By Guest Contributor

Amitai Ben-Abba’s op-ed of March 20 “Occupation — the Censored Word” labels Ambassador Dennis Ross’s recent lecture on the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “an astonishing feat of deception.” Not only did Ross clearly, and fairly, criticize both Israelis and Palestinians while articulating steps that both sides must take in order to achieve peace, but Ben-Abba’s response is not without its own deceptive remarks.

Contrary to what Ben-Abba claims, Jews did not simply move into Israel in 1948 and expel its native inhabitants. Over half a century prior, Jews, escaping European anti-Semitism, began purchasing land legally from absentee land owners in what would become Israel, cultivating it and developing cities. At the time of the UN Partition in 1947, Jews had a clear majority of 538,000 to 397,000 Arabs in the land given to them. In a greater context, this partition divided only 20 percent of Mandate Palestine; the other 80 percent was allocated to what would become Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Since its independence in 1948, Israel has actively pursued peace, but the Palestinians have rejected every offer Israel has ever made. While Israel’s gaining independence was certainly complicated, with injustices done to both Israelis and Palestinians alike, the history is far more nuanced than the one-sided story Ben-Abba tells.

Ben-Abba continues by quoting Martin Luther King Jr., attempting unsuccessfully to present the American civil rights hero as anti-Israel and to portray Israel as a racist state. Contrary to Ben-Abba’s claim, Dr. King stood with Israel, stating, “Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.” To align Dr. King’s supportive remarks with Ben-Abba’s misconstrued attack on Israel ‘s committing a “systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestine” is inappropriate.

Moreover, Ben-Abba’s use of the “apartheid” label on Israel is both offensive and inaccurate. Although Israel faces racial struggles like any other western democracy, it often surpasses the human rights records of any other first world country. “Apartheid” has no obvious correlation whatsoever to the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. “Apartheid” refers to a system of extreme racial segregation enforced by legislation in South Africa, in which the country’s white minority exercised complete political and social control over the black majority, stripping them of fundamental rights. Palestinian citizens of Israel face none of these injustices. Israeli-Arab men and women have a guaranteed right to vote in regular, stable, democratic elections. In Israel, an Arab man, Salim Joubran, sits on the Supreme Court. In Israel, Arabs sit in the Israeli parliament. In Israel, Arab students, including those from the West Bank, attend prestigious Israeli universities, which also employ many Arab professors. In Israel, Arabs serve as generals in the army. Finally, as Ross pointed out in his speech, Israel regularly treats both citizen and non-citizen Palestinian Arabs in its hospitals – for free.

What part of this resembles anything that comes remotely close to apartheid? Arab citizens of Israel do have to deal with racism and hate, but to call this “apartheid” is utterly inaccurate. The truth is that Arabs in Israel have more rights than Arabs in any Arab country. They can speak critically of Israel without fear of retribution and they enjoy civil liberties far greater than exist anywhere else in the Middle East. Arab women, in particular, are safer and better protected in Israel than anywhere else in the region. The term “apartheid” is merely a provocative buzz word ignoring the complexities of the situation, and is used only to incite unwarranted criticism of Israel.

As for Arab non-citizens of Israel, those living in Gaza or the West Bank, Ben-Abba is correct; these people do face oppression. It’s a sad reality, but this oppression, requires context. People living in these areas do not face oppression because of their Arab ethnicity, but rather because some groups of Palestinians represent a security threat to Israel. Since 2005, when Israel unilaterally withdrew from the territory, over 8,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. Gaza’s leadership, Hamas, which the UN considers a terrorist organization, encourages and partakes in these attacks which are nearly always first strikes on Israel. During the Second Intifada, the West Bank leadership, Fatah, sat, watched and applauded as terrorists murdered close to 1,000 Israeli civilians in cold blood. Despite this, Israel regularly brings aid to these communities including more than one million tons of humanitarian supplies in the past 18 months to Gaza. The security barrier running along the West Bank, which was built after the Second Intifada, has put a halt to terrorism arising in the West Bank, while Israel’s siege on Gaza lessens the flow of rockets into the strip. Israel has every right to protect the lives of its citizens, and the blame for lost civil liberties for Palestinians must be shared between both Israel and the Palestinian leadership – or lack thereof – which has done too little to stop acts of terror against Israel.

Israel should not be free of criticism; Israel deserves criticism just like every other country in the world. However, Ben-Abba’s article criticizes Israel entirely unfairly, and in doing so, ignores many other, far worse, atrocities in the region. Take Syria, for example.

When Ben-Abba calls for Middlebury to divest from Israel, it must be made clear that to divest from Israel is to divest from values like democracy, self determination and liberal progress. The Israeli Defense Force has the lowest civilian-combatant ratio in the history of the world. I question Ben-Abba’s motive for selectively calling out Israel, rather than China or Russia – countries with truly atrocious human rights records. As Middlebury students who care deeply about such values, we must critically assess Ben-Abba’s proposition and recognize that introducing Israel into the divestment conversation will result in the destruction of our divestment movement as a whole.

WILLIE GOODMAN ’16 is from Highland Park, Ill.


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