Israel and Apartheid in International Discourse

While Israel’s leadership takes pride in the state’s liberal policies, particularly in comparison to those of its non-democratic neighbors, international discourse appears to debate, if not question, Israel’s democratic character. In particular, it appears that Israel is increasingly compared to South Africa’s former Apartheid regime, a system of institutionalized racial segregation in which a white minority harshly oppressed a large black majority. While the adoption of the loaded term “Apartheid” is not uncommon in criticism relating to perceived institutionalized racism in additional liberal and democratic regimes, it is generally internally focused. In other words, it is unusual for states to accuse other states of practicing Apartheid-like measures, all the more so when such accusations are systemized and ongoing. The threat of Israel’s isolation in the international arena has penetrated the Israeli public debate and is well known. However, there are insufficient concrete findings and data regarding when and how Israel’s image as a non-democratic Apartheid state became rooted in international discourse; the extent to which it is overtly apparent; and its fluctuations over the years. The absence of such data enables decision makers, who are weary of allocating scarce resources to amorphous threats, to argue that channeling funds to deal with Israel’s international standing is less urgent than the need to address tangible and imminent threats. To this end, the current article strives to document the existence of international questioning regarding Israel’s democratic character and explore the perils that this trend encompasses by providing qualitative and quantitative findings relating to the Apartheid analogy.

The article begins by explaining the concept of Apartheid and providing background to the international struggle against the South African Apartheid with which Israel appears to be equated, as well as to the anti-Israel campaign. Following this is a section that verifies the existence of the Israel-Apartheid analogy through a quantitative and qualitative analysis of international English media items. This is followed by a section on the surfacing of the Israel-Apartheid analogy in the UN. The article concludes with policy recommendations in light of the central findings presented.

The International Struggle against South African Apartheid and the Global Anti-Israel Campaign: Milestones and Methods

The South African Case

South Africa’s international prestige began to erode in 1946 when its racial policies were debated in the first session of the United Nations. In 1948, the South African National Party won the general elections, and the elected Prime Minister, D. F. Malan, embarked on official efforts to separate South Africa’s small white minority from its large non-white majority. Laws enforcing Apartheid such as the Group Areas Act, the Lands Act and the Population Registration Act are clear examples of the institutionalization of the racial segregation upon which the South African Apartheid regime was based. Unlike other states that may have blatantly defied international norms in the same period, South Africa’s international standing suffered a severe blow because its racial repression appeared more extraordinary than other governments’ similar militarization, bureaucratic control, and use of torture. In the mid-1980s, alongside the transnational anti-Apartheid movement’s (AAM) efforts to equate support for South Africa as support for racism, the divide grew between Congress and the Reagan administration, which pursued the policy of “constructive engagement.” Anti-Apartheid activists began staging protests at the South African embassy in Washington, and thereafter at South African consulates elsewhere in the US. The visibility of such acts increased as demonstrations began to include prominent personalities and members of Congress. In 1985, bipartisan concessions on partial sanctions were reached in open opposition to the administration’s policy of constructive engagement. In 1986 international criticism of South Africa grew, and bipartisan efforts succeeded in overriding President Raegan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act (CAAA), marking a dramatic shift in US policy. As such, and against President Reagan’s initial will, the United States began imposing restrictions on new investment in South Africa, including stronger restrictions on governmental loans, imports, trade assistance, and tourism promotion, and fewer preferred tax agreements with South Africa.

These steps significantly boosted the global momentum for sanctions, with Britain accepting multilateral demands to sanction South Africa because of the social costs of appearing to tolerate racism. This was also the case with the Commonwealth and Europe, which following the US lead, imposed economic sanctions on South Africa, and Japan, which adopted bilateral restrictions. The UN played an important role in monitoring these sanctions and the international community’s overall relations with South Africa. This was done through the establishment of an organizational platform for this purpose that included the UN Special Committee against Apartheid, composed of 19 states, and the Center against Apartheid – a UN office in the Department of Political and Security Council Affairs. The UN compiled an annual list of institutions giving indirect support to the South African Apartheid regime, based on the rationale that sensitizing the international community would pressure the South African government to amend its racist policies. Eight years later, in 1994, South Africa held its first democratic multi-racial elections, and the state’s Apartheid era came to an official end. Contrary to the South African case, the analogy to Apartheid in Israel hinges on opinion rather than fact. Moreover, the idea of separation between Israelis and Palestinians in the stretch of land between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea is linked to security issues and was officially backed by the UN.

The Israeli Case

Israel defines itself as a Jewish democratic state. While the exact meaning of such a formula is widely disputed, Israel’s Jewishness is firmly recognized by many of the same scholars who hold diverging view on its democratic performance. Since 1947 the international community has envisaged partition, rather than a single state, as the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 181, supported by a two thirds majority on November 29, 1947, clearly stipulates the creation of an Arab state and a Jewish state in Palestine as the means to resolve competing national claims over the land by the Zionist and Palestinian national movements. This partition, which enabled the creation of a Jewish state in what was Mandatory Palestine, was not accepted by the Arab inhabitants of Palestine or the surrounding countries, and the two sides have been immersed in conflict ever since. In June 1967 Israel gained control over the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Israel’s claims to these territories, along with the question of Palestinians living in the latter three areas, continue to pose a long term challenge to Israel’s diplomacy, notwithstanding many rounds of negotiations over the years in an attempt to reach a peaceful solution. In 1979 Israel signed a peace agreement with  Egypt, and a peace agreement with Jordan was signed in 1994. In June 2002, in a wave of ongoing terror attacks, the Israeli cabinet decided to erect a physical barrier separating Israel from most of the West Bank with the declared objective of regulating the entry of Palestinians from the West Bank into Israel; this separation barrier was soon dubbed by critics as the “Apartheid wall.” In 2005 Israel withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip, a move that included the dismantling of Israeli settlements. To this day Israel’s borders (in the East and West) are not internationally recognized. Although popular sentiment may attribute the international questioning of Israel’s democracy to recent years, the genesis of the idea that the very establishment of Israel is based on racism dates back to the 1975 UN resolution defining Zionism as a form of racism. Despite the fact that the resolution was later rescinded; this very debate created a dent in Israel’s international image. The September 2001 UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance was the next significant milestone in cultivating the idea that Israel is a racist, Apartheid state. This conference culminated with an anti-Israel declaration, endorsed by hundreds of civil society organizations in attendance, calling on the international community to isolate Israel “as an Apartheid state, as in the case of South Africa.” July 2005 can be noted as the following milestone, with the issuing of the Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, endorsed by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, forming the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions). BDS advocates a full-fledged boycott of Israel until three stated goals are achieved: end of the occupation of all Arab lands and dismantlement of the “Wall”; recognition of the rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respect for the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.21 The first goal referring to Israel’s occupation of Arab lands remains ambiguous, with BDS leaders stating their vision regarding a single Palestinian state, or in other words, the end of the Jewish state. Similar to AAM, BDS systematically works bottom-up to influence global public opinion against Israel, through vocal protests and lobbying of decision makers. Through activities reminiscent of anti-Apartheid activist protests, Israel is systematically equated with racism and Apartheid.

Nonetheless, the First World democratic establishment thus far appears to remain supportive of maintaining trade, diplomatic ties, and other cooperation with Israel. Israel’s thriving relations with the Western world are often cited by policy shapers as proof that anti-Israel activists have limited, if any, success; that anti-Israel sentiment is in fact a new form of old anti-Semitism that Jews will always face regardless of their state’s conduct; that Israel’s place in the international community of nations is secure; and that Israel’s Apartheid analogy is employed exclusively by radicals who are nothing more than a nuisance. In order to counter this argument and delineate the extent to which Israel’s democracy is sincerely questioned in the mainstream international arena – a trend that poses a dangerous threat to Israel’s security – the following sections illustrate the use of the Israel-Apartheid analogy in two central realms: the international press and the United Nations.

The Perception of Israel as an Apartheid State in the International Press

A search of the international media in English24 coupling the words “Israel” with “Apartheid state” yields 54 articles published between 1967 and 2000 (a period of 33 years). Between 2001 and 2015 (a period of 14 years), the search showed 1,741 articles referencing these terms. The turn of the century can clearly be pinpointed as a watershed for intensive international deliberation regarding the authenticity of Israel’s democracy. The mere abundance of articles, however, while pointing to inflated international interest in the linkage between Israel and Apartheid, does not indicate the manner in which the international media portrays Israel with respect to the analogy. In other words, the quantitative findings themselves are insufficient to determine if Israel is accused of being an Apartheid state or is defended against such a perception. In extracting English European (n=86)26 and American (n=51)27 articles from the large database of articles containing the terms “Israel” and “Apartheid state,” an analysis of 137 press items published over the course of fifteen years (2000-2014) was performed.28 Each item was assessed with respect to the context in which the analogy appears, i.e., positive: articles defending Israel against Apartheid accusations; negative: articles claiming that Israel is an Apartheid state; or neutral: items that report about protests against Israel as an Apartheid state, items that bring multiple perspectives, or items that warn that Israel could become an Apartheid state in the future.

גרף ממאמרה של מיכל רדושיצקי.PNG

As illustrated in figure 1, 16 percent of American articles and 10 percent of European articles defend Israel’s democratic character by arguing against its equation with Apartheid, while the vast majority of press items, 62 and 71 percent in Europe and America, respectively, do not take a stand on this comparison, noting its existence in public discourse or warning of the possibility that this situation will emerge in the absence of substantial policy change. Division of the data into two time periods, the previous decade (2000- 2009) and the last five years (2010-2014), indicates that there was a significant increase in coverage relating to the analogy over the past five years. More specifically, from 2000 to 2009 the number of press items in American publications referring to Israel and Apartheid was 27, whereas from 2010- 2014, 24 articles dealt with this analogy. In Europe, the previous decade saw the publication of 37 press items that related to the Israel-Apartheid analogy, whereas the number of articles relating to this analogy over the

past five years alone rose to 49 press items. These findings lead to two central conclusions: (a) only a minority of articles (10-16 percent in European and American newspapers, respectively) voice claims wholeheartedly defending Israel against its equation with Apartheid; and (b) in recent years the question of Israel’s democracy is drawing increasing international attention.

The Perception of Israel as an Apartheid State in the UN

In analyzing the analogy in the United Nations, a search for documents including the terms “Israel” and “Apartheid” between January 2000 and December 2014 yielded 158 documents.31 Of these, only seven items make the case for Israel and argue in defense of the state’s policies (i.e., 4 percent of documents). Of the UN documents mentioning the words “Israel” and “Apartheid” and not drafted by the State of Israel or by pro-Israeli NGOs (n=151), 56 percent (n=84 documents) refer to Israel as an Apartheid state (i.e., to Israel’s “Apartheid regime” or various “Apartheid” practices), and 32 percent of documents (n=48 documents) relate the word Apartheid to the separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinian territories (“the Apartheid wall”). The coining of the term “Apartheid wall,” clearly referencing the black South African struggle for self-determination, is a brilliant success of pro-Palestinian forces, particularly owing to the fact that no such barrier between whites and blacks ever existed under South African Apartheid. The Israeli security barrier was thus “recruited” by activists to sustain additional arguments that Israel is an Apartheid state, for example by basing a comparison to the “pass” system, a trademark of Apartheid South Africa (e.g., “Checkpoints serve to humiliate Palestinians …in this respect they resemble the ‘pass laws’ of Apartheid South Africa, which required black South Africans to demonstrate permission to travel or reside anywhere in South Africa). Another Israeli policy that significantly boosted criticism of Israel as an Apartheid state in the UN arena is the ongoing expansion of settlements and the construction of roads connecting settlements to each other and to Israel. These roads “were reserved for exclusive use by settlers, relegating Palestinians to second-class roads obstructed by checkpoints and roadblocks,” thus facilitating the creation of a new term in UN discussions and reports: “road Apartheid.” The expansion of settlements has also led to criticism of Israel regarding disproportionate allocation of natural resources between Palestinian and Jewish residents (settlers) in adjacent areas, coining additional new terms such as “water Apartheid.” In looking at bottom-up anti-Israel civil society efforts in the UN arena, 21 percent of documents relating to Israel and Apartheid were submitted to UN forums by pro-Palestinian NGOs (n=31 documents), as opposed to 1 percent of documents (n=2 documents, over the course of 15 years!) submitted by pro-Israeli NGOs. This finding clearly illustrates the centrality that NGOs and civil society activists play in nurturing the negative attention directed at Israel and fueling continued interest in its conduct vis-à-vis the Palestinians. In breaking the analysis into two time periods (i.e., 2000-2009, and 2010-2014) two trends emerge (table 1): (a) an increase (from 52 percent of all items in the first period to 62 percent of all items in the second period) of documents relating to Israel as an Apartheid state; and (b) an increase (18 percent of all items in the first period to 26 percent of all items in the second period) in the proportion of documents relating to “Israel” and “Apartheid” submitted to the UN on behalf of Palestinian civil society organizations.

גרף 2 ממאמרה של מיכל רדושיצקי.PNG

Findings of documents relating to Israel and Apartheid in the UN arena thus reinforce the central trend apparent in the international media of an intensifying debate regarding Israel’s non-democratic character in recent years, and of little, almost nonexistent, pro-Israel efforts both on the part of Israel and other nations, in defense of accusations relating to Israel’s democratic regime. UN documents further point to Israel’s settlement policy as a central factor in nurturing the anti-Israel sentiment in the UN and to the significant, and growing, role that pro-Palestinian civil society efforts play in cultivating the Israel-Apartheid analogy in UN discourse.

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations

The collective findings presented in this article assert that the Israel-Apartheid analogy is increasingly employed in the international press as well as in UN discussions, statements, and reports in order to puncture Israel’s democratic image in the international arena. The intensification of the debate regarding Israel’s Apartheid-like features can be dated to the beginning of the century and has increased in scope over the last five years; with only 10 and 16 percent of articles in the European and American press, respectively, defending Israel from Apartheid accusations. Findings also indicate that the UN arena is neglected by Israel, which at the best of times puts up a poor fight to counter Apartheid accusations, and that pro-Palestinian civil society organizations are increasingly involved in inserting the Israel Apartheid analogy into the UN public sphere. Furthermore, it appears that Israel’s policies vis-à-vis building and expanding settlements, and the ongoing occupation of the West Bank in general, are central catalysts in the perception of Israel as an Apartheid state. Both these policies cultivate the employment of extreme, charged terms such as “the Apartheid wall,” “water Apartheid,” and “road Apartheid.” While Israel’s positive relations with the official governments of Western democratic states are often cited as proof that anti-Israel activity has limited, if any, success, the quantitative and qualitative findings in this article place a large question mark on the indefinite period that the modern world’s official leadership can remain immune to much harsher anti-Israel public sentiment that the growing use of the Apartheid analogy may well produce. As illustrated in the South African case study, intensive and mechanized bottom-up civil society efforts played a crucial role in changing the attitudes of the superpowers toward South Africa and initiating sanctions against its Apartheid regime. Alongside much-needed, and much-absent, proactive pro-Israel efforts to counter the Israel-Apartheid analogy, a more effective and long-lasting antidote to factors that nurture international anti-Israel sentiment is Israel’s professed and active commitment to the two-state solution. The credibility of the claim that the State of Israel is liberal, democratic, and committed to the globally endorsed two-state solution requires Israel to follow up on such declarations with concrete actions. This will not only serve to significantly improve Israel’s deteriorating international standing – contributing to its legitimacy and securing its future as a Jewish state – but will also enable Israel to buy leverage and political space to attack Apartheid-related international perceptions.

Israel would do well to chart trends in the international arena regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the perception of Israel’s contribution to the deadlock; monitor indicators hinting at its deteriorating international position; and take significant, proactive strategic steps to rectify the situation.

More significant than contributing to the dissolution of the Israel-Apartheid analogy in the international arena, such an approach will contribute to Israel’s national and international security.

Michal Radoshizky.jpg

Michal Hatuel Radoshitzky

Neubauer Research Associate

Institute for National Security Studies (INSS)

Post Doctoral Research Fellow

University of Haifa

Reproduced with the courtesy of the author

Publication Series: Strategic Assessment, Volume 18, No. 3, October 2015


Feature picture credit: Garry Walsh/CC BY 2.0

Roadworthy to Newsworthy

David E. Kaplan

Driving seriously ill Palestinian patients to hospitals in Israel


How come the general public is unaware?”  I asked the former chairman of Israel’s Labour Party, General Amram Mitzna about his participation as a volunteer driving seriously ill Arab patients from Gaza for lifesaving treatment at hospitals in Israel, mostly in Jerusalem. Harping back to the title of a classic sixties western, his reply reflected the unsavory reputation of contemporary journalism – “anything good is considered boring to report, so the focus is on the bad and the ugly.”

A strange thought crossed my mind as I sat down for this exclusive interview in the modest apartment in north Tel Aviv of this former general who received the ‘Medal of Distinguished Service’ for his actions during the Six-Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973, both of which he was wounded. Had he, as leader of the Labour Party won the 2003 election, Amran Mitzna would have been Prime Minister of Israel and so my thought was:

Where else in the world would a decorated war hero, a former political leader, and ex-mayor – Mitzna had been a successful mayor of two Israeli cities, the northern city of Haifa and Yeruham in the southern Negev desert – physically volunteer one day a week to help the very people who think him an enemy.”

Only in Israel!

Different Direction.The writer David Kaplan interviewing General Amran Mitzna in north Tel Aviv.

 “Where We Come In”

Amram Mitza volunteers for an organization called, ‘Road to Recovery’, that has over 600 Israeli volunteers from all walks of life who drive Palestinians undergoing medical treatment in Israeli hospitals to and from border crossings with Israel. “We mostly drive children with severe ailments for whom medical treatments and procedures are unavailable in the West Bank or Gaza. For these children and their family guardians, logistics and travel costs to Israeli hospitals are prohibitive, particularly for patients requiring regular and recurring treatment, so this is where we come in and drive them free of charge to the designated hospital,” explains Mitzna.

Taking The High Road

Every Monday morning, long before most Israelis have woken for school or work, this man in his seventies who could have been Israel’s Prime Minister, is already in his car driving to the Erez Crossing located at the northern end of the Gaza Strip on the border with Israel.

“My beat is collecting the patient and his family from the checkpoint in Gaza and driving them to a hospital in Jerusalem.”

In addition to ferrying Palestinian patients to hospitals across Israel, Road to Recovery assist those Palestinians with limited means to acquire specialized outpatient medical equipment.

“Although I volunteer as a driver, there are others that organize special rehabilitation and retreat days for Palestinian patients and their families at Israeli recreation facilities,” says Mitzna. One such facility is the Lower Galilee ‘Jordan River Village’, a unique camp for children living with chronic, serious, or life-threatening illnesses and disorders. Officially opened in 2011 with acclaimed actor Chaim Topol as Chairman, the Village offers fun and medically safe experiences to all children living with serious or chronic illnesses in Israel at no cost to their family.

Salvation Road.A Palestinian mother and her children during a Road to Recovery journey to an Israeli hospital. Courtesy of Road to Recovery

No Kidding!

The only programme of its kind in the Middle East, the Jordan River Village invites children between the ages 9-18 with a wide range of illnesses – including Cancer, Cerebral Palsy, Crone’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Epilepsy, Heart & Cardiovascular Diseases, Juvenile Diabetes and kidney and liver transplants – to participate in medically supervised recreational activities.

When the camp first opened, the Hamas Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip refused to allow the children who had been undergoing treatment in Israel to attend. Their attitude was:

“Treatment, yes; a fun vacation, no.”

Road to Recovery turned to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, who had experience in negotiating with Hamas, notably his role in securing the release of Gilad Shalit in 2011. “We asked him to explain that these are very sick children who won’t survive the year, to tell them that this is a completely humanitarian mission, with no politics involved,” recalled Roth.
Baskin spoke to Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad, who refused, declaring “It’s cooperation with the enemy.”

A shocked Baskin retorted, “Do you want to tell me an organisation in Israel cares more about your children than you do?”

Despite the Hamas ban, the families made their way on their own to the Erez crossing and were able to pass through on their medical passes. The following year, Road to Recovery presented the camp as “medical treatment” and not “fun and games,” so the process went smoothly, and children from Gaza attended the camp.

Since the founding of Road to Discovery over 8 years ago, “it has brought about an estimated 40,000 person-hours of interaction between Palestinians and Israelis,” says Mitzna, “thereby forging personal bonds in the context of every-day life.”

Road to Recovery is as much “about the recovery of mutual respect, trust, dialog and friendship among Israelis and Palestinians as it is about the physical recovery of individual patients,” says Mitzna.

Hand in HandRoth (right) picking up a Palestinian family with mother clutching her ill child at checkpoint on route to hospital in Jerusalem.

 Long and Windy Road

For two years now, Amram Mitzna volunteers every Monday. “I wake up at 5.00 am, drive from Tel Aviv before the early heavy morning traffic to the Erez Crossing on the border with Gaza, where I pick up my young patient and members of his or her family, and drive them across the width of the country to a hospital in Jerusalem. Mostly it’s Hadassah Medial Center or sometimes hospitals in east Jerusalem. It’s usually about a three-hour roundtrip.” Mitzna does not have to wait, as another volunteer from the Jerusalem area will drive the family back to Gaza after the medical treatment or operation. Similarly, “If a Palestinian patient from the West Bank is brought for specialized treatment at a hospital in Tel Aviv, I could then be called upon to drive them back,” says Mitzna. There are on-line coordinators in regions across the country organizing volunteer drivers, like Mitzna, to pick-up, take and return Palestinian patients.

He cites other volunteers like “my two sisters, who introduced me to the project” and a well-known public prosecutor.  He notes that “last year we – that is Israeli drivers and Palestinian families – collectively covered 30,000 kilometers together; that is 30,000 kilometers on the road towards peace.”

Looking Ahead.A Road to Recovery volunteer transporting a Palestinian family to an Israeli hospital for treatment. Courtesy of Road to Recover

Hardly politically naïve, Mitzna admits “I know it will not bring peace as such. However, it does bring more understanding between ordinary people. Peace agreements are signed between leaders, not the people they represent, and you have to always wonder – are the people behind it?”

Too often, asserts Mitzna, “mistrust remains, and agreements fail to bring people together. On the other hand, a project like Road to Recovery that operates below  or maybe ‘above’  politics can ‘drive’ people from across the divide  together.”

It proves, asserts Mitzna that “ordinary people can succeed where politicians fail.”

“How did this project come about?” I asked the former general and politician.

“The brainchild of a very special man, Yuval Roth, who had the ability to transcend personal tragedy and channel his grief into something positive, enriching and an example to others.”

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From Israel With Love.Yuval Roth (second on right) with Mohammed Darajmeh and his daughter Amani at the Eyal Crossing getting into Roth‘s van. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH 90)

Roth’s Road

Roth is a carpenter and professional juggler from Pardes Hanna in central Israel. In 1993, Roth’s younger brother, Udi, was returning home from army reserve duty when he and a fellow soldier were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists. A few years later, to cope with his loss, Roth joined the Forum of Bereaved Families (or the Parents Circle – Families Forum), which brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost a close family member through the conflict. The Forum, made up of about 500 Jewish and Arab families, was established by Yitzhak Frankenthal, a religious bereaved father, who believes that “reconciliation between individuals and peoples is possible and a prerequisite to achieving a sustainable peace.”
One day, a Palestinian member of the Forum asked Roth for his help in getting his brother, who had a suspected brain tumor, to Rambam Hospital in Haifa as he had no way to get there. Roth personally drove the brother and soon thereafter, was approached by another family in the same village whose children needed bone marrow transplants.

This time it was to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

It then dawned on Roth that he could create a framework across the country that would be a positive step for reconciliation. Recruiting a few friends, he launched the “travel service” network that subsequently expanded into Derech HachlamaRoad to Recovery.

The first donation for the project came – to Roth’s astonishment – from the late famed singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen who had read an article about Rambam Hospital that mentioned Roth ferrying Palestinian patients back and forth from the hospital. “That donation was what pushed me to form a proper non-profit organization back in 2006,” Roth reveals.

Another musical giant who supports Road to Recovery, is music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) Zubin Mehta who says, “We are such close neighbours and look at the distance between us in understanding.” Noting how music can build bridges, he spent a day with Eyal Ofek, a volunteer with Road to Recovery where they drove Palestinians from West Bank villages to Israeli hospitals in Jerusalem.

“Well,” remarked the Maestro afterwards, “It was one of the most inspirational days I have spent – EVER!”

(see Zubin Mehta’s Inside Look – World renown philharmonic conductor on his work with Road to Recovery.)

Momentous Mileage

To date, Roth’s 2001 nine-seater Citroen van, has traveled well over half a million kilometers helping to save lives such as the 15-year-old daughter, Hind and the 16-year-old son Karem of Khaffia Bajat from the Palestinian village of Azzun Atma near Qalqiliya for their regular monthly treatment. Then there is Mohammed Darajmeh from Luban Asharkiya, near Nablus, who brings his daughter, Amani, 16, who has also been treated at Rambam in Haifa for years. These patients are Roth’s regular passengers.

Without this pickup and delivery service, “most Palestinian patients couldn’t get to the hospitals,” explains Roth. “The family of an infant that needs daily dialysis in Rambam or Hadassah couldn’t possibly manage this financially,” he says.

Roth says he is amazed by the willingness of his volunteers “to drop everything and drive to checkpoints at unearthly hours” to collect sick Palestinians. Road to Recovery gained international recognition when in 2011, CNN listed Roth as one of its 24 “Heroes” for the year. “It was nice and helped a little with fundraising but not much more,” expressed the modest carpenter. “At the end, the feeling that we did something that really helped is more significant than any award or publicity.”

Some 450 Palestinian families from the West Bank and Gaza are served by Road to Recovery. Some patients come every day, some every few months. Most are children with many travelling to be treated for cancer.

Like Mitzna, another volunteer driver is Anita Steiner a retired social worker.

She’s been transporting patients from the Erez checkpoint at the northern tip of Gaza for almost a year to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba and to Hadassah Ein Kerem or Augusta Victoria hospitals in Jerusalem. Expressing a similar sentiment to the former general, this social worker says, “I’m drawn to the fact that no politics are involved; just human acts of kindness.”

 The Right Road

So, despite the increasing terror from Gaza with arson kites and incendiary balloons setting Israeli land ablaze, Amram Mitzna continues to keep his hands firmly on his steering wheel transporting Palestinians patients to hospitals in Jerusalem.

Robert Frost’s poem ‘The Road Not Taken’ invites the reader to ponder: “Yes, we chose this road, but what if we chose the other?”

There is no such doubt in the minds of the drivers of Road to Recovery.

“We’re on the right road,” says Amran Mitzna.

Next Monday, all being well, “I will be at the Eretz checkpoint picking up a Palestinian family from Gaza.”

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Ride & Hope.Palestinian girl, Kais Alwaneh being dropped off at Tel Aviv’s Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer in June 2018 by volunteer Orli Shalem. Courtesy Dina Kraft



10 Myths and Facts about the Arab-Israeli Conflict


By Rolene Marks

For a tiny strip of land, Israel certainly commands her fair share of attention. Often misunderstood and misrepresented in the media, many believe the myths and lies that surround coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

We collated 10 of the most commonly asked questions so that we can dispel some of these untruths.

  1. Is there a difference between Arab Israelis and Palestinians?

Arab Israelis are citizens of the State of Israel. They are fully enfranchised and enjoy equal rights. They enjoy the right to vote, serve in the army, run for public office, attend university and enjoy the same rights as their fellow citizens.

Palestinians are NOT citizens of the State of Israel. It is easy to confuse the issue. Palestinians who live in Gaza are under the leadership or control of Hamas and in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority.

2. Are the settlements the obstacle to peace?

Hate and incitement existed long before there were any settlements. There is no doubt that while the settlements are controversial, and many see them as an obstacle to peace, they are not the reason that there is no peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Settlements only really became an issue when former US President, Barack Obama, demanded a settlement freeze. This embarrassed the Palestinian Authority, whose leaders rushed to endorse the call. The Palestinian Authority leadership even took a step further by announcing that it would not return to the negotiating table unless Israel halted all settlement activities. (Khaled abu Toameh –

In Gaza in 2005, Israel uprooted over 8 500 settlers with the aim of dismantling all settlements. Even the dead were removed. The result was more incitement and rockets fired at Israel’s citizens. Israel reserves the right to protect her citizens against rocket and mortar attacks and this reaction was a clear indication that security is and will always be a major consideration when it comes to the issue of settlements.

It is also a concern that while Jews who live in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria are prepared to live under the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas has stated on several occasions that under no circumstances will Jews be allowed to live in a Palestinian state. So are settlements REALLY the issue? 

3. Did the Jews steal the land from the Arabs?

This is the perennial question – and accusation. Jews have a claim to the land of Israel that predates the modern state and goes back to biblical times. In 1947 the United Nations convened to vote on the future of British Mandate Palestine. Member states voted to divide the territory into two countries – one for the Arabs and one for the Jews, with Jerusalem an international zone.  The Jewish territory was significantly smaller than that offered to the Arabs.

On the 15th of May 1948, Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, declared the State of Israel.

The Jews accepted the partition plan and the Arabs did not, preferring instead to declare war on the fledgling Jewish state.  Israel defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and gained a significant amount of territory. Territory that under international law was legally acquired.

Prior to the Six Day War in June 1967, Jerusalem was under Jordanian control and the Temple Mount was forbidden to Jews. The Jordanians also controlled the area known as the West Bank and Egypt controlled Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula and Syria, the Golan Heights.

 The Israeli Army once again faced the combined armies of Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon and when the ceasefire was eventually signed, Israel had won a decisive victory and the territories of the West Bank, Golan Heights, Gaza and Sinai Peninsula.

Once again, Israel like any victor in a war, had gained territory.

 4. Why is Jerusalem such a contentious issue?

 Jerusalem is holy to the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Judaism birthed Christianity and then centuries later, Islam. Jerusalem is the centre of Jewish life and worship. When Jews pray, they face Jerusalem and the city is mentioned 669 times in the Torah but is not mentioned in the Qur’an. Muslims face Mecca and Medina when they pray.

Jerusalem is the city of King David who built it as his capital and was the site for the two holy Temples. Every day new antiquity is being discovered that shows irrefutable evidence of the vibrant life that Jews lived in Jerusalem from the time of King David and centuries after.

The Al Aqsa Mosque is built on the Temple Mount, literally on top of the ruins of the Jewish holy temples.  The Al Aqsa Mosque is maintained by the Waqf. The Waqf is an administrative body that looks after the holy Muslim places and in Israel this is the Al Aqsa Mosque and Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, an area holy to Jews as well. The Temple Mount is the main issue of contention with Muslims accusing Israel of disrupting the “status quo”. This has not been the case at all.

 Palestinians also want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, but Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. All of Israel’s governmental buildings are in Jerusalem and every dignitary that has visited Israel, has come to Jerusalem, the capital. US President Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital effectively removes the city as a major negotiating point in a lasting peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

5. Is Israel an Apartheid state?

 Israel is NOT an Apartheid state and to say so is both profoundly hurtful to South Africans who suffered under the heinous regime. Is Israel a racist society? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Is there racism in Israel? Sadly, yes, just as there is in any other country and it is a phenomenon that must be fought, wherever it occurs.

What was Apartheid? Apartheid was a system of state legislated discriminatory laws in South Africa that were based on racial segregation that determined that white citizens were superior to citizens of colour. These laws governed every aspect of a person’s life from where they went to school, lived, who they were intimate with, where they worked, where they went for ablution and more.

The intention behind calling Israel and Apartheid state is not built on fact but is a nefarious attempt by BDS and other anti-Semitic organisations to draw a comparison of the Jewish state to that of South Africa during the Apartheid years so that Israel can be treated as a pariah, isolated and de-legitimised as a country. At no time during South Africa’s Apartheid past was her right to exist questioned but BDS and their supporters unequivocally state that the eventual destruction of Israel is their end game hence the chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

 6. Is it true that there were Jewish refugees from Arab countries?

 This is an issue that is barely spoken about yet happened in recent history.  The Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries, was the departure, flight, expulsion, evacuation and migration of 850,000 Jews from predominantly Sephardi and Mizrahi backgrounds, mainly from 1948 to the early 1970s.

The last major expulsion wave took place from Iran in 1979–80, as a result of the Islamic Revolution. Jews were pushed out of or expelled from Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Algeria and Jordan.

To date, more than 100 United Nations resolutions have been passed referring explicitly to the fate of the Palestinian refugees. Not one has specifically addressed Jewish refugees. Additionally, the United Nations UNRWA,(United Nations Refugee Works Association)  to solely handle Palestinian refugees while all other refugees are handled collectively by UNHRC. The UN even defines Palestinian refugees differently than every other refugee population, setting distinctions that have allowed their numbers to grow exponentially so that nearly 5 million are now considered refugees despite the fact that the number estimated to have fled their homes is only approximately 400-700,000.

 Nearly half of Israel’s native population descends from the Jewish refugees of the Arab world and their rights must be recognized alongside any discussion of the rights for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. In Israel, the issue of the Jewish refugees has been of preeminent importance during all peace negotiations with the Palestinians, including the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 2000 Camp David summit.

The 30th of November has been designated as a special day to remember Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries.

 7. Is the security fence an Apartheid wall?

 The Security Fence mostly stretches along the area often referred to as “the Green Line”. The security fence is not a de facto border, as borders are an issue that need to be negotiated in a final settlement agreement. The Security Fence was built to stop the influx of terrorists and would be suicide bombers who had claimed the lives of thousands of Israelis from all faiths and sectors of society. It is not a “wall” or “Apartheid wall” as many of Israeli’s critics would have you believe, in fact approximately only 3-5% is concrete wall and this is to prevent snipers shooting at motorists and towns. The majority is fence with highly sophisticated detection and deterrent technology.

Many have criticized that the route of the fence cuts through Palestinian property. Should the fence cut through private land, Palestinians have recourse at the Supreme Court which more often than not rules in favour of the plaintiff.

Is this a case of good fences make good neighbours? The reality is that the number of terror attacks have dropped significantly. Israel is not the only country that has a fence for security purposes:

  • Spain built a fence, with European Union funding, to separate its enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from Morocco to prevent poor people from sub-Saharan Africa from entering Europe.
  • India constructed a 460-mile barrier in Kashmir to halt infiltrations supported by Pakistan.
  • Saudi Arabia built a 60-mile barrier along an undefined border zone with Yemen to halt arms smuggling of weaponry and announced plans in 2006 to build a 500-mile fence along its border with Iraq.
  • Turkey built a barrier in the southern province of Alexandretta, which was formerly in Syria and is an area that Syria claims as its own.
  • In Cyprus, the UN sponsored a security fence reinforcing the island’s de facto partition.

British-built barriers separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods in Belfast

 8. Why are ultra-Orthodox Jews anti-Zionist?

 Israel, like many countries has a lot of complex societal issues to deal with. A small, but vocal sect within the ultra-Orthodox who do not recognize a Jewish state and the reason for this is religious. They believe that the promise of a Jewish state can only be fulfilled when the messiah comes. In reality, they are Zionists. They pray for Zion every day but believe that the Jewish country can only come into existence after the arrival of the messiah.

9. Is the IDF a moral, human army?

 The Israel Defense Forces subscribe to a very strict code of conduct or ethics. The doctrine of the IDF is that while it is necessary to protect the safety and sovereignty of the State of Israel, it is of utmost importance to consider the sanctity of human life first.

During the IDF’s last incursion into Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, approved targets were agreed prior to the event

The IDF would phone civilians, drop pamphlets, engage in “roof knocking” (non-damaging warning so that civilians know to leave their homes) and using every possible safety procedure. The Israeli Airforce aborted numerous strikes because of civilians that were in close proximity to the target. The IAF clears every strike with the Military Advocate General so that it is in full compliance with the rules of engagement. Any infraction is fully investigated.

The IDF set up field hospitals in Gaza (even though Hamas prohibited civilians from accessing them) in times of conflict and even with hostile neighbouring state, Syria, where thousands of civilians affected by civil war have received treatment.

This attention to humanitarian issues has changed the rules of engagement in war so much that when a delegation of Generals from a variety of countries commented that Israel had set the bar very high when it comes to how armies deal with civilians during a time of conflict that it had changed the rules of engagement for all armies.

10. Is Anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism?

Zionism can be described as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. It is about the yearning to return to and re-build their ancient homeland. Saying that Jews do not have a right to organize themselves politically or have a country of their own or singling Israel out for approbation at the expense of other conflicts and gross human rights abuse, IS anti-Semitism. In fact, it was the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr who said “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism”.

While there is a small but vocal minority within the greater Jewish community that does not identify itself as Zionist, the majority of Jews are proudly Zionist and are profoundly insulted and offended by anti-Zionist comments and activity.