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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Israel Apartheid Week

It never ceases to amaze me when, with all the truly backwards, racist countries in the world, Israel is singled out for Pariah status due to its alleged racism and 'apartheid' policies towards its Arab citizens and towards the Palestinians.

Although few make the distinction between these two populations (Israeli Arabs and Palestinians), it is an important one for the sake of an honest and open discussion; something few who call Israel an Apartheid state seem interested in having.

Israeli Arabs:

I've mentioned in the past that many (although certainly not all) Israeli Arabs self identify as Palestinians, and are more sympathetic to the Palestinian narrative than to the Zionist one. This is not a problem as far as I can see since, having grown up in the US, I am comfortable with the concept of hyphenated self identification. However, problems arise when a self identification tends to perpetuate a group's status as second class citizens (such as was prevalent with many minorities in the US) rather than being simply a matter of pride.

Such is the case (IMHO) with Israel's Arab citizens. Without a doubt they are viewed with suspicion by many of their fellow citizens, and are often singled out for additional security scrutiny due to their open sympathy for the Palestinian 'struggle'.

Additionally, despite efforts by the many government ministries and agencies to provide Arab citizens with better/fairer access to prestigious education tracks and employment opportunities, the Arab sector remains less educated/blue collar, and therefore lags well behind the Jewish sector in terms of representation at Universities, and the kinds of jobs to which academic degrees generally provide a gateway.

But this is a relative problem, and cannot be discussed without looking at trends over the last half century, as well as comparing the education and employment opportunities afforded to Israeli Arabs alongside the opportunities open to Arabs of other countries in our region.

To be sure, there are plenty of Arab doctors, lawyers, accountants, and members within other high level professions in Israel. I know from personal experience that when our son Yonah had his surgery a couple of years ago, the surgeon, anesthesiologist and scrub nurse who performed his life-changing operation were all Israeli Arabs.

Getting back to the issue of self-identification and a sense of 'otherness' that can, and often does, lead to subtle forms of racism... this isn't unique to Israel. Almost any country on the planet with a multicultural population contends with some of its citizens being viewed as lower class, security/safety risks, or both.

Ask a 3rd of 4th generation Parisian how he feels about some of the north African immigrants living in France. Then ask if he would accept them as neighbors, employees, sons/daughters-in-law? No, Israel is not the only country that is struggling with racism.

Israel has struggled mightily with prejudice even within the Jewish community (ask any Sephardi Israel about this, and they will have plenty of stories to tell you). In the past few decades Israel has made both social and legislative efforts to address internecine and general issues of prejudice and racism. We're a long way from a Utopian society... but then so is every other country in the world.

What I would ask some of our detracters to do is to go to any Israeli university and note the huge percentage of Arab students. Visit any Israeli hospital and you won't find a floor or ward without Arab doctors, nurses and technicians.

This gives me hope that we, as a society, are at least working on our racism issues.

Israeli Arabs are full citizens under the law. They are exempted from military service (at their own request) but many Druse and Bedouin do serve proudly in IDF combat units.

However, whenever legislation has been proposed to require Arab citizens who don't do compulsory service in the army to do some kind of national service - even within their own communities - their leadership protests loudly at the attempted 'Zionization' of the Arab population.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that many Israelis take exception that a large portion of our population is receiving equal access to services and benefits under the law... but do not feel any sense of obligation to contribute equally to the betterment of the society which provides the services and benefits?

Add to this the sad fact that some Israeli Arabs, and nearly all of their leaders/representatives, enthusiastically provide support and encouragement to organizations and governments hostile to Israel... well, you can see why not everyone is ready to sit down around the campfire and sing 'kumbaya' just yet.

The Palestinians:

This is obviously a much more difficult issue. As a result of defensive wars, Israeli has won for itself some breathing room and more defensible borders (albeit borders that are not recognized by a good portion of the world). But within those new borders we also inherited an Arab population whose citizenship and loyalties were a quandary long before they came under Israeli rule.

Under Ottoman rule the Palestinians were rarely full land owners, and were mostly stateless (unless they held citizenship from another country from which they had emigrated).

After WWI, they came under British responsibility, and some suddenly became citizens of the previously unknown kingdom of Transjordan when the British created that country out of whole cloth (and a big chunk of the territory that it was legally obligated under their mandate to hold in trust for the creation of a Jewish Homeland).

Yet, many stateless Arabs living in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt were relegated to refugee camps and left to fester under the watchful eye of international aid organizations created exclusively for their sustenance. Yet well before Israel was ever created, nobody was running to confer citizenship or rights on these Arabs.

Then came the Partition Plan. The U.N. voted yes... the Jewish government of the proto-state of Israel said yes... and the Arabs (at least those who had a say) said no.

Then came the declaration of the State of Israel, followed immediately by the unprovoked attack by all of Israel's neighbors (and even some countries who had to travel long distances to take part in the fighting).

When the cease fire was declared and signed, Jordan was in possession of what is today called the 'West Bank' and all of the Arabs living there. The Jews who had been living there were ethnically cleansed, and their land and property confiscated without compensation.

From 1948 - 1967, Jordan did not rush to bestow citizenship upon these 'Palestinian' Arabs... and these Arabs made no demands of the Jordanian monarchy, since it was assumed by all that the next war would result in the Jews being thrown into the sea, and all these 'refugees' would be resettled in the newly vacated Israeli lands. Problem solved.

But until that day arrived, the Jordanians (and Lebanese, Egyptians and Syrians) kept their Palestinians cooped up in refugee camps and largely ignored them.

I would never be so foolish as to suggest that the so-called Palestinians have had an easy go of things over the past century. They were forced to sit on the sidelines while everyone else in the region was getting countries, citizenship, education, opportunities... while they remained stuck living in a virtual prison on handouts from the U.N..

But the Six Day War in 1967, and Israel capture of the West Bank, should have changed their plight. To be sure, since Israel didn't annex the west bank, these Arabs still lacked citizenship. But by comparison to their status under the Jordanians, their situation had certainly improved. But instead of coming out of their refugee camps, their own leadership and the aid organizations that existed exclusively to help the Palestinians, urged them to continue living in squalor so that the world wouldn't make the mistake of thinking the refugee problem was solved.

However, instead of lobbying for Jordanian or Israeli citizenship, the Palestinians stubbornly held out for their own country; at first in place of Israel, and then grudgingly, alongside Israel (although this latter point is far from a consensus within the Palestinian community).

Forget that there has never been a culturally or politically unique population known as 'Palestinians' in the history of the world. But since the lack of a unique cultural heritage hadn't been a stumbling block for the Jordanians, the reasoning went that the Palestinians shouldn't be held to that standard either.

The big problem is that in pretty much every other conflict in the world where refugees were left un-repatriated, they had a choice of either integrating into the society where they found themselves, or seeking redress from one or more of the parties to the conflict that made them refugees.

But in this case, not only were the Arabs living in the West bank not citizens of any party to the conflict... many of them had not been displaced, and had lived for generations as stateless people, exactly where they still found themselves.

In typical fashion, the world powers ignored the fact that it was Israel's neighbors (who had instigated each of the wars which had caused, or at least worsened) that caused the Palestinian refugee problem, and looked only to Israel for a solution. None of Israel's neighbors were expected to give up any of their own territory for the creation of a Palestinian State... and certainly nobody was lining up to give these stateless people citizenship.

No, it was left to the tiniest country in the region to carve out a piece of its already scarce territory for the sake of a theoretical state about which nobody knew even who would be in charge!

Yet, despite all the difficulties of the legal status of the Palestinians in the West Bank, their standard of living improved dramatically under Israeli rule. To be sure, the international aid they received helped a little bit. But the majority of that aid found its way into the Swiss bank accounts of the Palestinian leadership and the coffers of various competing terror organizations all claiming to be the sole representatives and champions of the Palestinian people.

At the end of the day (I hate that expression!), it was the Israeli government that was physically responsible for this population, and under Israeli rule they prospered as never before.

Until, that is, their nationalism heated up. Then in less than a decade the Palestinians managed to destroy their own economy by launching first one (relatively mild), and then another (bloodier) Intifada against Israel. Cafes and school buses began blowing up all over Israel, and in order to defend itself, Israel threw up checkpoints and walls... and launched increasingly draconian operations against militant hotbeds in the Palestinian areas.

Which is where we find ourselves today. Even though under the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians have autonomy over many areas on the west bank, it might surprise many that if anyone has limitations on their freedom of movement, it is the Jews, not the Arabs.

For example, as a Jew, it is illegal for me to enter any of the Area "A' (Palestinian autonomous) towns and cities, or travel on many of the roads connecting them. However, an Israeli Arab can legally do so.

Also, despite many rumors to the contrary, Palestinians can travel on all roads throughout the West Bank, while I, as a Jew, am prohibited from traveling on roads leading into and out of (or between) PA controlled population centers.

The point of this long-winded tome is that if one is honestly looking for racism over here... there is about as much as you are bound to find anywhere in the world.

But if one is looking to point a finger at official policies enshrined in law that prohibited innocent people from free movement because of their race or religion, you will find this only in the areas controlled by the Palestinians.

And that, my friends is Apartheid!

Posted by David Bogner on March 8, 2011 | Permalink

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To nitpick: Jordan actually did offer the Palestinians citizenship, and even had representation in their Parliament (however little that actually meant) for the West Bankers. Now that Palestinians are a majority in Jordan, the East Bank Jordanians are systemically revoking Palestinians' citizenship, assumedly so that they don't get "overwhelmed" with Palestinians. Too late, I suppose.

Lebanon, Syria, and every other Arab country, though, are certainly at fault for maintaing the Palestinians in abominable conditions, both physically--in camps--and politically--as stateless.

Posted by: Bryan | Mar 8, 2011 3:50:27 PM

David,

Living in the heartland of the US, I'm afraid I'm not altogether versed in the intricacies of Israeli society. You mention that Israeli Arabs are exempt from military service at their own request -- is that universal, or do some Israeli Arabs serve in combat units? Are there jobs/industries where Israeli Arabs are prevented from working because they are viewed as a security risk? Are they allowed full voting rights? Do they have their own party within the Israeli political spectrum?

As for apartheid, Wikipedia (I know, but I went there because of its liberal, progressive, highly-biased viewpoint) includes this point about Israel:

"South Africa's statutory research agency the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) stated in a 2009 report that "the State of Israel exercises control in the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] with the purpose of maintaining a system of domination by Jews over Palestinians and that this system constitutes a breach of the prohibition of apartheid."

Umm, what about Islam... doesn't everyone have to convert to Islam or face dhimmitude or death?? Isn't THAT far worse of a situation than not letting "Palestinians" become citizens (a group that often calls for the destruction of Israel)? So what about the Islamic societies?

Israelis (Jews) have done more for the world through their medical and technological advances since 1948 than (probably) any other country on the face of this planet. Those advances in medicine, for example, help all people -- Jews, Arabs, Europeans, etc. What has Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, at al. done in the last 50 years? They've spread Sharia Law throughout the lands (not a good thing) and given us suicide bombers... yippee! The world is upside down...

Posted by: ProphetJoe | Mar 8, 2011 5:03:01 PM

If you really want to talk about Apartheid, I would point to the refuge camps in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan which have maintained their fellow Arabs/Muslims as indentured refugees over 7 decades and don't confer on them statehood because they would have to accept them into their society as equals. These states are really guilty of Apartheid. That's not to mention the UN Refugee Agency which derives its funding off of maintaining squalid permanent refugee conditions to insure its own ongoing livliehood. The UN should be tried for crimes against humanity.

Posted by: Annette Alpert | Mar 8, 2011 9:45:54 PM

Truly a great posting David. Personally, I've stopped listening to what the UN or the international community says because it's always the same. i.e. "Israel is horrible" "death to the Jews" etc etc. No one seems to care that suicide bombers aren't exactly the best way to make peace, or that Israel's "peace partners" aren't exactly what you would call friendly. And you were spot on about minorities in America, IMHO, a lot of stuff is self-imposed, you see what you want to see and ignore what you don't want to see, to be fair there is injustice, it's inevitable, but I look around my university and there are two very striking things to me, one is that women outnumber men at 3:1, so much for women not having as equal access...and the other thing that I find striking is that there are at least 2/5-3/5 of the student population is a minority. I personally thing that that is pretty great for equality and what not.
One last thing, I dont' know if you saw this or not and I am slightly stealing this from The Muqata, but apparently the UNRWA honored the first Palestinian women suicide bomber yesterday/today...that's rather disheartening and saddening if you ask me (http://muqata.blogspot.com/2011/03/unrwa-honors-first-palestinian-female.html)

Posted by: Griffin | Mar 8, 2011 10:16:09 PM

If you are a Palestinian Arab and live in Ramallah, how do you fly to Paris? Is it an easy process, like if you live in Efrat?
Can you vote in national elections (ie Israel's, since there is no internationally recognized Palestinian state)?
Do you have representation in Parliament?
Do you really believe they have equal rights under Israeli law? If not, do you believe the Palestinian authority is completely self-governing? Should they have their own state so that they can have a voice in their daily lives?
I'm not saying that there is an obvious solution, or that there is any tenable solution to the political crisis, but your post seems to ignore the rights that the average citizen of a democracy takes for granted that Palestinians lack.
I'm not pointing blame, but I think one has to face reality.
Larry

Posted by: Larry | Mar 8, 2011 11:53:17 PM

ProphetJoe ... Israeli Arabs are not required to do military service. However, many from the Druse and Bedouin communities do serve. Those that serve do so almost exclusively in combat units. The Druse are exceptionally brave soldiers, and the Bedouin are some of the best trackers in the world. Yes, there are some companies in the defense sector (such as mine) which do not hire Arabs because of the diffiiculty in getting them high enough security clearances (which are set by the ministry of defense).

Posted by: treppenwitz | Mar 10, 2011 10:02:03 AM

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