Amnesty International prepared a report where it delivers a series of accusations against Israel’s government policies and the nature of the state.
According to the report, Israel deliberately denies Palestinians their basic rights and freedoms; discriminates against Israeli Arabs; denies Palestinians the right to return; and resorts to torture and unlawful killings in both Israel and the Occupied Territories. Amnesty claims Israel views Palestinian Arabs as racially inferior and defines Israel as an “Apartheid State”.
The report further claims that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza before 1967 had control of 100 % of the land, whereas under Israel’s occupation they control a tiny 40%.
All of that is wrong. Palestinians had neither autonomy nor a state under Jordanian sovereignty. Jordan annexed the territory assigned to Palestinian Arabs, expelled the Jews from East Jerusalem, and denied Jews access to their Holy sites. Jordan indeed gave citizenship to Palestinians in the West Bank and Palestinian refugees (by the way the only Arab country to do so), but in doing so, Palestinians hardly enjoyed anything close to autonomy or independence.
Gaza was under a weak and resourceless Palestinian protectorate from 1948 to 1959, only then to be dissolved and placed under military rule by the short-lived United Arab Republic. The Egyptian leader of the UAR pledged to give the PLO full control of Gaza. That promise proved a sham, and never implemented.
Under Israel, on the other hand, Jerusalem is open to all religions, universities in the West Bank and Gaza have been established for the first time, and commercial ties with Jordan have been allowed to continue and grow. Israel also has opened its labor market to Arab workers.
In the aftermath of the Oslo process, Israel offered the Palestinians most of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem to build their own state. However, time and again, the Palestinian leadership rejected these concessions.
Those rejections turned into tragedy as the violence of the second intifada erupted taking the lives of over 1,000 Israelis. Yet, even a former hawk such as Ariel Sharon understood that holding Palestinians against their will was not possible and proceeded to withdraw from Gaza and to dismantle settlements in the northern West Bank. Rather than allow that process toward peace and autonomy to proceed, Hamas’ organized violence and bombardments from Gaza against Israel. Israel’s acts of self-defense were then condemned by the international community as “disproportionate”, even after Hamas’s cruelty was openly displayed. Furthermore, Gaza was not considered as free of occupation, which it was, but an “open air prison”. This remarkable conclusion is based on the simple necessity of Israel’s need to impose a blockade on a territory dominated by a ruthless enemy.
Imagine a situation where Blacks in South Africa refused to accept the early 1990’s South African government’s decision to dismantle Apartheid, while simultaneously resorting to violence and appealing to the international community to condemn South Africa. Suppose peace and autonomy broke down. While Israel is not South Africa, and there are no real parallels, just name-calling, a state seeking to improve the lot of its residents ought to be encouraged, not derided.
I admit that if Israel annexes the West Bank, it will have to decide between providing citizenship to the Palestinians or not. If Israel chooses the former, sooner or later a one-state solution is likely to end in civil war. If Israel chooses the latter, it could end in a situation akin to Apartheid. However, Israel thus far has not annexed the West Bank and it is unlikely to do so in the future, for just those reasons.
Amnesty is right in protesting the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and the restrictions imposed on West Bank Palestinians to build in area C (the only area in the West Bank where Israel has full control as stipulated in the Oslo Agreements, which is 60% of the West Bank). I concur with Amnesty that Arabs should be allowed to build there. In fact, the current government of Israel has begun to allow Palestinians to build homes in area C and has ordered the delay of building new Jewish units in the area.
Amnesty’s report would have been a more valuable contribution if it commended the Bennet Government for allowing more Arab home construction in area C or if it encouraged the Israeli government to further expand this policy.
Amnesty cites the Nation-State Law that legalizes Israel’s status as the national home of the Jewish people and blasts Israel for inequalities existing between Jewish and Arab Israelis. This, in Amnesty’s view, constitutes a state of Apartheid.
The Israeli Supreme Court declared the law constitutional only so long as it is interpreted considering Israel’s basic laws on human dignity and liberty, which specifically addressed constitutional individual and other freedoms that protect equality before the law and the rights of minorities. It is akin to a country with a state religion, as to some vague extent, the Anglican Church is in England, but with a benign influence so long, as in England and Israel, the full rights of all religions are guaranteed.
Indeed, the Israeli law was tested when a lower court denied funding requests for school busing of Arab students in the city of Karmiel, invoking the Jewish Nation-State law. However, the Haifa District Appeals Court rejected that decision, making clear that the law could not be used to limit Arab or other minority rights.
One might also point out that a Jewish state for Jews is no different than a German state for Germans, or a French state for French. National self-determination does not contradict democracy or respect for individual and civil rights of minorities or guarantee the superior rights of any religion.
It is true that there are social disparities between Jews and Arabs (as they exist between Jews and Jews). But Israel is hardly the only country facing these challenges. Developed democracies in the West, including Amnesty’s host country, Great Britain, struggle with racial and social disparities, and with religions hatred, both against Jews and Muslims. Democracies, including the most advanced, are very much works in progress.
In other words, it is important to distinguish between controversial and complex situations and a state that is ruled by rigid laws of Apartheid.
The Apartheid legal system is not subject to civil rights interpretations. Discrimination is legal, binding and compulsory. The laws of Apartheid leave little room for constitutional interpretations or for checks and balances. It is clearly not the system of Israel. That Amnesty fails to recognize that makes its report more one of bias than truth-seeking.
As for the accusation that Amnesty is antisemitic, assuming it is not the organization’s intent, it is certainly its consequence. The Zionist idea was to provide a national state to the Jewish people, providing security to an insecure community in the community of nations. Paraphrasing Rousseau, I would say that the legitimacy and existence of the State of Israel is part of the “general will” of the Jewish people (in contrast with the will of all). If Jews in general feel that Israel means something to them, the Amnesty report has a harmful effect on Jewish feelings, sense of themselves and sense of security. Thinking along the lines of William James, we would say that antisemitism ought to be defined in terms of its consequences, even if we give the benefit of the doubt to intentions. It is time for Amnesty International to reconsider.
Published in palmbeachdemocracy.org Friday February 11, 2022.
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