May 15, 2008
How to answer the most common anti-Israel charges
Some charges criticizing Israel are distortions and slanted, based on faulty information and half-truths, animus, and even classic anti-Semitism.
However, the situation and history are complex, and unfortunately, Israel is not perfect.
Here are some answers in a nutshell:
The establishment of the Jewish state violated the right of Palestinian Arabs to self-determination
In 1947, the United Nations had offered self-determination to both Arabs and Jews in western Palestine, and both had been offered their own separate state. Palestinian Arabs could have created their own state in the portion allotted to them under partition at any time. The Arabs unanimously rejected this offer, and the partition boundaries were erased by the Arab invasion in 1948. It was the Arab states -- not the Jews -- who destroyed the proposed Arab Palestine as they sought to grab all the territory for themselves. Part of what was designated as Arab Palestine was seized by Transjordan in the east (the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and by Egypt on the southwest coast (Gaza). Israeli forces captured western Galilee, which had been used as a base by Arab irregulars. Ironically, in 1947, the only group in the area supporting a separate Arab/Palestinian state was the State of Israel.
Israel expelled the Palestinians in 1948 and has consistently taken over Palestinian land
From the Israeli left to the right, there is agreement about mass expulsion, that many were, in fact, forced to leave. The only question is what proportion of the 700,000 Palestinians who left in 1947-48 were forcibly expelled, and what proportion left voluntarily. About 300,000 were likely forcibly expelled by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and 100,000 to 200,000 left because they were "encouraged" by rumors, bombing of empty buildings by the IDF or frightened that Israeli atrocities like the Deir Yassin massacre would be repeated.
There's no doubt that David Ben-Gurion and others were very concerned about the large number of Palestinians in the land, and talked openly of "transfer," going back to the 1930s (in 1936 Jews were only 28 percent of the total population). There's also no doubt that once Palestinians started leaving, the political and military leaders of the Yishuv were eager to "facilitate the situation." The debate was over Tokhnit Dalet (Plan D), the military plan that called for expulsions near or behind enemy lines, in hostile villages, etc.
Historian Benny Morris argues that the evidence doesn't show an intentional program designed ahead of time, but rather a spontaneous response to military conditions by low-level commanders in the field. Others argue (using Morris' own evidence) that documents clearly show a plan for mass expulsions from above, that is, that Tokhnit Dalet was the realization of the "transfer impulse" under the cover of military language.
Still other scholars take a middle position, arguing that Tokhnit Dalet was originally intended as a purely military and small-scale operation, but that once Palestinians were "encouraged" to leave and the IDF had attained military superiority, the understanding became that the long-term interests of the state would be served by having as few Palestinians as possible. So the argument goes, military commanders were given a "wink and nudge" to expel and Tokhnit Dalet served as an appropriate cover/rationale.
Most of the area of Israel was once Arab owned
According to British government statistics, prior to the establishment of the state, 8.6 percent of the land area now known as Israel was owned by Jews; 3.3 percent by Arabs who remained there; 16.5 percent by Arabs who left the country. More than 70 percent of the land was owned by the British government. Under international law, ownership passed to Israel once it was established and approved as a member nation by the United Nations in 1948. The public lands included most of the Negev -- half of Palestine's post-1922 total area. (Source: Survey of Palestine, 1946, British Mandate Government).
Arabs formed a majority of the population in Palestine, and the Zionists were colonialists from Europe who had no claim to or right to the land of Israel
Jews have had a continuous emotional, religious and historic connection to the land of Israel for the past 3,300 years.
At the time of the 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution, the Arabs did have a majority in western Palestine as a whole. But the Jews were in a majority in the area allotted to them by the U.N. Partition Resolution (a very small but contiguous area mostly along the coast and in parts of the Galilee -- much smaller than the borders after the 1948 war).
Israel humiliated Palestinians during the second intifada (2001-2005) and continue to treat them inhumanely
It is true that Palestinians felt humiliated by the series of checkpoints and searches throughout the West Bank. However, to cite the feelings of humiliation, as legitimate as they are, out of context belies the greater truth. Israelis have had good reason to fear their Palestinian neighbors because of the relentless terrorism, bombings of public buses, restaurants, university cafeterias, kibbutzim, children's houses and the deliberate murder of Israeli civilians. Israel's series of checkpoints and searches, while at times excessive, are done not to intimidate or humiliate but for security. The erection of the security fence roughly the length of the Green Line was hotly debated in Israel until it became clear to the government that political considerations aside, the fence was a security necessity. It has proven successful in drastically reducing infiltration of Palestinian terrorists. Even Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) acknowledges the importance of the fence as a security measure.
Israel's settlements are illegal
Technically, they are not illegal because there has been no peace agreement delineating borders between Israel and the Arab nations. Consequently, Jews have the right to live anywhere they wish. However, from a political point of view, many believe that many of these settlements are obstacles to peace. Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised to remove the vast majority of these settlements subsequent to undertaking the unilateral evacuation of Gaza by Israel in 2005.
Palestinians are victims of Israeli aggression
Undeniably, Palestinians are victims -- but of whom? For decades the despotic Arab nations used the Palestinians for their own purposes and kept them in squalor in refugee camps. They are also victims of former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat's well-documented corruption and inability to take the final step to make peace with the Jewish state. They are now victims of Palestinian terrorist movements (e.g., Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, etc.) that have refused to accept the existence of the State of Israel and therefore to compromise over land. The Palestinians are victims of retaliatory raids by the Israeli military against terrorist leaders who deliberately operate out of civilian areas and draw fire from Israel. Israelis are also victims. The Palestinians would have had a state long ago if they had truly accepted Israel's right to exist and put down their arms. Israel was willing to give back nearly all the land it took in the 1967 War for peace. It accepted the U.N. Partition Resolution, gave back all of the Sinai Peninsula without an agreement after the 1956 Sinai War, and negotiated a return of the Sinai again after the Yom Kippur War for peace with Egypt. Israel withdrew from some areas of the West Bank, as well during the Oslo period. Consistently, in good faith, Israel has withdrawn from territory it took in wars forced upon it for nothing more than the promise of peace.
Having said this, despite Israel's official policy and principles based on respect for human rights, there have been human rights violations against Palestinians. Israel is a democracy and those violations are usually addressed. The Israeli Supreme Court even reversed a decision of the Israeli government upon an appeal by Palestinians (represented by Israeli Jewish lawyers) who claimed that the security fence cut unfairly and unnecessarily through their land.
In contrast, the Palestinian Authority has a history of corruption and denial of human rights as a matter of policy. The PA, for example, executed nine Palestinians without trial in the last several years on charges of "collaboration" with Israel, and arrested five more on similar charges. Israel does not have the death penalty (except in the case of genocide -- only Adolph Eichmann has been executed by a civilian Israeli court in all the years of Israeli statehood), and even Palestinian terrorists guilty of the most heinous offenses are never executed.
John L. Rosove is senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood and president of ARZA for the Pacific Southwest region. This guide was prepared by Rabbi Rosove including material taken from the Internet and in consultation with professors Adam Rubin (Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion, Los Angeles) and Michael Meyer (HUC-JIR, Cincinnati) and "Myths and Facts: 1985" (prepared by the Near East Report).