Guest post: A bit of firsthand experience in the region

Originally a comment by Helene on Rhetoric and imagery which is pure and simple Jew hatred.

I hold no brief for the Israeli government, especially not Netanyahu and his rightwing coalition. In particular, I loathe the meddling by ultra-orthodox rabbis and the haredi community in many civil matters (e.g. marriage, divorce). But there is little doubt that Israel is by far the most liberal (full women’s rights, gays rights — gays serve openly in the military and the only gay pride parade that I’ve seen bigger than Tel Aviv’s is the one in Berlin — press freedom, general civil rights, etc.) and democratic country in the Middle East, with a better record on many of these issues than many European countries.

The “apartheid” epithet is nonsense. If you mean it to apply to Israeli Arabs, you’re utterly wrong. Their main disadvantage is that they are exempt from military conscription and therefore do not enjoy the special government benefits extended to ex-servicemen/women. Nevertheless, some Arabs (mainly Christian Arabs), many Bedouin – and most Druze – (altogether Muslims constitute about 20% of the Israeli population) do volunteer for military or public service and then do qualify for the government benefits. In all other respects, Arabs are full citizens. All religions are fully acknowledged. The Islamic WAPF controls the Muslim religious sites and various Christian denominations control their churches and religious sites. Arabic is an official language and Arab schools have their own curriculum in Arabic. Arabs are elected to the Knesset, head scientific, medical, educational, artistic and political institutions: ambassadorships, government agencies, even seats on the Israeli supreme court.

If you mean to apply the “apartheid” epithet to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, you’d be closer to the mark. Israel controls the borders militarily but civil and domestic matters, including police, are under Palestinian Authority or (in Gaza) de facto Hamas control. Many of the Jewish “settlers” in the West Bank enclaves are vile bible-thumpers but, as the various Israeli peace proposals over the years (in particular the one brokered by Clinton in 2000 and the even more generous one made in 2008 by Olmert) showed, many of these settlements would have been closed and with border adjustments the Palestinians would have received 95- 97% of their territory, plus compensation, upon ratification. But Abbas, and even Arafat before him (about whom Clinton said: “I regret that in 2000 Arafat missed the opportunity to bring that nation into being and pray for the day when the dreams of the Palestinian people for a state and a better life will be realized in a just and lasting peace”), perhaps remembering what happened to Sadat, who was assassinated by the Muslim Brotherhood when he signed the first Egyptian peace treaty with Israel, declined to ratify any sort of real peace with Israel. After Israel fully withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it didn’t take long for Hamas to throw Fatah members off rooftops and begin sending rockets into Israel.

If you mean “apartheid” in a strictly racial sense, there are about 125,000 Ethiopian Jews in Israel, not to mention smaller groups from other African countries and, being brown myself, I could not help noticing many more dark faces in Tel Aviv than in Ramallah … or, for that matter, Beirut.

If you mean to apply the “apartheid” epithet to the separation wall/fence that Israel built along some sections of the border with the West Bank, it is undeniably repugnant, but (from the Israeli point of view) it helped put a stop to the attacks and bombings that claimed the lives of over a thousand Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada.

I gave two lectures in Birzeit University (my mother’s family is from Lebanon so I have a bit of Arabic) and I attended a conference at the Technion in Haifa… just to indicate to you that I have a bit of firsthand experience in the region.

By comparison, Lebanon, which comes closest to Israel in being multi-ethnic and multi-religious, used to have a precarious political balance between various religious and ethnic groups (Maronites, Orthodox, Sunni, Shia, Druze, &c), but it is now utterly under the sway of Hezbollah, next to ISIS the worst bunch of theocratic tyrants in the entire region (along with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, they are the ones supporting Assad’s murderous campaign against his own people). Though most left years ago, my mother still has some relatives in Lebanon, but they are Sunni (Iran and Hezbollah are Shia, Assad is Alawaite, generally subsumed under Shia, but the majority of Syrians are Sunni, including the Kurds in the north) and they see the writing on the wall. Half a million Syrians have died in this civil war, most, horrendously, at Assad’s hands, and several million more have been driven from their homes. But for some people, if it can’t be blamed on the West (or on Israel, which has quietly been treating Syrian wounded in its hospitals), it isn’t worth protesting.

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