Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Israel: Reality and Perception, by Francisco Gomes

"Ruling another nation is neither an ambition nor is it a policy of Israel. Peace is at the core of Jewish tradition and is also at the centre of Israel’s goals as a state."

Francisco Gomes wrote a remarkable and exceptionally well-researched article on Israel - it is well worth reading in full. It appeared in the May edition of The Brit, a monthly newspaper published in Madeira.

"There is little doubt that the perception that people have of the world they live in and of the actors that shape it is influenced by media coverage as well as by the opinion-makers that are chosen by the major news channels to comment the various events that define life on the planet. In other words, the world, as we know it, is not, for the most part, the result of our direct contact with this or that reality, but the outcome of what we hear and see reported in regional, national and international media. This fact must encourage us to think critically about the news reported to us on an almost-constant basis and to question what is reported by journalist and commentators around the world.

At the present time, very few issues have been more debated, analysed, studied, discussed, revised, described, considered, reported on or commented on than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ever since the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence – which we celebrate this month – and the ensuing conflicts between the state of Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinians and Hezbollah, the unstable relation between Arabs and Jews has dominated international news. However, with the exception of some media channels in the United States and Europe, which have consistently thrived to provide their audience with an objective depiction of Israel, the image that is projected to the international arena of that state is a far cry from reality.

It is a well-known fact that the accuracy of any conclusion – regardless of whether it is taken at the international political level or at the local level – is intrinsically associated to the quality of the information on which it is based. So, it is only fair that we take our time to divulge some interesting facts about the history of Israel, the relation between Jews and Arabs and the impacts of the often-miscalled “Israeli occupation” of the Palestinian territories and its people. We feel such information is necessary in order for the general public to gain a more honest understanding of the human, social and political dynamics that shape that region of the world.

Concerning Israeli history, a theme that is often discussed in that of nationhood. In this regard, it is important to note that the notion of a Jewish nationhood was formed at about 1312 BCE, two thousand years before the rise of Islam. In contrast, Arab refugees in Israel only began identifying themselves as part of a Palestinian people in 1967, two decades after the establishment of the modern state of Israel.

Likewise, since the Jewish conquest in 1272 BCE, Jews have had dominion over the land they presently occupy for one thousand years, with a continuous presence in the territory for the past three thousand years. Arabs only have had control of Israel twice, namely from 634 until the Crusader Invasion in June 1099 and from 1292 until 1517, when they were displaced by the Turkish Empire. Moreover, for over three thousand years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital. It has never been the capital of any Arab entity. Even when the Jordanians occupied the city, they never sought to make it their capital.

Concerning the relation between Jews and Arabs, one of the critical issues that has opposed both identities is that of refugees. On this topic, it is worth remembering that, in 1948, Arab leaders encouraged Arab refugees to leave Israel with the promise of purging the land of Jews. About six hundred thousand left the territory, sixty percent of which never saw an Israeli soldier. In contrast, Jewish refugees were forced to flee Arab lands due to Arab brutality, persecution and pogroms.

Also, Arab refugees were intentionally not absorbed or integrated into the Arab lands to which they fled, despite the vast Arab territory. In fact, out of the one hundred million refugees that have been created by events that occurred since World War II, Arab refugees are the only group in the world that has never been absorbed or integrated into their own people’s lands. This fact demonstrates a lack of understanding and thoughtfulness that is uncommon among people who basically share the same historical, cultural, racial, religious and ethnic bonds. In contrast, Jewish refugees were completely absorbed into Israel, a country no larger than the American state of New Jersey.

Moreover, in the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arabs have been represented by eight separate nations, not including the Palestinians or Arab extremist organisations. These initiated all five wars that have been fought with the state and lost. Israel defended itself each time and won. Despite this situation, the diplomatic position of Israel has evolved and, in recent times, the Israeli government has embraced a diplomatic strategy that implies the establishment of two separate states, one Arab and one Jewish, living side-by-side. This position has not been reciprocated and, to this day, Article 15 of the Charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization still calls for the destruction of Israel, or, as it is phrased in the document, “the elimination of Zionism in Palestine.”

Furthermore, despite the much-talked international support for the Israeli cause, global response to the goals and needs of the Jewish people has been, in most cases, dismal. For example, of the one hundred and seventy five resolutions passed by the Security Council of the United Nations before 1990, ninety seven were directed against Israel. In addition, of the six hundred and ninety General Assembly resolutions voted on before 1990, four hundred and twenty nine were directed against Israel. What’s more, the United Nations was silent while fifty eight Jerusalem synagogues were destroyed by the Jordanians during their occupation of the territory, while the Jordanians systematically desecrated the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and while they enforced an apartheid-like policy that prevented Jews from visiting the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

Concerning the impacts of the “Israeli occupation” of the Palestinian territories, the deep contrast of the Palestinian living conditions before and after Israeli administration clearly suggests that it has been beneficial to the Palestinians living in the territory. For example, during twenty years of Arab rule, Palestinian male life expectancy grew from 42 to 44; during the next twenty years of Israeli administration, Palestinian male life expectancy grew from 44 to 63. Also, during twenty years of Arab rule, Palestinian female life expectancy grew from 45 to 46; during the next 20 years of Israeli administration, Palestinian female life expectancy grew from 46 to 67. Moreover, during twenty years of Arab rule, Palestinian infant mortality rate decreased from 200 per thousand to 170 per thousand; during the next twenty years of Israeli administration, Palestinian infant mortality rate decreased from 170 per thousand to 60 per thousand. In addition, during twenty years of Arab rule, Palestinian crude death rate decreased from 21 per thousand to 19 per thousand; during the next twenty years of Israeli administration, Palestinian crude death rate decreased from 19 per thousand to 6 per thousand. Finally, malaria, which existed in the Palestinian territories before 1967, was eliminated during Israeli administration.

At the infrastructural level, Israeli administration has also benefited the lives of many Palestinians. For example, before 1967, when Israel’s rule began, only 113 hospitals had been built in the territories. But, at the present time, that number has more than tripled, to about 400 hospitals. Also, before 1967, only 23 motherhood centres had been established. Today, more than six times as many can be found.

Israeli also more than tripled the number of Palestinian teachers and boosted the Palestinian educational system by establishing a number of universities. Among those universities were the College of Scientists, established in Abu Dis in 1982, the College of Social Welfare, established in El Bira in 1979, the College of Religion, established in Beit Hanina in 1978, and the Islamic College, established in Hebron in 1971. Nonetheless, this was not the only effect Israeli administration has on the Palestinian educational system and the Palestinian people. Before 1967, the percentage of illiterates on average had been 27.8% among men and 65.1% among women. At the present time, Israel has helped reduce illiteracy to less than 13% among men and to less than 35% among women.

In March 2008, in a speech before the Massachusetts state legislature, Tzipi Livni [photo], the Israeli Foreign Minister, stated, “Sometimes, there is a very big difference between Israel’s international image and its realities.” An objective consideration of the historical relation between Jews and Arabs and of the effects of Israeli administration on the Palestinian territories and its people amply confirms this assertion. Ruling another nation is neither an ambition nor is it a policy of Israel. Peace is at the core of Jewish tradition and is also at the centre of Israel’s goals as a state."

Posted with the permission of the author

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