An Is­raeli-Pales­tinian primer

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIONS - STE­WART WEISS The writer is di­rec­tor of the Jewish Out­reach Cen­ter of Ra’anana. [email protected]­

Some months ago, while lead­ing a tour in Vi­enna, I came across a group of BDS peo­ple (BDS stand­ing for “Bul­lies Demon­strat­ing Stu­pid­ity”) who were protest­ing against Is­rael out­side of Vi­enna’s Holo­caust me­mo­rial.

Af­ter ac­knowl­edg­ing that this was ac­tu­ally a fit­ting venue for them – as con­tem­po­rary vil­lains who would like to fin­ish the job that Hitler started – I pulled out a blank map of the Mid­dle East and asked if any­one in that mot­ley crowd could iden­tify the lo­ca­tion of their beloved, so-called “Pales­tine.” They were, need­less to say, com­pletely clue­less. Not only about ge­og­ra­phy, of course, but about every sin­gle as­pect of the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. Which is why I have of­ten said that the vast ma­jor­ity of those scream­ing and protest­ing and cas­ti­gat­ing Is­rael are ei­ther hope­lessly ig­no­rant or just plain an­ti­semitic.

How­ever, just be­cause they are mis­led and mis­in­formed does not mean that we should be. We must be fully aware of the facts of the mat­ter so that, at the very least, we our­selves are com­pletely se­cure in the knowl­edge that our cause is em­i­nently just, and it is the haters and the de­mo­niz­ers, as pop­u­lar as they un­for­tu­nately may be, who are on the wrong side of both his­tory and truth.

And so I present this lit­tle “True or False?” primer that I hope will help to elu­ci­date the ma­jor is­sues.

True or False? The pri­mary prob­lem in the Mid­dle East is Is­rael’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Arab lands.

False. For starters, oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries are ter­ri­to­ries cap­tured in war from an es­tab­lished and rec­og­nized sovereign, and the West Bank wasn’t un­der any le­git­i­mate or rec­og­nized sovereignty of any state prior to the Six Day War (Jor­dan’s oc­cu­pa­tion in 1950 – though curiously not op­posed by the world at large – was re­jected by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and rec­og­nized only by Jor­dan and the United King­dom). As such, it should not be con­sid­ered “oc­cu­pied” ter­ri­tory but, rather, “dis­puted” ter­ri­tory, sub­ject to a ne­go­ti­ated agree­ment be­tween the par­ties. That is why Is­rael – un­like Jor­dan – has re­frained from an­nex­ing the ter­ri­to­ries.

Fur­ther­more, the idea that an end to “oc­cu­pa­tion” would re­sult in peace be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tini­ans was shown to the whole world to be ab­jectly false in 2005, when 25 Jewish set­tle­ments in Gaza were dis­man­tled and close to 10,000 Jewish res­i­dents forcibly evicted. The re­sult: in­creased ter­ror­ism and calls for Is­rael’s to­tal elim­i­na­tion; the pro­lif­er­a­tion of mas­sively de­struc­tive weapons and the pro­mo­tion of Ha­mas and its geno­ci­dal ide­ol­ogy.

True or False? Is­rael is a racist coun­try, dis­crim­i­nat­ing against its Arab in­hab­i­tants.

False. While there are clearly eco­nomic and so­cial gaps be­tween Is­raeli Jews and Arabs (who con­sti­tute 20% of the pop­u­la­tion), there is no sys­tem­atic or in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized dis­crim­i­na­tion. Arabs have equal vot­ing rights – in­clud­ing Arab women, an anom­aly in the Mid­dle East – with full rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Knes­set; Ara­bic is an of­fi­cial lan­guage; and both Is­raeli Arabs and Pales­tini­ans have one of the high­est lit­er­acy rates in the world.

A per­fect ex­am­ple of co­ex­is­tence is in Is­rael’s health-care sys­tem: 42% of Is­rael’s nurs­ing stu­dents, 38% of Is­rael’s phar­ma­cists and 31% of Is­rael’s doc­tors are Arabs. In the last seven years alone, the num­ber of Arab stu­dents in Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties has grown by 78%.

What is a true ex­am­ple of Mideast racism? Saudi Ara­bia, where it is pro­hib­ited to pub­licly prac­tice ei­ther Chris­tian­ity or Ju­daism, and con­ver­sion from Is­lam is sub­ject to the death penalty.

True or False? Jerusalem is holy to Mus­lims as well as Jews.

True – and false. Is­lam con­sid­ers Jerusalem to be its third-holi­est city, af­ter Mecca and Me­d­ina, and it is tra­di­tion­ally held that Muham­mad vis­ited Jerusalem on a noc­tur­nal jour­ney and as­cended to Heaven from the Dome of the Rock. How­ever, Jerusalem is not men­tioned even once in the Ko­ran (it ap­pears 669 times in the Tanach), and many hold that its pri­mary sig­nif­i­cance for Mus­lims de­rives from its con­nec­tion to Abra­ham, David, Solomon and Je­sus, all prophets in Is­lamic tra­di­tion (this, iron­i­cally, fur­ther mock­ing the out­ra­geous Pales­tinian claim that Jews never lived in Jerusalem!).

In prac­tice, un­til a Jewish pres­ence was reestab­lished in Jerusalem, few Mus­lims came there to pray; dur­ing the il­le­gal Jor­da­nian oc­cu­pa­tion of the Old City, for ex­am­ple, not a sin­gle Mus­lim leader or cleric vis­ited the “holy sites” of al-Aqsa or the Dome of the Rock.

True or False? The Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict is po­lit­i­cal, rather than re­li­gious.

False. While geopo­lit­i­cal el­e­ments are al­ways in play, in­volv­ing strug­gles for power among the many Pales­tinian fac­tions, with both sides seek­ing votes at the UN and cul­ti­vat­ing in­ter­na­tional re­la­tion­ships, the heart of this con­flict is in­dis­putably re­li­gious.

Though the orig­i­nal pioneers of mod­ern Is­rael were largely sec­u­lar, Jews be­lieve that our pri­mary claim to the land de­rives from the Bi­ble’s re­peated as­sur­ance that Is­rael is given eter­nally to the Jewish peo­ple by God, with Jerusalem di­vinely pro­claimed as our cap­i­tal.

At the same time, Mus­lims be­lieve that land once oc­cu­pied by Mus­lims be­comes “Is­lamized” or con­se­crated, and so can­not be ceded to “in­fi­dels.” This is why no Arab leader has agreed to the many peace pro­pos­als pre­sented over the years – even those that ac­ceded to more than 95% of Arab de­mands – and why Arabs who sell land to Jews are rou­tinely mur­dered.

True or False? Peace can some­day come to this re­gion.

True! While there are surely el­e­ments among the Pales­tini­ans who es­pouse eter­nal war un­til all Jews are driven out of the Mid­dle East, it is an over­whelm­ing Jewish be­lief that peace, how­ever elu­sive and far-off it may ap­pear, can in­deed some­day be re­al­ized. That is why Is­rael sings of peace, teaches peace and prays fer­vently for peace.

But when will the Gor­dian knot fi­nally be un­tied and that glo­ri­ous day ar­rive? Golda Meir said it best: “Peace will hap­pen,” she pre­dicted, “when the Arabs will love their chil­dren more than they hate us.” We are stead­fastly, earnestly, anx­iously await­ing that day.

We must be fully aware of the facts so that, at the very least, we our­selves are com­pletely se­cure in the knowl­edge that our cause is em­i­nently just

(Marc Is­rael Sellem)

ARABS HAVE full rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Knes­set, with MKs such as Ay­man Odeh (Joint List).

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