Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor in response to “Black and White: The Withheld History of Palestine and Israel”

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Fundamentally, journalism has one requirement—it must be true. Even in opinion articles, a lack of rigorous fact-checking is dangerous and leads to the perpetuation of harmful falsehoods that can do actual, genuine damage to people who interact with misinformation. The article “Black And White: The Withheld History Of Palestine and Israel” in Volume 114 Issue 10 takes an incredibly complex and nuanced history and attempts to simplify it down to a very clear narrative of good and evil. In order to do this, Anonymous leverages pieces of blatant misinformation, some more obvious than others, and in other cases fails to provide extremely obvious context on key events in this complex history. Regardless of whether or not you agree with Anonymous, we should all be able to stand against blatant inaccuracies and the stripping of nuance from topics that are difficult to grapple with, lest we become doomed to factionalism and inability to acknowledge the point of view of others.

The author states that “Attacking hospitals [...] is a war crime,” in this context in reference to Israeli bombing because Article 18 of the First Geneva Convention declares that “Civilian hospitals [...] may in no circumstances be the object of attack.” This is true. However, according to the same Geneva Convention, if a base is used for military purposes, it is reclassified as a military objective, and that protection goes away. Hamas has used hospitals as military bases and innumerable seemingly civilian buildings to launch military attacks. While one can still reject Israel’s choice to bomb civilian structures even if those civilian structures are hiding military weaponry, it cannot be denied that Hamas utilizes ostensibly civilian buildings in this manner. In case it was unclear, using civilian buildings for military purposes is both deplorable and a war crime. I also understand Anonymous’s opinion that Israel committed war crimes due to their response not remaining proportionate in scope, another Geneva Convention requirement, but that point is heavily disputed, subjective, and difficult to ascertain. This is because proportionality is entirely based on opinion, as the moral basis of war is impossible to ascertain factually. 

The difficulty of ascertaining what is and is not an enemy base also needs to be acknowledged, especially in counter-terrorist warfare. Multiple news sources have confirmed that Hamas was somehow able to set up a tunnel that could be utilized for military operations below a U.N. building in Gaza. Though there is debate as to whether or not Hamas is a terrorist group, they have been designated as such by the United States, the European Union, Israel, and New Zealand—it’s not just my opinion. Also, since Hamas took control of Gaza through less-than-democratic means, Israel and Egypt have blockaded them, clearly displaying that Egypt at least somewhat fears the instability Hamas brings.

Anonymous’s recounting of the founding of Israel, or the Nakba, makes it sound like a completely one-sided assault by Israel as part of its formation. However, this could not be further from the truth. Israel had officially been formed just hours before five already relatively stable Arab nations assaulted the new nation. The very fact that Israel was invaded by other countries, not the other way around, disproves the claim that this was some kind of war of Israeli aggression designed for territorial expansion. Also, the U.S. had an arms embargo against all belligerents over the course of the war, which interrupts the narrative of constant U.S. aid to Israel presented in the article. It is absolutely possible to disagree with the way Israel handled displaced Palestinian populations during and after the war, but to claim that Israel is solely responsible is far from the truth.
Anonymous does the same with essentially every war Israel has ever taken part in, with the exception of the Suez Crisis after which the Strait Of Tiran was opened and no territory changed hands. The six-day war in which the West Bank was actually annexed began when Syria bombarded Israeli villages from the Golan Heights, a strategic position that essentially rests above Israel and was at the time controlled by Syria. The conflict was further escalated by the president of Egypt dismissing the UN outpost between Egypt and Israel and mobilizing his forces at the Israeli border. Jerusalem was also seized in this war that once again was not solely begun by Israel.

Israel also did not sterilize any number of Ethiopian Jews as Anonymous claims. This counterfactual originates in an article from Haaretz from 2013 that has largely been proven false. What actually appears likely is that an extremely small number of Ethiopian Jewish women were given an extremely effective contraceptive that lasted three months without fully understanding the medication they were being given. The reason behind the administration of the contraceptives was never fully explained by any party involved. This is absolutely not a good thing, and Israel should have been far more careful in ensuring that the migrants fully understood the medication they were being given. However, there is no evidence that any Ethiopian Jews were intentionally coerced into taking birth control, and there is no evidence anyone was sterilized. Furthermore, while there was a decline in the birthrate of these Ethiopian Jews relative to the average Ethiopian upon moving to Israel, this is likely due to improved educational opportunities and a generally later age of marriage in Israel. To reiterate, there is no evidence that any Ethiopian Jews were sterilized, nor that any action by any Israeli party led to a decline in the birth rate of Ethiopian Jews within Israel. These claims also completely ignore that Israel actively worked to bring thousands of Ethiopian Jews to the nation, something they would have no reason to do if they were intentionally trying to reduce their Ethiopian population.

There are many legitimate ways to advocate for a ceasefire, the humanizing of Palestinians, and an end to this war. However, I believe that Anonymous does not achieve such goals, and instead only spread dangerous misinformation which will devolve into antisemitism. I firmly believe that The Spectator has the right to publish any opinions that the student body has, but its decision to publish this article filled with blatant factual inaccuracies is antithetical to journalism’s very core—that is, to be factually correct. As for Anonymous’s article itself, I don’t feel morally comfortable writing this without acknowledging that some of their opinions have merit. The current day conditions of civilians in Gaza are absolutely unsustainable and unacceptable, and I wholly believe that a reduction of Israeli military activity in the area is a crucial step towards any hope for lasting peace in the region. Even before this conflict, the conditions of civilians within Gaza were clearly far worse than the conditions that human beings deserve in the modern day. If I were writing a standard opinion article and not just a response to a specific piece, I would go into far more detail about the specific ways Israel had an ethical responsibility to handle this situation and situations before it far better. Suffice it to say that while I absolutely support the existence of a strong Israeli state as a refuge and homeland for the Jewish people, I am by no means comfortable with many of the current-day actions of said state. I also believe many of the current-day Israeli government’s decisions are not in the best interest of Israel itself. With this in mind, I find Anonymous’s refusal to actively condemn Hamas and blatant misinformation about a lot of the causes of Israeli fear and past suffering disheartening. There is a moral responsibility to discuss as nuanced an issue as this from both sides of the aisle and work towards what you believe is the best course of action to achieve peace. Anonymous doesn’t even discuss the potential for a peace process or a rebuilding, instead choosing to focus on constantly using inflammatory language towards Israelis as a whole. “Black And White: The Withheld History Of Palestine and Israel” will change no minds about this conflict: it and other pieces like it will simply push both sides further and further away from actionable solutions.