Randa Abdel-Fattah’s claims on ABC-TV’s “Q&A”: A fisking

Randa Abdel-Fattah’s claims on ABC-TV’s “Q&A

On ABC TV’s “Q&A” on May 21, panellist Randa Abdel-Fattah, an Australian writer of Egyptian-Palestinian background, made a series of false or misleading allegations against Israel. While some of the other panelists disagreed with her on some of her points, particularly Australian Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan, they were repeatedly cut off by program host Tony Jones. In any event, many of her allegations were left unchallenged and are in need of correction for the public record.

So here’s AIJAC’s “fisking” of Ms. Abdel-Fattah’s claims.

The topic related to Australia voting against a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) motion calling for an investigation into the deaths of Palestinians on the Gaza border, one of only two countries to vote that way, the other being the US. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop justified the vote by saying the UNHCR motion “prejudged the outcome” and failed “the test of balance and impartiality.” The UNHRC has had an obsessive focus on Israel since its founding, passing more resolutions against it than all other countries combined. It has been chaired by some of the world’s worst human rights violators, and Israel has the distinction of the being the only nation listed as a specific permanent agenda item, separate from all other human rights problems everywhere else in the world.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“Let’s start with why Palestinians are protesting in Hamas…in the Gaza strip. I think it’s important to put this into context if we’re really to make sense of this conflict….They have a blockade for the last 11 years.”

Abdel-Fattah is referring to the blockade that was only imposed on Gaza after the terror group seized control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup in 2007 and stepped up the fire of rockets and mortars into Israel. Israel and Egypt both impose the blockade, but for the past several years it has only restricted the import of material that can be used for military purposes. While the crossing into Egypt is almost permanently closed, Israel actively facilitates the transport into Gaza of sufficient food, water, fuel, power and medicine to provide for humanitarian needs. It has also allowed in building materials such as cement, even though they can be used for military purposes. Although a system was set up to attempt to ensure that these materials were used only for civilian needs, vast amounts have been misappropriated by Hamas for use on its military infrastructure, including bunkers and terror tunnels. A UN commission into the blockade, held in the wake of the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident and chaired by former New Zealand PM Sir Geoffrey Palmer, determined in September 2011 that the blockade is legal, given Hamas’ declared hostility towards Israel.

Hamas, alongside the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, are funded, armed, and trained by Iran, and despite a reported diplomatic fallout over Syria, both groups reportedly receive about $100 million per year. On May 22, Hamas’ leader in the Gaza strip, Yahya Sinwar, once again publicly thanked Iran for training, arming, and funding them, and Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency says Iran specifically provided funds for the recent violent border demonstrations. The blockade is therefore necessary to keep out Iranian arms and other military material.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“They are protesting a brutal siege. They are an open-air prison – the largest concentration camp in the world, as it has been described by a prominent Israeli sociologist.”

The Israeli sociologist in question, Baruch Kimmerling, an extreme leftist and harsh revisionist critic of Israel and Zionism for decades, made this controversial statement in 2003, when Gaza was still under Israeli control and thus in a completely different context. Ms. Abdel-Fattah’s attempt to present this 15 year old statement as relevant to the current situation was misleading.

Moreover, the protests have little to do with the blockade. Rather, as the name “Great March of Return” implies, they are about the demographic destruction of Israel via the ” right of return” to Israel for more than 5 million Palestinian hereditary refugees, and they are directed and coordinated in their entirety by Hamas, regardless of the particular grievances or intentions of some individuals in attendance, for clear political benefit.

Just ask Sinwar what the protests were actually about: “When we decided to embark on these marches, we decided to turn that which is most dear to us – the bodies of our women and children – into a dam blocking the collapse in Arab reality, a dam to prevent the racing of many Arabs towards the normalization of ties with the plundering entity…”

Sinwar also told protestors, “We will take down the border with Israel and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies.”

Abdel-Fattah said:
“Israel described it as economic warfare, where they were calculating the number of calories that Palestinians could live under, just short of starvation.”

The roots of Abdel-Fattah’s claim is a story that appeared in Ha’aretz in 2012. The reason for this calculation was to ensure there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza even as Israel was trying to pressure Hamas. The article which is the source of the allegation stated that the study by COGAT, the Israeli body that manages the flow of goods in and out of Gaza, “was merely a rough draft, that it was never actually implemented, and that it did not guide Israeli policy in practice.”

In other words, this is fake news.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“97% of the water is poisonous. It is undrinkable. And why is that? Because Israel denied them a water desalination plant and bombed their water treatment facility in the 2008 and 2009 siege.”

The claim that Israel denied water desalination plants to Gaza is simply a lie. In fact, UNICEF opened a massive desalination plant in coordination with Israel in Deir al Balah in 2017. In March 2018, the European Investment Bank, with the support of Israel, pledged 80% of the funds needed for the Gaza Central Desalination Plant and Associated Works Project, with tenders already being offered in April. An alliance of about 30 Palestinian and pro-Palestinian NGOs and organizations have been staunchly against desalination, arguing it would normalize the occupation, among other things.

Shells may have damaged some water infrastructure in Gaza, though there is no evidence Israel intentionally hit it. Hamas and other groups began firing rockets and mortars into Israel in 2005, eventually sparking Operation Cast Lead to end the barrage. This was not a siege, but a defensive war, and not a single credible source claims the damage to water infrastructure was a cause of the water crisis today.

Instead, the water crisis has been caused by over-pumping of Gaza’s water table by its residents, causing salinity to enter the aquifer there. Palestinian bodies, first the Palestinian Authority and after 2006, Hamas, have been in charge of regulating such pumping since 1994, under the Oslo accords. So the implication that the water crisis in Gaza is somehow Israel’s fault is just false.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“And they did it in a non-violent protest. And what were they met with? Nuclear-armed state drones. They were met with live fire by snipers…The IDF tweeted and then quickly took it down, tweeted that they acted precisely, that they knew exactly where those bullets were landing.”

This was not a non-violent protest. There were non-violent protesters camped much farther back from the fence, but they had nothing to do with Israeli riot control measures. The protesters have used more than 100 IEDs since the demonstrations began on March 30, as well as guns, knives, Molotov cocktails, and flaming kites to burn Israeli fields. Their leaders have expressed intent to kill and kidnap Israeli soldiers and civilians after destroying the security fence. The “nuclear-armed state drones” were dropping tear gas as well as leaflets warning Palestinians to stay away from the fence.

The IDF claims Hamas paid small amounts for individuals or up to $100 for families to charge the fence. Hamas overtly encouraged women and children to go to the front of the line, according to a detained Palestinian. This is in addition to the compensation promised by Hamas to the wounded and the families of those killed.

Judging by the numbers, the IDF did, in fact, know “where those bullets were landing“: the overwhelming majority of those killed, both in total and in the individual Friday demonstrations, were Hamas operatives or affiliated with one of several other terrorist groups in Gaza. Israeli soldiers were shooting at the ground in front of those rushing the fence, and then at their legs if that didn’t stop them.

Casualty details make it clear that Israel fire was far from indiscriminate. As AIJAC noted in this blog, almost everyone killed in the major explosion of violence on May 14 was a male of military age – and almost no women have been killed. If Israel was simply indiscriminately shooting into protesting crowds, surely the ratio of men and women killed would be roughly equal, but the numbers are not even close.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“So she [Julie Bishop] is clearly siding there with people who are using expanding bullets on children, on people who are protesting, people who are 700m from a perimeter fence.”

The accusations of “exploding,” “expanding,” or “butterfly” bullets are conspiratorial Palestinian claims that have not been substantiated by any major media outlets, some of which issued corrections when contacted by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

In Hamas’ Gaza, it is an unfortunate fact that being under 18 does not mean you are not a Hamas operative. The organisation runs massive “Vanguards of Liberation” camps for children as young as 15, and has dedicated itself to radicalizing the population from birth. The emotive use of the word “child” has little meaning in this context. Indeed, of the six youths under 18 who were killed on May 14, every single one of them has been identified as being affiliated with Hamas or another terrorist organisation.

Her claim that Israel shoots people 700 metres from the security fence is nonsense. Israel has been very clear for months on its rules of engagement and willingness to use live fire to ensure the fence wasn’t damaged or breached, but its rules of fire allowed shooting only at “armed Palestinians within 300 yards of the fence, and unarmed people within 100 yards of it.” Furthermore, Israel warned Palestinians in widely distributed leaflets that it would “act against any attempt to harm the security fence” and to “Beware of approaching the security fence.”

Yet many ran at the fence in at least 12 different locations on May 14 itself despite all Israeli warnings, encouraged over loudspeakers by organisers falsely claiming that the IDF had abandoned its positions.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“The IDF tweeted a pictorial inventory of Hamas weapons of war. Let me explain what was on that inventory – arson kites, Molotov cocktails, wire cutters, rope for fence, disabled civilians, children. So that’s basically telling us, in the IDF’s eyes, these are weapons of war – children, disabled civilians – and they are therefore legitimate targets.”

This pictorial inventory was actually entitled “Hamas’ tools for infiltrating Israel.” And children were indeed used by Hamas to attempt to abet its efforts to cut through the border fence. To say the IDF views children or the disabled as targets per se is an inflammatory lie.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“So instead of blaming Hamas and blaming Palestinians for being murdered, how about we actually look at the people who are actually shooting people and killing babies?”

This is another inflammatory and defamatory misrepresentation, if not outright falsehood. The widely-spread story of 8-month-old Layla Ghandour, a baby who reportedly died from inhaling tear gas along the fence, has in fact been walked back by the sources in Gaza who initially spread the news. They now say it’s unclear how she died, and admit she had a congenital heart disease. She is now no longer on the official Hamas Ministry of Health lists of casualties from the Gaza violence.

Even if it had been true, however, to say Israel is “killing babies” because a confused 11-year-old brought an infant right up to the fence while Israel was launching tear gas against rioters is an exceptional smear. Isn’t the charge of people like Ms. Abdel-Fattah that Israel should be using non-lethal crowd control methods, not live fire, against the Gaza “protests” – such as tear gas?

Abdel-Fattah said:
“This is the circle that Israel cannot square. That it wants to maintain and establish an ethno-racial exclusive Jewish nation, but the Palestinian people are there, and we won’t disappear.”

This is hyperbole mixed with group defamation, not only because of repeated Israeli peace overtures to settle the conflict, but because about 2 million of Israel’s nearly 9 million residents are not Jewish. Israel does, however, unapologetically exist as the national homeland of the Jewish people, which is hardly a scandal. Many other countries, including most of the Middle East, identify themselves by ethnicity or religion, and the Palestinians have been quite clear about their ethno-nationalist exclusive intentions when they get a state.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“Was Hamas behind Operation Protective Edge, in which 2,200 Palestinians in 2014 were killed?”

The answer to Randa’s rhetorical question is yes. After kidnapping and murdering three Israeli adolescent hitchhikers, Hamas began firing dozens of rockets and mortars at Israel. The Israeli response was “Operation Protective Edge,” which also aimed to destroy Hamas’ extensive tunnels into Israel, which are intended and have been used for ambushes and to kidnap or kill Israelis. The war was catastrophic for Gaza, as many other Hamas decisions have been.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“[W]hat would the international community have the Palestinians do? They have tried armed resistance in response to occupation, they have tried peaceful, you know, non-violent resistance in the first and second intifada, which was brutally, brutally shut down.”

How delusional and unwilling to face reality must one be to claim non-violent resistance characterized either the first or especially the second intifada, which saw indiscriminate shootings, stabbings, and suicide bombings against Israeli civilians and soldiers, as well as massive violent riots across the Palestinian territories lasting years. Let’s recall an elementary fact – Abdel-Fattah’s “non-violent” second intifada killed 1,137 Israelis, 78% of the civilians. The history of violence– incited, encouraged, and organized by Palestinian leadership–has actually never ceased in its entirety, and even the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank continues promulgating antisemitism, glorifying violence, and paying terrorists and their families.

The outlook of both the Palestinian public as well as the leadership has always been one of delegitimisation of the Jewish connection to Israel, and large majorities of Palestinians believe both that Israel’s existence is incompatible with the “the rights and needs of the Palestinian people” and they will someday succeed in destroying Israel. Israel is not going to dissolve itself regardless of the method chosen by the Palestinians to push their maximalist agenda.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“The idea that this conflict is complex is something people use as a way to sort of…to deflect attention from what is really a very clear issue here, which is that you have an illegal occupation. You have Israel, which has made the possibility of a two-state solution impossible. There is no viable, contiguous Palestinian state for the Palestinians because Israel has, in violation of international law, transferred 750,000 illegal settlers into the West Bank, taken 80% of the water aquifers.”

The assertions that the conflict is not complex and that this statement is merely an excuse for “the occupation” is perhaps Randa’s most ridiculous claim,.

These protests have nothing to do with a two-state solution, as she speciously tries to argue, nor is Gaza occupied. Israel evacuated all its own citizens from Gaza in 2005 to create room for a Palestinian autonomous entity there, even leaving them advanced infrastructure. In response, Palestinians looted everything and then voted in Hamas, whose primary platform was and remains the destruction of the entirety of Israel.

There could be a theoretical contiguous Palestinian State if the political context allowed for it. Even strong critics of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank who have detailed knowledge of the subject concede this, such as peace activist Col. (res) Shaul Arieli and Lior Amihai, head of Peace Now’s “Settlement Watch” project.

The settlements have barely expanded their geographical boundaries since 2004, and they did not prevent then Israeli PM Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer to the PA of a state in all of Gaza and land that amounted to approximately the area of the West Bank, after land swaps from within pre-1967 Israel to compensate the PA for settlement blocs Israel would retain.

In any case, the Palestinians have rejected every iteration of Israeli statehood offers for the past two decades.

There are not 750,000 settlers in the West Bank unless one factors in all disputed neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. The number is approximately 400,000.

Statements about Israel stealing Palestinian water and aquifers are blatantly false, though they continue to be cited no matter how many times they are debunked. The Oslo Accords included agreements as to how much water Israel would provide to the Palestinians, and Israel has regularly exceeded these requirements.

Abdel-Fattah said:
“I’ve been on the roads that go through the West Bank that are only allowed for settlers, so that settlers never have to meet those pesky Palestinians.”

There are no such thing as “settler-only” roads. There are Israeli-only roads, which can be used by any citizen or anyone visiting the country. These bypass Palestinian areas for security reasons following the intifadas and attacks on civilian vehicles.

There are many complex historical and contemporary details to this conflict, involving regional and international events, personalities, philosophies, narratives and legal frameworks, but according to Randa Abdel-Fattah, all we need to do is “go on Twitter” in order to understand what’s happening. But as the above fisking shows, if you rely on emotive and dramatic 256-character one liners for your information, you end up uninformed or misinformed, and as per Abdul-Fattah’s denunciation of complexity with a view of reality that is simplistic in the extreme.

Oved Lobel