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The Watermelon Resistance: A Masterclass in Misinformation

Pro-Palestinian encampment in the Strand Campus quad, 16 May 2024.

President of King’s College London (KCL) Israel Society Aurele Tobelem dissects the demands of the student-led coalition protesting at the pro-Palestine encampments.

Editor’s note: All students are invited to write for Roar. The views expressed by commentators are not those of the newspaper.

“No merely asserted generality is denied the dignity of truth.”

The quote above is taken from Edward W. Said’s 1978 publication, ‘Orientalism’ (p. 49), a ground-breaking work which sought to demonstrate how the West both created the “Orient” as a way of coming to terms with its own identity and formed a literary discourse intended to justify colonial enterprise. Said argued that Orientalism was a complex body of prejudiced and manipulative assertions about the Orient disguised beneath a thin veil of academic credibility, differentiating it from other scholarly disciplines with a duty to objectivity. Said was born in British Mandatory Palestine in 1935 to a Jerusalemite Christian family, raised in Egypt, and came to the United States to further his education. He rose to fame as a public intellectual at Columbia University and earned his place as “America’s most prominent advocate for Palestinian rights” before his untimely passing in September 2003.

Why do I mention Edward Said? After all, it wouldn’t be in my interest as the President of the Israel Society to platform an academic whose election to the Palestine National Council (PNC) in 1977 and relationship with Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat implicitly ties him to a movement whose members engaged in hijackings, hostage-taking, and massacres of civilians during his time as one of its representatives.

The answer is that whatever our level of sympathy with Said, his central premise is something everyone should hopefully agree on: facts matter. The difference between a valid claim, an invalid claim and a blatant lie is determined by the quality and provenance of evidence presented. We cannot grant statements the “dignity of truth” simply because we wish they were true. In the UK, this is taught to primary school children through the “Point, Evidence, Explain” method.

It seems that some university students may need to revisit the aforementioned primary school material. In particular, those students who on 13 May set up a pro-Palestinian encampment in the quad area of Strand Campus. It appears that they plan to continue their disruption of the university’s initiatives and operations until their demands are met. Their claims and assertions merit further scrutiny if we are to understand the validity of their protest.

The Accusation of Genocide

As in many pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the world, this one invariably references the supposed “ongoing genocide” in Gaza, calling on the university to condemn it and sever all ties with allegedly complicit institutions. Of course, no evidence is provided: the mere assertion suffices.

The university is depicted as completely silent on the Israel-Hamas war, seemingly ignoring Vice-Chancellor Shitij Kapur’s 18 October statement on Israel-Gaza which clearly acknowledges the “ongoing humanitarian crisis” and “loss of innocent life” in the region.

In fact, the encampment organisers completely gloss over the horrific Hamas invasion of October 7th, in which the terror group brutally killed more than 1,160 people, took 251 Israelis and foreigners hostage, massacred entire kibbutzim, fired thousands of rockets into civilian areas, and committed acts of sexual violence on Israeli women and girls. October 7th – the most atrocious massacre of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust and a leading cause of the current war – is described as a mere “operation”. The total lack of compassion for Israeli victims is deeply concerning.

By invoking the claim of genocide, the protestors are necessarily referencing the UN Genocide Convention (1948), Article II of which defines genocide in the following terms:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:


(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article II, Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (emphasis added)

We can therefore establish a mental and physical component of genocide. The UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect (UNOGP) acknowledges that the former component is the most difficult to determine: “There must be proven intent on the part of the perpetrators […] cultural destruction does not suffice.”

Israel’s stated objectives have been very clear throughout their military campaign, and have been recently affirmed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement made to IDF soldiers on 9 April: 

  1. Rescue the hostages currently held in Hamas captivity.
  2. Eliminate Hamas’s battalions still active in Gaza.
  3. Ensure that Gaza will never again constitute a threat to Israel.

These objectives do not appear to constitute the necessary intent to destroy the Gazan people in its entirety. If the stated objective of eliminating Hamas satisfies this intent, then it is on those who level the charge of genocide to prove that Hamas constitutes a “national, ethnical, racial, or religious” group.

In analysing the third objective, we must acknowledge the legacy of violence from Gazan militants against Israeli civilian populations. I have childhood memories of having to run to a bomb shelter with my family in Ashkelon during the pre-Iron Dome days, hoping that rocket fire from Gaza would not reach us. For Israelis, this third objective does not express an intent to destroy Gaza entirely. Rather, it represents Israel’s long-term goal of de-militarising the region.

Further, the claim of genocide often relies upon highly contentious casualty figures issued by the Hamas-operated Gaza Health Ministry. Abraham Wyner, a statistician from the Wharton School of Economics, documents the inconsistencies in further detail. According to Wyner, it seems like the death toll in Gaza has increased with uninterrupted linear growth as the war continues, with no fluctuations whatsoever.

In addition, an AP analysis of Gazan casualty figures has found that Hamas consistently appears to arbitrarily assign 70% of any given death toll to “women or children.” This trend has virtually no precedent in any war in recorded history. For example, during the catastrophic 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the majority of casualties were young males of military age.

If 70% of the casualties are women and children and 25% of the population is adult male, then either Israel is not successfully eliminating Hamas fighters or adult male casualty counts are extremely low. This by itself strongly suggests that the numbers are at a minimum grossly inaccurate and quite probably outright faked.

Abraham Wyner, “How the Gaza Ministry of Health Fakes Casualty Numbers” (Tablet Magazine, 7 March 2024)

Suppose we accept even the highest death toll of 37,746 (Al-Jazeera, 12 June), including the 15,000 Hamas combatants the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claim to have killed. Considering the estimated Gazan population of 2.3 million, this represents an approximate death toll of 1.6%. Compare this with the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, in which an estimated 84% of the Tutsi population were massacred by Hutu militias largely armed with Kalashnikov rifles, machetes and spears. If the IDF, recognised as the 4th-strongest globally, actually intends to commit genocide, then we should find it contradictory that the death toll stands at 1.6% after eight months of war. Of course, any loss of innocent life, whether Israeli or Palestinian, is deeply regrettable and would not happen in an ideal world.

Those who disingenuously yell such chants in the halls of our university may point to South Africa’s absurd case against Israel as proof of a “plausible genocide.” However, they would invariably fail in this regard as well. Joan Donoghue, the former President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) who presided over the case, clarified in an interview with the BBC on 26 April that the court did not decide on whether the claim of genocide was plausible.

So the accusation of genocide may be based on completely fraudulent casualty figures, has been disputed by some of the world’s most eminent jurists and evidently fails to satisfy either component required by Article II. More importantly, with no proven genocide to speak of, there can be no complicity from the university.

The Accusation of War Crimes

The encampment organisers have criticised the university for alleged complicity in “countless documented Israeli war crimes”. Yet again, no evidence is presented to justify this claim.

If the protestors fail to point to an alleged war crime, then I suppose I will have to examine one for them. Some have pointed to the high levels of food insecurity in Gaza as evidence that Israel is intentionally starving Gazan civilians contrary to Article 8(2)(b)(xxv) of the Rome Statute. Such an allegation has been levelled by Karim Khan KC, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor who made global headlines on 20 May for seeking arrest warrants against Hamas leaders and Israeli officials.

The Gazan people certainly face troubling food insecurity in the ongoing conflict. Critics may point to increasing opposition towards aid deliveries from Israeli right-wing activists as evidence that Israel is complicit in starvation. However, recent attempts from certain elements of Israeli society to violently attack aid trucks have been widely criticised by Israeli politicians, including Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right minister who has regularly called for reductions in Gaza aid. Rather, trends in humanitarian aid deliveries have led many to the conclusion that Hamas is stealing, stockpiling and selling humanitarian aid – actions for which Israel can hardly be blamed.

According to Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Israel has delivered more than 500,000 tons of food and 39,000 tons of water since the beginning of the war. These figures do not appear to include the additional humanitarian aid delivered via airdrop by various non-Israeli governments.

With a population of about 2.3 million, Israel’s aid alone equates to nearly 2lbs of food per Gazan per day. Further, a recent working paper by Israeli researchers from the Hebrew University’s Institute of Biochemistry has found that between January and April, Israeli aid supplied every Gazan with 3,211 daily calories. This exceeds the World Health Organization (WHO) standard for both adult men and women.

If some Gazans are tragically living on 245 calories a day, as reported by Oxfam, it is because Hamas illegally pilfers humanitarian aid, not because Israel doesn’t give enough. What’s more, Hamas has repeatedly attacked critical points of aid delivery to Gazans in order to loot and sell stolen aid on the black market. According to prominent Israeli analyst Ehud Yaari, Hamas has turned a profit of approximately $500 million since October 7th from the illegal sale of humanitarian aid.

Even the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which has recently come under fire for its staffers’ alleged involvement in the October 7th terrorist attack, confirms the assertion made above. Except for the month of February which saw more direct confrontations between the IDF and Hamas fighters, monthly humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza consistently increased and virtually doubled between November 2023 and April 2024. UNRWA’s Gaza Supplies and Dispatch tracker, from which the figures below are taken, demonstrates that.

Number of Humanitarian Aid Trucks Entering Gaza per Month, 24 May (gazadashboard.unrwa.org)

The accusation of war crimes is one that is highly contested by numerous parties, even at an international and legal level. The most popular claim of intentional starvation does not appear to be in line with any of the figures reported. One should not expect any university to issue a condemnation of Israel based on charges which are flimsy at best.

The Accusation of Apartheid

The allegation of apartheid is a relatively recent development coinciding with the rise of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. An integral claim of this movement is that Israel’s “apartheid” against Arabs betrays its legitimacy as a state. If Israel were committing apartheid, then it would be in violation of Article 7(2)(h) of the Rome Statute which states the following:

“The crime of apartheid means inhumane acts […] committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime…”

Article 7(2)(h), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court

However, this definition of apartheid stands in stark contrast to the reality in Israel. Israeli-Arabs have served as judges, bank chairmen, members of the Israeli Knesset, and as high-ranking officers in the IDF. In fact, it was an Arab Supreme Court Justice – Salim Joubran – who upheld a seven-year prison sentence against former Israeli president Moshe Katzav on rape charges. In an apartheid state, those being oppressed would never be allowed in such positions.

Some might point to the generally poor socioeconomic conditions of Arabs in Israel as evidence of this alleged apartheid. However, if Arabs are so oppressed by Israel, then how should we explain a Reuters poll published in November 2023 which showed that 70% of Israeli-Arabs felt greater solidarity with Israel in the aftermath of October 7th?

Of course, Israel is not perfect. Arab families, along with ultra-Orthodox Jewish families, are consistently among the poorest in Israel. Like in other liberal democracies, racism and prejudice exist, and these injustices must be resolved. Yet, for the charge of apartheid to stand, it must satisfy the Rome Statute’s criteria. Simply put, it doesn’t.

The Accusation of Scholasticide

Let us now examine the charge of scholasticide. The origin of the allegation and the specific nature of the crime it alleges are not entirely clear. The encampment organisers define the term as the “systematic obliteration of the [Palestinian] education system.”

The figures they cite appear in a UN report published on 18 April. A closer look at the “independent experts” responsible for the report reveals one individual in particular: Francesca Albanese, the UN’s special rapporteur “on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967”. This position was created in 1993 with the unique intent of “investigat[ing] Israel’s violations” of international law. Yet again, it seems it is first assumed that Israel is guilty, then evidence is found to fit the alleged crime.

Further, the UN’s choice of “expert” is the perfect candidate for such a biased investigative position. In a February 2021 panel interview, Albanese confessed in reference to her “research” on Israel-Palestine:

“Also, deep down, perhaps I feared that embarking on research in a matter which I had deeply held personal views would compromise my objectivity…”

Francesca Albanese, Institute for Palestine Studies, 24 February 2021

One may ask what these “deeply held personal views” are exactly. Since I can’t speak for Albanese, I’ll let her own words speak for her. In July 2022, she rushed to the defence of UN Commissioner Miloon Kothari, who had claimed that the “Jewish lobby” controls social media. This is an overtly antisemitic remark and Albanese characterised the outcry as a “smear campaign”.

Additionally, Albanese infamously spoke at a Hamas conference in Gaza in November 2022 attended by senior members of the group and emphasised that they “have a right to resist this occupation.” These comments have since been characterised as an “endorse[ment of] their violent tactics” by legal experts from UN Watch. Such incidents should make her bias rather apparent.

Even if we ignore the prejudices of so-called “independent” experts, the report’s assertion that Israel is engaging in a “systematic pattern of violence” against the Palestinian education system fundamentally ignores one variable: Hamas. In fact, the terror group is not once mentioned in the entire report. We cannot ignore the fact that Hamas has for long embedded itself in civilian infrastructure. For example, U.S. intelligence confirmed in early January that Gaza’s Shifa hospital was being used as a Hamas command centre. Further, a 2019 NATO report on Hamas’ use of human shields references a Hamas R&D centre situated within the Islamic University of Gaza as early as December 2009.

For almost two decades, Hamas has used schools and hospitals as training grounds and launching pads in their offensives against Israeli civilian areas. If Israel is to live up to its secondary objective of eliminating Hamas, it must ensure that civilian infrastructure cannot be used for terrorism. Universities in Gaza are unfortunate collaterals, but Israel is not pursuing a systematic policy of “scholasticide.”

It goes without saying that war is hell. The tragic death of KCL alumnus Dr Maisara Alrayyes in November 2023, which is of course the result of military confrontations between the IDF and Hamas, is certainly a loss for the King’s community. There is no conceptual issue with demanding a scholarship in his name for Palestinian students. However, the education system in Gaza can no longer be dominated by Hamas – a terror group which indoctrinates children to “wage resistance against the Jews.” If King’s College London establishes ties with the Palestinian educational sector, it must do so with institutions that have been purged of Hamas’ genocidal Jew-hatred.

The Call for Divestment

Pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses have tended towards one demand above all: the cessation of all ties with Israeli academic institutions and arms manufacturers deemed to be complicit in alleged Israeli practices of “apartheid, genocide, and scholasticide.” As you can see, I have just spent the majority of this article challenging such claims. This would do away with the need to divest.

However, there is a far more sinister component to the call for divestment. The protestors identify KCL’s ties with the Technion, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University. These institutions are all ranked among the highest in Israel due to their expertise and international opportunities. The idea that one must boycott “all Israeli academic institutions” which don’t agree with the unfounded narratives outlined above is simply a blanket call for Israelis to be denied benefits afforded to others.

Such rhetoric is widely available on the Twitter feeds of numerous KCL academics. For example, Dr. Rafeef Ziadah, a Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy from the Department of International Development, who on 14 May declared her “pledge to boycott & divest from Israeli complicit institutions.”

The infographic provided evidently does not elaborate upon the difference between “formal” and “informal” engagements with Israeli institutions supposedly “involved in supporting Israeli occupation, apartheid…”. Nor does it specify exactly which institutions are complicit in these alleged crimes. This could be interpreted as a call for the complete cessation of all ties with the State of Israel. No Israeli students, no Israeli academics and no Israeli research, which, taken to its logical conclusion, could mean no Israel Society tasked with representation of this demographic.

Further, if the university were to concede to such a preposterous demand, they could be in breach of Pt.6, C.2, S.91 of the 2010 Equality Act, which stipulates that:

(1) The responsible body of an institution to which this section applies [i.e. higher education institutions] must not discriminate against a person—

(a) in the arrangements it makes for deciding who is offered admission as a student;

(b) as to the terms on which it offers to admit the person as a student;

(c) by not admitting the person as a student.

C.2, S.91, Equality Act 2010

There is a world of difference between protesting for a cause – even one which relies on misinformation – and weaponising that cause to pressure an institution into committing acts of discrimination. To see hundreds of academics engaging in such behaviour raises far more concerning questions about the future of liberal discourse and Jewish-Israeli safety within our university.

Concluding Remarks

Perhaps these encampments and the protests that accompany them are done in the name of ‘resistance’ against a perceived oppressor. Certainly, a number of the protestors themselves, despite the unproven or even false assertions upon which they base their claims, harbour good intentions. However, these encampments, be they at Columbia, UCLA, Cambridge University, or even our very own at KCL, often end with Jewish students living in fear of verbal or physical harassment on campus.

At UCLA, protestors have reportedly attacked Jews; at Columbia, a group of protestors could be heard declaring: “We are Hamas”; Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held a meeting in early May with vice-chancellors from various British universities to discuss strategies for protecting Jewish students amidst these protests.

Unfortunately, the virulent forces of antisemitism have already infected the King’s encampment. On 14 May, the encampment organisers announced via Instagram that they would be hosting Rabbi Ber Beck from the strongly anti-Zionist Neturei Karta group. The group is notorious for its history of meeting leaders who advocate for the extermination of Israel, such as those of the Islamic Regime in Iran, as well as Hamas and Hezbollah.

The latter two are proscribed as terrorist organisations in the United Kingdom. Neturei Karta’s attendance at a Holocaust denial conference in Tehran in December 2006 demonstrates their willingness to befriend those who categorically deny the abominable crimes of Nazi Germany. These “rabbis” often appear at pro-Palestinian protests so that organisers can disingenuously demonstrate to others what “good Jews” should look and sound like. This is pure tokenism, as the Neturei Karta are a fringe group that represents 0.03% of the global Jewish population.

At the end of the day, encampment protestors are deeply misled. Their claims are often based on malicious fabrications which can be disproven with a quick Google search. Their demands demonstrate the extent of their hatred for the State of Israel and the desire for Israelis to be excluded more than anything else. Their tokenisation of a handful of extreme anti-Zionist Jews, simply due to the stereotypical nature of their external appearance, at the very least indicates their dismissive approach towards the antisemitism that Neturei Karta represents. Their willingness to disrupt thousands of King’s students attempting to revise for exams or finish their dissertations with their incessant chanting should be enough to expose their selfish crusade for what it truly is.

The right to protest is an inalienable right. Yet, as I have communicated numerous times to members of the administration and security staff, the ongoing encampment is not really a protest. It is a form of sabotage and fearmongering which ultimately leaves the Israeli and Jewish communities feeling unsafe, unheard and alone. Give them an inch and they will take a mile. So, it would be in the best interest of the King’s community for these brave warriors of the watermelon resistance to go camping elsewhere.

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