The son of a Palestinian Christian who emigrated to the United States in 1948, George Emile Bisharat was born in Topeka, Kansas in 1954. After receiving an MA in history from Georgetown University, he went on to earn a JD from Harvard Law School in 1983 and a Ph.D. in Anthropology and Middle East Studies from Harvard University in 1987. Bisharat then worked as a deputy public defender in San Francisco from 1987-91, and in 1989 he published the book Palestinian Lawyers and Israeli Rule: Law and Disorder in the West Bank. In 1991 he joined the faculty of the University of California’s Hastings Law School, where he has taught ever since. He has also served, on occasion, as a consultant for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
For many years, Bisharat has spoken and written extensively about the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as U.S. foreign policy vis à vis the Middle East generally. For example, he condemned American economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s and early 2000s as a form of genocide, and he characterized the 2003 U.S. military invasion of that country as a “jihad” driven chiefly by powerful Israeli-Jewish influences on American politics.
In 2004 Bisharat wrote that Israel was guilty of oppressing the Palestinian people with “a smothering matrix of [road] closures, curfews and checkpoints”; that Israel had “caused unemployment to soar to more than 70% and threaten Palestinian children with malnutrition”; and that Israeli settlers were engaged in a relentless “campaign to seize and colonize yet more Palestinian land.” While he did not condone suicide bombings, Bisharat rationalized such tactics as those of a “desperate” people seeking to somehow “slow the colonizing [Israeli] juggernaut.”
Bisharat has long advocated for a Palestinian “right of return to our homes and homeland,” a policy that would instantly transform Israel into an Arab-majority state. To justify this position, Bisharat maintains that Jews have “decimated” and “oppress[ed]” their Arab neighbors ever since the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation 1948, when “about 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland, their land and possessions taken by the new Jewish state.”
Accusing Israel of waging a “campaign to transform international humanitarian law by systematically violating it,” Bisharat believes that it is incumbent upon the Jewish state—and not the Palestinians—to make an unambiguous gesture of contrition as a preliminary step toward reconciliation between the warring parties. Indeed, he argues that “a sincere Israeli apology” for the “moral debt” it owes “would be a milestone toward reconciliation that no Palestinian could ignore.”
In 2006 Bisharat claimed, falsely, that United Nations Resolution 242 required “Israeli withdrawal from the territories it seized in the Six-Day War in 1967.” Moreover, he lauded Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for his “repeatedly expressed willingness to enter negotiations since his democratic election in January 2005”; impugned Israel for having “done everything possible to ignore Abbas and undermine his standing, simply because it cannot achieve through negotiations what it can achieve by unilateralism, backed up by overwhelming military force”; and suggested that Israel’s social structure was becoming “increasingly reminiscent of apartheid.”
In early 2009, Bisharat condemned Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s recently concluded military response to a protracted terror campaign during which Hamas-affiliated militants in Gaza had fired more than 8,000 rockets and mortars at civilian communities in southern Israel. “Israel’s current assault on the Gaza Strip cannot be justified by self-defense,” Bisharat wrote. “Rather, it involves serious violations of international law, including war crimes.” Later that year, Bisharat tried to further buttress his claims by citing the Goldstone Report’s famous assertion that Israel had committed innumerable war crimes during Operation Cast lead.
In 2010, Bisharat denounced Israel as “a de facto one-state reality” whose “discriminatory regime” was “effectively ruling virtually all of the former Palestine” under a system of “ethnic privilege” that was “tantamount to apartheid.”
That same year, Bisharat excoriated “the Israeli military’s forceful boarding of a civilian fleet bearing 10,000 tons of humanitarian supplies to Gaza‘s besieged Palestinian population,” an altercation in which nine Palestinian activists were killed. “Israel had no legal justification for attacking a peaceful flotilla carrying crayons, cement, medicines and other non-military goods in international waters,” said Bisharat, lauding the flotilla for its courage in “challeng[ing] Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip”—a reference to the Jewish state’s policy of inspecting all items imported via Gaza’s seaport, so as to intercept any terrorism-related contraband. Moreover, Bisharat noted with dismay that the “explicit objective” of the “siege” was to “undermine the authority of Hamas.” And while he acknowledged that the flotilla in question was led by the Free Gaza Movement and “the Turkish charity Insani Yardim Vakfi” (a.k.a. the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief), he said nothing about those organizations’ close ties to al Qaeda, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
To punish Israel for its alleged transgressions, Bisharat supports local, national, and international efforts by the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions movement, calling them “both necessary and justified.”
Over the long haul, Bisharat reasons, the Arab-Israeli conflict can best be resolved by means of a “one-state” solution “based on principles of equality and inclusion,” which “would be more morally compelling than two states based on narrow ethnic nationalism.” The desirability of a single-state option is amplified, he adds, by the fact that it would: (a) obviate the need to draw territorial borders; (b) permit Jerusalem to “remain undivided”; (c) allow “Jewish settlers [to] stay in the West Bank”; and (d) “better accommodate the return of Palestinian refugees.”
Over the years, Bisharat has lectured widely at northern California events hosted by left-wing organizations such as the International Solidarity Movement, the National Lawyers Guild, South Bay Jewish Voices for Peace, and the World Affairs Council of Northern California. In some of these venues, he has collaborated with Joel Benin of Stanford University’s Middle East Studies Department.