Myths & Facts Online
Human Rights in Israel and the Territories
discriminates against its Arab citizens.
“Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens.”
Israel is one of the most open societies in the world. Out of a population of nearly 7 million, about 1.4 million — 20 percent of the population — are non-Jews (approximately 1.2 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 9 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. In October 2005, an Arab professor was named Vice President of Haifa University.
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.3
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 Palestinian War 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 agaiIsraeli Arabs are by barreding 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.”4 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.
“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.
“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 the arbitrary arrest of citizens. In addition, 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 practices that were considered abusive.
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’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:
We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland.7
Today, within Israel, Jews are a majority, but the Arab minority are full citizens who enjoy equal rights and are represented in all the branches of government. 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 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, Palestinians place Arab regimes far down the list, and their own Palestinian Authority at the bottom, with only 20 percent saying they admired the corrupt Arafat regime in 2003.8
“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, 1,094,000 in 1970, and explodedgrew 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
“Palestinians 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 laborers 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 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).12
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 unnecessarily prevent 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.13
On June 20, 2005, 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.15
Bas had been admitted on humanitarian grounds to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba 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.
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 Bas feel if their own relatives, in need of medical care in Israel, are refused treatment?”16
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.
Despite a number of other cases where Palestinian terrorists tried to take advantage of the “medical route” to infiltrate Israel, more than 7,000 Palestinians were allowed to travel from Gaza to hospitals in Israel and the West Bank, an increase of 50 percent from 2006, and nearly 8,000 Palestinians were allowed to accompany them.16a
“Israel prevents Palestinian ambulances from taking sick and injured Palestinians to hospitals.” [FROM NEXT CHAPT]
One of the unfortunate results of the violence during the Palestinian War has been the allegations of Israeli abuse against Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances, which it is alleged, has resulted in inconveniences, medical complications and even death to the sick passengers on board. These accounts tend to portray the delays as wanton acts of cruelty on the part of Israeli soldiers against Palestinians in need of medical attention.
According to IDF guidelines, any Palestinian in need of urgent medical care is allowed passage through checkpoints. The severity of the medical condition is determined by the checkpoint commander, who is to make decisions in favor of the Palestinian if there is any doubt. Palestinians are also allowed to enter Israel for routine medical care unless there is a security problem. Even then, Palestinians can appeal decisions and are also offered other options, such as transfer to neighboring states.
Ambulances are still stopped and searched at Israeli checkpoints because they have frequently been used as a means to transport terrorist bombs, and many of the murderers who have triggered suicide bombings in Israel gained access by driving or riding in Red Crescent ambulances. For example:
· In October 2001, Nidal Nazal, a Hamas operative in Kalkilya, was arrested by the IDF. He was an ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent who served as a messenger between the Hamas headquarters in several West Bank towns.17
· In January 2002, Wafa Idris blew herself up on the crowded Jaffa Street in Jerusalem, becoming one of the first female suicide bombers. She was an ambulance driver for the Palestinian Red Crescent, as was Mohammed Hababa, the Tanzim operative who sent her on her mission. She left the West Bank by way of an ambulance.18
· On March 27, 2002, a Tanzim member who worked as a Red Crescent ambulance driver was captured with explosives in his ambulance. A child disguised as a patient was riding in the ambulance along with the child’s family. The explosives were found under the stretcher the “sick” child was laying on.19
· On May 17, 2002, an explosive belt was found in a Red Crescent ambulance at a checkpoint near Ramallah. The bomb, the same type generally used in suicide bombings, was hidden under a gurney on which a sick child was lying. The driver, Islam Jibril, was already wanted by the IDF, and admitted that this was not the first time that an ambulance had been used to transport explosives or terrorists. In a statement issued the same day, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that it “understands the security concerns of the Israeli authorities, and has always acknowledged their right to check ambulances, provided it does not unduly delay medical evacuations.” The sick passengers in the ambulance were escorted by soldiers to a nearby hospital.20
· On June 30, 2002, Israeli troops found 10 suspected Palestinian terrorists hiding in two ambulances in Ramallah. They were caught when soldiers stopped the vehicles for routine checks.21
· In December 2003, Rashed Tarek al-Nimr, who worked as a chemist in hospitals in Nablus and Bethlehem, supplied chemicals from the hospitals to Hamas for use in making bombs and admitted he used ambulances to transport the chemicals. He also said the Hamas commanders would hide in hospitals to avoid arrest.22
The accusations leveled against Israel by its critics have frequently been based on statements of international law, such as the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is true that the Geneva Convention does place particular emphasis on the immunity and neutrality of ambulances and emergency medical personnel. But the conclusion that Israel must ignore a clear and present danger to its citizens, or else violate international law, is a distortion. By using ambulances to smuggle explosives into Israel, it is the Palestinian terrorists who are compromising the Red Crescent’s immunity and neutrality.
“Israel uses checkpoints to deny Palestinians their rights and humiliate them.”
It is not unusual for nations to guard their borders and to establish checkpoints to prevent people from illegally entering their countries. The United States has checkpoints at its borders and airports and, as Americans saw on September 11, these are necessary but not foolproof security precautions.
In the case of Israel, the necessity for checkpoints has been created by the Palestinians. By pursuing a violent campaign of terror against Israel’s citizens, they have forced Israel to set up barriers to make it as difficult as possible for terrorists to enter Israel or travel through the territories to carry out acts of violence. The checkpoints are an inconvenience to innocent Palestinians, but they also prevent terror and save lives.
For example, on October 5, 2008, two pipe bombs were found in a parcel carried by a Palestinian man at the Hawara checkpoint near Nablus. On June 8, 2008, an 18-year-old Palestinian was arrested at the same checkpoint carrying six pipe bombs, an ammunition cartridge and bullets, and a bag of gunpowder. “It’s routine to find bombs at this checkpoint…every day, we find knives and other weapons,” said Cpl. Ron Bezalel of the military police. Just three weeks earlier, another Palestinian was arrested at Hawara carrying five pipe bombs, which he had attached and strapped to his chest to act as an explosives belt.22a
In another incident, on November 2, 2002, a van carrying boxes of jeans pulled up at a checkpoint. Soldiers checked the IDs of the men in the van and discovered one of the passengers was a wanted man. The van was unloaded and it was not until the soldiers opened the last box that they discovered an explosive belt that was being delivered to a suicide bomber. Two weeks later, a taxi pulled up to the same checkpoint. Soldiers found two computers in the trunk that seemed unusually heavy. They opened the boxes and found two explosive belts. They also found a bag with a gun.23
On November 10, 2008, at the Taysir checkpoint outside of Jenin, Israeli soldiers caught a Palestinian attempting to smuggle through a pipebomb.23a
Hyperbolic media reports and anti-Israel propaganda have suggested Israel is harassing Palestinian women at checkpoints. It is unfortunate that women cannot be ignored as potential security threats. Border policemen at a checkpoint north of Jerusalem, for example, arrested a Palestinian woman pushing a baby stroller that concealed a pistol, two ammunition clips and a knife. On another occasion, troops searching a West Bank house for a wanted Hamas activist found his sister hiding his gun in her underpants. A woman hid a hand grenade under her baby during another raid.24
Commercial goods, food, medicine, ambulances, and medical crews continue to circulate freely, hampered only by continuing attacks. Palestinian workers going to jobs in Israel also may pass through the checkpoints with the proper identification; restrictions are only imposed when necessitated by the security situation.
Barriers are not set up to humiliate Palestinians, but to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens. Unfortunately, every time Israel has relaxed its policy and withdrawn checkpoints, Palestinian terrorists have taken advantage of the opportunity to launch new attacks on innocent Israelis.
“Israeli textbooks are just as bad as those in the Palestinian Authority.”
The best hope for the future is that Israeli and Arab children will grow up with a greater understanding and tolerance of one another. Unfortunately, the textbooks in Arab countries, and the Palestinian Authority, in particular, do not promote coexistence. By contrast, Israeli textbooks are oriented toward peace and tolerance. The Palestinians are accepted as Palestinians. Islam and Arab culture are referred to with respect. Islamic holy places are discussed along with Jewish ones. Stereotypes are avoided to educate against prejudice.
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:
Many people think: The dove is a bird that pursues peace. This belief is incorrect; it is a prejudice: people believe it without checking it. There are a lot of prejudices. For example:
Jews control the world and exploit all those who live
Be ready to explain orally why these are prejudices. (I Understand, 1993, p. 259)
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-Israeli conflict is factually described as an ongoing conflict between two national entities over the same territory. 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).
The content of the peace treaties between Israel and Egypt and Jordan is detailed, along with the implications of those agreements. Agreements with the Palestinians are discussed as well, and the atlas used in Israeli schools shows the Palestinian Authority.21a
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.25
“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 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.
Why shouldn’t the Jews have a state? The Jewish people are a nation with a shared origin, religion, culture, language, and history. No one suggests that Arabs are not entitled to a nation of their own (and they have not one, but twenty-one) 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.
“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 145,000 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 injury, Christians are entitled to compensation. 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.26 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 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.27
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 Hizballah ...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 Palestinian War 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.” In 2002, Palestinian terrorists holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, endangering the shrine and provoking a tense standoff with Israeli troops.
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 charged Israel with bulldozing Christian houses, without any evidence, he ignored 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.”28
In September 2005, Muslims attacked the Christian town of Taibe a few days after a Muslim woman was allegedly killed by her family for having become involved in a relationship with a Christian from Taibe. It took hours before any police responded. “It was like a war,” said one Taibe resident. Hours passed before the Palestinian Authority security and fire services arrived.29 [ADD FN to JPOST, need to get date of article, I believe Sept. 4 or 5]
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.”30
“Christian Arabs,” Adam Garfinkle noted, “see Israel as protection agianst the rising sea of Islam in which they live.” Novak claims that Christians have no complaints about Muslims, only Israelis, but Garfinkle says this is understandable. “Because Arab Christians are somewhat marginalized in majority Islamic culture, they have often gone out of their way to act more Arab than the Arabs, and that has sometimes meant taking the lead in anti-Western and anti-Israel advocacy.”31
One Christian who has gone public is Samir Qumsiyeh, a journalist from Beit Sahur who told the the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that Christians were being subjected to rape, kidnapping, extortion and expropriation of land and property. Qumsiyeh, has a list of 93 cases of anti-Christian violence between 2000 and 2004 and specifically mentioned the case of a 17-year-old girl from his town who was raped by members of Fatah. “Even though the family protested,” he said, “ none of the four was ever arrested. Because of the shame her family was forced to move to Jordan.” He added that “almost all 140 cases of expropriation of land in the last three years were committed by militant Islamic groups and members of the Palestinian police” and that the Christian population of Bethlehem has dropped from 75 percent in 1950 to 12 percent today. “If the situation continues,” Qumsiyeh warned, “we won't be here any more in 20 years.”32
“Israel is knowingly desecrating a Muslim holy place in Jerusalem by building a museum on top of a cemetery.”
An offshoot of the Islamic Movement in Israel petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to halt the the Simon Wiesenthal Center from constructing a new Museum of Tolerance in the center of Jerusalem. The petitioners, from a group called “the Al-Aqsa Corporation,” claim the museum is being built on part of an ancient cemetery where 20,000 soldiers from Saladin's army are buried, and want the area recognized as an Islamic waqf. This would give them exclusive rights to any decisions regarding use of the land. This claim is very controversial because it would in effect place a Muslim enclave in the heart of West Jersualem.
Over forty years ago, an Islamic court ruled that the land was no longer sacred and could be used for construction or other purposes. Even four decades before that ruling, in 1922, the infamous Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, built a luxurious hotel on part of the land. The Mufti ruled that construction was possible if the tombs were removed and reburied in another place, and he made plans to build a Muslim university on the same tract of land.33
The cemetery has been abandoned for well over a century and, in 1964, an Islamic court ruled that its status was mundaras (erased), meaning that its holiness had expired. Muslim scholars and religious leaders have allowed the “recycling” of cemeteries that have not been used for more than a generation. The Islamic Movement, however, sees the dispute as an opportunity to claim part of Jerusalem as a Muslim enclave.
The Israel Antiquities Authority has been especially careful in removing remains found at the site for reburial. The Wiesenthal Center has also offered to re-inter all of the remains in the part of the cemetery that still exists, and plans to renovate and fence off the area.
1Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.
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