Bad Analysis and the Israel/Palestinian Conflict

When the Israeli-Palestinian conflict usually erupts, a lot of ink is spilled by various analysts and commentators trying to explain the circumstances of the current burst of violence. While I might not agree with everything that is published, usually there are enough high quality articles that allow the curious reader to learn about the history and perspective of the different warring sides. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of commentary that have little to no value and do little but blindly support their own side to such an extent that it could be considered comical. If it wasn’t for the fact that these are usually the perspectives and articles that are the most widespread in the mainstream media.

Finally, there are the articles that pretend to be neutral and thought provoking, but end up being (for the lack of a better phrase) pure crap. Luckily, many of these authors and commentators are usually not taken seriously by academics, but they do spread among the general public. This is one such article. Let’s start:

“1. Why is everything so much worse when there are Jews involved?”

This is actually the first major argument that Ali Rizvi decides to advance in his article. The attention given to the plight of the Palestinians by the Muslim world is because the conflict involves Jews. So essentially, the conflict garners a lot of Muslim sympathy because Muslims must be anti-Semitic. Indeed, Rizvi’s opinion that Muslims attention to the Palestinian issue is so great that Muslims do not care about the civil war in Syria and the rise of ISIS in Iraq. He even goes as far as to state:

“If I were Assad or ISIS right now, I’d be thanking God I’m not Jewish.”

Has Rizvi been paying attention the last three years? Before this flare-up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the focus on the Muslim world has been on Syria. This along with the rise of ISIS has been the focus of commentary and debate within the Muslim world. For the last couple of years, the issue many of my Muslim friends on Facebook brought up was the atrocities happening in Syria by the Assad government and ISIS in Iraq. Along with the #supportgaza hashtag, the most popular hashtag among my Muslim friends were posting statuses such as “I am a(n) __________ (insert ethnicity here) Muslim and #ISIS does not represent me nor does it represent Islam”. Just going to Al Monitor and reading the various commentary and articles from the Middle East on Syria and ISIS has been great. Unfortunately, there are some anti-Semitic elements that can be found on the pro-Palestine side, just like there is Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment on the pro-Israeli side. That said; this conflict is more than Muslims vs. Jews. If it was simply Muslims vs Jews, why do leftists and anti-colonialists support Palestine? Also, why did non-Muslim figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela also support Palestine?

Did Rizvi maybe consider that a reason why this conflict has received so much attention is that the conflict has been going on for 60+ years, has undergone various attempts at mediation with little to no success, has influenced Middle Eastern politics to a great extent, and was the first conflict for the first UN peacekeeping mission?

2. Why does everyone keep saying this is not a religious conflict?”

At the heart of it, this is a territorial conflict, not a conflict about religion. The early advocates of Zionism were not religious. Many of the early Palestinian groups fighting against Israel were secular in nature. Indeed, religious oriented groups on the Palestinian side did not erupt until much later in the conflict (roughly around the same time that religion became a much more prominent force in the Middle East, a topic I had written about earlier). No one is denying that religion doesn’t play a role in the conflict. It also played a role in the Sri Lankan conflict, India-Pakistan conflict, as well as many others. Is religion the driving force of these conflicts? Of course not. I wouldn’t categorize any of these conflicts as religious conflicts, but religion does play a role. However the role it plays is a minor one.

Rizvi attempts to support his argument by looking at some verses from the Old Testament and some hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) as proof, ignoring the fact that religion is often looked at afterwards to support one’s political belief. Just like some Jews believe that the creation of Israel is not valid because the Messiah did not lead to the Jews back to the homeland, there are plenty of verses and stories that Muslims use to justify their beliefs, which might or might not align with what other Muslims believe. Again the hadiths and verses that Rizvi quotes about Islam are to help paint a picture that Islam is inherently a violent and racist religion. I’ll deal with that more near the end.

“3. Why would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians?”

I happen to agree with Rizvi here. I don’t think most nations that enter into military conflict try to deliberately kill civilians. Whether they care is another thing. Indeed, collective punishment or pain inflicted on the civilian population has been a part of Israeli counter-terrorism strategy. Nor is Israel alone in this. Sri Lanka and other countries have attempted to use collective punishment as a counter-insurgency/terrorism strategy.

“If Israel wanted to kill civilians, it is terrible at it. ISIS killed more civilians in two days (700 plus) than Israel has in two weeks.”

This is a popular way to try and deflect criticism by talking about another conflict. Just like I can compare the fight with ISIS to the fight in South Sudan, where more people died at a faster rate than ISIS has killed. Does that change the circumstances of what is happening in Iraq? No. Because ISIS is killing at a faster rate than Israel or Hamas make it worse than those two? By itself, no. I can also point that Israel has killed about 1,065 Palestinians; the vast majority are thought to be civilians. 50 Israelis have been killed, the vast majority of them soldiers. So by this logic, Hamas must be an extremely moral participant in the conflict, ignoring the fact that they’ve been shooting off rockets into civilian areas with little or no regards for who the rockets hit.

Rizvi’s 4th point on Hamas for the most part is true, although he ignores the many civilian targets that Israel has bombed, the fact that Israel has also targeted civilian shelters despite being told 17 times that the school was a shelter for civilians, or the little regard for Palestinian lives.

And listen, I’m not saying Hamas are the good guys. They have little to no regard for civilian lives, Israeli or Palestinian, and many of the statements that they issue are downright awful and horrendous. Just don’t pretend that Hamas is the automatically the worst of the group, and don’t pretend Fatah are good guys either. Just talk to a Palestinian about them, I’m sure they would love to tell you about how ‘moral’ Fatah really is.

“5. Why are people asking for Israel to end the “occupation” in Gaza?”

According to Rizvi, Gaza is no longer under Israeli occupation.  Gaza has been under siege with little or no way to conduct economic activity or live normally. Many of the tunnels that Hamas has created are also used to smuggle food and medicine for the population.

But more importantly, Gaza is still under occupation. Rizvi should probably learn a bit about international law. Iraq, despite having elections and their own government during the U.S. war was considered occupied. The Israeli military still controls Gaza. The UN has come out and said that Gaza is still occupied. Many international lawyers still consider Gaza to be occupied (here’s a good overview of why it is still considered occupied).

Rizvi’s 6th point focuses the blame of Palestinian casualties only on Hamas. Hamas does deserve blame for not protecting civilians, and so does Israel for targeting civilian areas and not lifting up the siege for Palestinians to seek shelter outside of Gaza. 

Rizvi’s 7th point is where he attempts to show he is neutral by putting Israel under the stoplight. This is the first time he tries to say bad things happen on both sides, whereas before he puts the blame more on Hamas or the Palestinians (and Islam). But first, not everybody is pro-Israel. In most parts of the world, the public sympathy is on the Palestinian side. Second, it is worth noting that the Israeli public sphere does do a good job of portraying the different sides to each story. Indeed one thing that can be observed about Israeli media is that it will put in a more diverse and critical take of Israeli actions than even the American media.

The title of the article is the “7 things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East”. Yet this article is not neutral, nor does it actually talk about the conflict in general. Instead, the ‘questions’ are put in way to negatively question one side.  Better questions would be: What are the claims of the two sides to the land? What are the situations for both sides (e.g. living in terror)? This article does not do that.

Instead, this does little to be neutral. It actually makes claims that give little to no consideration to what is happening on the ground nor does it pay homage to the complexity of the problem. There are plenty of bad arguments on both sides (an example of this is when a Palestinian says “we can’t be anti-Semitic, we are Semites), advancing these type of arguments does little to help us understand what is happening there. 

To borrow from Daniel Drezner, this article is unadulterated horses**t.

*Rizvi has a tendency to cast Islam as an inherently racist or bigoted religion that affects his whole analysis. Nor is he the only commentator that does this. But this is a topic for a future post.


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