Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Myths of the Arab-Israeli Conflict - #3

"Israel is an apartheid state"

This is more Palestinian propaganda and bears no resemblance to reality. The founders of the Zionist movement explicitly rejected the idea of an apartheid system. In 1934, David Ben-Gurion, who later went on to be Prime Minister of Israel, said of a proposed Jewish state: “We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland.”

Today, within Israel, Jews are a majority, but the Arab minority are full citizens who enjoy equal rights. Arabs are represented in the Knesset, and have served in the Cabinet, high-level foreign ministry posts (e.g. Ambassador to Finland) and on the Supreme Court. Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech, as well as the building of mosques. Some of the government's harshest critics are Israeli Arabs who are members of the Knesset.

The situation of Palestinians in the territories is different. Because of security requirements and the violence of the Muslims in the territories, Israel has been forced to impose restrictions on Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip that are not necessary inside Israel's pre-1967 borders. But the point is that the principal impediment to Palestinian independence is not Israeli policy; it is the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to give up jihad and agree to live in peace beside the State of Israel.

There is no doubt that there have been abuses, and that Arabs have legitimately complained of discrimination on various occasions. But no country is perfect when it comes to racial and social problems of this kind, not even the democratic countries of the West. The central point, however, is that Israel prizes freedom and equality above all, and this is often demonstrated in the media. For example, several Israeli TV commercials have essentially spread the message that Arabs on the other side of the "apartheid" security wall in the West Bank are no different to Israelis, and are not all "bad guys". Despite their placement in commercials intended to sell products, it nevertheless remains clear that Israeli popular culture has a tendency to humanise Arab Muslims rather than demonise them.

The issue is also less problematic when viewed in comparison to the treatment of Jews and other religious minorities in most Muslim countries, where non-Muslims suffer severe and very real curtailments of their human rights. In Saudi Arabia, for example, non-Muslims are completely forbidden from entering Mecca, the very definition of apartheid:

If Hamas were allowed to form a Palestinian state in the region, this state would undoubtedly inflict similar discriminations on its Jewish and Christian inhabitants.

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