In Haaretz, Peter Beinart imparts readers with some hard truths about the recent history of Gaza. “Much of what we’ve been told about Israel’s ‘withdrawal’ from Gaza,” he contends, is simply not true. The mythology created by Jewish-American leaders, he writes, builds a narrative that does does little more but rationalize Israel’s “wrong” war.
Now, there are a number of problems with Beinart’s predictably distorted version of this conflict’s history—which could use a thorough debunking—but the most obvious glitch is that most of the myths Beinart claims to dispel aren’t ever actually uttered by Jewish leaders, or anyone else, for that matter.
There are three distortions Beinart believes gullible Jewish American use to justify their “skepticism of a Palestinian state in the West Bank.”
The first: “Israel Left Gaza.”
“… at no point did Gaza become its own country,” writes Beinart, “Had Gaza become its own country, it would have gained control over its borders.”
Who argues differently? Beinart doesn’t say. In my own search I couldn’t locate any reputable “Jewish leader” or pundit—not even those sinister AIPAC types—who’d ever asserted that Gaza was its own country or that Israel had unilaterally withdrawn and abdicated control over Gaza borders or its own security. Nearly always, Jewish leaders argue that Palestinians were handed some level of autonomy over their own affairs after 2005—which is factual.
It’s true that “Jewish leaders” often argue this autonomy would have been the first step towards some kind of statehood. And that contention seems to irk Beinart most of all. So he bores into the soul of Ariel Sharon and others to prove that Israel’s unilateral pullback was meant to block a Palestinian state. And considering his definition of what that state would look like, that might be true. The reasons for withdrawal were complex, but the action was widely praised at the time, including by people like Kuwait’s foreign minister, Sabah Salem Sabah, who said the move should be viewed as a “first step” towards Palestinian statehood.
So while the purpose of unilateral Gaza withdrawal can be argued, Jewish leaders, contra Beinart , don’t argue Gaza is “free.”
Which brings us to his second myth: “Hamas Seized Power.”
I can already hear the objections. Even if withdrawing settlers from Gaza didn’t give the Palestinians a state, it might have made Israelis more willing to support one in the future – if only Hamas had not seized power and turned Gaza into a citadel of terror.
But Hamas didn’t seize power. It won an election.
No one, not a single reputable—or disreputable—pundit or “Jewish leader” I could find argues that Hamas didn’t win an election in Gaza.
In fact, it is far more customary for pro-Israel advocates to go out of their way to point out that Hamas’ electoral victories are simply a reflection of a radicalized Palestinian population. A recent poll of Palestinian opinion—before the most recent conflict started—showed that 68 percent of those surveyed in Gaza Strip said that the five-year goal “should be to work toward reclaiming all of historic Palestine, from the river to the sea,” or eliminating Israel. Meanwhile, only 22 percent in Gaza would like to “end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to achieve a two-state solution.”
And is it really irrational to argue that a peaceful and productive autonomous Gaza would not create a stronger argument for statehood—both in Israel and around the world?
Beinart’s main problem seems to be rhetorical accuracy of the word “seized.”
But to suggest that Hamas “seized power”—as American Jewish leaders often do—ignores the fact that Hamas’ brutal takeover occurred in response to an attempted coup.
The fact that Hamas was democratically elected does not infuse the organization with a more moral aim or create a better environment for peace. And the fact that the United States and Israel rightly backed Fatah in Gaza in 2005 doesn’t justify the undemocratic violence that Hamas inflicted on any political threat afterwards. “Seized” is probably an accurate enough word to describe an organization that hunts down, executes, and chases away its political rivals. Maybe not. But Jewish leaders in the United States certainly don’t perpetuate the myth Hamas’ power is autocratic. If anything they highlight the opposite.
The final myth is “The Greenhouses:”
This one is actually used by Jewish leaders on occasion to highlight the irrationality of many Palestinians. And it should be.
In 2005, as Israel was forcibly evicting all Jewish residents from Gaza to avoid a massacre, the Israeli greenhouses in Gush Katif, which at the time produced around $200 million of produce per year, was turned over to the Arab locals for free. Many Jews helped raise the money to give it to them. Less than a day after withdrawal, many of the farms were already looted and vandalized. Some of the greenhouses did survived, but many of those were ruined in 2006 when the area went through another round of spirited rioting. The U.S. Agency for International Development has also sponsored the construction of new greenhouses, fully paid for, that still don’t work.
All of this was extensively reported on by major news organizations at the time. But Beinart basically offers us one source, James Wolfensohn, a banker who blames the Israel blockade for many things, to argue that it’s a myth. One imagines that a government that possesses the ingenuity and money to build impressive and extensive tunnel systems underground and has the wherewithal to smuggle and build around 11,000 rockets has the ability to maintain some farms. Then again, that’s probably just the Jewish narrative that’s meant to mislead you about the innocence of Hamas.