In Plain Language: An Israeli-Palestinian primer

True or False?

ARABS HAVE full representation in the Knesset, with MKs such as Ayman Odeh (Joint List). (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
ARABS HAVE full representation in the Knesset, with MKs such as Ayman Odeh (Joint List).
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
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.

The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.
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