under Palestinian control and Palestinian administration. Area B comprises 24% of the land but 41% of the Palestinians, and is under Israeli control and Palestinian administration. Finally, Area C comprises 59% of the land but just 4% of the Palestinians and is under Israeli control and Israeli administration.
That is, the Israelis have gerrymandered the land so that almost all Arabs are confined to the 41% of the territory under their administration (of which, however, just 17% is under their control). This allows some, Phillips included, to state "91% of Palestinians already enjoy self-rule," as if self-rule consisted just of controlling the people, and not the natural resources (such as land or water) those people need to live.
Those are the inaccuracies in Phillips' Hasbara points. Let's turn now to the general critique of her argumentation.
What Phillips doesn't explain is exactly what the nature of Israel's presence in the West Bank is. She fails to describe it as an occupation; but she also fails to describe it as the exercise of sovereignty. It would appear that Israel is in the middleground between both, but this is not an internationally recognized alternative. There's no such legal status as "just being there."
One can understand why she doesn't explain it. Either option would inexorably lead to a contradiction.
If Israel is an occupying power, then it's bound by the Geneva Convention and can't move its own civilians there.
If Israel is exercising sovereignty, then it must give the vote to the Palestinians.
Unless Phillips reasons that the West Bank is occupied enough not to give voting rights to the Arabs, but not enough for its production to be boycotted. Hardly the kind of argument that will convince any reasonable person that the Foreign Office is unfair in supporting the boycott.