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 – https://www.standwithus.com/news/article.asp?id=2269).

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.

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