The Israel divestment bill now being considered by the Berkeley student government provides a false narrative about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It misrepresents the actions of the Israeli government by oversimplifying or disregarding key contextual facts. Whereas pro-divestment forces suggest that the case is closed and Israel is without-a-doubt an oppressive regime akin to some of the most villainous governments in history, evidence suggests otherwise.
A similar divestment bill was considered by the ASUC in Spring 2010 and many blatant falsehoods about Israel were circulated and, unfortunately, accepted as fact by many in the campus community. For this reason, it is important to examine the bill piece by piece to call attention to its extensive flaws.
The bill inaccurately compares the situation in Israel to apartheid in South Africa. Oxford English Dictionary defines apartheid as “a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race”. In South Africa segregation was deeply embedded in the legal code, in which the law explicitly confined blacks to particular neighborhoods and kept them from being employed alongside whites. In Israel there isno government policy of segregation or discrimination based on race. In Israel proper, Non Jews have just as much opportunity under the lawto excel as Jews do. Palestinians have been elected to the Knesset and public universities even run affirmative action programs for Arabs. In 2011, an Arab member of the Israel’s Supreme Court, Salim Joubran,upheld the conviction of Israel’s former president, Moshe Katsav, for rape. Can you imagine a black man convicting a white man under apartheid in South Africa? It never would have happened.
Autonomous governing bodies exist in the territories, which means Palestinians there are subject to their own laws. Palestinians in the West Bank follow the rules set by the PLO, which even has a constitution and parliament. Although totalitarian, Hamas runs the Gaza Strip and certainly would not implement apartheid-type policies on their own people. The allegation that Israel is an apartheid state is completely moot.
The bill states that the “Occupied Palestinian Territories are controlled militarily by the Israeli government.” It is true that there is a military occupation. However, it is important to discuss the context in which such an occupation exists. After Arab leaders rejected a plan to form two states in what is modern-day Israel,numerous Arab countries invaded the newly established Jewish state (Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon). Jews in what had been British-controlled land up until that time, subsequently fought the War of Independence in 1948, securing the land allotted to them by the original plan and much of what would have been a Palestinian state had Arab Palestinians agreed to the plan. However, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank remained unconquered by Israel. In fact, from 1948 until 1967, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and Jordan occupied the West Bank.
During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israeli received intelligence that their Arab neighbors were seeking to attack and eliminate Israel. Fearing destruction, Israel launched a preemptive strike, pushing back Egyptian and Jordanian forces and ultimately acquiring Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Palestinian leaders have consistently rejected Israel’s offers to give up the territories and create two states. In 2000, for example, Israel offered to give up almost all of the West Bank and all of Gaza. Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinians at the time, thought that wasn’t enough land. He did not respond with a counteroffer and negotiations fell through.
Yes, there’s a military occupation, but both parties are complicit as demonstrated by this long complex history.
The “Separation Wall”
The bill condemns the “separation wall” between the West Bank and Israel proper, completely ignoring why it was built and how it has been successful. The “wall”–which is actually 90% fence and only made of concrete in select areas–was built in response to a period of intense terrorism in Israel. In the early 2000s, suicide bombers would travel freely into Israel from the West Bank, blowing up shopping malls, pizzerias, buses and even Bar Mitzvah receptions. Over a twelve year period, Palestinian terrorism resulted in the death of 1200 Israeli civilians and the serious injury of thousands more.
Not only has the wall dramatically reduced the number of deaths caused by terrorism in Israel, it’s also reduced the deaths of Palestinians that would have resulted if the wall was not built. If terrorism continued at the same rate, surely the Israeli military would have pursued military strikes against the West Bank, likely resulting in accidental civilian casualties in addition to those of targeted combatants.
The bill condemns the “expansion of settlements.” This language is misleading, as it would likely lead a reader uninformed about the issue to believe settlements are expanding outwards. In reality, almost all of the expansion is occurring within already existing settlement blocks. In other words, it’s more accurate to say thatdevelopment is occurring. The population grows, demand for housing and infrastructure increases, and building takes place. The perception of settlements as slowly absorbing Palestinian land like “The Blob” is simply false. In fact, according to Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Ereket, settlements are only built on 1.1% of the land in the West Bank.
Granted, some settlements build military outposts outside the confines of their walls, but it does so illegally and the Israeli military swiftly demolishes them. Some settlers are religious fanatics who would like Israel to take over the territories completely, but this is a fringe view not shared by the Israeli government.
Settlements were created in the territories in the aftermath of the Six-Day War in 1967 as a way to mobilize Israeli ground forces against potential future attack. This explains, for instance, why settlements form a ring around the east side of Jerusalem in the West Bank. Israel had been attacked multiple times during its brief history and there was no reason to think it would not happen again—and it was in 1973.
While settlements are certainly a central issue that will need to be dealt with in reaching a two-state solution, the authors of this bill ignore that Israel has compromised on this matter. For example, Israel unilaterally withdrew all 8000 settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Furthermore the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have openly expressed their willingness to engage in land swaps in a final two-state negotiation to rectify this situation. Certainly, settlements are a barrier to peace, but the degree to which this is so is greatly over exaggerated.
The United Nations
The bill cites numerous United Nations General Assembly resolutions to prove that Israel is guilty of “human rights violations.” Although the UN has done lots of great humanitarian work, it cannot be trusted on Israel. Just look at the members of the General Assembly and the inherent bias against Israel immediately becomes obvious: There is only one Jewish State and 56 Muslim states .
In 2006-2007, for instance, the United Nations passed 22 resolutions to condemn Israel. This was also at the height of the genocide in Darfur, in which the UN did not pass a single resolution against Sudan.
Human Rights Organizations
The bill also cites the findings of “respected human rights organizations” as further proof of human rights violations. However, many of these organizations have been challenged or discredited in their interpretation of the conflict. For example, a University of Ottawa report found that B’Tselem, one of the so-called “respected” groups, wrongly claimed that Israel indiscriminately targeted Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza during the Second Intifada. The study found that the demographic features of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Gaza were consistent with the demographic features of combatants (young males). If Israel simply targeted civilians, deaths would have been more representative of the population. Interestingly, one of B’Tselem’s staff members, Lizi Sagie, responsible for collecting and analyzing this sort of data compared Israelis to Nazis in 2010. A backlash ensued and she subsequently resigned.
The bill also mentions Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. As NGO Monitor points out, these groups have relied heavily on B’Tselem for their information .
Additionally, the bill fails to acknowledge recent human rights violations committed by Palestinians. There’s no mention of the 8000 rockets that have been shot into southern Israel from Gaza since 2005, causing Israeli civilians to live in constant fear of falling projectiles. There’s no mention of Hamas leaders praising their militant’s use of human shields, in which militants hide themselves and their weaponry near civilian areas, like school and apartments, in hopes that the Israeli military will strike and kill civilians.
Perhaps to portray Israel as a monstrous manipulative military power, the bill states that the United States gives $3.1 billion to Israel annually. It fails to mention that the Palestinian Authority received a half a billion dollars in non-military aid from the United States this year. (They could not have received military aid, as the P.A. has no military.) In 2010, the Palestinian Territories were the 13th highest recipient of foreign aid from the United States.
Consequences and Action
Although supporters of divestment at Berkeley may not admit it–or even realize it–the broader aim of the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement from which this bill is inspired is an end to Israel. (Similar measures have been taken to topple other countries in the past. This is why diehard anti-Israel activists are so excited to compare Israel to South Africa). In fact, the founder of BDS, Omar Barghouti, openly calls for a one-state solution, in which Israel is completely eliminated. If BDS catches on, economic warfare would be effectively launched against Israel, weakening it until it is no more.
To those of you on campus who believe in real peace consisting of two states: As you actively advocate against this insidious divestment bill, know that the facts are on your side and don’t be afraid to use them. As John Adams once said “facts are stubborn things.”