WUJS- Israel in the Middle East
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Israel in the Middle East
In 1947 the UN voted to allow the creation of the State of Israel on part of the land held at thattime under British mandate.
All of the other states in the area were, and remain, under Arab rule.
Israel is different to the other states in the area in particular because it is more Westernized politically and culturally.
At first the surrounding countries refused to recognize its existence. This changed in 1979 when Israel signed a formal peace treaty with Egypt, and then in 1994 when it signed one with Jordan. However many Arab countries maintain their position of non-recognition.
Accusation: Israel doesn’t belong in the Middle East. All it does is bring instability to the region.
Rebuttal: Israel belongs in the Middle East because for almost 2000 years of exile from the Land of Israel, the Jews never forgot their link with the region, and regularly talked of return to Israel. The desire to return was built into Jewish ritual life in prayers said at Pesach and Yom Kippur, in the direction of prayer, and the smashing of a glass at Jewish weddings. There have been Jews living in Israel continuously for over 2000 years, and Jews who were able to emigrated to Israel throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period. When the nascent Zionist movement was offered a homeland for the Jews in Africa by the British, the offer was rejected because there was no authentic link to the land that was offered.
When enemies of Israel say that the Jews don’t belong in the Middle East, one needs to ask the question where do they think the Jews do belong? How could the Jews have been given a state, like other nations, anywhere but Israel?
There is plenty of instability in the Middle East that isn’t connected to Israel. The Iran-Iraq War, the internal violence in Egypt between secularists and Islamists, the Iranian revolution, and the Iraqi invasion of Quwait are just a few examples. The Middle East is an unstable region as a result of deep religious division, the legacy of imperialism, and brutal regimes who fail to share a huge oil wealth with the masses. Israel is used as an excuse and a diversion by regimes who do not want to face up to their own difficulties.
Accusation: American support for Israel leads to widespread resentment in the Middle East. It is because of Israel that America suffered the September 11 attacks.
Rebuttal: The only link between Israel and America on September 11th is that both countries are victims of militant Islamic terrorism.
It is vital to understand the nature and motivation of Militant Islamic Terrorism. This is a form of terrorism that arises from religious extremism. Unlike groups such as the IRA, ETA, groups such as Al Qaeda do not seek national independence, but rather aspire to place the world under Islamic rule. This desire is clearly revealed in the covenant of Hamas.
“Only under the shadow of Islam could the members of all regions coexist in safety and security for their lives, properties and rights. In the absence of Islam, conflict arises, oppression reigns, corruption is rampant and struggles and wars prevail.”
Rather than America being a target for Islamic terrorists because she supports Israel, the reverse is closer to the truth. America is dubbed “the Great Satan” by these groups, and Israel as “the Little Satan”. It is America and all that she represents (western liberal democracy, power etc.) that is the primary enemy. Israel, America’s ally, is merely seen as a manifestation or proxy of America in the Middle East. Even if Israel did not exist America would still be targeted by Islamic terrorists.
Osama Bin Ladin himself played down the connection between the September 11th terrorist attacks on the USA, and Israel. His declared aim was to get American forces out of Saudi Arabia and other places in the Middle East. The presence of American forces prevents extremist elements gaining power in a number of Islamic countries, and is also objected to on ‘religious’ grounds.
Attempts to blame Israel, or even the United States, for the tragic and evil terrorist attacks that took place on September 11 are a classic example of blaming the victim. Al Qaeda terrorists were to blame for the terror attacks, just as rapists and not women are to blame for rape. Israel and America are both victims of Islamic terror. Where resentment exists in the international arena the correct way to deal with this is through dialogue, and not mass murder.
Finally, experts agree that an operation such as the one that took place on September 11th probably took a number of years to plan. In other words planning was underway even whilst the PA and Israel were negotiating and when the Palestinians were offered a state at Camp David. In fact, Al Qaeda attacks on American targets, including the World Trade Center, were carried out throughout the 90s as Israel and the Palestinians negotiated peace within the framework of the Oslo Accords. It is not Israel’s policies, but rather her very existence that bothers the terrorists.
Accusation: Israel is a discriminatory state, and claims that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East are ridiculous. There are a number of imperfect democracies, such as Israel’s, in the region.
Winston Churchill once famously said that… “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those others that have been tried from time to time”. Israel’s democracy, like all democracies, may be flawed, but it clearly meets all the important measures of democracy.
A guaranteed framework of equal citizen rights including access to justice and freedom of expression, assembly and association as well as economic and social rights to enable all citizens to exercise their freedoms. All Israel’s citizens, regardless of religion and ethnicity, are equal before the law. The formal equality of Israel’s citizens is spelt out in her Declaration of Independence.
Institutions of representation and accountability including free and fair elections and procedures to ensure continuous accountability of public officials to the public. Israel not only has regular free and fair elections in which all citizens may vote, but public officials are also accountable under the law. Recently, for example, Israeli politicians have been imprisoned for corruption. A free and open press ensures public accountability.
A civil society which includes free and pluralistic media of communication and civil associations, consultative processes and other forums to ensure popular participation in the political process. Israeli society is marked by an abundance of non-Governmental organisations and political pressure groups. The free and open society allows all of these groups to operate openly even where their opinions run contrary to the Government’s.
Where there is inequality in Israel, as there is in other countries, this is not as a result of the law.
By contrast, most Arab countries do not have free media. Rather media outlets are controlled by the State. The only significant exception to this the Qatar’s Al Jazeera television channel.
Though it is clear that free and fair elections are not the only thing required for democracy, nonetheless it is impossible to have a democracy without them. Only in Morocco was the opposition party actually invited to form a Government after winning an election. In other Arab countries the ruling power has shown itself to be reluctant to give up power. A report by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) states that:
There is a real fear on the part of many Arab regimes that free and fair elections would oust them from power in no time at all. A common excuse promulgated by non-democratic leaders is that the Arab people do not know what is good for them and they might therefore abuse democracy, were it not controlled. As a result, elections – when and if they are to be held on whatever level – have to be “carefully monitored” and their results carefully “handled”
In most countries too there are issues over free associations. Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are often subject to repressive laws, especially is Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco.
Of all the countries in the Middle East only Israel shows consistent commitment to democracy. Only in Israel is there found an open and free press, free and fair elections, freedom of speech, assembly, and association; and equal rights before the law to all citizens.
A common accusation by critics of Israel is that the fact that Palestinians don’t have a vote in Israeli elections is undemocratic. This overlooks the fact that (a) Palestinians in the Territories are part of the nascent Palestinian political entity, and as such vote in Palestinian elections (b) extending Israeli democracy to Palestinians in the Territories would risk getting in the way of a two state negotiated peace agreement.
Accusation: Israel isn’t interested in Peace in the Middle East. Israel should be negotiating with Syria to bring peace to the region.
Rebuttal: Israel has often tried to reach peace with her neighbours. Most of the time however she been unable to find a partner for peace. Immediately after the 1967 War Israel presented America with a peace plan that involved the return of most of the captured territories in exchange for recognition and peace. Shortly afterwards the Arab countries met at Khartoum and issued their response: no to recognition, no to negotiations, and no to peace. Israel has never been the obstacle to peace in the region. As soon as Egypt and Jordan were ready to enter talks with Israel negotiations began, and peace accords were signed in 1979 and 1994 respectively. Peace talks with Syria have been attempted on a number of occasions, most recently in January 2000 in Shepherdstown in the USA. These talks were not fruitful largely due to Syria’s intransigence and unwillingness to compromise. Israel has always made clear that when Syria declares itself ready for talks Israel will be only too happy to enter into negotiations. In the meantime however Israel has chosen to prioritize the Palestinian track of the peace talks as the most pressing.
Accusation: Jews in the Middle East who went to live in Israel left as a result of Zionist agitation. There is no comparison with the plight of the Palestinian refugees who are now scattered around the Middle East.
Rebuttal: After the creation of the state of Israel many thousands of Jews who had lived in Arab countries left to live in Israel. Some of those who went were motivated by the Zionist movement, others by a deep-seated religious and cultural desire to go to Israel, a desire that had been fostered since exile.
In the 1940s in a number of Arab countries including Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria, there were anti-Jewish riots in which over a thousand Jews were killed. This, together with growing official Anti-Semitism after the establishment of Israel, led large numbers of Jews to flee their previous homes for the new Jewish state.
Israel worked to absorb these refugees, at what for such a young and poor country was a great difficulty and expense. In contrast, Palestinian refugees were never adequately rehoused by Arab states, who didn’t want large Palestinian populations, and felt no responsibility for a refugee problem caused as a result of a war that they had started (in 1948).
One of the strongest proofs that the Jews’ move to Israel was not voluntary was the fact that, though many of them were very rich, they were forced to leave behind all of their property and possessions. These were confiscated by the states from which they fled. These Jews have not received compensation from the Arab states.
See also -
Contents - WUJS HANDBOOK ONLINE
Accusations and Rebuttals:
NoticeHandbook text is copyright by The World Union of Jewish Students ( http://www.wujs.org.il ). Excerpts have been adapted and are reproduced here by permission. Additional text copyright by Ami Isseroff 2006.
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