Monday, March 28, 2016

No, There Is Not Israeli Apartheid in the West Bank

For those who are pro-Israel and happen to be on a college campus this week, you'll notice the ever-so annoying Israel Apartheid Week taking place. This is a time where "pro-Palestinian" student activists and the maliciously slanderous BDS movement dedicate an entire week spreading lies about Israel being an apartheid state. I went over that claim four years ago during Israel Apartheid Week, and I found that apartheid does not take place in the land of Israel. Yes, there are acts of unfairness and discrimination in the land of Israel. No country is perfect. If we were to apply the mythical standards to other countries that anti-Israel activists apply to Israel, we would find that under those ridiculously high standards, every country could be labeled as an apartheid state because every country has disparities of the racial, socio-economic, and/or ethnic variety on some level.

However, anti-Israel activists have taken a different approach. The emphasis is less on what happens to Arabs in Israel proper, and more so as to what happens to Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza. Gaza is simpler to explain. The majority of Gazans elected the terrorist organization known as Hamas into power in 2007. Unsurprisingly, there have not been elections with the Palestinian Authority since then. Hamas is an anti-Semitic entity hellbent on wiping out Israel. There is no moral equivalency between Hamas and Israel. Hamas is fixated on the goal of Israel's annihilation, and aside from the Israelis who are victims of Hamas' attacks, the citizens within the Gaza Strip also suffer immensely from such totalitarian rule.

What about the West Bank? As Judge Richard Goldstone, the man infamous for the Goldstone Commission that inaccurately labeled Operation Cast Lead (Goldstone since redacted the report), put it in his New York Times op-ed regarding the slanderous claim of Israel being an apartheid state, "The situation in the West Bank is more complex." Not that I am fan of the United Nations, but the map below illustrates just how much of a mess the West Bank is. Per the Oslo Accords, Israel and the Palestinian government agreed to divide the West Bank into three areas: Area A, Area B, and Area C. While Area A accounts for a small percentage of the geographical area, it still accounts for the majority of the population in the West Bank. In Area A, the Palestinian Authority exercises full civil and security control. Under Area A, the Fatah government deprives its citizens of its most basic of liberties, as is illustrated by its Freedom House ranking, so it's not the issue of the Israeli government depriving Palestinians of basic rights, but rather largely on the Palestinian government itself. Area B consists of full Palestinian civil control and going Israeli-Palestinian security control. Area C, which accounts for the majority of the West Bank in terms of geographical area, is under full Israeli control for security, planning, and construction.

The problem that these seemingly arbitrary divisions cause for the citizens in the West Bank is that the checkpoints throughout limit travel within the West Bank. The checkpoints also came with a wall along the 1948 Armistice Line, which anti-Israel activists have derisively called the "apartheid wall." I think it's noteworthy to recall when the wall was erected in the first place. Since the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel was able to avoid building a security wall for over three decades. It wasn't until the Second Intifada of the early 2000's when terrorist attacks originating from the West Bank were so numerous and severe that it necessitated the creation of the security wall. The number of terrorist attacks dropped precipitously once the wall was erected, and has served as a legitimate barrier to largely prevent terrorist attacks from plaguing Israel. The Israeli Supreme Court has made rulings to minimize unreasonable burdens of the checkpoints and security wall (see here, here, and here), which is another example of Israeli accommodation to a complex situation. But's let's be mindful of the fact that West Bank Palestinians are not citizens of Israel, and the 92,000 Palestinians who do enter Israel to work thusly need permission to enter Israel proper. Let's also remember that the Palestinian government has been presented with multiple opportunities to create an independent state under a two-state solution, which would eliminate the need for an Israeli security presence, but the Palestinian government has rejected each opportunity.

The question the remains is whether such measures constitute as apartheid, which means we need to go back to the definition of apartheid. The Rome Statute of International Criminal Court of 1998 (Article 7, Section 2h) defines apartheid as "inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph 1, committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime." The United Nations General Assembly in 1973 defined it as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them." Technically, the Palestinians aren't a race, which is one way this doesn't fall under the legal definition, but that is the least of the issues for those claiming that Israel is unleashing apartheid on the citizens of the West Bank. The important distinction to make with both of these definitions, and one that Goldstone brought up in his op-ed, is that Israel has no intention or desire of maintaining that domination, not to mention that Israeli forces consist of more than just Jews, but also Muslims, Christians, and Druzes. These are not mere semantics, but critical distinctions that take Israel's behavior in the West Bank out of the realm of the legal definition of apartheid.

While there are aspects of Israel's presence in the West Bank that can be construed as cumbersome or unfair, the South African regime was racially motivated in its actions, whereas the Israeli government is motivated to stop the incessant, Palestinian terror that it has reeked and continues to reek on Israel. Any de facto separation is due to security needs, not racism. Plus, there is a baselessness in the claim of Israeli apartheid when Abbas is working on getting international recognition of Palestine as a state.  An Israeli security presence does not mean Israeli domination, let alone apartheid. If that were the case, then an American presence in Afghanistan would be apartheid, and the terroristic measures that Palestinians have inflicted on Israelis over the years would have to be defined as apartheid because those measures define where Israelis go, when schools open and close, and affect when people suddenly have to run to bomb shelters. While it is true that Israel conducts security operations in the West Bank, it is also true that the Palestinian Authority also has its own security forces, central bank, top-level Internet domain name, and its own executive branch. If these institutions exist, and if there is international recognition that Palestine (or at least the West Bank) is its own state, then that implies sovereignty. You can have sovereignty or you can be ruled by another country, but logically or legally speaking, you cannot simultaneously have both. Whether naysayers like it or not, the decisions of the Palestinian government dictate the vast majority of what takes place in the daily lives of Palestinians.

The ideal, certainly from a libertarian perspective, is that there is liberalized trade and flow of people. However, legitimate security concerns, much like exist within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, impede such a laissez faire actualization since it would mean a free flow of weapons used to terrorize Israeli citizens. Until there can be a viable peace process, or at least until Israel can stop being under the threat of attack from Gaza and West Bank, the continued stalemate is going to be that those in the West Bank will continue to feel oppressed, and the Israelis will continue to view the security wall and checkpoints as valid security measures. Much like with calling the West Bank an occupied territory (it's actually a disputed territory....major difference!), the term is as false as it is counterproductive. Ultimately, I hope and pray that leaders on both sides can come together to find a feasible, lasting solution to peace so that those in the region can lead [relatively] harmonious lives instead of being in a constant state of conflict.

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