By Alan Stein
It was Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, in Israel when I read a distressing letter, written by a Jewish woman, with the title “Why I support BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions].” Among the reasons she gave for supporting that hateful, inherently antisemitic movement was “my Jewish upbringing requires me to stand up and resist injustice.”
Yom Hazikaron is one of the saddest days of the year here, as we remember those who have been killed during all the wars that have been forced upon us, along with those who have been murdered in the countless Arab terror attacks we have suffered. Reading that letter, from someone who is obviously grossly misinformed, added to the sadness of the day but also made me think more about the oppression of the people who relatively recently started calling themselves Palestinians.
Yes, the Palestinian Arabs are oppressed, but contrary to what the letter writer wrote, Israel is not one of their oppressors. Tragically, it is their own brethren, today including the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and the neighboring Arab states, who are doing the oppressing.
The Arabs living in Israel have the same legal rights as all other Israeli citizens. There is really only one significant difference under the law: Arabs aren’t forced to risk their lives by serving in the army. That hardly constitutes “oppression.”
Of the Arabs living in the disputed territories:
The Arabs in Gaza are governed by Hamas. We send them food, fuel, electric power, water, medical supplies and building materials. Our hospitals treat many of their patients. They divert some of the humanitarian supplies we send them and instead use them to build ever more dangerous rockets that, uninvited, they send back to us, targeting tiny Sderot and the “capital of the Negev,” Beersheva. They divert the cement we send them and instead use it to build tunnels leading to our kindergartens. But we continue to send them aid. That hardly constitutes “oppression.”
Of the Arabs in the heart of our ancestral Jewish homeland, which Jordan renamed the “West Bank” after capturing it in 1948 and which we recaptured after being attacked in 1967, approximately 95 percent live under their own government, the Palestinian Authority. Only a relative handful live in territory administered by Israel.
Last year, then Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, a native of Hartford, estimated that the Arab population in the territory administered by Israel was approximately 100,000, up from 15,000 since 1996. During those two decades, the rest of the West Bank was governed by the Palestinian Authority. This skyrocketing population strongly suggests the Arabs know life under Israeli administration is far better than life under their own government. That hardly constitutes “Israeli oppression.”
Today, millions of descendants of Arab refugees are forced to live in oppressive conditions in refugee camps, in the Palestinian Authority-ruled areas and in surrounding Arab countries. Ironically, many are undoubtedly living in countries from which their families relatively recently left to take advantage of the economic opportunities which opened up in Eretz Yisrael because of the Zionist influx.
Israel tried to do something to help those in refugee camps after recapturing Judea and Samaria. It built new, modern neighborhoods, such as Sheik Radwan in Gaza, and 10,000 families from refugee camps moved into them. Under enormous pressure from the PLO, intent on continuing to use the “refugees” as a weapon, the United Nations condemned Israel and in 1976 passed General Assembly Resolution 31/15 demanding Israel remove the families from their new homes and force those poor people back into the squalid refugee camps from which they had been rescued.
No, we Israelis aren’t the ones oppressing the Palestinian Arabs; we have no interest in oppressing them. We would be perfectly happy had they not spurned the many opportunities given them to establish their own state – including 1937, 1947, 1967, 2000, 2001 and 2008, or during the period from 1948-1967 when all the currently disputed territory was ruled by Egypt and Jordan.
As I wrote this on the evening of May 1, the solemnity of Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, had been transformed into the joy of Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Independence Day. We in Israel would like nothing better if neither we nor the Palestinian Arabs have more lives to mourn on future Memorial Days. Unfortunately, the choice isn’t ours; it’s theirs.
Theodore Herzl, the prophet of modern Zionism, the national liberation movement of our Jewish people, said, “If you will it, it is not a dream.”
When the Palestinian Arabs stop trying to destroy our dream, and finally will it, they too can celebrate their own Independence Day.
Alan Stein, Ph.D., is a longtime resident of Waterbury, president emeritus of PRIMER-Connecticut (Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting, www.primerct.org) and CAMERA’s Letter Writer of the Year in 2015. Today, he divides his time living in Natick, Massachusetts and Netanya, Israel.