Today the media is once again aflutter with the “Sext, Lies, and Weinergate” scandal: Weiner’s wife is pregnant! His fellow Democrats are ready to dump him! His fifth lady friend has come forward! Hour by hour, sordid new details emerge, all breathlessly reported. And yet, as with all sex scandals, the prurient, puritanical thrill of watching a dog go down soon gives way to the feeling that the guy is getting it for the wrong crime. Sure the guy is a sleaze with a serious death wish – or is it God complex? – but what about the fact that he’s also a latter-day Jabotinsky who’s content to lie and deny for the sake of occupation, dispossession, and institutionalized inequality?
On Tuesday, Phil resurrected – and debunked – some of the more outrageous lies Weiner told during a March debate with former Congressman Brian Baird about Gaza and the Goldstone Report. (The debate was sponsored by the Nation Institute on behalf of our book, The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict.) Today we offer you round two of Weiner’s tall tales and outright lies. Among his more outlandish claims: Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal and not all that bad; Gaza is not occupied; Hamas cast the first stone; and perhaps the biggest head-spinner of all, Israeli settlement activity is not taking place on Palestinian lands but in Israel.
Herewith, lies 6 through 12.
Lies 6 & 7: Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal and hasn’t caused serious humanitarian hardship anyway.
Weiner: There is a blockade that is legal under the Geneva Convention going on right now by the Israelis and the Egyptians on against Gaza. Why? Because they’re at war! I don’t like that, I wish they weren’t. They’re at war. At times of war, you do not let in things that can be used to build – to build bunkers, to do these other things. Fifteen thousand tons of humanitarian aid flows into Gaza each and every week. That goes in in compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
Let’s start with Falsehood #6, the claim that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is legal. This is simply untrue, and the reasons are several. The first is that blockades are only, or at least primarily, deemed legal in situations of international and armed conflict, which the Israel-Gaza conflict most certainly is not. In fact, because Israel remains the de facto occupying power of Gaza – and this gets us to reason number two – it is required by international law not only to protect the civilians under its control but to guarantee sufficient access to food and medical supplies. The blockade, which has reduced food and other humanitarian supplies to a trickle, clearly violates this obligation, but that’s hardly all. The blockade is also widely considered to be a form of collective punishment inflicted on the people of Gaza for their support of Hamas – a fact that Israel has all but admitted – and collective punishment is not merely not legal, it is a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. A war crime.
Or as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has said:
International humanitarian law prohibits starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and … it is also prohibited to impose collective punishment on civilians.
I have consistently reported to member states that the blockade is illegal and must be lifted.
The devastating effect of Israel’s blockade has been well documented by journalists, human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and, of course, Palestinians. The Goldstone Report also dedicated pages of ink to chronicling the blockade’s humanitarian and human rights toll on the people of Gaza.
But you know what? Why listen to all these sources when you can just listen to Israeli officials themselves, as paraphrased in one of the US cables released by Wikileaks?
“As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed … on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge.”
Lie 8: Israel no longer occupies Gaza.
Weiner: And is Gaza occupied? Let me just clear this up, is Gaza occupied, Brian?
Baird: I think it absolutely is.
Weiner: OK, so right now there are Israelis in Gaza?
Baird: No, but there are US-made F16s and US-made weaponry and a host of other –
Weiner: But not in Gaza.
Baird: On any given day, Israelis can enter Gaza.
Weiner: Yes, on any given day they can enter there, but they are not in Gaza today.
Baird: I don’t know that.
Weiner: They don’t occupy Gaza today. Yet the Goldstone Report characterized Gaza as still being occupied.
This is a popular meme, particularly among Israeli politicians and right-wing Zionists who love to claim that Gaza has not been occupied since Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005. But pretty much everyone else in the international community, with the probable exception of the United States, continues to regard Gaza as being occupied. And with good reason. When a population is hemmed in on all sides by a foreign power, its borders closed and policed, even its airspace controlled; when that power controls everything from taxes to currency; and when it pays the local population occasional, unexpected visits in the form of military incursions, it’s hard to claim that the foreign power isn’t in control.
Here’s how the Goldstone Report sums up the situation:
Given the specific geopolitical configuration of the Gaza Strip, the powers that Israel exercises from the borders enable it to determine the conditions of life within the Gaza Strip. Israel controls the border crossings … and decides what and who gets in or out of the Gaza Strip. It also controls the territorial sea adjacent to the Gaza Strip and has declared a virtual blockade and limits to the fishing zone, thereby regulating economic activity in that zone. It also keeps complete control of the airspace of the Gaza Strip, inter alia, through continuous surveillance by aircraft and unmanned aviation vehicles (UAVs) or drones. It makes military incursions and from time to time hit targets within the Gaza Strip. No-go areas are declared within the Gaza Strip near the border where Israeli settlements used to be and enforced by the Israeli armed forces. Furthermore, Israel regulates the local monetary market based on the Israeli currency (the new sheqel) and controls taxes and custom duties.
The Goldstone Report’s conclusion? “The ultimate authority over the Occupied Palestinian Territory still lies with Israel.”
Lie 9: Israel’s ongoing settlement activity is not taking place on Palestinian lands but within Israel.
Weiner: There are people who believe that settlement activity is going on in Palestinian territories. There are people who believe that. I don’t believe that.
This one is a real head-scratcher. As Roger Cohen, New York Times columnist and moderator of the Baird-Weiner debate, pointed out at the time, even the Israeli government acknowledges – heck, proclaims – that it is building settlements. So how can Weiner claim there’s no “settlement activity” in Palestinian territories? There’s really only one possible answer, but it’s such an extreme, ludicrous answer, it seems impossible that Weiner could actually believe it. And yet – well, let’s just run the tape.
Cohen: Where do you think the settlement growth is happening right now?
Weiner: What do you mean, where do I think it’s happening?
Cohen: You just said it’s happening in Israel, where in Israel?
Weiner: I don’t follow your question. What do you mean where it’s happening? It’s a matter of fact where the settlement’s happening. I don’t understand your question.
Cohen: Well, I’m asking you whether – you said it’s in Israel, as far as I know, the settlement growth is in the West Bank.
Weiner: I believe it is in Israel.
Baird: Tony, are you saying that wherever there is a settlement it is by definition Israel?
Weiner: I am saying that at some point, and it’s not going to be the three of us, but at some point, Palestinians and Israelis are going to negotiate where development is going to be able to happen, where the border exists; right now the settlement that’s going on is going on in Israel. That’s not a controversial thing to say. I mean, that’s a matter of fact. You may want in the future, where Israeli homes are, to say that’s the Palestinian border but that’s not the case yet.
Cohen: Congressman, where for you is the border of Israel?
Weiner: Where is the border – how – do you want me to describe it on a map?
Cohen: I don’t know, where is it?
Weiner: Mr. Moderator-of-this-Debate, how do you want me to do that?
Cohen: One border is the sea, where is the eastern border?
Weiner: The Jordan River.
Ah-ha! So there it is. Weiner doesn’t think that any “settlement activity” is taking place on Palestinian lands because he doesn’t think that Palestinian lands exist. He thinks that Israel sprawls from the Jordan River to the sea, which is in perfect accord with the views of Bibi Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon, and, well, far too many Israeli administrations, but just happens to contradict International law. In fact, the International Court of Justice has specifically found that Israel’s practice of building settlements — essentially, transferring large chunks of its civilian population into territory it occupies — is a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Apparently, every government in the world, with the exception of Israel, agrees.
Lies 10, 11, and 12: Hamas started the Gaza Conflict by firing rockets into Israel; Israel merely carpet-bombed whole neighborhoods of Gaza in self-defense, a right which the Goldstone Report doesn’t recognize.
Weiner: Yes, it was terrible, it was a terrible, damaging war, but it was initiated by Hamas after 12000 rockets. It is a right of a people to defend themselves and you would not know that reading the Goldstone Report.
Here we have another doozy, a case of three lies in one. Happily for us, Jerome Slater has tackled all of them at one point or another in his many writings on the Gaza conflict and the Goldstone Report. Just read this and this. In particular, he has done a brilliant job of puncturing the self-defense claim, demonstrating how it is both factually and philosophically impossible. The fact part is simple: in the months preceding Operation Cast Lead, Israel and Hamas had a truce that Israel broke (on Nov. 4, 2008) in an attack that killed six men from Hamas; and when Hamas offered to renew the truce in exchange for Israel easing the siege, Israel demurred – and, several weeks later, launched Cast Lead. As to the philosophical argument, it boils down to this: “there can be no right of self-defense when illegitimate and violent repression engenders resistance—and that holds true even when the form of resistance, terrorism (a fair description of Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians) is itself morally wrong.”
As to Weiner’s claim that the Goldstone Report ignores Israel’s right to self-defense, well, anyone who’s read even a fraction of the document knows this isn’t the case. As Slater has written:
“First, while the report condemned the Israeli methods of warfare, it accepted that the purpose of Cast Lead was legitimate: Israel, it said, had a right to “defend itself” against Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks aimed at Israeli towns and villages. In his oped, Goldstone reiterated this argument: “I have always been clear that Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within.”
So there you have it. Anthony Weiner showed up to a packed hall in New York this past March and spewed at least twelve big, bogus claims about Israel, Palestine, and the Gaza Conflict. And he clearly hadn’t read the Goldstone Report. But if his brother and sister congresspeople get their way, he might soon have a lot of time on his hands. One way he could fill it? By cracking open the Goldstone Report.