Meet George Bisharat, currently a professor at the UC Hastings College of Law. Bisharat was born in 1954 in Kansas, to a Palestinian family from Jerusalem, eventually earning BA in Berkeley and MA in Georgetown. Later, Bisharat studied in Harvard, and assumed position of professor of law at University of California. Bisharat is an author of ‘Palestinian Lawyers and Israeli Rule: Law and Disorder in the West Bank’, worked with Palestinian Legislative Council and on editorial board of Journal of Palestine Studies.
I believe the above gives us clear understanding of Bisharat’s allegiance; however, it is also clear he is a smart man. Bisharat criticized Israel’s conduct in 2006 Second Lebanon War, pushes for the boycott of Israel, alleges Israel’s conduct in 2008 Gaza campaign constitutes war crimes and an avid supporter of a one-state solution (read: Israel ceases being a Jewish state).
In a recent op-ed published by the New York Times, Bisharat presents us with a real problem, while using unsubstantiated claims to promote his point. Starting with
CHILLING testimony by Israeli soldiers substantiates charges that Israel’s Gaza Strip assault entailed grave violations of international law. The emergence of a predominantly right-wing, nationalist government in Israel suggests that there may be more violations to come. Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians also constituted war crimes, but do not excuse Israel’s transgressions.
The ‘Hearsaygate‘, which we discussed in length last month, cannot be used as substantiation to anything, as both soldiers eventually admitted hearsay and rumors, rather than actual witness to the events described. Thus, Bisharat is being dishonest from the top, by attributing any value to ‘testimonies’. By the way, Israeli Palestinian Rights Groups such as Betzelem and Yesh Din were – and are – doing their best, together with Israeli newspaper Haaretz, to unearth more testimonies and allegations of murder of innocent Gazans – months after the operation, they still have no facts at hand.
Bisharat also tries to distance himself from the issue of Hamas’ rocket fire, by stating: “rocket attacks…also constituted war crimes, but do not excuse Israel’s transgressions”. Let us be clear on the issue: there would be no ‘Israel’s transgressions’ if terror from Gaza would stop. Since 2001, thousands of rockets were fired into Israel, with only one reason for very few Israeli casualties: every new house built in Israel has a secure bomb shelter. Every street has a bomb shelter. Israelis prepare themselves for war, and it always comes. Bisharat never blames Palestinian governments for lack of civilian protective infrastructure – it is much easier to blame Israel for that.
Bisharat goes on with a list:
Violating its duty to protect the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Despite Israel’s 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza, the territory remains occupied. Israel unleashed military firepower against a people it is legally bound to protect.
Bisharat and the likes would expect Israel to open up entire Gaza to everyone – while it is under control of both Fatah and Hamas, both of which actively fight Israel. While Bisharat considers Gaza’s position in 2005 as ‘still occupied’ – it should be viewed for what it is: Gaza just relinquished occupying forces and Gazans should now start to build a society. Bisharat obviously fails to mention that during Israel disengagement, Gazans were still firing rockets into Israel, and as soon as Israel left, Gazans renewed efforts to smuggle weapons and explosives – especially after Hamas took power in Gaza by rounding up Fatah activists and shooting them. Bisharat also fails to mention that ‘evil Israel’ allowed fleeing Fatah men to move to West Bank, as well as gave medical assistance to their families.
Imposing collective punishment in the form of a blockade, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In June 2007, after Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip, Israel imposed suffocating restrictions on trade and movement. The blockade — an act of war in customary international law — has helped plunge families into poverty, children into malnutrition, and patients denied access to medical treatment into their graves. People in Gaza thus faced Israel’s winter onslaught in particularly weakened conditions.
Let us get the facts straight for this one too: nowadays, every action of a government against another government could be labeled as ‘collective punishment’. Do US’s sanctions against North Korea constitute ‘collective punishment’? For example, US imposed a ban on satellite parts made in US reaching North Korea, effectively meaning most communications companies would not be able to launch their satellites from North Korea, whose government asks for much lower prices than most other countries. Could this also be a ‘collective punishment’? Sure as hell could – North Korean economy suffers lack of monetary influx, thus hurting all North Koreans. World’s sanctions against Iran, for example, are also ‘collective punishment’, as Iran’s economy suffers due to the sanctions, making people suffer as well.
My point: you cannot effectively pressure any government into anything (like surrendering its genocidal goal) without eventually affecting civilians under that government. It is not possible. Gazan terrorist organizations never stopped firing into Israel – at first, at Israeli settlements within Gaza; then – at Israeli cities and towns within Israeli territory. How do you fight rocket launches without imposing some sort of blockade on Gaza? Even with the blockade up and running, Hamas managed to smuggle dozens of tons of explosives since operation ‘Cast Lead’ – quadruple that number without Israel’s and Egypt’s barrier.
Mr. Bisharat also never mentions Egypt in his article, even though Egypt is just as active in blockading Gaza as Israel.
Deliberately attacking civilian targets. The laws of war permit attacking a civilian object only when it is making an effective contribution to military action and a definite military advantage is gained by its destruction. Yet an Israeli general, Dan Harel, said, “We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings.” An Israeli military spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, avowed that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.”
Israeli fire destroyed or damaged mosques, hospitals, factories, schools, a key sewage plant, institutions like the parliament, the main ministries, the central prison and police stations, and thousands of houses.
I think George Bisharat missed those videos released by the IDF, where terrorists can be seen using civilian infrastructure for fighting – such as schools, homes, mosques, UN installations, and others. It is also important to know that Hamas used civilian infrastructure – like houses – to trap Israeli troops, by planting explosives and booby-trapping entire structures, thus destroying a booby-trapped houses constitutes ‘an effective contribution to military action’ by saving dozens of lives of soldiers (tactics of booby-trapping buildings were widely used by Palestinians in Jenin refugee camp and by Hizb Allah in 2005. IDF learned its lessons from these operations.)
Willfully killing civilians without military justification. When civilian institutions are struck, civilians — persons who are not members of the armed forces of a warring party, and are not taking direct part in hostilities — are killed.
Bisharat bases his opinions on amount of Gazan civilians killed on report by Richard Falk – the person who compares Israel’s actions to these of Nazis – clearly a disproportionate response on part of Falk.. The numbers of Gazan civilian deaths are highly disputed, with some Gazans even arguing deaths were as low as 600 – most of them Hamas terrorists. In Gaza, most terrorists wear civilian clothing in order to blend with civilian population, thus I can hardly understand how Bisharat – being a professional – straightforwardly believes told numbers.
Later, Bisharat says IDF troops shot at corners of building to warn the civilians. Bisharat apparently forgot IDF also phoned Gazan citizens, dropped leaflets, and used TV and radio stations to warn civilians of danger. What can I say, even if you are a professor, your memory does not have to be perfect.
Deliberately employing disproportionate force. Last year, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, head of Israel’s northern command, speaking on possible future conflicts with neighbors, stated, “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction.” Such a frank admission of illegal intent can constitute evidence in a criminal prosecution.
Such ‘evidence’ would not be seriously considered by any court. Why? For two reasons: a) the world community is yet to define ‘disproportionate force’; b) a statement by a commander of Israel’s Northern command has nothing to do with Southern command, responsible for Gaza.
Illegal use of weapons, including white phosphorus. Israel was finally forced to admit, after initial denials, that it employed white phosphorous in the Gaza Strip, though Israel defended its use as legal. White phosphorous may be legally used as an obscurant, not as a weapon, as it burns deeply and is extremely difficult to extinguish.
Regrettably for George Bisharat, actual evidence of Israel using munitions illegally is yet to be presented to us all.
Last, but not least, Bisharat writes that Israeli ‘political and military personnel’ responsible for Gaza operation should be brought to justice. I wish he would also call for Hamas terrorists to be tried for war crimes. Sadly, George Bisharat does not care for Hamas’ violence. He has his own interest. It would be interesting to know if parents to students of UC understand the degree of objectivity this professor brings to his teachings.