Deconstructing Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers’ stale sack o’crap

A reader brought to my attention an article attempting to deconstruct a short essay I wrote on Gilad Shalit soon after Hamas authorities released him during the latest prisoner exchange. The article, published by “Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers”, asserts that I’ve hit a new low and that my essay is a “sack o’crap”. In keeping with the holiday spirit, we shall examine the author’s criticisms and show that the only “sack o’crap” that exists is the one fixed permanently at his or her doorstep.

The first thing the author fails to do is link to my article. This tactic can only be interpreted as a not-so-deceptive attempt at preventing his or her own readers from accessing the full essay. Sure, readers are free to find the article on their own, but citations and embedded links are a matter of professionalism and courtesy. Nevertheless, compared to the content of this attempted rebuttal, this is but a very trivial matter.

Also noticeable is the author’s skewed selectivism. It is a common strategy to quote only those lines or words that help build your case, but only as long as they remain in context. In this case, the author pulled less than a fifth of the article and managed to avoid commenting on the remaining four-fifths, the parts that deal with the Israeli government’s humanitarian abuses or Shalit’s role at the time of his capture. This will become more apparent in the coming paragraphs.

The first criticism — if one would be so naive as to call it that — takes issue with my article’s opening sentence about Shalit and the time it would take for him and his supporters to acknowledge that his fifteen minutes of fame are almost up. The author’s response: “It was 5 years, Sami. 5 years.” Clearly, we are talking about two different things. Yes, Shalit was detained for five years. I even articulated this at the start of the sixth paragraph. The amount of time I referred to, though, concerns the attention he was given. Now, a month and a half later, the Israeli government presses on with its arrest raids, border closures, and military campaigns without even acknowledging Shalit or the possibility that its troops face similar dangers by operating as active military units in a foreign land. Israelis will read about him in the future, but outside of the sphere of Zionist fundamentalism and support, Shalit carries little to no weight.

The author’s next criticism is intended to undermine my claim that “Shalit happened to be captured while on active military duty”. The author cites the Third Geneva Convention, specifically Articles 13 and 23, to highlight the rights of war prisoners. It is interesting to note, however, that the author does not choose to apply the same principles or laws to Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli courts. Moreover, while the author “defends” the Third Geneva Convention, his or her support of Shalit and Israel’s general policies towards Palestinians indicates a blatant rejection of the very same Third Geneva Convention as well as Articles 3 (1) and 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which, together, are only a small percentage of the humanitarian laws violated daily through Israel’s occupation.

After the author manages to discredit him- or herself, the next criticism takes aim at my assertion that the memory of Shalit has almost disappeared and that he is “no longer considered a hot topic”. The author resorts to providing four photographs of flag-waving protesters donning Shalit’s name and face. This article was published the same day I published mine, on October 25, 2011, so by default, the photographs had to have been taken at some point prior, during what I call ‘Shalit’s fifteen minutes of fame’. Does this prove that Shalit is still a hot topic? No. Let us assume that the protesters were photographed engaging in pro-Shalit activities well after I made my assertion. Yes, in this case, Shalit’s story still made for an interesting conversation. But by the end of the week, he was no longer making headlines. Today, he is just a name in Israel’s history and maybe a few street signs. To most Shalit sympathizers, this is blasphemy. To others, it’s a matter of perspective. But realistically, Shalit’s impact had little to no effect on Israel’s policies. Israel still maintains an occupation, its soldiers are still stationed in illegally annexed land, and arrest raids happen virtually every night. Shalit’s legacy is therefore constricted to a series of stories about an Israeli soldier captured while engaged in military activities that still to this day violate international and humanitarian law.

What’s worse is that the author’s primary argument is that Shalit had been made into an honorary citizen of San Francisco. For one thing, this is the first time I’ve ever heard about American cities offering citizenship. And the other six cities the author mentions are free to adopt Shalit and anyone like Shalit. I liken this to universities who offer honorary degrees to notable individuals. Does the degree really stand for anything? After all, the administration, not the student body, gets to award the honorary degree, and at the end of the day, its only significance is that it can be listed as an achievement on Wikipedia.

But the author persists. In my essay, I comment on the ridiculous suggestion that hummus, a staple Palestinian food, was not good enough for the imprisoned Shalit. The level of sarcasm I include is best understood within the context of the equally ridiculous statements made by a relative of Shalit. These comments could be found in a Ynet article linked in my essay but conveniently left out in Pro-Israel Bay Bloggers’ criticism. The author reminds us that Shalit was imprisoned for five years while intentionally ignoring the hundreds of Palestinians held in solitary confinement for five or more years in conditions where even food as basic as hummus is denied to them. Shalit’s condition upon release is not commendable, but in the spirit of double-standardism, the author fails to acknowledge the Palestinian prisoners who are held for indefinite periods of time, oftentimes longer than five years, and who experience documented levels of torture and plain inhumanity (like when they were stripped down and paraded through Jericho in 2006).

Furthermore, the author seemingly gives legitimacy to B’Tselem and the Red Cross by citing the organizations. I wonder, then, what the author has to say about B’Tselem’s repeated statements on settler violence against Palestinians, home demolitions, and Israel’s use of white phosphorus on civilian popluations, or the Red Cross’s condemnation of Israel for intentionally delaying or restricting care to wounded Gazans. However, the most twisted detail is that the author uses a quote that can be multiplied and reversed towards Israel and, by association, him- or herself. That is, “international humanitarian law absolutely prohibits taking and holding a person by force in order to compel the enemy to meet certain demands” – a strategy employed almost every night in the West Bank when the Israeli government directs soldiers to raid Palestinian homes in the middle of the night, levels court fees against the unsuspecting and targeted families, and fills its prison centers with Palestinians to be used later for political leverage.

The author’s next move is to deny the existence of a siege on Gaza by arguing that the “starving Gaza” rumors “are just so yesterday”, that almost 7,000 tons of goods and gas make it through the border every week, and that over a third of Gaza’s population is obese. Frankly, these claims are laughable at best. Nowhere in my essay do I assert that Gaza is starving. However, it is no secret that food, medicines, and essential vitamins are kept at the border, thereby crippling the already limited diets of many Palestinians living in the territory. In fact, Israel confirms calculating the minimum number of calories to be afforded to the average Gazan. Although Israel claims the final estimates were not explicitly used for policy-making, the estimates were still defined and to this day serve as abstract markers for the amount of food allowed into Gaza every week.

Regarding the author’s claim that the only banned items, today at least, are weapons and items that share both military and civilian use, I ask the author to explain why A4 paper and cinnamon are still banned from Gaza. Although the blockade was statistically eased in mid-2010, construction materials and hearing aid batteries, for example, are still heavily restricted. Better yet, no reasonable excuse can explain why tomato paste, bifocals, and books were barred from entering Gaza in the first place. Tonnage means nothing when half of Gaza’s food items and medicines are held even today in Israeli storage areas just meters from Gaza’s population.

And on the issue of obesity in Gaza, the author has clearly avoided doing any substantial research on the topic or even properly interpreting the claims made by the cited journal article. Obesity is not necessarily always indicative of poor eating habits as is so often assumed. A major 2006 study revealed numerous factors that lead to an increased prevalence of obesity, including lack of sleep, genetics, and decreased frequency of smoking. Interestingly enough, the article cited by the author acknowledges the minimal smoking percentages in the Gaza Strip. It is foolish, then, to associate obesity with open borders, as the author implies. If anything, obesity runs relatively high among Arab populations that also feature high levels of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. So no, the author is inexcusably wrong to assume that Palestinians in Gaza are growing obese because of the excess food available to them.

Here, the author closes with another attempted jab – this time at me rather than at my essay. According to the author, “the core of [my] problem isn’t lack of information. [My] problem is lack of empathy and a singular lack of compassion”. Unfortunately for the author, these one thousand, six hundred and sixty seven words show otherwise. What a stale sack o’crap.

Sami Kishawi

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