Arab-Israeli Conflict - Facts and Myths
The West Bank
- Ever wondered why the West Bank is also known as Judea and Samaria? Because Jews have lived there since Biblical times, until being forced to flee in 1948. Indeed, the only time Jews have been prohibited from living in the West Bank in recent decades was during Jordan's rule, from 1948 to 1967.
- Israel is 14km wide at its narrowest point! To give you some idea, the drive from Jerusalem to Ramallah is about the same as from Sydney to Parramatta.
- Islamic fundamentalists (e.g. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, etc) oppose a Jewish state anywhere in the Middle East, not only the West Bank. For example, it clearly states in Hamas' charter that their ultimate objective is the complete destruction of the State of Israel.
Jewish settlements - a hurdle to making peace?
- There is a common view that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are a major hurdle to any sort of peace process. The reality is that a far greater hurdle to making peace between Israelis and Palestinians is Palestinian terrorism.
- Terrorism (often fuelled by Islamic fundamentalism more so than by any genuine desire for a Palestinian statehood) has been the principal tactic of Palestinians since before 1967. Despite international agreements calling on the Palestinian groups to cease terror (e.g. Road Map), this has not yet been done.
- What is often overlooked is the fact that Israel has proven that it is willing to cede territory for a durable peace. An example was returning the Sinai to Egypt, and removing Jewish settlements in the process. More recently, during the so-called Disengagement process, Israel has unilaterally withdrawn all settlements and army posts from the Gaza Strip handing it over to the Palestinians - only to see Hamas turn the Strip into a launching pad for crude "Qassam" rockets into Israel's Negev Desert - particularly the town of Sderot.
- Not many people know that under international law, Israel is entitled to occupy the territories that it took in self-defence in 1967 until a just and lasting peace is achieved. Even the 1993 Oslo Agreement permitted Jewish settlement in the West Bank and Gaza.
Suicide bombings = terrorism
- A common myth about suicide bombers is that they are poor young men and women whose despair, hopelessness and resentment towards Israeli occupation drive them to do this. The truth is: suicide bombings are mostly carried out and planned by middle-class, educated Islamist fundamentalists. Their objective is NOT so much the fight for Palestinian statehood as it is to simply kill Jewish civilians.
- Suicide bombers are brainwashed to believe that they embody the ultimate heroic expressions of their communities and the political organisations to which they belong, and that their ultimate sacrifice will elevate them to a higher moral level. They believe that they will be rewarded in Paradise.
- Such beliefs are easy to plant in the minds of young Palestinian kids. It is a well known fact that Hamas (and numerous other Islamist organisations) fund and run Islamic medrasa schools which are effectively used to brainwash kids, inciting violence against Israel and the West at large. To that end, the Palestinian youth are the victims of Islamic fundamentalism just as much as (if not more than) the Israeli civilians. Such passing of hatred from generation to generation is largely responsible for perpetuating the conflict making it extremely difficult to reach any rational compromise with the Palestinians.
- As a result, Israel has no choice but to deter terrorism against its civilians, including by proportionate military means. Any other nation would do the same if it was faced with such threat. If any other nation has the basic right to defend its civilians against terrorism - then why should Israel be held to a different standard?
The Security Fence = protection
- The security fence was erected to keep terrorists out of Israel and to protect the lives of civilians in Israel. It is an exercise of the right to life and to self-defence.
- The fence has proven to be an effective deterrant against terror attacks coming from the West Bank, and in particular suicide bombings.
- The fence is solely a defensive measure, intended to protect Israelis from suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. It can be removed at any time such as when terrorist attacks cease. Unfortunately, given the escalation of rocket attacks by Hamas from the Gaza Strip onto nearby Israeli towns - it looks unlikely that the fence in the West Bank can be removed any time soon.
- Only 5% of the fence is concrete, near the most vulnerable Israeli areas. The fence does contain gates and crossings for civillian and agricultural use.
- Israel often gets criticised for causing travel restrictions for Palestinians as a result of the fence. The truth is - had it not been for ongoing Palestinian terrorist attacks, the fence would not be there.
One of the most burning questions of the conflict is "Who has the genuine claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem?" While the dispute goes on, here are the facts:
- Jerusalem was founded by King David 3300 years ago and the Jews have lived there ever since.
- Jerusalem is mentioned 600 times in the Torah and 140 times in the New Testament.
- Jews have been the largest group of residents of Jerusalem since 1840s.
- The Old City of Jerusalem contains the Western Wall on the Temple Mount. This wall is the last remaining wall of the Holy Temple that was destroyed by the Romans, and as such it is Judaism's holiest site. In contrast, the Golden Dome and the Al Aqsa Mosque (both are also in the Old City, just above the Western Wall) are only third-holiest in Islam - after Mecca and Medina (in Saudi Arabia).
- Even though Jerusalem is widely regarded as the center of all 3 Abrahamic religious (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) - historically, since its establishment by King David, it has never been the capital of any state other than Israel.
- Israel was defending itself from aggression in the 1948 and 1967 wars, it has the most valid claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem.
- Only since 1967, when Israel reunified Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, has there been freedom of religion and worship in Jerusalem for Christians, Muslims and Jews.
What about the Palestinian right of return?
This is another burning question of the conflict. Again, here are the facts:
- In 1948 Arab nations attacked Israel, starting a war that displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs.
- 600,000 Arabs were living within the borders of what became Israel in 1948.
- Over 100,000 Arabs have been permitted to return to their homes and granted full Israeli citizenship.
- Even if Palestinians were granted refugee status, the International Convention on the Status of Refugees declares that refugees are not to be returned to the country from which they fled. Instead, they are to be given sanctuary or refuge in the country to which they fled. Therefore, by definition, there is no such thing as the "Palestinian right of return" under international law.
- At the request of the Arab League, Palestinians are denied refugee status, contrary to the Convention.
- Not many people known that decades of conflict have displaced both Jews and Palestinian Arabs in almost equal numbers. Israel has successfully resettled 565,000 Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab countries after 1948 and who lost their homes, businesses and personal possessions, without compensation and without ever receiving any UN aid. Therefore, Palestinian refugees should be resettled by their Arab brethren, including in a future Palestinian state alongside Israel.
- Future creation of a Palestinian state as the homeland for Palestinian Arabs means that by definition the issue of refugees is solved - it will be their homeland.
- Israel was created as a Jewish state. An influx of millions of Palestinian Arabs into Israel will effectively spell the end for Israel as a Jewish state.
The role of the United Nations
- UN Security Council resolutions concerning Israel are based on the Chapter VI of the UN Charter, which gives the Security Council authority to uphold peaceful resolutions of disputes, using diplomatic means to negotiate settlement.
- Examples are UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which state that Israel is entitled to hold all territory acquired in 1967 Six-Day War until a durable and fair peace is achieved.
- UN General Assembly resolutions (not to be confused with UN Security Council resolutions) are non-binding, but reflect political currents in the world body. The UN General Assembly allows one vote per member-country. Given the preponderance of non-democratic countries with an anti-Western bias; the result is that a large percentage of UN General Assembly resolutions are passed annualy against Israel.
Claims of ethnic cleansing / genocide
Quite often you hear about accusations of "genocide and ethnic cleansing" directed towards Israel. Amazingly enough, people who say this liken Israel to Nazi Germany or to the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in former Yugoslavia. People who say this have no understanding of what the basic definitions of "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" are.
- Genocide is the deliberate extermination of a people - for one reason or another.
- The Nazi objective was nothing other than systematic extermination of every Jew in Europe (and even beyond). Hitler's "Final Solution" resulted in the systematic murder of 6 million Jews.
- By contrast, in Gaza, for example, the Arab population increased from 731,000 to 1,225,911 in July 2002 - an increase of 68%!
- Arab Israelis are allowed free movement, lifestyle, study, religion and beliefs, and full civil and political life; and equal participation in all aspects of social and civic life.
- Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), unlike any other armed force in the world, does everything possible to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. They have a strict code of conduct when it comes to conducting military operations in civilian areas. It is any army's responsibility to protect their civilians from the threats of terrorism and eliminating those threats before it is too late. To that end, IDF's actions are purely defensive and take place in response to genuine threats. You will never see an IDF paramilitary unit carry out an ethnic-cleansing-style massacre of Palestinian civilians.
- Anti-Zionism says that all people, but not Jews, are entitled to self-determination - this is inherently racist. Comparing Israelis and Israeli leaders to Nazis and Hitler is antisemitic. So is holding Israel to a different standard than any other country.
The role of Zionism in the conflict
Another thing you often hear is Israel labelled an "evil Zionist regime". People who say that have no idea what Zionism really means.
- Zionism is self-determination for the Jewish people based on equality and democracy for all citizens. Zionism is fundamentally opposed to racism.
- Fact: Israel's society comprises Jews and non-Jews from at least 100 countries, with diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.
- Israel has 2 official languages: Hebrew and Arabic, and it has no official religion.
- Israel has long admitted immigrants who are not Jews. Relative to its population, Israel is the world's largest immigrant-absorbing nation.
- Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times, October 16, 2002: "Critisizing Israel is not antisemitic and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium to any other party in the Middle East is antisemitic, and not saying so is dishonest."
A fair go
Israel is a tiny Jewish country that simply wants a fair go. And it's not too much to ask. Judge for yourself:
- There are 22 Arab states in the Middle East, occupying 99.3% of the Middle East land mass; Israel is the only Jewish state, occupying a mere 0.7% of the land mass of the Middle East. To give you some idea of just how small Israel really is - if the surrounding 22 Arab states were an official-size football field, then Israel would be a little matchbox in the middle of that field.
- Arab League countries cover a global surface of 6 million square miles (10% of Earth's surface). Israel only covers 8,000 square miles.
- Jews comprise less than 0.2% of the world's population.