BY Ariän Taher,
Supporters of international humanitarian law must condemn the views espoused by DePaul University’s Jason Hill, a tenured philosophy professor, regarding his statements on Palestine-Israel, both in the past and in his recent article in The Federalist.
Hill’s opinions on Palestine-Israel must be examined carefully as a microcosm of the myths broadly perpetuated by the right wing to justify Israel’s military occupations, operations and land seizures in Palestine.
Hill’s article fails to present any primary-source and peer-reviewed material to justify his argumentation, instead providing only neophyte analyses, historical falsification and historical negationism.
In order to mount a successful challenge against annexation and military occupation in Palestine, we must understand the myths used to justify those actions and the laws in place that outlaw those actions.
The 1967 War With Jordan
Following the introductory paragraphs to Hill’s article, he presents his central argument: the “moral case for Israel” to annex “the West Bank and beyond” — on the historical basis of what he describes as “the 1967 defensive war with Jordan.”
Interestingly, there was no “1967 defensive war with Jordan.” There was, instead, a 1967 war between Israel and the allied Arab states: Egypt, Syria and Jordan, with military support from Iraq — a war collectively known as the “Six-Day War,” which occurred between June 5 and June 10, 1967. Upon the war’s conclusion, Israel had conquered Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Syria’s Golan Heights.
One part of the Six-Day War occurred on June 7, 1967, when Israel conducted its bloody Jordanian campaign, resulting in Israel’s seizure of Bethlehem and East Jerusalem from Jordanian administration. Twenty days later, Israel’s Knesset (legislature) passed two laws: the Law and Administration Ordinance Law and the Municipalities Ordinance Law, which together arbitrarily extended Israel’s “law, jurisdiction, and administration” upon any territories Israel claimed, and which permitted Israel’s minister of the interior to expand its municipal control over the “newly-included area” — carefully not mentioning “East Jerusalem” to avoid self-incrimination for this outright annexation. The next day, on June 28, 1967, the minister of interior implemented Israel’s municipal control over East Jerusalem, an effective annexation in all but name.
Thirteen years later, on June 30, 1980, the U.N. Security Council adopted U.N. Resolution 476 in response to Israel’s ongoing “legislative steps … with the aim of changing the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.” U.N. 476 “deplor[ed] the persistence of Israel in changing the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure and the status of the Holy City of Jerusalem” and “strongly deplore[d] the continued refusal of Israel, the occupying Power, to comply with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly.” It went on to declare that “all such measures which have altered the … Holy City of Jerusalem are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council.”
Defiantly, on July 30, 1980, Israel’s Knesset passed the “Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel,” which explicitly declared that, “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.” In response, on August 20, 1980, the U.N. Security Council adopted U.N. Resolution 478, reaffirming U.N. 476, formally censuring and refusing to recognize Israel’s “Basic Law” as legitimate or applicable to Jerusalem, and affirming that the “Basic Law’s” annexation “constitutes a violation of international law and does not affect the continued application of the Geneva Convention … in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since June 1967, including Jerusalem.”
The U.N. maintains this stance toward Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem. Yet, Israel has continually expanded the geographic borders of historic Jerusalem by swallowing-up neighboring Palestinian villages. However, 95 percent of Palestinians in Jerusalem, including from those villages that were annexed into the territorial jurisdiction of Jerusalem, are not accorded citizenship, but, instead, are assigned the second-class status of “resident,” which, among many discriminations, disallows Jerusalemite Palestinians from voting in the Knesset (general) elections.
The Six-Day War: Israeli Defense or Offense?
Hill peddles the myth that the Six-Day War — whose first attack was carried out by Israel — was “defensive.” This long-surviving false narrative remains a central reason by which Israel and its proponents justify its current occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territories.
But what do the archival records of declassified U.S. and Israeli documents actually demonstrate?
In 1956 — nearly one decade prior to the Six-Day War — Israel, in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, invaded Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula after President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. Their invasion occurred in defiance of advisory warnings from the world superpower, the United States, and was subsequently condemned by the West and the Soviet Union. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and several U.N. resolutions issued to all three aggressors, imposed an ultimatum: Abandon the war effort or face catastrophic economic punishments.
The tripartite promptly withdrew from Egypt.
This was an important lesson for Israel: U.S. approval is of paramount importance before initiating war in the Middle East. Thus, a decade later, as Israel’s prospects for war reemerged in 1967, U.S. approval was paramount for Israeli officials, so as to avoid yet another ultimatum. Now, the sitting U.S. president was Lyndon Johnson.
To gauge the orientation of Johnson, Israel sent its ambassador, Abba Eban, to meet with the U.S. president.
That meeting occurred on May 26, 1967, and included U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, among other U.S. officials. Ambassador Eban’s primary aim on behalf of Israel was to receive U.S. approval for conducting the assault on Egypt and its allied Arab states. A photo of the meeting has since been made public.
Declassified U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) files now reveal that, leading up to 1967, the CIA, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the U.S. Office of National Estimates (ONE), the U.S. Office of Current Intelligence (OCI), and the Arab-Israeli task force for the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence were closely monitoring the situation between Israel and its neighboring Arab states, the military capabilities of each and the outcomes of potential war amid increasing regional hostility.
In 1967, Richard Helms was the head of the CIA. Three days prior to the U.S. meeting with Israel’s Ambassador Eban, President Johnson ordered Helms to submit an analysis on the current tensions arising in the Middle East. In less than a dozen hours, Helms collected the full spectrum of intelligence from those numerous U.S. agencies monitoring the Middle East, produced a bundle of documents and promptly submitted them to the president. The principal documents in the bundle were the “Military Capabilities of Israel and the Arab States” and a Situation Report, whose 73rd page states that,
Israeli ground forces can maintain internal security, defend successfully against simultaneous Arab attacks on all fronts, launch limited attacks simultaneously on all fronts, or hold on any three fronts while mounting successfully a major offensive on the fourth.
The term “offensive” in the above excerpt serves as an operative distinction between offensive and defensive, clearly stating that — should Egypt have attacked first — Israel would have successfully defended itself against the combined Arab forces, and that it could have also conducted an offensive attack via territorial expansion. Such U.S. intelligence documents on Israel explicitly ascribed territorial expansion to the nature of an offensive attack. Israel soon thereafter used this and related documents as intelligence to carry out the Six-Day War.
Furthermore, the “Military Capabilities of Israel and the Arab States” correctly predicted that “Israel could almost certainly attain air supremacy over the Sinai Peninsula in less than 24 hours” and “drive the Egyptians west of the Suez Canal in seven to nine days. Israel could contain any attacks by Syria or Jordan during this period.” It further assured that Israel’s forces “maintain qualitative superiority over the Arab armed forces in almost all aspects of combative operations.”
Also of primary concern for Israel and the U.S. was whether Soviet power would intervene in such a war, both to defend the Arab states and to finally remove all U.S.-Israeli power from the region. An accurate answer was provided in a 1967 CIA report, which became instrumental in Israel’s decision to initiate the Six-Day War. The declassified document states:
The Intelligence View
On the most critical point, it was nearly unanimously agreed that if war came Israelis would be able to defeat [Egypt] and the other Arabs combined, and that the Soviet military would not physically intervene. In short, the intelligence community saw no carefully calculated Arab-Soviet plan.
Ambassador Eban was provided said intelligence reports in preparation for the May 26 meeting, during which President Johnson and Secretary McNamara advised Israel against a preemptive attack on Egypt, Jordan and Syria. However, the meeting “Memorandum of Conversation” reveals that Johnson “repeated twice [that] Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go alone.”
Additionally, leading up to the May 26 meeting, Israel received intelligence that Egypt was deploying its military into the Sinai Peninsula, which Israeli officials mischaracterized as “evidence” that Egypt was preparing an initial assault on Israel, which therefore ostensibly justified Israel’s pre-emptive initiation of the Six-Day War as “defensive.”
This is potent historical negationism, as Israel was well-informed by the CIA during the May 26, 1967, meeting, detailed in U.S. documentary archives, that “The President stressed that all of our intelligence people are unanimous regarding the assessment; that an attack is not imminent.”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin — a chief cabinet member during the Six-Day War — later admitted, on August 8, 1982, that Israel did not believe Egypt would attack Israel:
In June 1967 we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him…. We did not do this for lack of an alternative. We could have gone on waiting. We could have sent the army home. Who knows if there would have been an attack against us? There is no proof of it.
On June 1, 1967, Israeli Major-Gen. Meir Amit of the Mossad met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Meir Amit sought explicit U.S. approval from McNamara for Israel to launch the initial attack on Egypt. U.S. documentary record of this meeting shows that Meir Amit was well-versed in the war-estimate document, which measured the precise duration and outcome of war between Israel and the allied Arab states. Meir Amit expressed to McNamara that “there were no differences between the U.S. and the Israelis on the military intelligence picture or its interpretation.” Thus, senior intelligence officials from both the U.S. and Israel stood in confident unanimity that Israel did not face imminent attack from the Arab states. This invalidates all attempts to frame Israel’s initiation of the Six-Day War as a defensive, preemptive attack.
Confidence in Israel’s strength was further captured in a notable remarkfrom President Johnson, who recalled saying to Ambassador Eban, “… all of our intelligence people are unanimous regarding the assessment … that if [Egypt] attacks, you will whip hell out of them.”
Why, amidst a robust documentary record, does the right wing dogmatically frame the Six-Day War as “defensive”? This is in part due to U.N. criteria for justifying a war as legal, chiefly Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which states that all nations have the “inherent right” to carry out war without U.N. Security Council approval, only if it is a war of “self-defence”; that is, only amidst an “armed attack.”
Thus, the right-wing logic goes, Israel did not require U.N. Security Council approval because it conducted the war out of self-defense; therefore, its actions during and after the war are legal, including the annexation of Arab lands. But as thus far established, no “armed attack” from Egypt existed when Israel launched the war, rendering Israel’s initiation of the Six-Day War unequivocally illegal and offensive.
Israel’s Land Grabs: Legal or Illegal?
This brings us to Professor Hill’s justification for Israel’s land grabs during the Six-Day War: that Israel “legally seized in a defensive war” numerous territories from its neighboring Arab states. The phrase “legally seized in a defensive war” is oxymoronic, as it contains internal contradictions.
First, the Six-Day War was not “defensive.” Thus, Israel’s territorial acquisitions were and remain illegal. Second, a “defensive” war does not involve “seizing” another’s territory. Such a claim is tantamount to the following example: You confront your next-door neighbor on a sidewalk, whom you then provoke into an altercation. Next, you successfully immobilize your neighbor, and then proceed to steal his wallet and entire yard, arguing that your theft of his property is justified on the grounds of “defense.” Such theft is unjustifiable in the small-scale context, just as it is indefensible in the large-scale. Land-seizure, by its very nature, is offensive.
One either chooses expansion or security — not both. Expanding one’s territory by way of force is “conquest” and is illegal under international law, explained here in three points.
First, the U.N. Security Council adopted U.N. Resolution 242 on November 22, 1967, whose text specifically emphasizes the illegal nature of “the acquisition of territory by war” with no distinctions between offensive or defensive wars. Second, “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state” is explicitly illegal under Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter. Third, “conquest” and “annexation” are both established in the standard work of the late esteemed judge of the International Court of Justice, R.Y. Jennings, in The Acquisition of Territory in International Law. On page 82, Judge Jennings explains, “[f]orce used in self-defence — whatever that may mean — is undoubtedly lawful. But it must be proportionate to the threat of immediate danger, and when the threat has been averted the plea of self-defence can no longer be available.”
Thus, one must ask, upon the conclusion of the Six-Day War, did Israel succeed in terminating “the threat of immediate danger”? Yes, without question, Israel secured a monumental victory. Next, did Israel relinquish the territories it seized during the war via the pretense of “self-defense”? No. Israel retained its occupation of Gaza, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
This lays to waste the very basis upon which Hill argues that Israel should not “repudiate the consequences of its fairly won war,” as Israel’s territorial acquisitions remain illegal, null and void, according to international law and the highest legal authorities. This includes Israel’s ongoing military blockade of Gaza and its destructive occupation of the West Bank, within which Israel continues its settlement-expansions, which have been routinely condemned as illegal by the United NationsGeneral Assembly, by independent scholars of international law, and by the United Nations Security Council in a historic passage of Resolution 2334 in December 2016. However, the situations in Gaza and in the West bank mentioned here are but minor examples that cannot capture the full devastation enacted by Israel upon Palestine, including the 2019 U.N. Human Rights Council report on Israel’s deadly response to protests in Gaza, amid the Trump administration’s cuts of $200 million annual aidto Palestinians.
Returning to the issue at hand: Hill argues that “Israel made an altruistic mistake” by not classifying the indigenous Palestinians residing in the territory conquered by Israel as “war settlers” and “enemies of the state.” This draws us to the Fourth Geneva Convention, a primary, binding source of customary international law for the protection of civilians within a war zone. The Convention demands that the occupying power must take all necessary steps to protect the lives of all civilians. In accordance with the Convention, those Palestinians were unequivocally rendered “civilians” under military occupation, as reaffirmed through the language of numerous U.N. reports and resolutions.
Israel ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention in 1951. Thus, by not explicitly classifying those Palestinians as “enemies of the state,” Israel was simply abiding by one fragment of international law, a rare moment in its history.
Furthermore, on November 22, 1974, U.N. Resolution 3236 formally recognized Palestine’s sovereignty and “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination”; it refers to “Palestine” and Palestinians as a “principal party in the establishment of a just and durable peace in the Middle East”; and, it reaffirmed that Palestinians formally have “the inalienable right … to return to their homes and property from which they have been displaced and uprooted,” following the historic 1948 U.N. Resolution 194, which granted Palestinians the right of national independence, sovereignty and the right of return.
Additionally, by signing the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords, Israel further recognized its legal requirement to cease land grabs of Palestinian territories, including Article IV of the Oslo Accords, recognizing “the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved during the interim period.”
If Israel Took Hill’s Advice on War
Professor Hill argues that “Israel has every moral right to wage a ruthless and unrelenting war against Hamas and to re-settle [Gaza] if it ever so desires” — without a word on diplomacy, exhausting peaceable options or using force as a last resort (the principle of last resort).
If such advocacy for war was acted upon, it would be in direct violation of Article 46 of the Hague Convention, namely its Laws and Customs of War on Land, decreeing that “Family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice, must be respected. Private property cannot be confiscated.”
Furthermore, resettlement and annexation are violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, whose Article 49 explicitly states that the “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Israel’s ceaseless settlement expansions via land grabs have been repeatedly condemned as gravely illegal by the United Nations (e.g., Resolution 446) — a precedent for the illegality of annexing the West Bank and resettling Gaza.
In arguing that Israel has the “moral right to wage a ruthless and unrelenting war against Hamas and to re-settle the land,” Hill refuses to distinguish between Hamas militants and Gaza’s civilian population, openly declaring that “no moral or political distinctions must be made between Fatah, Hamas, and the people who elect and or support them.” This implies that there is no distinction to be made in such a war, thus permitting the wholesale massacre of Palestinian populations, which is classified as “collective punishment” in the Fourth Geneva Convention, under whose 33rd Article and Additional Protocol II it is among the gravest of prosecutable war crimes, punishable by imprisonment in the International Criminal Court. Moreover, a strong legal case could be made to prosecute these and other actions as outright genocide.
“Re-settlement of [Gaza]” also necessitates violations of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court — a principal authority on international crimes, as it first requires the expulsion (forcible transfer and deportation) of Gaza’s Palestinian population, or whoever survives the indiscriminate “ruthless and unrelenting war.” Forcible transfer is classified as a “crime against humanity” under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. After forcible expulsion, then “re-settlement of the land” can occur by way of seizure and/or demolition of Palestinian private property. This is classified as “pillaging” — yet another major war crime — under Article 8 of the Rome Statute and under Articles 16 and 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Such expansionism would also be severely condemned by the world’s highest judicial organ, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), as was demonstrated upon Israel’s “construction of a wall in the occupied territories,” when the ICJ reaffirmed U.N. Resolution 2625 (XXV) and affirmed that Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian territories was and remains illegal for its direct violation of at least five different moral-legal entities: the U.N. Charter (as it infringes on Palestinians’ right to self-determination); the Hague Conventions; the Fourth Geneva Convention; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
A lasting settlement between Israel and Palestine must be diplomatic and according to the pre-June 1967 “Green Line” border, recognizing Palestine as a sovereign state, granting Palestinians full financial compensation for their losses and accepting their right of return.
Who, or What, Is the Arbiter of Morality?
Hill’s opinion in The Federalist demonstrates the principal features of his worldview as brazenly aligned with “might is [moral] right.” This “morality” is used to justify conquest and ethnic cleansing, as illustrated in his advocacy for forcible transfer, his denial of Palestinian indigeneity to Palestine, and his rejectionism toward the Palestinian state. Hill, however, fails to acknowledge that in 1988, Palestine formally recognized Israel’s right to exist and agreed to a two-state solution.
“There can be no such thing as legitimate ‘Palestinian Territory’ in a geographic region legally seized in a defensive war instigated by a foreign aggressor,” argues Hill.
Quite the contrary, on November 28, 2012, the United Nations overwhelmingly adopted the historic Resolution A/67/L.28, officially recognizing Palestine as a sovereign state. In this vote, 138 nations of the world — out of 193 members in the U.N. — voted for Palestinian statehood, building upon previous international actions that formally declared sovereignty, national independence, and the right of return to Palestine under U.N. Resolution 3236 and U.N. Resolution 194. Thus, an overwhelming majority of the world recognizes Palestinian statehood, further granting Palestine the full spectrum of rights under international laws and treaties.
Israel and the U.S., however, have consistently refused to reciprocate by formally recognizing Palestinian statehood along the pre-June 1967 Green Line borders, and both have refused to comply with diplomatic U.N. resolutions and international treaties that formally recognize Palestine’s “right to exist,” self-determination, right to self-defense and the right of return.
And, indeed, Palestine certainly has the right to armed self-defense, as enshrined in Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Convention of 1949, Act I, C4; General Assembly Resolution 217 A-III of 1948; UNGA Adopted Resolution 2131 of 1965; and UNGA A/RES/36/103, Article III of 1981.
Israel’s Military Experts on Annexing the West Bank
Although Hill advocates for annexation of the West Bank — in line with recent comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — what is the perspective among Israel’s own military experts? One notable answer arrives through Avigdor Lieberman. Until November 2018, Lieberman served as Netanyahu’s minister of defense, and his ultra-right ideology is illustrated through his resignation, initiated upon the 2018 Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Gaza. This regional effort toward peace struck Lieberman with appalling disappointment, who described the ceasefire as a “capitulation to terrorism.”
In March 2017, Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee asked Lieberman to assess Israel’s prospects of “extending sovereignty” over the West Bank. Lieberman’s response is worth quoting:
The decision to extend Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank means extending sovereignty over 2.7 million Palestinians, and I’m not even talking about international law and the international political repercussions. I am talking about Israeli law which stipulates that they would have to receive Israeli residency, like Palestinians in east Jerusalem. This means that Israel will have to pay them a minimum of NIS 20 billion in social security on the first day.
Lieberman has since formed Commanders for Israel’s Security, a nonprofit coalition of 300 former Israeli military experts and officials whose distinct position is opposition to the annexation of the West Bank for Israeli security purposes.
Such reluctance to annex the West Bank among Israel’s ultra-right leadership bears profound contrast to Professor Hill’s wild fantasies of imperial grandeur.
Academic Freedom and the First Amendment
The DePaul University administration must censure (not to be mistaken with “censor”) Hill for implicitly advocating for crimes against humanity, Islamophobia, racism and xenophobia — beyond its current statement. In similar nature to statements from DePaul’s Faculty Counciland its Editorial Board, such censure from the administration must at least emerge as explicitly stating that Hill’s remarks on Palestine-Israel (with the names of both countries distinctly expressed) do not align with the values and world vision of the university. Moreover, this censure must explicitly state that the university does not hold bias for Israel or for Palestine, and that it has fully departed from its history of punishing professors for their support of Palestinian justice.
We must stand in affirmative opposition to censorship and restriction of academic freedom, which are, unfortunately, the principles advocated by Professor Hill himself in his July 2018 article in The Hill, in which he declares that the “gravest internal threat to this country is not illegal aliens; it is leftist professors who are waging a war against America and teaching our young people to hate this country.” He follows this by demanding the wholesale shutting down of universities that harbor left-wing professors and ideologies, arguing that, “We need to defund them, disband and rebuild them with conservative principles.”
Censorship and academic restriction are not the principles or values upheld among those truly committed to justice and morality.
Injustice obliterates humans. Justice obliterates arguments.