In July, CAMERA wrote about Muhammad Shehada’s claim, made in the Forward, that the Palestinian pay-to-slay program was just a “canard,” when his own source, the Washington Post, explained that, “in the Palestinian Authority’s budget, one can find $350 million in annual payments to Palestinian prisoners, ‘martyrs’ and injured….”
Yet, despite this grossly dishonest claim, the Forward inexplicably continues to give Shehada space.
Last week, Shehada wrote a piece that was disingenuously entitled, “A Plea To My Israeli Brothers And Sisters, From A Palestinian Who Can’t Vote” (September 11, 2019). And in August, in “Israel Is Now Trolling Us Palestinians On Social Media,” (August 28, 2019) he claimed to tell “the truth about COGAT,” Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the territories. Missing from both pieces, however, is the truth about Palestinian leadership.
In the August piece, Shehada wrote that COGAT “is a military unit in charge of civilian affairs, a perfect encapsulation of the problem with military rule over a civilian population without the right to vote.” Palestinians, of course, do have the right to vote. In Gaza, where Shehada is from, the last election was in 2006. That election brought Hamas, a genocidal terrorist group that vows to destroy Israel, to power. Hamas promptly ousted the opposing political party, and today, arrests and beats journalists and violently suppresses internal protests. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas last stood for election in 2005. Since then, Abbas rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer for statehood that would have removed COGAT from the West Bank, and continues to refuse to negotiate.
Shehada tells a story about his father’s death that is indeed tragic. He completely fails, however, to appreciate the role played by Hamas, or by the Gaza electorate that voted Hamas into power. While people like Shehada’s father lack medical treatment, Hamas uses hospitals as its headquarters, and launches rockets from hospital parking lots. While hospitals go lacking in basic supplies, Hamas spends millions on terror tunnels. And, while Shehada complains of the blockade, he omits that a UN report found that “the naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.” He omits, too, that Egypt also blockades Gaza.
Shehada’s tale of spending four hours on a quest to find fruit for his dying father is heart-wrenching. We don’t know when that occurred or what the circumstances were, but Gaza is actually an exporter of several types of fruit, and not solely dependent on Israel for its fruit supply. And again, he omits Hamas’s role in creating shortages. In 2012, Hamas – not Israel – barred most fruit imports into Gaza. At the time, the Hamas government’s Agriculture Ministry’s director of marketing, Tahseen Al-Saqqa, was quoted by Reuters saying, “we are people under blockade and we should have the culture of resistance. . . . Why should someone have all kinds of fruits on his table?” If there was no fruit available for Shehada’s father when he was dying, the blame does not lie with Israel.
Shehada claims that it was difficult for him to obtain concrete and marble for his father’s tombstone because they are dual-use items “that Israel claims without evidence would be used for military purposes instead.” This is almost as dishonest as Shehada’s earlier claim that pay to slay is a “canard.” During Operation Protective Edge, Israel identified dozens of cross-border tunnels, and in April of 2016, an Israeli investigation found that as much as 95 percent of cement entering Gaza was being diverted by Hamas for its own purposes. The many terror tunnels that the IDF has discovered, made out of diverted construction materials, are ample evidence of what Hamas wants to do with such materials.
He complains also of travel restrictions on those who need medical treatment. In fact, Israel allows tens of thousands of people each year – including families of Hamas members – to leave Gaza to seek medical treatment. The sad truth, however, is that in some cases even this humanitarian gesture is abused by terrorists. For example, in 2017, two sisters obtained a permit to enter Israel to seek treatment for cancer, and used that opportunity to attempt to smuggle explosives in the containers labeled for medication. Restrictions, therefore, must remain.
The power shortages of which he complains have been caused by the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to pay the electric bill. Nor is it true that there has been an Israeli “backlash” against “international activists … for unfavorable press.” The backlash has been specifically against those who promote boycotts, divestments, and sanctions against Israel.
Shehada claims that his writing is “the truth about COGAT. And yet, by simply by writing my own personal account, I am putting myself and my family at risk of retaliatory and punitive measures.” It is the Hamas government in Gaza, however, that squelches all dissent.
As noted above, his piece last week was entitled, “A Plea To My Israeli Brothers And Sisters, From A Palestinian Who Can’t Vote.” Editors usually write headlines, but this title was fairly reflective of the piece itself. In it, he claims that for “the past five decades, we have had no personal or national self-determination, every aspect of our lives carried out at the pleasure of the Israeli occupation,” and that Palestinians lack “the civil rights guaranteed to people living under a democracy.”
The first question one might wonder is, why Shehada has published his “plea” to his “Israeli brothers and sisters” in English, in an American publication. If his goal was truly to persuade Israelis, one might think he would at least use an Israeli platform, if not have the piece translated into Hebrew – or even write it in his native (presumably) Arabic, a language many of them can read and understand.
Publishing the piece in English in an American publication makes it seem more likely that the piece is just a smear targeted at an American audience. Indeed, many Israelis would likely answer his plea by pointing out that Shehada, who is from Gaza, has a right to vote in Gaza elections. As noted above, the last one, in 2006, brought Hamas to power. As also noted above, Palestinians in the West Bank vote in Palestinian Authority elections. They might also point out that the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank live under Palestinian Authority control in Areas A and B.
Shehada quotes Ilhan Omar and laments “‘the nail in the coffin to a two-state solution or any peace deal,’” but ignores that his own Gazan brothers and sisters voted for a group that “rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.” He ignores, too, that Abbas rejected a two-state solution when it was offered to him in 2008, and rejected the U.S.-proposed framework for negotiations in 2014.
Shehada’s charge that the Israeli “government … exercises state violence against us,” is of course an extreme distortion. The Israeli government defends its citizens against rockets launched from Gaza, including by the elected Hamas government there, and blocks terrorism from the West Bank – just as any other democratically elected government would do.
Shehada closed his August 28 essay with what he likely believes will sound like a heartfelt plea for understanding:
Palestinians share a unique shared history with our Jewish sisters and brothers: We both have intimate knowledge of pain, loss, dispossession and subjugation. It should be our strongest driver to act in solidarity with one another to prevent more harm from coming to our loved ones.
The solution begins when each side understands the pain of the other more deeply, instead of relegating one another to categories, statistics and quotas.
It is worth asking Alyse and COGAT to understand Palestinians’ quest for freedom and dignity instead of trolling us and expecting gratitude for the occasional crumbs of compassion they condescendingly throw our way.
But when Shehada places all of the blame for his and Gaza’s problems on Israel, and refuses to even acknowledge the role played by the Hamas government and those who voted Hamas into power, his call rings hollow.
Even when Shehada did write, also in the Forward, in October of 2018, about Hamas’s arbitrary detentions and use of torture, he blamed Israel. “Netanyahu’s policies enable the evils of the Palestinian regimes,” he wrote. Shehada quoted an unnamed friend saying, “‘the catastrophe here is that whatever you say against Hamas or the PA, Israel will use against us.’”
There is surely value in giving a platform in a Jewish publication to Palestinian voices. But those voices should be honest ones. If the Forward can’t find such voices, perhaps it’s worth exploring why.
June 4, 2020: For an update on the August 28, 2019 piece, see here.