Woode-Smith: Dr Soni is lying about Israel-Palestine

Dr. Aayesha Soni’s recent article has sparked controversy with its provocative claims against Israel’s military actions. Accusing Israel of targeting healthcare workers, Soni’s piece is rife with emotive language and dubious statistics. While highlighting suffering in Gaza, she fails to substantiate her assertion of deliberate Israeli attacks. Moreover, Soni overlooks Hamas’ use of human shields and its stated goal to eradicate Israel. Nicholas Woode-Smith dissects Soni’s arguments, revealing a biased narrative that lacks factual basis and context.

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By Nicholas Woode-Smith

Dr Aayesha Soni’s article accusing Israel of targeting healthcare workers is a blatant propaganda piece full of heinous errors and misinformation, serving as a clarion call to fellow healthcare workers to deny Israel its right to defend itself.

Throughout the inflammatory article, Soni uses loaded terminology and emotive language. She refers to the ‘relentless’ ‘targeting of healthcare workers’ in Gaza by the ‘Zionist state’.The term Zionist is used to evoke outrage, as well as the constant claim that Israel is deliberately targeting civilians and healthcare workers.

Soni provides plenty of stats and quotes to demonstrate the suffering in Gaza, but she fails to prove her premise that Israel is deliberately targeting healthcare workers. Rather, she can only rely on statistics that may evoke an emotional, knee jerk response. This is highly irresponsible, as while war is inherently tragic and a rising death toll is concerning, it in no way proves intent or deliberate action.

Further, Soni commits some factual errors, omits context, and uses questionable sources in her article.

Soni Must Prove Intent

Innocent Gazans are suffering and dying. But this does not mean that Israel intended for this to happen. Soni’s claim that Israel is ‘deliberately’ targeting healthcare workers and civilians has no evidence.

It is a war crime to deliberately target civilians. But international law recognises that innocents may be caught in the crossfire or die as a result of collateral damage. What matters, according to the International Humanitarian Law Database (IHL) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is that an attack of a clear military target does not harm civilians disproportionately to the expected military advantage.Proportionality does not refer to a numbers game, as many might think. Rather, it refers to the acceptable amount of collateral damage to achieve a valid military objective.

In this sense, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) must decide on a case-by-case basis if an attack on a Hamas target is worth the possible loss of civilian life. The fact that civilians may die as a result of an attack is not actually prohibited by international law. The IDF is not intending to kill those civilians. The target is Hamas. But due to the unfortunate reality of war, civilians are present near to the attack.

It is unreasonable to assert that the IDF cannot neutralise a military target if any civilians are present. This would further empower the Hamas tactic of using human shields as a public relations tool and to guard their facilities from retaliatory strikes. The Guardian reported that Hamas leadership has made it clear that it sees Palestinian ‘civilian death toll[s] as inevitable and useful’.

The IDF has also made intense efforts to minimise civilian deaths. The IDF has dropped leaflets, phoned Gazans and provided evacuation corridors to warn Gazans of airstrikes.In fact, it has been reported that Hamas restricted North Gazans from evacuating, threatening and using violence to keep them in their homes.

The fact that the IDF waited for twenty days to launch a ground invasion of Gaza, giving civilians just under three weeks to evacuate, indicates an intent to minimise innocent loss of life. Urban warfare, by its very nature, is chaotic and bloody. Hamas attacked Israel with full reasonable knowledge that it would retaliate, and that the retaliation would involve airstrikes and urban warfare.

More of an onus should be put on Hamas for putting the Gazan people in harm’s way. Israel has a right of reprisal, and more so has a right to eliminate Hamas as an ongoing threat to its civilians and sovereignty.

Context of Insurgency & October 7th

Soni fails to provide context for Israel’s military operation. Not only is Israel undertaking a military operation recognised as legal under international law, invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter that permits actions of self-defense.Hamas has stated as a part of its founding ‘covenant’ that it aims to ‘obliterate’ Israel, and ‘fight the Jews’.Hamas’ flagrant and evidently intentional killing of civilians (including children) and use of sexual violence on October 7th, on top of decades of ongoing rocket attacks and targeted attacks against Jews only adds concrete evidence to the need for Israel to eliminate the organisation to protect itself.

Hamas not only commits a war crime by dressing as civilians and disguising its fighters as civilians, it also ensures that IDF personnel have to treat all civilians as possible insurgents. This has been the case since Gaza attained independence in 2005, and throughout all the Intifadas, where insurgents disguised as civilians killed Israeli civilians and soldiers alike.

As Soni stated in an article on Politicsweb, this journal may not be the place to discuss the entire history of what she calls ‘Israeli occupation of Palestinian land’.But it is irresponsible to just presume that Israel is a coloniser. Many Israelis can trace their lineage in Israel for centuries and millennia.Israelis are not European settlers, but a diverse nation containing natives whose ancestors have resided there unbroken since before Islam existed, and refugees who fled pogroms and genocide.

It would also be remiss to ignore the fact that Israel has agreed to a peaceful partition plan between Israel and an independent Palestine many times.This is on top of the fact that the majority of what is historic Palestine is actually contained in modern day Jordan, which shares a flag with Palestine. If Jordan was to be renamed, then a two-state solution would already exist. The granting of independence to Gaza in 2005 is also an indication that Israel has no desire to actually occupy Palestine. It just wants to act as a homeland to the Jewish people, and its diverse, multi-ethnic, and multireligious citizenry.

Israel should not be denigrated as a settler colony or as a simple ‘Zionist state’ (unless one is using Zionist literally as Israeli nationalism, and not disparagingly). It is a legal country with a right to exist, and a right to enjoy protection under international conventions and laws.

Denial of Medical Permits

Soni uses the denial of medical permits to Gazans seeking healthcare in Israel as an example of the weaponisation of healthcare against Gazans. She states that 36% of medical permits were ‘declined’ or ‘unanswered’.What this should read is that around 63% of medical permits were accepted, and Gazans were able to cross over into a country that their government deems an enemy in order to seek medical attention.

As recently as May 2023, 78% of medical permits were actually accepted. And this was down from 85% in February 2023.This involved 1 149 people receiving medical care across the border in a single month. For comparison, in 2015, the South African government granted medical visas to only 949 foreigners for the entire year.Israel is a sovereign country that has a right to control movement over its border. The fact that Gaza’s movement is restricted between the sea and two countries doesn’t make it an open-air prison. Lesotho is landlocked by South Africa, Esatwini is locked between South Africa and Mozambique, and Andorra between France and Spain. Yet, these are not deemed prisons just because they share a controlled border.

Between 18 000 – 18 500 Gazans prior to October 7th were being given privileged status to work in Israel.Something many countries do not afford citizens of their neighbours.

Soni tries to claim that denial of medical permits is proof of Israel denying healthcare to Gazans. But is South Africa then guilty of denying healthcare to all the foreigners it declined to grant medical vias? Is the United States guilty for denying work visas to countless foreigners? Israel has a legal right to police its borders. The fact that it grants the vast majority of applicants access to its medical facilities should show that it is not trying to deny healthcare to Gazans.

Al-Shifa Hospital

Soni claims that there is ‘insufficient evidence’ that Al-Shifa hospital was being used as a Hamas military facility.This is patently untrue. The United States government has corroborated the IDF findings that Al-Shifa was being used to house Hamas military operations.Hamas members have also corroborated these claims.The bodies of Israeli hostages were also found on the premises. This clearly eliminates the hospital’s protected status as a healthcare facility.

Upon liberating the hospital from Hamas, the IDF provided fuel, incubators, baby food and medicine, as well as guarding the hospital from being reoccupied as a military facility by Hamas.As a result of continued fighting, the hospital was eventually abandoned.

Hamas has often used hospitals and other civilian buildings to host their rocket batteries, hide entrances to their extensive tunnel network, imprison hostages, and as staging points to fight the IDF.Every single time Hamas does this, they are creating a necessity for the IDF to strike a once-civilian building. Hamas therefore causes the destruction of civilian healthcare infrastructure, not the IDF.

Use of white phosphorus

Soni claims that the use of white phosphorus in Gaza constitutes as a war crime, while claiming that the IDF ‘denied use of such chemical weapons’.White phosphorus is not considered a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).28 Additionally, white phosphorus is often used as a smoke screen. For its use to constitute a war crime, it has to be used to intentionally harm civilians. No such evidence of this intent has been proven.

Al-Alhi Hospital Explosion Misinformation

Soni makes an incredibly irresponsible claim about the Al-Alhi Hospital explosion on the 17th of October. She claims that it killed 471 people and implies that the explosion was caused by the IDF. In fact, the death toll is questionable. The 471 death toll is a number given by the Hamas controlled Gaza Health Ministry, which has an incentive to inflate numbers and a history of fabricating casualty counts.The Al-Shifa Hospital Director claims that the death toll was actually 250 people.While the United States investigation puts the death toll between 100 and 300 people.

Further, the explosion was not caused by the IDF. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has found it ‘highly unlikely’ that the rocket was Israeli.Rather, various investigations by many independent journalists, organisations and governments have concluded that the rocket that hit Al-Alhi Hospital originated in Gaza itself, and was likely a misfire from Hamas’ ally, Islamic Jihad.

Conclusion

The crux of the entire matter is that Soni has failed to prove the very premise of her argument. Israel has not demonstrated any deliberate intent to attack civilians or healthcare workers. This, and all her blatant misinformation, truly reveals the nature of the pro-Palestine movement. A disregard for facts backing a blind hatred for Israel.

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