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Even as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues to violate international protocol by using dangerous chemical weapons against its own people, Iran sponsors organizations to destabilize several Sunni-majority states in the Middle East (such as Houthis in Yemen, whose flag includes a call for a genocide of fifteen million Jews), and Saudi Arabia continues in its barbaric treatment of women and homosexuals, one country receives a perhaps surprising volume of scrutiny and media coverage, having been the subject of over 50 percent of United Nations Human Rights Council condemnations, 86 percent of United Nations General Assembly condemnations, and 100 percent of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Health Organization, and International Labor Organization's national criticisms.
Oddly enough, though, this country lacks a totalitarian power structure, it's recognized as a democracy by organizations such as Freedom House, and offers its people full freedom of expression. Despite the criticisms for its disregard for human rights, Israel ranked 11th in the most recent World Happiness Report. From a brief look, one may struggle to understand the basis for the many criticisms Israel faces from the UN and its subsidiaries, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other organizations that claim dedication to the pursuit of human rights.
That is, of course, because there is no basis.
As most of those involved in this criticism would say, the criticism is based not upon Israel's treatment of its own citizens, but of the citizens of Palestine, a nation which has suffered from decades of occupation and apartheid. Problematically, though, this narrative is almost entirely devoid of reason and truth.
The Roots of Modern Zionism
During the late 1800s, journalist Theodore Herzl, appalled by the treatment of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish military officer who was convicted of spying for Germany despite evidence to the contrary, wrote a book regarding the idea of a Jewish state where Jews could escape the anti-Semitic treatment endured for millennia (since the Roman times). Though Dreyfus was eventually exonerated, Herzl's movement had already spread throughout the Jewish community.
Despite a desperate situation, the Zionist movement ultimately decided that the best course of action would be to immigrate to the Holy Land, which was at the time owned by the declining Ottoman Empire.
With funding from wealthy Europeans such as the Rothschilds, Zionists began to develop communities and improve upon the infrastructure in Palestine (which, contrary to the claims of many, was not necessarily subpar). The Ottoman Empire encouraged the immigration as it resulted in a better tax base, though buying property proved problematic, as much of the privately owned property in Palestine had not been registered with the government. The population spiked as Arab laborers saw new employment opportunities, creating an immigration flow responsible for the vast majority of not only Jews in Palestine, but Arabs in Palestine.
After World War I, when the Ottoman Empire fell, the British, who had pledged support for Zionism under the Balfour Declaration, established a mandate over Palestine. Tensions began to develop as both Palestinian Arabs and Jews desired—and felt entitled to—independence. Britain attempted a compromise by limiting but continuing to allow Jewish immigration, a compromise which only exacerbated the problem and satisfied nobody. Several Jews broke off from the Haganah, a Jewish militia founded in 1920, to form the far-right Irgun, who used violent tactics against both Arabs and the British, including perpetrating the King David Hotel bombing.
Unable to deal with the tensions, the British asked the UN for a recommendation, and the UN passed the 1947 Partition plan.
1947 UN Partition Plan Proposal
The Jews rejoiced at the notion of establishing a state, declaring independence immediately while the Arabs protested and rejected the plan. Because the plan was simply a recommendation, according to some interpretations, this nullified the plan. The British withdrew anyway.
This left half of Palestine claimed by Jews, and the remaining portion entirely unclaimed. The Arabs never formally claimed any part of Palestine, and instead went to war, with the help of several neighboring Arab states.
Newly established Israel, despite the rift between the mainstream Haganah (the predecessor to the IDF) and the extreme Irgun (which at one point resulted in a direct conflict) successfully defended itself. But, not without criticism.
First of all, Israel failed to contain the violent Irgun. After the war, the Irgun merged with Haganah into the IDF, and abandoned its violent tactics. But, during the war, the Haganah, outnumbered and outgunned by Arabs, lacked the means to target any group willing to fight its enemy. This resulted in incidents such as the Deir Yassan Massacre. Though the Irgun's actions are usually viewed as unwarranted, holding Israel accountable for these incidents makes little sense, considering the mainstream Haganah's complete rejection of the Irgun's ideology. But, perhaps the most potent criticism, and a core foundation of the Palestinian platform, is the idea that Israel committed an ethnic cleansing against Arabs, causing the Palestinian refugee crisis.
It did no such thing. Plan Dalet, the Israeli military plan for the treatment of conquered Arabs, cited by many as an ethnic cleansing, actually called for the expulsion of Arabs only when these Arabs would actively resist Israeli sovereignty. An ethnic cleansing is a "systematic forced removal of ethnic or racial groups from a given territory," while the Israeli plan was not based on ethnicity, but loyalty; hence, about 20 percent of the Israeli population is composed of Israeli Arabs, who receive equal treatment under the Israeli Basic Laws. If Plan Dalet falls under the definition of "ethnic cleansing," then no nation should be allowed to target treasonous individuals of a minority race, which undermines the basic idea of sovereignty.
The Refugee Crisis
While it is difficult to consider Plan Dalet an ethnic cleansing unless it can be established that the expulsion of Arabs was actually rooted in a desire for ethnic homogeneity rather than the impossibility of managing mass resistance during a war, one policy that can certainly be called an ethnic cleansing would be the complete expulsion of Jews from most Arab countries, resulting in losses of billions of dollars and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. These refugees were accepted by Israel and allowed to assimilate within Israeli society, and many of them have found success—which is why they are rarely the subject of media coverage.
On the other hand, Palestinian refugees of 1948 were not allowed to integrate within their host countries. The Arab League insisted that, if refugees are allowed to integrate, it will "dilute their Palestinian identity." Under the refugee protocols of 1951 and 1967, countries are required to allow refugees to integrate into society; Arab nations refused to sign, avoiding the obligation of providing fair treatment and fulfilling the basic human rights of Palestinian refugees.
Palestinian refugees are also denied the traditional refugee treatment by the UNHCR. Instead, the interests of Palestinian refugees are handled by a separate organization, UNRWA.
UNRWA has re-settled exactly zero refugees. In fact, they have invested in building rather permanent settlements for its refugees, unlike the temporary tents provided by UNHCR. While this may appear to be a positive for Palestinian refugees, it actually proves that UNRWA has no intention of ever solving their issue, hence the need for a permanent refugee settlement. The UNHCR finds countries which are able to accept its refugees, and helps them to re-settle within these countries. UNRWA only perpetuates the crisis, allowing the refugee status to be passed down through the generations while ignoring the complete disregard for international refugee laws among Arab countries. Palestinian refugees are the only refugees who have the right to designate a country of choice and refuse re-settlement to any other country, and, as a result, have not seen any resolution to their issue.
Fifty Years of Occupation
While having no regard for following international law themselves, Arab countries do not shy away from accusing Israel of violating international law. Specifically, they claim, Israel has established an occupation over the nation of Palestine, and is not following international protocol in regards to a military occupation.
Israel began administering the West Bank in 1967, after Egypt's mobilization of forces near the Israeli border and blockade of the Straits of Tiran (an international waterway), Israel felt compelled to launch a pre-emptive strike. Egypt pressured Jordan, who had administered the West Bank since 1948, to enter the war.
Jordan and Egypt were devastated, and Israel acquired the West Bank from the former. However, Jordan's claim to the West Bank never received international recognition, and Jordan was therefore not a legitimate sovereign. The Jordanian claim has since been relinquished.
A military occupation refers to the establishment of military control over the area of another sovereign. And, under the terms of the Hague Convention, an occupation can only begin once the territory is actually put under the control of the foreign military. In Israel's case, the West Bank fell under its authority in 1967, when there was no sovereign from whom it possibly could have "stolen" the land. This significantly complicates the UN's claim that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal because of laws against transferring population into occupied territory. Though settlements may not be helpful to the peace process, the UN has no legal justification to challenge them.
A Barrier to Peace
Israel, for its part, has made several attempts at resolving the dispute. For example, in 1993, Israel offered the Palestinians several concessions, and the dispute appeared close to a lasting peace deal. Except that Arafat assured his people that the deal was not meant to establish peace, but to help further the ultimate defeat of Israel, comparing it to a similar deal in in the Quran.
In 2000, after US-mediated negotiations at Camp David fell apart because Arafat walked away, Bill Clinton expressed regret that Arafat failed to take advantage of the opportunity to establish peace.
In 2008, Mahmoud Abbas refused a deal which would have granted territorial contiguity, almost 95 percent of the West Bank, and a portion of pre-1967 Israel to make up for the missing territory, citing ongoing legal challenges against the Israeli Prime Minister and insisting that he was not given enough time to study the map. Palestine refused those terms even as a starting point for negotiation, reflected through its failure to offer an appropriate counter-offer.
Many insist that the Palestine Papers, leaked by al-Jazeera, disprove the idea that Palestine is a barrier to peace. But, high-level Palestinian negotiators have claimed that the documents "deliberately confused Israeli and Palestinian positions" and that peace would have been established had Palestine made the rumored offer. The Palestinian offer was remarkably similar to past Israeli offers, helping to credit the idea that the two sides' positions were distorted.
But, perhaps most telling was Israel's 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip was promptly taken over by Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, who has since used the Strip's residents for its own political gain. Despite its humanitarian aid, it consistently fails to invest any money in its own economy, instead diverting $100 million per year into military infrastructure to target Israel. Due to its rocket launches, it constantly provokes Israel into raids to target its military infrastructure, which is stored in civilian areas. Israel, for its part, warns civilians of impending attacks using leaflets, but Hamas discourages its people from fleeing to safety, instead using inflated casualty counts to advance its international perception at the expense of that of Israel.
To quote Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
The last fundamental claim of the Palestinian narrative is that Israel treats the Palestinian people with an apartheid system. Despite the frequency of this claim, I have yet to observe one instance whereby the Israeli government intentionally killed or somehow violated the human rights of any Palestinian without a legitimate reason to perceive a security threat.
Breaking the Silence is one Israeli organization dedicated to spreading the word about apartheid, featuring testimonials from IDF soldiers recounting their treatment of Palestinians. However, these testimonials only serve to deny the existence of apartheid. Recently, the organization published a booklet featuring accounts as to why soldiers have "broken the silence."
On the first page, the booklet recounts a soldier deployed in an area where terrorist activity was expected. He had to stop cars that passed through, and ensure that the traffic was legitimate, and described the realization that Israeli checkpoints were a part of their life and they simply could not escape them, explaining that hatred and a will to resist was still visible in the young, but slowly disappeared as people got older. Though there are several testimonies in this booklet, the general idea is that Palestinians are forced to tolerate Israeli security forces as part of their life, despite a deep disdain for the process. Ideal or not, this is hardly comparable to apartheid South Africa, where South Africans were treated by a different set of laws and punishments depending on ethnicity.
The story of Ahed Tamimi, a Palestinian girl who was arrested for slapping an Israeli soldier, has also rendered harsh criticism towards Israel, despite the fact that such behavior falls under battery laws and is illegal in virtually every country. Though Tamimi claims that her actions were justified as an IDF soldier shot her cousin, the IDF has disputed that claim, and her cousin admitted that he had injured himself falling off of his bicycle, before retracting the admission and insisting that he had been tortured by the IDF. As proof, he released medical records with several discrepancies; legitimate medical records, for example, would not specify that the bullet wounds were caused by Israeli soldiers as this fact would be entirely irrelevant to the actual treatment needed. The records also open with "to whom it may concern," which is not standard of medical records.
During the March of Return in Gaza, though several protestors were unarmed, others were running towards the border, often armed with stones and Molotov cocktails, with the intention of penetration. Israel, after warning several times of the potential consequences, shot those who threatened Israeli security by approaching the gate. In a tragic turn of events, a nurse running towards the gate to help was accidentally shot. The media subsequently published dozens of headlines accusing Israel of shooting indiscriminately at unarmed protestors, greatly confusing the truth. Among the public, Hamas somehow retained its "victim" status despite violently suppressing its own protest just days later.
Israel has also been accused of apartheid due to its "nation-state law," which repeated the principles enshrined within the Declaration of Independence, that Israel was to be a Jewish state. While the law does not interfere with other laws that promise freedom and equality to all citizens, many criticize, specifically, the clause that restricts the rights to self-determination within Israel to the Jewish people.
To rephrase, that means that only the Jewish people have the right to form a nation in Israel, and Israeli Arabs cannot "exercise their right to self-determination" by founding a new state within Israel. Inconveniently, though, Israel is not alone in its passage of these laws - in fact, no country allows for minority groups to exercise their right to self-determination within their territory, and to do so would be equivalent to surrendering sovereignty altogether.
Meanwhile, Palestine continues to indoctrinate its people to believe that Israel is at fault for their problems, rather than their corrupt and undemocratic leadership. It then offers funding for those who indiscriminately kill Israeli civilians.
There are legitimate criticisms as to the economic situation and quality of education afforded to Israeli Arabs. But, the Palestinian narrative, based on unproven facts, disproven facts, logical fallacies, and double standards, is inherently false and damaging to the very people the Palestinian leaders are supposed to serve.
So let's truly serve the people of Palestine, who see their human rights abused on a daily basis, by targeting their corrupt and complicit leaders. And then, and only then, can there be peace.