The Northeast is covered in snow, New Year’s Eve bashes are a distant memory, and the college kids are back at school, with slew of “activists” bringing divestment resolutions to campuses. To quote a UC Davis divestment proponent, “Hamas & Sharia law have taken over” at that school, and other campuses are in the crosshairs.
Groups like Camera On Campus and Stand With Us have been doing a great job countering these hatefests. Not all campuses, however, have chapters of these groups. When I was a student at an ultra-left midwest campus, hostile to Israel as far back as anyone can remember, these groups didn’t even exist, and our little band of campus Israel supporters was on our own. A lot has changed since then, but one thing hasn’t: the movement to delegitimize Israel is based on half-truths, distortions, and outright lies disseminated in part by anti-Semites and in part by the small group of well-meaning but severely misguided liberals with whom they ally. The themes that these Israel-bashers rely on are occupation, checkpoints, settlements, and apartheid. This year it also seems likely that we will hear more about Gaza than we have in the past.
The mantra that there is an ongoing “occupation” in the West Bank and Gaza has become so entrenched that even mainstream media, as well as many Jews, believe it. This terminology, however, disregards the fact that the reason Israel remains in the West Bank today is that the Palestinian leadership has rejected multiple attempts by Israel to leave it. It is undisputed that Israel has offered to leave the West Bank twice in this century, first in 2000, at Camp David, and then again in 2008. In 2008, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered a compromise under which representatives from five nations — Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Palestine, the US, and Israel — would administer the Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount/Dome of the Rock and The Western Wall. Olmert’s plan included a tunnel that would have connected Gaza with the West Bank, and withdrawal from 93.7% of the West Bank, with land swaps providing territory equal to another 5.8%, for a total of 99.5% of the territory. Olmert even presented a map to Palestinian President Abbas. But Abbas himself walked away from this offer, with no serious explanation. So it is hard to understand how, after this, Abbas can claim that Israel is “occupying” the West Bank in violation of the will of the Palestinian people. Israel is in the West Bank because the Palestinian President will not allow Israel to leave.
Leaving unilaterally, without agreement, is what Israel did in Gaza. In 2005, Israel withdrew fully to the 1967 ceasefire lines, dismantling all of the existing settlements and removing all Israeli Jews that were within that territory by force. After the withdrawal, the residents of Gaza elected Hamas, which has started three wars with Israel since that time, making further unilateral withdrawals impossible.
The ubiquitous claim that Israel is “occupying” any part of “Palestine,” therefore, is a distortion of fact that is severely misleading.
2. Security Barrier and Checkpoints
BDS advocates love to tell stories about seeing a terrified mother separated from her toddler at a checkpoint, or how a sister was unable to visit her brother because of the security barrier. They point to the human cost of these measures — and of course, there is a cost to them. The vague references to “security” that many of us make in response to such stories, however, gloss over the human cost of the Second Intifada.
Today’s undergrads most likely do not remember the Second Intifada all that well. They do not remember the terror of reading about yet another bombing on what seemed like a weekly basis. Similarly, very few people are aware that the Second Intifada was started intentionally by Arafat after he rejected Israeli Prime Minister Barak’s offer of statehood at Camp David in 2000.
The refrain that the security wall and checkpoints are for “security” belittles and minimizes the problem that the wall and checkpoints were designed to solve. The fact about the checkpoints and the security barrier is that THEY SAVE LIVES. Probably hundreds of lives every year. Just this past December, for example, Israeli security uncovered a plot for a female terrorist to disguise herself as being pregnant in order to cross a checkpoint to commit a suicide bombing.
Of course, we can’t point to a specific little boy or teenage girl whose life was saved; it’s impossible to know exactly who would have been the victim of a terrorist attack if the wall and checkpoints did not exist. But we can point out that between the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000 and the building of the wall in 2004, more than 900 people were murdered by terrorism, with thousands more injured.
We can also honor the memories of those that were killed prior to the existence of these devices, such as Malki Roth, a beautiful 15-year old girl whose life was cut short when a bomb exploded in a pizza place in Jerusalem. Malki’s death was 14 years ago, but every year since that wall was built, other would-be Malkis are spared her fate and given the chance to grow up.
Malki’s parents have been doing their best to keep her memory alive, and all of us can help. The next time a BDS activist starts talking about a family being kept apart by the security wall or a checkpoint, tell them about Malki Roth, a girl whose life could have been saved, had that wall only been built sooner.
For people who don’t accept religious justifications for Jews living in Judea and Samaria, Israel’s continued building is hard to understand. This is largely because the reason for the continued building has simply not been given much attention in the English language media — even the Jewish media. The centrist Israeli Knesset Member Yair Lapid has concisely explained why building in existing neighborhoods continues in an interview with the New York Times’s Jodi Rudoren. No surprise, though, that this information was omitted from Rudoren’s printed interview with him, and she put it only on her facebook page, where it got a handful of readers.
Lapid told her:
As long as we don’t have a real, some sort of, process, I see no way of telling people that they cannot do what is called natural expansion. If somebody is a third generation in [the West Bank town of] Eli, and they have a child being born, there will be a new kindergarten in Eli. What can you do, tell people not to give birth?
For those who are still not mollified, it is also useful to point out that if Abbas had accepted Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer — the offer of a Palestinian state in 99.5% of the West Bank, including land swaps, with a connection between the West Bank and Gaza, and shared control over Jerusalem’s holy sites — there would be no building today in the State of Palestine that wasn’t authorized by the Palestinian government. Israel and Palestine would have mutually recognized borders and Israel would have no ability to build beyond its borders. Abbas, however, rejected that offer in 2008. It has since come to light, as well, that it was Abbas who rejected a US-proposed framework for two states in the 2014 negotiations sponsored by Secretary John Kerry. And so, building continues, simply because, these are religious communities with high birthrates and rapidly growing populations, and people need places to live.
Contrary to claims made by anti-Israel advocates, and even by certain misguided US government officials, this building is, in fact, fully in compliance with international law. This is because, as was made clear by the late Eugene Rostow, who held the position of US Undersecretary of State in 1967 and who was one of the drafters of UN Resolution 242, UN Resolution 242 was never intended to supplant the initial League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. The Mandate for Jews to settle in all of the land that was once governed by the British Mandate for Palestine is still in effect today in the West Bank, because no sovereign entity was ever established there. Another of UN Resolution 242’s drafters, British UN Ambassador Lord Caradon, said clearly that “it would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.” A clear but more detailed explanation of the relevant law can be found here or here.
The 4th Geneva Convention, another favorite of those whose real goal is to delegitimize the Jewish state, doesn’t apply in the West Bank, either, for three reasons. First, it was meant to apply only to territories taken in aggressive wars, and not to territories taken defensively. Second, the 4th Geneva convention, historically, was always believed to apply only to the territory of a sovereign state — something that has never existed in the West Bank. Third, by its own terms, it applies only to forced population transfers, and was never intended to limit individual rights to live in particular places. It’s no wonder that an American expert on international law has highlighted the disparate and inconsistent application of the Geneva Convention. As one prominent Israeli columnist recently told a European Ambassador, when it comes to applying international law to Israel, the law is, in large part, being made up.
The claim that these settlements are on land that was confiscated from Palestinians is also false, as most Israeli building has been on land that was state land — that is, land with no private ownership — both before and after the 1967 Six-Day War, or on property that has been privately purchased. In the rare instances in which this is not the case, Israel’s judiciary has intervened. The common internet meme purporting to show Palestinian loss of land has about as much truth to it as stories about Santa Clause or the tooth fairy, as explained here.
While informed and reasonable people may agree or disagree about the wisdom or the desirability of the continued building in the West Bank, the dispute over the legality of doing so is a dispute that has been manufactured solely for the purpose of delegitimizing Israel.
The apartheid analogy is nothing more than a complete fabrication — an appropriation of another people’s suffering for political gain. It’s safe to say, however, that students on college campuses today don’t actually remember the apartheid system in South Africa that ended in 1994, and how insidious it was. Dr. Kenneth Meshoe, a member of the South African Parliament, explains the truth about the actual system of apartheid that existed in South Africa, and compares it to what he saw when he visited Israel:
As a black South African under apartheid, I, among other things, could not vote, nor could I freely travel the landscape of South Africa. No person of color could hold high government office. The races were strictly segregated at sports arenas, public restrooms, schools and on public transportation. People of color had inferior hospitals, medical care and education. If a white doctor was willing to take a black patient, he had to examine him or her in a back room or some other hidden place.
In my numerous visits to Israel, I did not see any of the above. My understanding of the Israeli legal system is that equal rights are enshrined in law. Black, brown and white Jews and the Arab minority mingle freely in all public places, universities, restaurants, voting stations and public transportation. All people have the right to vote. The Arab minority has political parties, serves in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) and holds positions in government ministries, the police force and the security services. In hospitals, Palestinian patients lie in beds next to Israeli Jews, and doctors and nurses are as likely to be Israeli Arabs as Jews. I also understand that an Israeli Arab judge presided over the trial of former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of misconduct. An Ethiopian Jew recently won the title of Miss Israel. None of the above was legally permissible in apartheid South Africa!
I believe that it is slanderous and deceptive for Israel’s self-defense measures against the terrorists’ campaign of suicide bombing, rocket attacks and other acts of terrorism that have occurred, and continue to occur, to be labeled as apartheid. I am shocked by the claim that the free, diverse, democratic state of Israel practices apartheid. This ridiculous accusation trivializes the word apartheid, minimizing and belittling the magnitude of the racism and suffering endured by South Africans of color.
Dr. Meshoe has explained this further in a great video as well.
This is not to say that Israel is immune from the same racial or ethnic divisions that occur in any other society made up of diverse populations. The United States, of course, has its own racial problems. Like the US Constitution, however, Israel’s Basic Law guarantees equal rights to all citizens of Israel, regardless of religion or ethnicity, and like US citizens, Israelis of all religions and ethnicities may resort to the judiciary when this promise is violated.
There has been a lot written on this blog about the threat to which Israel was forced to respond during Operation Protective Edge this past summer, as well as about the way that Hamas has manufactured false civilian casualty counts. Even the notoriously anti-Israel BBC printed an article containing an analysis similar to the one printed here, and questioning the Hamas figures. Still, the death and destruction in Gaza is unquestionably heartbreaking and tragic. Equally unquestionable, however, is that it is Hamas, and not Israel, that is the cause of it. It was Hamas threats that led to the legal blockade of Gaza, it was Hamas that initiated all three conflicts that have taken place since Israel’s withdrawal, and it was Hamas that refused or broke countless ceasefires last summer. The people of Gaza put Hamas into power, and only the people of Gaza can remove Hamas. Nothing in Gaza will get better until the people who live there decide that they will no longer countenance a government that leads them to constant war. Boycotting Israel will do nothing to improve the lives of the people in Gaza.
If Palestinians want to end what they call “occupation,” if they want an end to settlements and an end to checkpoints, all they need to do is accept an offer and allow Israel to go peacefully. Israel has tried three times in this century to part ways amicably, and once to leave on its own. But like an abusive husband, the Palestinian leadership simply will not allow Israel to leave the relationship. Just as an abuser tracks down his victim and beats her more for trying to leave, Palestinian leaders reacted to Israel’s 2000 Camp David offer with the sustained terror campaign known as the Second Intifada, and Palestinian people reacted to Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza by electing a terror group sworn to Israel’s destruction, that has rained down rockets on Israel ever since. Just like any other abuser, they then blame the victim of their violence for the perceived provocation, and for defensive action taken for protection. And the UN today legitimizes the abuse, just as antiquated legal systems once protected a man’s right to be a batterer.
As Clinton-era Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross has argued, it is time to stop giving the Palestinians a pass for their intransigent behavior. Jews and non-Jews alike who are committed to truth and fairness must speak out against the lies that rationalize this ongoing violence.