Vilifying Israel

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In the recent conflicts in the Middle East, the Israeli point of
view is rarely covered, especially by independent media. I
think there are a lot of misconceptions and information gaps.
Let’s start with a few brief facts. Israel is about 1/5th to
1/6th the size of Illinois. Lebanon is even smaller. Israel was
created in the late 1940’s. Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq
became independent from Britain and France at about the
same time. They were previously controlled by the Ottoman
Empire for about 500 years. The borders drawn by Britain and
France are behind much of the current conflict in the region.
Israel has been involved in 3 major wars in which at least
8 neighboring countries directly supplied troops at one point
or another (the three other Israel-Lebanon wars are not considered
major wars). Two of the major wars occurred before
the West Bank and Gaza strip were an issue. At no time during
its existence have all of Israel’s borders have been quiet
from missiles or bombings. Missiles are regularly fired into
Israel from the Gaza Strip (Quassams), and Lebanon (Katutias).
During the 1991 Gulf War, Baghdad fired 39 Scud missiles
at Israel. Iran threatens Israel with missiles and nuclear
warheads. A major reason for these ongoing conflicts is the
existence of permanent refugee camps.
Before 1967, the West Bank and Gaza strip were part of
Jordan and Egypt respectively. Between the creation of
those countries and 1967 there was no Palestinian uprising.
Palestinians have been kept in refugee camps without
the right to work, or to resolve their future, for about 60
years after the birth of these nations.
Israel has about 6 million people of which more than 1
million are Palestinians. Since the 1940’s, more Jews fled
Arab countries than Palestinians fled Israel. Far more
Palestinians live in Israel now than Jews live in the whole
Arab and Muslim worlds combined.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, modern Greece
and Turkey were formed. A mass population exchange
occurred where Christians fled from Turkey to Greece and
Muslims fled from Greece to Turkey. No permanent
refugee camps were formed.
When Pakistan separated from India, a mass migration
occurred where Hindus in Pakistan fled to India and Muslims
fled to Pakistan. The same occurred with India and
Bangladesh. No permanent refugee camps were formed.
No conflict has ever been resolved by permanent
refugee camps. Palestinians should not be held in camps
without jobs or recourse. Keeping them in camps is furthering
colonialism by reinforcing the lines that the British
decided in the 1940’s when designations such as Palestinian,
Jordanian, Lebanese and Syrian were determined.
At a panel in the Urbana City Council chambers on Oct
26, it was suggested that as a part of a settlement the US
needed to open its borders to some of these Palestinians. As
an ideal this certainly sounds good. However, I am not
sure that it will work. The reason is that having a third
party accept responsibility continues the cycle of avoiding
the responsibility of Arab countries. In the end, Arab countries
such as Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria are held to a
lower standard than say India, Pakistan, Bangladesh,
Greece and Turkey. Why are these four countries (and other
Arab countries) not responsible for refugees?
I think the solution (beyond a cynical proposal of banning
religion) actually starts here, with the people that read
this newspaper, the people that judge the situation and criticize
the actors. The first priority is the application of
human rights equally throughout the world. People should
not be kidnaped, killed, jailed or threatened based on their
opinions or even pictures they took (the Canadian-Iranian
journalist Zahra Kazemi was tortured and killed by the
Iranian police for simply taking a picture of a prison).
Nobody should be subjected to this: not Palestinians,
Israelis, Iranians, Kurds, Iraqis, Africans etc. People who
deny these basic rights, who incorporate vigilante groups in
their midst, or who do not speak up against these practices
should be denied legitimacy. They should not be necessarily
labeled terrorist, but violators of human rights.
Ironically, Israel itself has decent human rights within its
borders, especially compared with the other countries in the
region (please see Human rights should
be encouraged and parties that abide by human rights
should receive a positive judgment and be rewarded with
more legitimacy, especially in UN (this philosophy should
not just apply to this conflict). Note: being a theocracy,
monarchy, democracy, dictatorship, oligarchy or whatever is
irrelevant in this scheme. The essence of cultures should
not be changed, but people everywhere in the world
deserve to feel safe and to be allowed to express themselves.
Since its creation in the 1940’s Israel has been constantly
vilified, more than Greece, Turkey, India, Pakistan,
Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon or Iraq. American Jews and Jews
in general have also often been vilified. My simple question
is why, and what makes Israel so different? Is it that
Israel’s refugees are Jewish? Is it that some of Israel’s
refugees also came from Europe?
Unless all parties are held to the same standards of
human rights and unless the Western view of Muslim and
Arab countries changes from blameless victims to part of
the problem, nothing will change.

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