Myths & Facts Online
Human Rights in Israel and the Territories
Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens.
Israel discriminates against Israeli Arabs by barring them from buying land.
Israeli Arabs are discriminated against in employment.
Arabs held in Israeli jails are tortured, beaten and killed.
Israel uses administrative detention to imprison peaceful Arabs without trial.
Israel has long sought to deny residents of the West Bank and Gaza their political rights.
Israel is stealing water from Arabs in the territories. Israel allows Jews to drill wells, but prevents Arabs from doing so.
Israel's use of deportations violates the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel's treatment of Palestinians is similar to the treatment of blacks in apartheid South Africa.
Black African nations cut relations with Israel because of its racist policies toward Palestinians.
Israel is pursuing a policy of genocide toward the Palestinians that is comparable to the Nazis' treatment of the Jews.
Israel’s policies in the territories have caused a humanitarian crisis for the Palestinians.
Israel’s complaints about Palestinian terrorists hiding among civilians are just an effort to justify their murder of innocent people.
Israel demolishes homes in the Rafah refugee camp as part of its campaign to oppress the Palestinians.
Yasser Arafat is directing the Palestinian Authority’s resources to the health and welfare of the Palestinian people.
Israel is a theocracy and should not be a Jewish State.
Israeli textbooks are just as bad as those in the Palestinian Authority, filled with stereotypes, historical inaccuracies, and a failure to acknowledge alternative political views.
“Israel poisoned Yasser Arafat.”
“Israel is persecuting Christians.”
“Israel is killing Palestinians with radiation spy machines.”
“Palestinians living under ‘occupation’ have the lowest standard of living in the Middle East.”
“Israeli checkpoints are unnecessarily preventing Palestinians from receiving medical attention.”
The Palestinian Authority protects Jewish holy sites.”
"Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens."
Israel is one of the most open societies in the world. Out of a population of 6.7 million, about 1.3 million — 20 percent of the population — are non-Jews (approximately 1.1 million Muslims, 130,000 Christians and 100,000 Druze).1
Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights; in fact, it is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab women may vote. Arabs currently hold 8 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Israeli Arabs have also held various government posts, including one who served as Israel's ambassador to Finland and the current deputy mayor of Tel Aviv. Oscar Abu Razaq was appointed Director General of the Ministry of Interior, the first Arab citizen to become chief executive of a key government ministry. Ariel Sharon's original cabinet included the first Arab minister, Salah Tarif, a Druze who served as a minister without portfolio. An Arab is also a Supreme Court justice.
Arabic, like Hebrew, is an official language in Israel. More than 300,000 Arab children attend Israeli schools. At the time of Israel's founding, there was one Arab high school in the country. Today, there are hundreds of Arab schools.2
In 2002, the Israeli Supreme Court also ruled that the government cannot allocate land based on religion or ethnicity, and may not prevent Arab citizens from living wherever they choose.2a
The sole legal distinction between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel is that the latter are not required to serve in the Israeli army. This is to spare Arab citizens the need to take up arms against their brethren. Nevertheless, Bedouins have served in paratroop units and other Arabs have volunteered for military duty. Compulsory military service is applied to the Druze and Circassian communities at their own request.
Some economic and social gaps between Israeli Jews and Arabs result from the latter not serving in the military. Veterans qualify for many benefits not available to non-veterans. Moreover, the army aids in the socialization process.
On the other hand, Arabs do have an advantage in obtaining some jobs during the years Israelis are in the military. In addition, industries like construction and trucking have come to be dominated by Israeli Arabs.
Although Israeli Arabs have occasionally been involved in terrorist activities, they have generally behaved as loyal citizens. During the 1967, 1973 and 1982 wars, none engaged in any acts of sabotage or disloyalty. Sometimes, in fact, Arabs volunteered to take over civilian functions for reservists. During the outbreak of violence in the territories that began in September 2000, Israeli Arabs for the first time engaged in widespread protests with some violence.
The United States has been independent for almost 230 years and still has not integrated all of its diverse communities. Even today, 60 years after civil rights legislation was adopted, discrimination has not been eradicated. It should not be surprising that Israel has not solved all of its social problems in only 57 years.
"Israel discriminates against Israeli Arabs by barring them from buying land."
In the early part of the century, the Jewish National Fund was established by the World Zionist Congress to purchase land in Palestine for Jewish settlement. This land, and that acquired after Israel's War of Independence, was taken over by the government. Of the total area of Israel, 92 percent belongs to the State and is managed by the Land Management Authority. It is not for sale to anyone, Jew or Arab. The remaining 8 percent of the territory is privately owned. The Arab Waqf (the Muslim charitable endowment), for example, owns land that is for the express use and benefit of Muslim Arabs. Government land can be leased by anyone, regardless of race, religion or sex. All Arab citizens of Israel are eligible to lease government land.
"Israeli Arabs are discriminated against in employment."
Israeli law prohibits discrimination in employment. According to the State Department, all Israeli workers "may join and establish labor organizations freely." Most unions are part of the Histadrut or the smaller Histadrut Haovdim Haleumit (National Federation of Labor), both of which are independent of the Government.
"Arabs held in Israeli jails are tortured, beaten and killed."
Prison is not a pleasant place for anyone and complaints about the treatment of prisoners in American institutions abound. Israel's prisons are probably among the most closely scrutinized in the world. One reason is the government has allowed representatives of the Red Cross and other groups to inspect them regularly.
Israeli law prohibits arbitrary arrest of citizens, defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to writs of habeas corpus and other procedural safeguards. Israel holds no political prisoners and maintains an independent judiciary.
Some prisoners, particularly Arabs suspected of involvement in terrorism, were interrogated using severe methods that have been criticized as excessive. Israel's Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in 1999 prohibiting the use of a variety of abusive practices.
The death penalty has been applied just once, in the case of Adolf Eichmann, the man largely responsible for the "Final Solution." No Arab has ever been given the death penalty, even after the most heinous acts of terrorism.
"Israel uses administrative detention to imprison peaceful Arabs without trial."
Israel inherited and continued certain laws adopted by the British. One is the use of administrative detention, which is permitted under certain circumstances in security cases. The detainee is entitled to be represented by counsel, and may appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court. The burden is on the prosecution to justify holding closed proceedings. Often, officials believe presenting evidence in open court would compromise its methods of gathering intelligence and endanger the lives of individuals who have provided information about planned terrorist activities.
Administrative detention is not necessary in much of the Arab world because the authorities frequently arrest people and throw them in jail without due process. No lawyers, human rights organizations or independent media can protest. Even in the United States, with its exceptionally liberal bail policy, people may be held for extended periods awaiting trial, and special legal standards have .been applied to allow the prolonged incarceration of Taliban and al-Qaida members captured in Afghanistan.
"Israel has long sought to deny residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip their political rights."
While defending its existence against hostile Arab forces, Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Facing a violent insurrection, Israel has been forced to restrict some activities of Palestinians. Israel cannot concede to Palestinians all the rights Americans take for granted in a nation that is not at war, while Arab states maintain a state of belligerency with Israel, and Palestinians engage in terrorism against Israelis.
Given the constraints of Israel's security requirements, efforts were made from the outset to allow Palestinians the greatest possible freedom. After the Six-Day War, the traditional pro-Jordanian leadership continued to hold many civil service positions and was paid by Jordan. Municipal elections were held in 1972 and 1976. For the first time, women and non-landowners were allowed to vote.
The 1976 election brought Arab mayors to power who represented various PLO factions. Muhammad Milhem of Halhoul, Fahd Kawasmeh of Hebron, and Bassam Shaka of Nablus were affiliated with Fatah. Karim Khalaf of Ramallah represented the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Ibrahim Tawil of El-Bireh was associated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.4
In 1978, these mayors and other radicals formed the National Guidance Committee, which vigorously opposed any accommodation with Israel, attempted to stir up broad allegiance to the PLO on the West Bank and incited rejection of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. In 1981, Israel expelled Milhem and Kawasmeh. They were allowed to return to appeal the expulsion order, but it was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Two weeks after his expulsion, Milhem said: "There is no room for the existence of the Zionists under a situation of true peace. They are only capable of existing in a situation of tension and war...and that goes for all the parties...[they are] neither doves nor hawks, only pigs."5
Kawasmeh was appointed to the PLO Executive Committee in 1984. Later that year, he was assassinated by Palestinian radicals in Amman.
As part of the Camp David negotiations, Israel proposed an autonomy plan to grant the Palestinians greater control over their affairs. The Palestinians rejected autonomy as an option, however, holding out hope for the creation of a Palestinian state.
For the rest of the decade, Israel, nevertheless, attempted to shift increasing responsibilities from the military to civilian administrators and to Palestinians. Efforts to give Palestinians greater responsibility for their affairs were undermined by the intifada. During the uprising, Palestinian Arabs who wished to cooperate with Israel came under attack and were silenced either through intimidation or murder. Israeli government officials sought to maintain a dialogue with many Palestinians, but those whose identities were discovered became targets.
In secret negotiations in Oslo, Norway, in 1993, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators agreed to a plan that would give the latter limited self-government. Subsequent negotiations have resulted in Israeli withdrawal from nearly half the West Bank and most of the Gaza Strip, and increasing Palestinian control over their own affairs. The Palestinian Authority now governs virtually all civil affairs for approximately 98 percent of the Palestinians in the territories. The expectation is that a final political settlement will result in the creation of a Palestinian state in most of the areas once controlled by Israel.
"Israel is stealing water from Arabs in the territories. Israel allows Jews to drill wells, but prevents Arabs from doing so."
In the years immediately following the 1967 war, water resources for the West Bank improved considerably. The water system in the southern Hebron region, for instance, was expanded. New wells were drilled near Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarm. More than 60 towns in the West Bank were given new water supply systems, or had antiquated ones upgraded by the Israeli administration in the territories.
In the late 1970's and early 1980's, however, the Middle East suffered from one of the worst droughts in modern history. Water in the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee dropped to critical levels. The situation deteriorated further at the beginning of the 1990's and has continued to be a problem in the new millennium.
Under these conditions, the Israeli government restricted the drilling of new wells on the West Bank. It had little choice because the West Bank and Israel share the same water table, and the drawing off of fresh water resources could promote saline water seepage.
Arab farmers on the West Bank are served by approximately 100 springs and 300 wells — many dug decades ago and now overutilized. Restrictions on over-exploitation of shallow wells were meant to prevent seepage or total depletion of saline water. Some wells were dug so that Jewish villages could tap new, deep aquifers never before used. These water pools as a rule do not draw from the shallower Arab sources.
At the end of 1991, a conference was scheduled in Turkey to discuss regional water problems. The meeting was torpedoed by Syria. The Syrians, Jordanians and Palestinians all boycotted the multilateral talks in Moscow in January 1992, which included a working group on water issues.
Following the Oslo agreements, Palestinians were more interested in cooperating on water issues. At the meeting of the multilateral working group in Oman in April 1994, an Israeli proposal to rehabilitate and make more efficient water systems in medium-sized communities (in the West Bank/Gaza, Israel and elsewhere in the region) was endorsed. About the same time, a Palestinian Water Authority was created as called for in the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles.
In November 1994, the working group met in Greece and the Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians agreed to begin discussion on principles or guidelines for cooperation on water issues. Further progress was made on a variety of issues during the 1995 meeting in Amman and the 1996 meeting in Tunisia. The working groups have not met since.
Israel has not cut the amount of water allocated to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and is planning to examine the possibility of increasing it despite the cut in water allocations within Israel and the requirement of supplying considerable amounts of water to Jordan as mandated by the peace treaty.
In contrast to claims by the Palestinian side, Israel did not even determine the amount of water to be supplied to the territories. The amount was specified in negotiations between the two sides, with the Americans participating. By the consent of both parties, the amount of water was increased relative to the situation prior to the Interim Agreement. Similarly, a formula was decided upon for increasing the water allocation gradually over the interim period.
The negotiations also led to agreements defining the number of wells that Israel is obligated to dig, and the number the PA and international bodies are obligated to dig. Cooperation on issues of sewage and environment were also defined. It was further decided that jurisdiction over water would be transferred to the Palestinians in the framework of the transfer of civil powers, and that the water situation would be supervised by joint monitoring teams
Israel has fulfilled all of her obligations under the Interim Agreement. The water quota agreed upon, and more, is being supplied. Jurisdiction over water was transferred completely and on time, and Israel approved the additional digging of wells. Israel and the PA carry out joint patrols to locate cases of water theft and other water-related problems.
The water issue for the Palestinians actually has little to do with Israel. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, “The West Bank and Gaza suffer from a chronic water shortage, preventing sustained economic growth and negatively impacting the environment and health of Palestinians. The little water available is inefficiently used.” The analysis adds that “Palestinian ground water supplies have increasingly become polluted as a result of inadequate sewage treatment and over-pumping of wells. Untreated sewage is dumped in valleys and the Mediterranean Sea, decreasing the quality of the already inadequate groundwater supply, and polluting the soil, sea, and coastline.”5a
"Israel's use of deportations violates the Fourth Geneva Convention."
The purpose of the Geneva Convention, approved in 1949, was to prevent a repetition of the Nazis' policy of mass deportations of innocent civilians to slave labor and concentration camps. Israel, of course, does no such thing. What it does, on occasion, is expel a select few individuals who are instigating violence against Jew and Arab alike.
The Geneva Convention itself allows an occupying power to "undertake total or partial evacuation of a given area if the security of the population or imperative military reasons so demand." The Israeli Supreme Court has interpreted this to mean that Israel may expel instigators of violence if necessary to maintain public order or to protect the population from future violence. All deportees have the right to appeal expulsion orders to the Israeli courts, but many Palestinians prefer not to do so.
"Israel's treatment of Palestinians is similar to the treatment of blacks in apartheid South Africa."
Even before the State of Israel was established, Jewish leaders consciously sought to avoid the situation that prevailed in South Africa. As David Ben-Gurion told Palestinian nationalist Musa Alami in 1934:
Today, within Israel, Jews are a majority, but the Arab minority are full citizens who enjoy equal rights. Arabs are represented in the Knesset, and have served in the Cabinet, high-level foreign ministry posts (e.g., Ambassador to Finland) and on the Supreme Court. Under apartheid, black South Africans could not vote and were not citizens of the country in which they formed the overwhelming majority of the population. Laws dictated where they could live, work and travel. And, in South Africa, the government killed blacks who protested against its policies. By contrast, Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech. Some of the government's harshest critics are Israeli Arabs who are members of the Knesset.
The situation of Palestinians in the territories is different. The security requirements of the nation, and a violent insurrection in the territories, forced Israel to impose restrictions on Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that are not necessary inside Israel's pre-1967 borders. The Palestinians in the territories, typically, dispute Israel's right to exist whereas blacks did not seek the destruction of South Africa, only the apartheid regime.
If Israel were to give Palestinians full citizenship, it would mean the territories had been annexed. No Israeli government has been prepared to take that step. Instead, through negotiations, Israel agreed to give the Palestinians increasing authority over their own affairs. It is likely that a final settlement will allow most Palestinians to become citizens of their own state. The principal impediment to Palestinian independence is not Israeli policy, it is the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to give up terrorism and agree to live in peace beside the State of Israel.
Despite all their criticism, when asked what governments they admire most, more than 80 percent of Palestinians consistently choose Israel because they can see up close the thriving democracy in Israel, and the rights the Arab citizens enjoy there. By contrast, Palstinians place Arab regimes far down the list, and their own Palestinian Authority at the bottom with only 20 percent saying they admire the corrupt Arafat regime in 2003.6a
"Black African nations cut relations with Israel because of its racist policies toward Palestinians."
Black African nations did not break relations with Israel because of any concerns about racism; most severed ties with the Jewish State in 1973 because of pressure from the Arab oil-producing nations. Full diplomatic ties were continued only by Malawi, Lesotho and Swaziland, while a few other countries maintained their links through Israeli interest offices at foreign embassies. Commercial ties were also not entirely disrupted, many black African students continued to train in Israel and Israeli experts remained active in Africa.
Israel has had a long history of friendly relations with black African countries. From 1957 to 1973, Israel trained thousands of Africans in all aspects of life including agriculture, health care and economics. Thousands of Africans went to Israel for training, while similar numbers of Israelis were sent to Africa to teach.8
Golda Meir, the architect of Israel's Africa policy, believed the lessons learned by Israelis could be passed on to Africans who, particularly during the 1950s, were engaged in the same process of nation building. Like them, she said, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves. Israel could provide a better model for the newly independent African states, Meir believed, because Israelis had been forced to find solutions to the kinds of problems that large, wealthy, powerful states had never encountered.9
Once the coercive power of the Arab oil-producers eroded, African countries began to reestablish relations with Israel and to seek new cooperative projects. This trend gained momentum with the ongoing peace negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Today, 40 African countries maintain diplomatic ties with Israel, and reciprocal visits by heads of state and government ministers take place frequently. In May 1994, Israel's President Ezer Weizman attended the historic inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first black African president of South Africa.
"Israel is pursuing a policy of genocide toward the Palestinians that is comparable to the Nazis' treatment of the Jews."
This is perhaps the most odious claim made by Israel's detractors. The Nazis' objective was the systematic extermination of every Jew in Europe. Israel is seeking peace with its Palestinian neighbors. More than one million Arabs live as free and equal citizens in Israel. Of the Palestinians in the territories, 98 percent live under the civil administration of the Palestinian Authority. While Israel sometimes employs harsh measures against Palestinians in the territories to protect Israeli citizens Jews and non-Jews from the incessant campaign of terror waged by the PA and Islamic radicals, there is no plan to persecute, exterminate, or expel the Palestinian people.
In response to one such comparison, by a poet who referred to the "Zionist SS," The New Republic's literary editor Leon Wieseltier observed:
The absurdity of the charge is also clear from the demography of the disputed territories. While detractors make outrageous claims about Israel committing genocide or ethnic cleansing, the Palestinian population has continued to explode. In Gaza, for example, the population increased from 731,000 in July 1994 to 1,324,991 in 2004, an increase of 81 percent. The growth rate was 3.8 percent, one of the highest in the world. According to the UN, the total Palestinian population in all the disputed territories (they include Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem) was 1,006,000 in 1950, and rose to 1,094,000 in 1970, and exploded to 2,152,000 in 1990. Anthony Cordesman notes the increase “was the result of improvements in income and health services” made by Israel. The Palestinian population has continued to grow exponentially and was estimated in 2004 at more than 3.6 million.11
Israel’s policies in the territories have caused a humanitarian crisis for the Palestinians.
It is important to remember that Israel offered to withdraw from 97 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of Gaza, and it is the rejection of that proposal, coupled with incessant Palestinian terrorism, that has forced Israeli troops to carry out operations in the territories. Though these actions have caused hardship for the Palestinian population, the IDF has continued to ensure that humanitarian assistance is provided to Palestinians in need. For example, during just one 48-hour period (January 5-6, 2003), the IDF:
Even at the height of military action, such as the operation to clean out the terrorist nest in the Jenin refugee camp, Israeli forces have gone out of their way to assist Palestinian non-combatants. In the case of the Jenin operation, for example, the hospital there was kept running with a generator delivered under fire by an Israeli officer.12
The best way to improve the situation for the Palestinians in the territories is for the Palestinian Authority to take the steps laid out by the Bush Administration — end the violence, reform its institutions, and elect new leaders — so that peace talks may resume and a settlement can be negotiated.
Israel’s complaints about Palestinian terrorists hiding among civilians are just an effort to justify their murder of innocent people.
Israel never intentionally targets civilians. Unfortunately, Palestinian terrorists have purposely tried to hide among the civilian population in an effort to use the Israeli army's morality against it. The terrorists themselves do not care about the lives of innocent Palestinians, which is why they are not hesitant to use them as shields. This behavior is a violation of international law. Article 51 of the 1977 amendment to the 1949 Geneva Conventions specifically prohibts the use of human shields:
Thus, the Palestinian terrorists are ultimately responsible for noncombatants who are inadvertently killed or wounded as a result of the terrorists' practice of hiding among civilians to use them as shields.
“Israel demolishes homes in the Rafah refugee camp as part of its campaign to oppress the Palestinians.”
Israel has engaged in military operations, including the demolition of homes, in the Rafah refugee camp, in an effort to curtail Palestinian smuggling operations. Rafah is a city in the Gaza Strip that is divided by the border with Egypt. Palestinians began building tunnels in the area in 1982 to smuggle various items under the Israel-Egypt border fence. Since 1994, when Israel turned the area over to its control, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been responsible for security in the area. While the PA initially worked to stop the construction of tunnels, it now actively supports the smugglers.
To avoid detection of the tunnels, the Palestinians build them in civilian homes. In 2002, the IDF discovered 33 tunnels and, through mid-October 2003, another 36 were found.
The smugglers bring goods such as cigarettes, automobile parts, clothing, drugs, electronics, and foreign currency purchased or stolen in Egypt for resale in the Gaza Strip. Of even greater concern to Israel is the smuggling of terrorists and weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, rifles, explosives, and ammunition, which often make their way to the West Bank.
Large-scale Israeli operations against the tunnels coincided with intelligence reports that the Palestinians were attempting to smuggle more sophisticated weapons such as Katyusha rockets, which could hit Israeli cities, and Stinger missiles, which could shoot down Israeli civilian and military aircraft. These weapons are being brought in to support the terrorist operations of groups such as Hamas and the PFLP (with the help of Iran), as well as to arm PA security services.
Smuggling operations have intensified in the last three years as Israel has blocked other smuggling routes, and as the Palestinians have escalated their violent campaign against Israel. The reason that the homes of Palestinians are demolished by Israel is that they are used to conceal the tunnels connecting Gaza and Egypt. Many Palestinians in Rafah are impoverished and find involvement in the smuggling operations an opportunity to improve their economic situation because they are paid well to excavate the tunnels, transfer goods, and allow their homes to be used to hide the tunnels.
The PA has given Palestinians an even greater incentive to participate in smuggling by offering them alternative housing in the nearby town of Tel-Sultan if Israel demolishes their homes. Some Palestinians have even lied about constructing tunnels in the hope that the IDF will demolish their homes and they can get nicer ones from the PA.
“Yasser Arafat is directing the Palestinian Authority’s resources to the health and welfare of the Palestinian people.”
One of the principal reasons for the suffering of the Palestinian people is the failure of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to allocate the billions of dollars in international aid it has received for the health and welfare of the population. The corruption in the PA has been extensively documented by both Palestinians and external reviewers such as the International Monetary Fund, but even setting this important problem aside, an examination of PA spending shows that a disproportionate share of the budget is being spent on the president rather than the public.
In fact, there have been months in which President Yasser Arafat’s office received nearly as much money as the departments of health and social services combined.14 In the first half of 2003, Arafat’s office was allocated 137 million shekels while the total budget for social affairs was 95 million shekels and for health 185 million shekels.
All parties recognize that a key to peace is fostering prosperity in the PA and improving the living conditions of the Palestinian people. Israel has an important role to play in both areas, but the welfare of the majority of Palestinians is in the hands of the PA, and their present living conditions, as well as their future in an independent state, depend on the commitment of their leaders to improve their society rather than simply enrich themselves.
“Israel is a theocracy and should not be a Jewish State.”
It often makes people uncomfortable to refer to Israel as “the Jewish State” because it suggests a theocracy and, therefore, the demise of Israel as a Jewish state is viewed by some people (even in Israel) as a positive development. Israel is not a theocracy; however, it is governed by the rule of law as drafted by a democratically elected parliament. It is informed by Jewish values and adheres to many Jewish religious customs (such as holidays), but this is similar to the United States and other nations that are shaped by the Judeo-Christian heritage and also have expressly religious elements (e.g., church-state separation in the U.S. does not preclude the recognition of Christmas as a holiday).
Israel has no state religion, and all faiths enjoy freedom of worship, yet it is attacked for its Jewish character, whereas the Arab states that all have Islam as their official religion are regarded as legitimate.
The Jewish people are a nation with a shared origin, religion, culture, language, and history. And why shouldn’t the Jewish people have a state? No one suggests that Arabs are not entitled to a nation (and they have not one, but twenty-one) of their own or Swedes or Germans, or that Catholics are not entitled to a state (Vatican City) headed by a theocrat (the Pope). To suggest that Zionism, the nationalist movement of the Jewish people, is the only form of nationalism that is illegitimate is pure bigotry. It is especially ironic that the Jewish nation should be challenged given that Jewish statehood preceded the emergence of most modern nation-states by thousands of years.
It is also not unusual that one community should be the majority within a nation and seek to maintain that status. In fact, this is true in nearly every country in the world. Moreover, societies usually reflect the cultural identity of the majority. India and Pakistan were established at the same time as Israel through a violent partition, but no one believes these nations are illegitimate because one is predominantly Hindu and the other has a Muslim majority, or that these nations shouldn’t be influenced by those communities (e.g., that cows in India should not be treated as sacred).
In the United States, a vigorous debate persists over the boundaries between church and state. Similar discussions regarding “synagogue and state” are ongoing in Israel, with philosophical disagreements over whether Israel can be a Jewish and a democratic state, and practical arguments over Sabbath observance, marriage and divorce laws, and budgets for religious institutions. Nevertheless, most Jews take for granted that Israel is, and must remain, a Jewish state. Arab citizens also understand that Israel is a Jewish state and, while they might prefer that it was not, they have still chosen to live there (nothing prevents Arabs from moving to any of the 180-odd non-Jewish states in the world). Both Jews and Arabs realize that if Jews cease to be a majority in Israel, Israel will no longer have a Jewish character or serve as a haven for persecuted Jews, and that is one of the elements underlying peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
“Israeli textbooks are just as bad as those in the Palestinian Authority, filled with stereotypes, historical inaccuracies, and a failure to acknowledge alternative political views.”
More than 20 years ago, it was true that some Israeli textbooks used stereotyped images of Arabs; however, the books in use in public schools today are very different.15
Israeli texts go out of their way to avoid prejudices and to guard against generalizations. In one seventh grade lesson, students are given the following problem:
In an elementary textbook on reading comprehension, students read how a Jewish girl was saved by an Arab woman. The book notes, “The Arabs are like the Jews. … There are nasty people among them and there are decent people and … they should not be labeled” (What is the Interpretation? Comprehension B, pp. 184-188).
Contrary to suggestions that Israelis do not accept the idea that Palestinians are a people, Israeli textbooks explain the origins of Palestinian nationalism. For example, a 9th grade text observes that “during the 1930's, Arab nationalist movements evolved all over the Middle East. Many of the Arabs of Eretz Yisrael also began formulating a national consciousness — in other words, the perception that they are not just part of the larger Arab nation, but are also Palestinians” (The Twentieth Century - On the Threshold of Tomorrow, Grade 9, 1999, p.44).
While Palestinian texts omit references to Jewish contributions to the world, the Israeli books recognize the achievements of Arabs and Muslims. One text highlights the Arab role as creators of culture: “...they were the first to discover the existence of infectious diseases. They were also the first to build public hospitals. Because of their considerable contribution to various scientific fields, there are disciplines that to this day are called by their Arabic names, such as algebra.” Islam’s contributions are also acknowledged in the same passage: “The Islamic religion also influenced the development of culture. The obligation to pray in the direction of Mecca led to the development of astronomy, which helped identify the direction according to the heavenly bodies. The duty to make a pilgrimage developed geography and gave a push to the writing of travel books. These books, and the Arabs' high capability in map drawing, helped develop trade. To this day, merchants use Arabic words, such as bazaar, check and tariff” (From Generation to Generation, Vol. b, 1994, p. 220)
Palestinian textbooks also negate the Jewish connection to the Holy Land while Israeli texts show respect for the Arab/Muslim attachment to the land. “The Land of Israel in general, and Jerusalem in particular, have been sanctified more and more in Islamic thought — as Islam has developed and spread, both religiously and geographically. As Islam absorbed more and more of the world conquered by it, so it adapted and Islamized the values that it absorbed, including the holiness of the Land of Israel, its flora and its water, living in it, the sanctity of being buried in it and the like. All these became from that time onwards part of orthodox Islam” (H. Peleg, G. Zohar, This is the Land - Introduction to Land of Israel Studies for the Upper Grades, 2000, pp. 161-162.)
Israeli textbooks contain a plurality of views, including those that conflict with conventional research and are critical of Israeli policies. Controversial topics, such as the disputed territories, the refugee issue, and the status of Israeli Arabs are covered from multiple viewpoints. For example, one book quotes historian Benny Morris’s unconventional position attributing the flight of Palestinians in 1947-1948 more to the actions of Jewish forces than the instructions of the leaders of Arab countries (From Exile to Independence - The History of the Jewish People in Recent Generations, vol. 2, 1990, p. 312).
The Arab point of view is also represented. For example, a history text notes how Israel’s government treated Anwar Sadat’s 1971 peace proposal “with scorn out of the feeling of power and superiority that had taken hold of Israeli society following the Six Day War. After his proposal had been rejected and the political stalemate continued, Sadat decided to go to war” (K. Tabibian, Journey to the Past - The Twentieth Century, By Dint of Freedom, 1999, p. 313).
Israeli texts also use simulation games to help students understand different perspectives on an issue. In one, students are told to divide into groups representing Jewish and Palestinian journalists and prepare a report on the discussion in the United Nations leading to the partition resolution. Students are then asked to discuss the differences between the reports of the Jewish and Palestinian journalists (K. Tabibian, Journey To The Past - The Twentieth Century, By Dint of Freedom, 1999, p. 294).
Israel is not perfect and exceptions do exist. Some generalizations and patronizing terminology are found in textbooks used in the ultra-Orthodox schools. These schools comprise less than 10 percent of the Israeli educational system, and the same Israeli watchdog organizations that have pointed out problems in Palestinian textbooks have also publicized the need to remove the handful of inappropriate references from school books in this system.16
“Israel poisoned Yasser Arafat.”
Farouk Kaddoumi claimed that Israel poisoned Yasser Arafat because it wants Palestinian leaders who obey it and agree with its policies.17 This was just the most recent of a number of such allegations that have persisted since Arafat’s death.
We don’t know for sure what killed Arafat because none of his medical records have been publicly released, but even then Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath ruled out poisoning.18 At the time of his death, the French government, constrained by privacy laws, discounted the possibility of foul play when it announced, “If the doctors had had the slightest doubt, they would have referred it to the police.”19 Moreover, members of Arafat’s family, including ones who have made the poisoning charge, have had access to the records and produced nothing to substantiate the rumors. Arafat’s wife, Suha, could have released the findings of French physicians, and you can be sure she would have done so if they would have implicated Israel in her husband’s death.
It was well-known that Arafat suffered from a number of ailments. At the time of his medical evacuation to Paris, his aides revealed that he was suffering from a low platelet count and had undergone a platelet transfusion. Reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal noted that “since platelets are involved in blood clotting, patients with low platelet counts are predisposed to brain hemorrhages, and this may have contributed to Arafat’s death.” Rosenthal added that “low platelet counts in the blood are a common finding in a wide range of illnesses, including severe infections, liver disease, end-stage cancer, and even AIDS.”20
Why has the cause of Arafat’s death remained secret? Rosenthal suggests a few possible explanations. “Perhaps he suffered from a disease that they considered embarrassing. Or perhaps the doctors who treated him during the early phases of his illness in Ramallah missed a treatable medical condition, letting him deteriorate to the point it was too late to cure him once he was moved to Paris.”
The first explanation may be the most likely, as it is widely believed that Arafat died of AIDS. Suggestions that Arafat engaged in homosexual activity date to at least 1987, when Ion Pacepa, the deputy chief of Romania’s intelligence service under Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, published his book Red Horizons, revealing evidence of Arafat’s proclivities.
If Arafat died of AIDS, it is unlikely Arafat’s records will ever be released, which will allow conspiracy theorists to continue to blame Israel.
“Israel is persecuting Christians.”
While Christians are unwelcome in Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, and most have been driven out of their longtime homes in Lebanon, Christians continue to be welcome in Israel. Christians have always been a minority in Israel, but it is the only Middle East nation where the Christian population has grown in the last half century (from 34,000 in 1948 to 140,000 today), in large measure because of the freedom to practice their religion.
By their own volition, the Christian communities have remained the most autonomous of the various religious communities in Israel, though they have increasingly chosen to integrate their social welfare, medical and educational institutions into state structures. The ecclesiastical courts of the Christian communities maintain jurisdiction in matters of personal status, such as marriage and divorce. The Ministry of Religious Affairs deliberately refrains from interfering in their religious life, but maintains a Department for Christian Communities to address problems and requests that may arise.
In Jerusalem, the rights of the various Christian churches to custody of the Christian holy places were established during the Ottoman Empire. Known as the “status quo arrangement for the Christian holy places in Jerusalem,” these rights remain in force today in Israel.
It was during Jordan's control of the Old City from 1948 until 1967 that Christian rights were infringed and Israeli Christians were barred from their holy places. The Christian population declined by nearly half, from 25,000 to 12,646. Since then, the population has slowly been growing.
Some Christians have been among those inconvenienced by Israel's construction of the security fence, but they have not been harmed because of their religious beliefs. They simply live in areas where the fence is being built. Like others who can show they have suffered some damage, Christians are entitled to compensation. And the fence does not have any impact on Christian holy places or their freedom of access to them.
Suggestions that Israel is persecuting Christians were publicized by columnist Bob Novak, who has a long history of vitriolic attacks on Israel. Novak actually presented no specific evidence that any Christians have been harmed or their religious freedom infringed.21 He cited a single source, whose bias was obvious, to support the charge that the fence is hurting Christians in East Jerusalem, but failed to mention that the fence is helping to save Christian lives that might otherwise be lost in the indiscriminate attacks of Palestinian terrorists.
The hypocrisy of Novak's latest critique is clear from his failure to raise the very real concerns about the fate of Christians under Arab rule, especially under the Palestinian Authority, where a rapidly declining population of 27,000 Christians live among 3 million Muslims. The proportion of Christians in the Palestinian territories has dropped from 15 percent of the Arab population in 1950 to less than 1 percent today. Three-fourths of all Bethlehem Christians now live abroad, and the majority of the city’s population is Muslim. The Christian population declined 29 percent in the West Bank and 20 percent in the Gaza Strip from 1997 to 2002. By contrast, in the period 1995–2003, Israel’s Arab Christian population grew 14.1 percent.22
Jonathan Adelman and Agota Kuperman noted that Yasser Arafat “tried to erase the historic Jesus by depicting him as the first radical Palestinian armed fedayeen (guerrilla). Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has adopted Islam as its official religion, used shari’a Islamic codes, and allowed even officially appointed clerics to brand Christians (and Jews) as infidels in their mosques.” The authors add that the “militantly Islamic rhetoric and terrorist acts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah...offer little comfort to Christians.”
David Raab observed that “Palestinian Christians are perceived by many Muslims — as were Lebanon's Christians — as a potential fifth column for Israel. In fact, at the start of the recent violence in 2000, Muslim Palestinians attacked Christians in Gaza.” Raab also wrote that “anti-Christian graffiti is not uncommon in Bethlehem and neighboring Beit Sahur, proclaiming: ‘First the Saturday people (the Jews), then the Sunday people (the Christians),’” and that “Christian cemeteries have been defaced, monasteries have had their telephone lines cut, and there have been break-ins at convents.”
When Arafat died, Vatican Radio correspondent Graziano Motta said, “The death of the president of the Palestinian National Authority has come at a time when the political, administrative and police structures often discriminate against [Christians].” Motta added that Christians “have been continually exposed to pressures by Muslim activists, and have been forced to profess fidelity to the intifada.”
While Novak suggests Israel is bulldozing Christian houses, without any evidence to support the charge, he ignores reports by journalists such as Motta who reported, “Frequently, there are cases in which the Muslims expropriate houses and lands belonging to Catholics, and often the intervention of the authorities has been lacking in addressing acts of violence against young women, or offenses against the Christian faith.”23
It certainly wouldn’t be difficult for Novak to find evidence of mistreatment of Christians in the PA if he were interested, but unlike Christians who enjoy freedom of speech as well as religion in Israel, beleaguered Palestinian Christians are afraid to speak out. “Out of fear for their safety, Christian spokesmen aren’t happy to be identified by name when they complain about the Muslims’ treatment of them...off the record they talk of harassment and terror tactics, mainly from the gangs of thugs who looted and plundered Christians and their property, under the protection of Palestinian security personnel.”24
“Israel is killing Palestinians with radiation spy machines.”
Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was the master of the “big lie” tactic in which a lie, no matter how outrageous, is repeated often enough that it will eventually be accepted as truth. It is a propaganda tool the Palestinians have repeatedly tried to use to tar Israel. Past examples have included specious claims that Israel “massacred” 500 people at Jenin,25 infects Palestinians with the AIDS virus,26 and drops poison candy for children in Gaza from airplanes.27
The latest calumny from the Palestinians is the claim that Israel is using a “radial spy machine” at checkpoints, and that the device killed a 55-year-old Palestinian woman.28The charge is apparently related to the Palestinian Authority’s decision to close a checkpoint on their side of the border in Gaza to protest Israel’s use of advanced radio-wave machines for searching Palestinian travelers.29
The device is the SafeView Millimeter Wave Radar, an American-made portal system that uses a safe millimeter wave holographic technology to screen travelers from Egypt for weapons and explosives. Unlike metal detectors, this system is capable of detecting virtually any man-made object, regardless of the type of material, by transmitting ultra-high frequency, low-powered radio frequency waves as people pass through the portal. The waves penetrate clothing and reflect off of the person’s skin and any items being carried. A sensor array captures the reflected waves and uses a desktop computer to analyze the information and produce a high-resolution, 3-D image from the signals.30
“Palestinians living under ‘occupation’ have the lowest standard of living in the Middle East.”
When Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, officials took measures to improve the conditions that Palestinians had lived under during Jordan’s 19-year occupation of the West Bank, and Egypt’s occupation of Gaza. Universities were opened, Israeli agricultural innovations were shared, modern conveniences were introduced, and health care was significantly upgraded. More than 100,000 Palestinians were employed in Israel, and were paid the same wages as Israeli workers, which stimulated economic growth.
The rise in violence during the 1990s, and then the war instigated by Palestinian terrorists beginning in 2000, has taken a heavy toll on the Palestinian economy. To protect its citizens from suicide bombers and other terrorists, Israel was forced to take measures that had a deleterious impact on the economy in the Palestinian Authority. The most serious step was to limit the number of Palestinian workers entering Israel to reduce the risk of terrorists pretending to be workers slipping into the country. This raised the level of unemployment, which, in turn, had a negative spillover effect on the rest of the Palestinian economy.
Despite the collapse of the PA economy from the last five years of war, Palestinian Arabs are still better off than many of their neighbors. The most recent Human Development Report from the United Nations ranks the PA 102nd in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income out of the 177 countries and territories in the world, placing it in the “medium human development” category along with most of the other Middle Eastern states (only the Gulf sheikdoms are ranked “high”). The PA is ranked just 12 places below Jordan and one behind Iran; it is rated ahead of Syria (#105), Algeria (#108), Egypt (#120), and Morocco (#125).31
Few Palestinians would trade places with Arabs in neighboring countries. Well, perhaps, with one exception. They might aspire to the standard of living in the country ranked 22nd by the UN – Israel.
“Israeli checkpoints are unnecessarily preventing Palestinians from receiving medical attention.”
Israel has instituted checkpoints for one reason – to prevent Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating Israel. If the Palestinian Authority was fulfilling its road map obligations to dismantle the terrorist networks and disarm the terrorists, and its security forces were taking adequate measures to prevent Palestinians from planning and launching attacks, the checkpoints would be unnecessary.
Israel tries to balance its security concerns with the welfare of the Palestinians, and is especially sensitive to the medical needs of Palestinians. Thus, many Palestinians are allowed to enter Israel to receive treatment from some of the finest medical facilities in the world.
Unfortunately, Palestinian terrorists have tried to take advantage of Israel’s goodwill. In December 2004, for example, a Hamas agent with forged documents claiming that he was a cancer patient in need of medical treatment from an Israeli hospital was arrested by security forces. Hamed A-Karim Hamed Abu Lihiya was to meet up with another terrorist, obtain weapons from allies inside Israel, and carry out an attack. That same month, a man recruited by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to plant a bomb on the railway tracks near Netanya tried to use false papers indicating he needed hospital treatment to enter Israel. Another Hamas terrorist planning a suicide bombing was arrested in March 2005 after pretending to be a kidney donor.32
On June 20, 2005, 21-year-old Wafa Samir Ibrahim Bas was arrested attempting to smuggle an explosives belt through the Erez crossing. Bas aroused the suspicion of soldiers at the checkpoint when a biometric scanner revealed she was hiding explosives. When she realized they had discovered the explosive belt, she attempted unsuccessfully to detonate it.33
Bas had been admitted on humanitarian grounds to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva several months earlier for treatment of massive burns she received as a result of a cooking accident. After her arrest, she admitted that the Fatah al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade had instructed her to use her personal medical authorization documents to enter into Israel to carry out a suicide attack. In an interview shown on Israeli television, Bas said her “dream was to be a martyr” and that her intent was to kill 40 or 50 people – as many young people as possible.
Nevertheless, Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Palestinian obstetrician and gynecologist from the Jabalya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, who has worked at the Soroka Hospital, wrote that he was “outraged at the cynical and potentially deadly suicide bombing attempt.” Dr. Abuelaish said he does research at the hospital's Genetic Institute and has warm relations with his colleagues. “I make a point, whenever I'm at the hospital, of visiting Palestinian patients,” he said. “I also schedule appointments for other Gaza residents, and even bring medication from Soroka to needy patients in the Strip....On the very day that she planned to detonate her bomb, two Palestinians in critical condition were waiting in Gaza to be taken for urgent treatment at Soroka ”
Dr. Abuelaish added, “Wafa was sent to kill the very people in Israel who are healing Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and West Bank. What if Israeli hospitals now decide to bar Palestinians seeking treatment? How would those who sent Bis feel if their own relatives, in need of medical care in Israel, are refused treatment?”34
The Israeli checkpoint saved the lives not only of countless Israelis, but of the Palestinian would-be suicide bomber. By using this tactic, the Palestinians have reinforced the necessity of retaining the checkpoints and forced Israel to carry out more stringent inspections, yet another example of how terrorists are making life unnecessarily difficult for innocent Palestinians.
“The Palestinian Authority protects Jewish holy sites.”
Less than 24 hours after the last IDF soldier withdrew from the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority (PA) bulldozers began to raze synagogues that were left behind by Jewish residents. Thousands of Palestinians also stormed the former Gaza settlements and set fire to several synagogues and yeshivot while PA security forces stood and watched. Several Palestinians belonging to terrorist groups climbed the roofs of synagogues and placed green flags on top while other members inside set fire to the buildings and looted items that the Jews left behind.36
The desecration of these Jewish holy places in Gaza came after Israel decided not dismantle the synagogues there. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz stated, “It would be a historic Jewish mistake to destroy the synagogues.”37
The decision to keep the 19 synagogues and yeshivot in Gaza and the evacuated northern Samaria settlements standing passed in the cabinet by a vote of 14-2. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was told by Israel that since the disengagement plan was implemented, the “PA now had the moral responsibility to protect the synagogues as places with religious significance.”38 Earlier in the week, Ministry of Defense workers placed signs that read “Holy Place” in Arabic and English on synagogue walls throughout Gaza so the Palestinians would know not to destroy them.39
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas defended the razing of Gaza synagogues by simply claiming, “There are no synagogues here.” Abbas said the buildings that were formally synagogues were now emptied and in danger of collapsing, and must be demolished to build homes for thousands of Palestinians.40 The PA maintained that the synagogues were symbols of Israeli occupation, and boycotted the ceremony marking the handover of Gaza to the Palestinians in protest of Israel's decision to leave the synagogues intact.41
This was not the first instance when the PA has failed to protect Jewish holy places:
PA textbooks continue to teach young Palestinians that Jews have no connection to the Land of Israel and to disparage Judaism, so it should not be surprising that Jewish institutions are not shown respect. This is one reason why Israel is reluctant to make any compromises regarding Jerusalem that might allow Palestinians to threaten the sanctity of the shrines of any religion.
Central Bureau of Statistics.
Tunnel Photos: IDF
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