Senior Muslim Clerics of the UK, including the likes Abdal Hakim Murad, Qari Asim, Arif Hussain, Ali-Reza Bhojani released a statement condemning the civilian killings in Israel and Gaza. I would like to comment on the language of this letter, as an enraging exhibit of a discourse which perpetuates a distorted narrative regarding the conflict. The letter begins as follows:
<< We, the undersigned British Muslims, unequivocally condemn the killing of civilians in Israel and Gaza.
As we watch the heart-wrenching scenes of Al Ahli Arab Hospital burning, we are reminded that the killing and destruction against innocent men, women and children is deplorable and is contrary to the principles of justice and humanity that we hold dear in our faith.>>
They begin by condemning the killing of civilians. Strangely, only the civilians of Gaza are mentioned from the Palestinian side. This suggests that the suffering of Palestinians is limited to this specific location, which fails to mention that there is a horror-story ongoing in the West Bank, with dozens of innocent Palestinians, including children, shot by both the police and armed settlers. The current pogrom is a continuation of the shocking violence that Palestinians in the West Bank have faced for decades.
They inform us that the catastrophe at the hospital reminded them of the sacred principles of justice and humanity. They notably do not attribute any cause for hospital bombing, which in the fog of war may be understandable amidst some purported uncertainty. But it is a strange omission, nonetheless. Israel has a long history of intentionally targeting civilians and medical facilities. During Operation Cast Lead on Gaza in 2008-2009, renowned Jewish Scholar Norman Finkelstein, tells us that, ‘In the course of Cast Lead, direct or indirect Israeli attacks damaged or destroyed 29 ambulances and almost half of Gaza’s 122 health facilities, including 15 hospitals.’ (Norman Finkelstein, Gaza: An Inquest into its Martyrdom, P.51)
In 2014, during Operation Protective Edge, a UN report written by a US judge from the State of New York says that ‘As a result of the second round of shelling, 23 persons were killed, including 3 journalists, 1 paramedic, and 2 firemen. In addition, 178 others were injured, among them 33 children, 14 women, 1 journalist, and 1 paramedic. Four are reported to have died as a result of the injuries they sustained in this attack.” (Ibid., P.336) Against this backdrop, with Israel’s notorious history of lying and considering the explicitly genocidal statements made by numerous Israeli politicians, Israel loses its presumption of innocence, in the court of public opinion. Further evidence also makes this apparent.
The letter continues as follows:
<< We denounce Hamas’ killing and abduction of innocent people on the 7th of October 2023 as well as the Israeli military’s subsequent use of excessive force. We urge the government of Israel to act with restraint and within the boundaries of international law.>>
Radical distortions can occur by both omissions and by misleading or obfuscatory language. One reading this passage would be led to believe that the violence was wholly initiated by Hamas, which evoked Israel’s response. Indeed, a surface-reading of these events would naturally evince such a conclusion. But a cursory glance at the brutal circumstances of Gaza makes it very clear that such an interpretation is erroneous beyond measure. A day after the attack, philosopher Irfan Khawaja wrote, ‘This morning’s Hamas attack on southern Israel is being portrayed, predictably, as an initiatory act of aggression by Hamas, and a total bolt from the blue. It’s no such thing. The situation in Gaza has been decades in the making. Israel conquered Gaza in an act of aggression in 1967, occupied it, settled it, de-developed it, then abandoned its settlements there, falsely to proclaim its occupation of Gaza to have ended. Since then Israel has besieged Gaza, bombed it, raided it, and murdered and maimed its inhabitants at will… Don’t believe anyone who tells you that the Hamas attack was “unprovoked.” Conquest, siege, mass killing, occupation, settlement, and de-development are all ample “provocation.” Just don’t count on having read about any of it, or seen it on “the news.” The sad truth is that there are precious few “Western” reporters or diplomats in the West Bank or Gaza. Most of what you hear is filtered through official Israeli channels, or just is official Israeli propaganda. Mainstream Western journalism is structured around the assumption that Palestinian violence is uniquely aggressive, and Israeli violence uniquely defensive, regardless of the actual history or etiology of any given act of violence by either side. Press virtually any Western account of Israeli or Palestinian violence hard enough by asking the following question until you get a clear answer: who is morally responsible for having initiated the force that led us here? Before long, you’ll hit a total blank. Western journalists simply do not have the mental equipment to answer such questions, or even ask them.’
While it’s not reasonable to anticipate an exhaustive historical narrative within a single letter, it is unmistakable that the impression drawn from this is woefully lacking, bordering on disingenuousness or a deliberate disregard for facts. But the distortions do not end there.
The letter denounces “the Israeli military’s subsequent use of excessive force.” Focus on the word excessive. This word utterly and egregiously falls short in capturing the gravity of the ongoing atrocities being committed. Raz Segal is an associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University and the endowed professor in the study of modern genocide, describes the current atrocities being committed as ‘a textbook case of genocide. Nearly 800 lawyers, scholars and practitioners have wrote a letter stating, ‘As scholars and practitioners of international law, conflict studies and genocide studies, we are compelled to sound the alarm about the possibility of the crime of genocide being perpetrated by Israeli forces against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. We do not do so lightly, recognising the weight of this crime, but the gravity of the current situation demands it.’
Characterizing Israel’s response as excessive, following over ten days of witnessing some of the most horrendous war crimes, is nothing short of astonishing. It stands as one of the most appallingly mild understatements I’ve encountered, akin to the rhetoric frequently utilized by a significant portion of the Western media aligned with Israel. To describe the atrocities merely as excessive is to betray the principles of justice and humanity which they apparently hold so dear in their faith.
The letter urges Israel to act with restraint and the boundaries of international law. It is not clear what the authors envisage acting with restraint entails. It seems to tacitly accept the necessity of an Israeli military response, which as anyone knows, has never been with restraint. Furthermore, given how densely populated Gaza is, any military response is bound to cause horrific results. That Israel must respond militarily has been the repeated dogma of both Western politicians and media, and it is this unbridled support that has allowed Israel to commit countless massacres.
Given Israel’s long history of flagrant disregard for international law, its enactment of an apartheid against Palestinians, the entrapment of over two million people into an open-air prison in Gaza, it’s not clear what these religious scholars envisage the outcome of such pleas to be. Describing it as an apartheid might itself be misleading. The revered public intellectual Noam Chomsky once said, ‘In the Occupied Territories, what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid. To call it apartheid is a gift to Israel, at least if by “apartheid” you mean South African-style apartheid. What’s happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse.’
We are told it is the mark of the insane to do the same thing and expect different results. Israel has long been urged to stay within the confines of international law, and such remarks have very often fallen on deaf airs. Frankly, if these scholars expect Israel to act differently as a result of their urgent request, they meet the infamous definition proposed by Einstein. A more sincere approach would be to question why Western governments repeatedly fail to hold Israel accountable and to demand that this changes immediately, in the interests of the principles of justice and humanity which they hold so dearly.
The letter continues:
<<The complete siege on Gaza has resulted in immense suffering and recent actions are intensifying a humanitarian crisis of untold proportions upon Palestinians, who are not responsible for the actions of Hamas.>>
This siege is part of Israel’s ‘excessive force’ which they denounced. It highlights how misleading such a description was. Moreover, whilst it is evident from the letter who is carrying out the siege, the letter fails to mention Israel directly. Instead of writing, ‘The complete siege on Gaza by Israel’ they simply write, ‘The complete siege on Gaza’. On the other hand, they note directly, ‘Hamas’ killings and abduction of innocent people.’ The attribution of wrongdoing, to Israel directly in the letter amounts, therefore, to its ‘excessive force’ and indirectly, for the ‘complete siege’, which has resulted in ‘immense suffering’.
The letter continues:
<<We also appeal to the international community to pursue diplomatic and political avenues to peace. The current crisis has shown the failure of international initiatives, but it is surely only through diplomacy that we can achieve lasting peace in the Holy Land.>>
The letter fails to note that it is precisely the partisanship of the Western international community that has ensured the failure of the diplomatic and political avenues to peace. Israel acts with impunity because there is no meaningful accountability for its actions. The UK, for example, a staunch ally of Israel, attempted to block the ruling of the international court of justice (ICJ) on the ongoing occupation of Palestine by Israel. The letter implies that there have been sincere international initiatives to bring about peace, but anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding knows that the USA and other Western countries have not been honest mediators in this conflict. The letter fails to exhibit any understanding of the history of the conflict, which is quite perplexing, given the centrality of the Palestinian cause to the Muslim world and the abundance of works published on this topic.
The letter continues:
<< We call for an end to all hostilities and urge our government to urgently step up efforts to ensure international humanitarian law and human rights are upheld, and to negotiate a ceasefire that can stop the further killing of innocent people.>>
Their call to end hostilities and for the British government to step up efforts for a ceasefire is commendable. This is indeed the only way to stop the further killing of innocent people. It is worth pointing out, however, that at this point in the conflict, innocent Palestinians and the innocent Israeli hostages are being killed by the indiscriminate bombings of Israeli forces. Israel has refused to negotiate the release of these hostage, in part because it does not wish to release the thousands of Palestinians languishing in Israeli prisons, many of whom are innocent women and children. Israel enacts a policy of arbitrary detention, whereby Palestinians, hundreds of them being children, are routinely locked up for years without any criminal charges or legal basis. Since the outbreak of this crisis, hundreds more Palestinians in the west bank have been detained.
The letter goes on to condemn manifestations of Antisemitism and Islamophobia witnessed in the UK. This is indeed praiseworthy. Any forms of racism are to be wholly rejected. People should not be made unsafe for adhering to a specific religion and it is paramount that such actions are explicitly rejected. We must, however, be wary of efforts to silence those with legitimate criticism of Israel, by labelling them as antisemites, particularly under the politically motivated IHRA definition of Antisemitism adopted by the UK.
The letter continues:
<<We also affirm the right of communities across the country to show their solidarity and support for both Palestinians and Israelis caught up in this conflict, in line with British laws surrounding freedom of speech and protest.>>
This passage manages to obfuscate and mislead, once again. It suggests that the rights of people to show support for Israel, like the rights of people to show support for Palestinians is under threat, hence the importance of a mutual affirmation of these rights. In fact, this could not be further from the truth. It is the right of people to show support for Palestine that is under threat. The statement fails to highlight the critical dangers being faced only by those supporting the Palestinian cause. In the UK, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman has told us that waving a Palestinian flag, or making certain chants may be a criminal offence. France ordered a ban on all pro-Palestinian protests. A pro-Palestinian protest was banned in Vienna. Germany did the same, with videos showing excessive force by the German police against protestors. It is only the right to support Palestinians that is under threat, the letter once again failing to convey an accurate picture of the ongoing affairs. To affirm the right to support Israel is akin to affirming the right to support Ukraine. Whilst true, it is wholly unnecessary, and displays a pattern of wilful deception unaligned with the principles of justice. Understanding the partisanship of these countries to Israel helps us understand why peace initiatives have repeatedly failed and why core rights in the West are also under threat.
It is my contention that this letter fails to be aligned with the principles of justice and humanity. It adheres to the traditional narrative which has only helped to prolong this tragedy for decades. I urge the respected scholars to retract this letter, and though it may be costly to themselves and their institutions, such a cost is inconsequential against the judgement of history, which before God, will harshly judge our words and actions in the face of such heinous atrocities.