BOOKLET SERIES

ANSWERING
TOUGH QUESTIONS
ABOUT ISRAEL

Common accusations against Israel and answered with factual, direct and concise answers.

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This work is the result of...

StandWithUs staff thinking critically about common accusations against Israel and coming up with factual, direct, and concise answers. As a non-partisan education organization, we also represent and consider diverse political perspectives. Our process can be broken down into the following steps, which we encourage you to use to think critically on your own:

1

Educate yourself: learn the basics about Israel and the conflict.

2

Understand the question: identify what exactly the question is referring to by using your prior knowledge or looking it up.

3

Do the research: check reliable sources from different perspectives to learn about the issue.

4

Answer: analyze the information you gathered and answer the question as directly as possible using facts and context.

The legitimacy of Israel’s existence

Aren’t the Jews in Israel white European colonialists?

The Jewish people are indigenous to Israel, the birthplace of their identity and unique culture, and have maintained a documented presence for over 3,000 years. The families of most Israeli Jews lived across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia before they returned to their ancestral homeland in Israel. Jews who came from Europe were not colonialists. They did not represent a foreign power and rejected any identification with European nations. They were idealists who sought to restore their unique heritage and fought for the same rights that are granted to all peoples: self-determination and independence in their ancestral home. Over 150 years ago, Jews returned in ever-larger numbers, again became the majority in Jerusalem in the 1860s, and established Tel Aviv in 1909. In 1920 the international community officially recognized the indigenous rights of the Jewish people and endorsed the restoration of the Jewish homeland.

Wasn’t the establishment of Israel a grave injustice to the Palestinians?

In an act of historical justice, the international community recognized that after millennia of persecution and expulsions, the Jewish people had a right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. The Jewish people also accepted the fact that others now lived in their land as well. Israeli leaders supported the UN’s 1947 recommendation to partition the Jewish homeland so Palestinian Arabs could establish history’s first Palestinian state. Israel also granted equal rights to all Arabs in its borders. Unfortunately, Arab leaders refused to accept a Jewish state, no matter how small, and dismissed any compromises that would allow both peoples to fulfill their aspirations to self-determination. Instead, they launched an unsuccessful war to seize the whole territory, with disastrous consequences for the majority of Palestinians. The violent rejectionism of Palestinian and Arab leaders was, and continues to be, an injustice to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Isn’t a Jewish state, by definition, racist and undemocratic?

Jews, both secular and religious, are a people who have the right to self-determination. What is racist is denying Jews a right granted to all other peoples bound together by shared identity and heritage. The Jewish people established a democratic government for their state in 1948. When the UN recommended establishing a Jewish state in 1947 and admitted Israel as a member in 1949, it saw no contradiction between Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity. Israel grants people of Jewish heritage a fast track to citizenship, just like Poland, Finland, Greece, and other nations grant citizenship based on ethnic ancestry. Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is one of the world’s most diverse and progressive countries. Non-Jewish Israelis, who make up 24 percent of the population, have equal rights under the law. Over 15 religions are officially recognized, women and LGBTQ people are legally protected from discrimination, and affirmative action programs exist to help minorities overcome the disadvantages they face.

Ethnic Cleansing

Isn’t Israel guilty of ethnic cleansing and genocide?

These are slurs that dehumanize and incite hate against Israelis. According to Benny Morris, the most prominent historian of the Palestinian refugee crisis, “ethnic cleansing was not carried out” during the 1948 war. Regarding who created the refugees, Morris wrote that “responsibility is split among [Israel], the Palestinians and the Arab countries— with enormous responsibility lying with the Palestinians who started the conflict.” When Israel declared independence, it offered citizenship to all Arabs in its territory. One hundred sixty thousand accepted, and there are now 1.8 million Arab citizens in Israel. Similarly, the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza has grown massively since the conflict began. While both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered immensely, accusing either side of genocide or ethnic cleansing is ignorant and offensive to actual victims of these crimes. Four times more people have been killed during the current Syrian civil war than in the entire Arab–Israeli conflict since 1920. The word “genocide” was created after the murder of six million. Those who now use it to slander the Jewish state are merely exposing their own hatred.

Water

Is Israel stealing water from the Palestinians?

These are slurs that dehumanize and incite hate against Israelis. According to Benny Morris, the most prominent historian of the Palestinian refugee crisis, “ethnic cleansing was not carried out” during the 1948 war. Regarding who created the refugees, Morris wrote that “responsibility is split among [Israel], the Palestinians and the Arab countries— with enormous responsibility lying with the Palestinians who started the conflict.” When Israel declared independence, it offered citizenship to all Arabs in its territory. One hundred sixty thousand accepted, and there are now 1.8 million Arab citizens in Israel. Similarly, the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza has grown massively since the conflict began. While both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered immensely, accusing either side of genocide or ethnic cleansing is ignorant and offensive to actual victims of these crimes. Four times more people have been killed during the current Syrian civil war than in the entire Arab–Israeli conflict since 1920. The word “genocide” was created after the murder of six million. Those who now use it to slander the Jewish state are merely exposing their own hatred

Jerusalem

Does Israel evict Palestinians from their homes in eastern Jerusalem?

No people should ever be unfairly evicted from their homes. In Israel, a liberal democracy governed by the rule of law, evictions occur when tenants don’t pay rent or homes are built illegally, and Jews and Arabs are subject to the same rules. If evictions are issued unjustly, tenants can appeal to Israel’s court system, which is respected for its independence and willingness to challenge government policy. Eastern Jerusalem’s Arab residents can rent or buy homes throughout the city, and the Jerusalem municipality has set aside enough land to accommodate their housing needs through 2030.

Shouldn’t Israel divide Jerusalem so Palestinians can have their capital in eastern Jerusalem?

Israel made such offers in 2000 and 2008, but Palestinian leaders said no. Dividing Jerusalem is not a simple process. The Jewish people have profound ties to the city, which became their spiritual and physical capital over 3,000 years ago. It has never been the capital of any other people or nation. Furthermore, Jews again became the majority of the city’s population over 150 years ago and have lived in eastern Jerusalem for centuries, except between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan illegally controlled the area, expelled all Jews, and desecrated Jewish holy sites. Only Israel has ensured freedom of worship and protection of holy sites for all religious groups. Finally, according to a 2015 poll, over 50 percent of Jerusalem’s Arab residents prefer to become citizens of Israel. These complex issues require creative solutions that can only emerge through direct negotiations

U.S. Aid to Israel

Should the U.S. continue to give money to Israel when we have serious economic problems at home?

The U.S. gives aid to Israel because Israel is a critical strategic and economic asset and our only democratic ally in the Middle East. Israel and the U.S. share fundamental values, and the relationship provides critical mutual benefits in trade, strategic interests, cutting-edge medical and technological research, and other fields. Aid to Israel is a boon for the U.S. economy. It helps protect Israeli businesses, which have created countless jobs in America since 2000 by investing over $60 billion in the U.S. Israel is required to spend the aid it receives in the U.S., providing contracts worth billions of dollars and jobs for tens of thousands of Americans in 47 states. The U.S. spends hundreds of billions on other regions and governments all over the world—from Egypt to the Palestinian Authority, from Europe to South Korea—providing economic aid, military assistance, and defense. In this context, Israel is one of our best investments.

United Nations

The UN has repeatedly condemned Israeli actions. Why does the U.S. keep protecting Israel at the UN?

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has admitted that “Israel has suffered from bias and sometimes even discrimination” at the UN. The UN was founded in 1945 with the goal of maintaining peace and promoting human rights around the world. Unfortunately, while the UN does do some important work, it has also become a forum for dictatorships to undermine global justice and human rights while scapegoating Israel. As such, the U.S. regularly opposes anti-Israel resolutions in order to uphold the UN’s founding principles.

Don’t Palestinians have a right to ask the UN to establish an independent Palestinian state?

The Palestinians’ unilateral bid for statehood through the UN continues to be an effort to bypass negotiations with Israel and avoid making the tough compromises necessary for peace, which include recognizing Jewish rights to self-determination. Their unilateral move also violates all international treaties the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has signed with Israel as well as UN resolutions 242 and 338, which call for negotiations to establish borders. The only path to a Palestinian state is a negotiated peace agreement with Israel, which recognizes the rights of both peoples to statehood and self-determination.

Two-State Solution

Hasn’t Israeli intransigence been the main obstacle to a two-state solution?
A two-state solution requires mutual recognition and mutual respect. Over the past 80 years, Israel has repeatedly shown its willingness to make far-reaching compromises and accept a two-state solution. Its leaders accepted two-state proposals in 1937 and 1947, and they offered the Palestinians land for peace in 2000 and 2008. Unfortunately, Palestinian and Arab leaders rejected all of these peace plans and refused to accept the existence of a Jewish state in any territory. Israel is invested in making peace but needs assurances that Palestinian leaders will control terrorist groups like Hamas, end incitement to hatred and violence, and uphold a genuine, lasting agreement. When Palestinian leaders say yes to a just peace based on mutual recognition and respect, the aspirations of both peoples can be fulfilled.

West Bank

Why won’t Israel simply leave the West Bank?
Israel has repeatedly offered territorial compromises, but Palestinian and Arab leaders have consistently said no to establishing the first Palestinian state in history. They said no in 1937, 1947, 2000, and 2008 because saying yes would have meant accepting Jewish rights to self-determination. Israel is in the West Bank because Jordan attacked Israel in 1967, Palestinian leaders have refused to make peace, terrorists from the area continue to endanger Israeli civilians, and Israel has no assurances that the Palestinian Authority can maintain law and order. In addition, Israel has legitimate claims to the territory, which is located in the heart of the Jewish people’s ancestral homeland. When Palestinian leaders finally decide to make establishing their own state a higher priority than tearing down Israel, there can be compromises that will lead to peaceful coexistence.
Doesn’t Israel realize that its presence in the West Bank is illegal?
Its presence is not illegal. Israel entered the West Bank only after being attacked by Jordan in 1967. Under customary law and the Hague Conventions, Israel was obligated to administer the area until peace was achieved. UN Resolution 242 (1967) assumed Israel would administer the territories until Arab countries were willing to negotiate new, more secure borders, as Egypt did in 1979 and Jordan did in 1994. Tragically, Palestinian leaders rejected every Israeli offer of peace and territorial compromise and delayed resuming negotiations to determine future borders. Meanwhile, terrorists continue to threaten Israeli civilians, forcing Israel to maintain its security activity as agreed upon in the Oslo Accords. When Palestinian leaders finally say yes to peace, these issues can be resolved.
Are Israel’s settlements in the West Bank illegal?
Settlements are an issue of political and legal controversy inside and outside of Israel. Some in the international community say settlements are illegal, but numerous legal scholars argue otherwise. Israel has legal, historic, and security claims to the West Bank, the cradle of Jewish history, which Palestinians want for their future state. Eugene Rostow, the former dean of Yale Law School, argued that the “Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent” to the Palestinian right to live there. Settlements do not violate UN Resolution 242 or Palestinian– Israeli agreements signed in the Oslo Accords. Even so, the built-up area of settlements covers only around 2 percent of the West Bank, and Israel even agreed to freeze building in existing settlements during negotiations in 2010. Settlements are one of many issues to be resolved in peace talks, which have failed primarily due to other factors. Israel’s peace offers reflect its acceptance of Palestinian aspirations for statehood. When Palestinian leaders also recognize the Jewish people’s rights to statehood, the conflict can finally be resolved.
Aren’t West Bank settlements the main obstacle to peace?
Settlements are a symptom, not a cause, of the conflict. There were no settlements when Palestinian Arab leaders incited violence against Jews in 1920 or when Arab and Palestinian leaders launched wars and terrorism against Israel between 1948 and 1967. Israel sought territorial compromise and peace in 2005 when it evacuated all settlements in Gaza and four large settlements in the West Bank, but instead terrorism and hostility increased. Israel offered to dismantle many West Bank settlements for peace in 2000 and 2008, but Palestinian leaders said no. When Palestinian leaders return to the negotiating table in good faith, the settlements, which comprise less than 2 percent of West Bank land, and other outstanding issues can be resolved.

Gaza

Why is Israel maintaining its illegal blockade of Gaza and imposing collective punishment on Gaza’s civilians?

Hamas, the racist terrorist organization controlling Gaza, is violating international law and inflicting collective punishment on both Palestinian and Israeli civilians. The hard fact is that Hamas (whose charter calls for the murder of Jews and “obliteration” of Israel) is engaged in a genocidal war against Israel and has fired over 17,000 rockets and mortars at Israeli civilians since 2005, when Israel completely withdrew from the area. The UN Palmer Report confirmed that Israel’s blockade to prevent weapons transfers is legal and appropriate under international law. Israel facilitates the shipment of thousands of tons of aid every week and allows thousands of Gazans to come to Israel for medical care. The blockade merely requires Israeli inspection of shipments to ensure that terrorist groups are not importing weaponry. Gaza experienced significant economic growth in previous years even with the blockade, but Palestinians will not be able to truly prosper until Hamas ends its war against Israel.

How can Israel claim it no longer occupies Gaza when itcontrols Gaza’s airspace, waters, and borders?

Israel has had no presence in Gaza since 2005. Gaza is ruled exclusively by Palestinians and also shares borders with Egypt, where Israel has no control. Hamas, which controls Gaza, maintains an ongoing state of war with Israel, constantly targeting innocent Israelis with rocket fire. Israel controls its own borders with Gaza, along with Gaza’s airspace and coastline, to protect civilians and stop Hamas and its affiliates from importing weapons for terrorism. When Gaza’s government ceases its war with Israel, these measures will become unnecessary, and the Gaza Strip, which is located on the same beautiful Mediterranean coast as Tel Aviv, will be able to flourish.

Checkpoints

When will Israel remove checkpoints, which hinder Palestinians?

Checkpoints save lives. They were a direct response to the brutal wave of violence against Israelis by racist terrorist groups during the second intifada. As terrorism decreased in recent years, most checkpoints were removed. By 2012 only 10 remained, and the human rights group B’Tselem reported that Palestinians could move relatively freely in the West Bank. The checkpoints that still exist remain vital to the safety of Israeli civilians because there are still frequent attempts to attack Israelis and smuggle weapons into Israel. Requiring innocent Palestinians to go through checkpoints is not what Israel wants, any more than the U.S. wants to inconvenience travelers at airports. Yet, as long as terrorists hide among the civilian population, Israel has no choice but to maintain its safety measures. Many of the checkpoints will no longer be necessary once terrorism ends and a genuine peace is achieved. This is why peace negotiations are so crucial.

Nucleur Weapons

Why does Israel believe it has a right to possess nuclear weapons but that Iran does not?

Israel is the only country in the world that has been openly threatened with extinction by its neighbors since its rebirth in 1948. Discussion about Israel’s nuclear weapons should begin only when Israel’s existence is accepted in the region. Any nuclear weapons Israel may have would only be used as a last resort to defend against an imminent threat to its survival. In contrast, the regime in Iran has been publicly threatening to annihilate Israel for years. There is a difference. Israel is not threatening its neighbors with genocide. The Iranian regime is

IDF

Does Israel use disproportionate force during its military operations?

The legal term “disproportionate force” does not refer to equivalence in casualties or weaponry but to military actions that cause more civilian harm than is warranted by the military gains. Knowing that civilians always suffer from wars, Israel has practiced restraint despite Hamas’ relentless attacks against Israeli citizens, though most countries would not tolerate even one rocket attack. Israel has been widely praised for attempting to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians during military operations by warning of impending attacks, aborting operations if civilians are in target zones, and ensuring delivery of humanitarian goods. Israel’s policies prompted British military expert Col. (ret.) Richard Kemp to testify that Israel does more “to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.” Conversely, Israel’s terrorist enemies use Palestinians as human shields, fight from civilian centers, and target Israeli civilians, tragically increasing civilian casualties.

Security Barrier

Isn’t Israel’s wall illegal according to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and a violation of human rights?

The International Court of Justice decision was a nonbinding advisory opinion—with no standing in international law. Furthermore, the decision’s legitimacy was highly questionable as nearly every liberal democracy objected to the ICJ even hearing the case. For example, the U.S. Congress declared that the ICJ was being used to promote a narrow, anti-Israel political agenda. The security barrier was built only to ensure human rights for Israelis of all religions and ethnicities and to separate racist terrorist groups from their intended victims. This is why international law experts have stated that the barrier is in fact a legal self-defense measure. Many other countries, including South Korea, India, Cyprus, Kuwait, and Northern Ireland, use similar barriers to protect their citizens.

Isn’t Israel’s barrier just like the one being used to keep out immigrants on the U.S.–Mexico border?

This is a factually inaccurate and frankly offensive comparison. Israel put up its barrier to protect Israelis of all backgrounds from racist violence. These measures exist to prevent more innocent people from being murdered and maimed by terrorist groups. The hardships endured by innocent Palestinians are a byproduct of the attacks Israelis continue to face, not a result of Israeli cruelty, xenophobia, or concerns about immigration. In contrast, America’s barrier exists primarily to restrict the flow of immigrants into the country. Regardless of where you stand on that issue, there is simply no comparison between American and Israeli policy here. Trying to prevent violence against civilians is not the same as trying to restrict immigration. This comparison should be offensive not only to Israelis but also to the countless individuals who seek to enter the United States with good intentions and pose no threat to anyone’s life.

If the “apartheid wall” exists only to protect Israeli civilians, why does it cut through Palestinian towns and annex Palestinian land?

The security barrier was built because of the massive campaign of violence by racist terrorist groups against Israeli civilians that began in 2000. Innocent people of all religions and ethnicities were targeted in schools, buses, restaurants, and dance clubs. Israel acted to protect them. The barrier has reduced terrorism fatalities by close to 100 percent, and leading Palestinian terrorists admitted that it obstructed suicide bombing operations. The barrier cuts into the West Bank only to protect Israeli communities. When sections are located on land privately owned by Palestinians, they are offered compensation and can file legal suits to have it rerouted, as many have done successfully. The barrier does negatively affect some Palestinians—an outcome Israel did not want— but without an end to terrorism and a peace agreement, Israel has no other way to ensure its citizens’ safety. When a peace agreement is reached, the route of the barrier can be adjusted to conform to new border arrangemen.

Apartheid

Does Israel practice apartheid?

Israel is the opposite of an apartheid state. It is a multicultural democracy and the only free country in the Middle East according to the human rights watchdog Freedom House. Labeling Israel an “apartheid state” offends Israelis and victims of real apartheid regimes. Israeli law enshrines equal rights for all citizens, and minorities participate fully in public life. While Israel, like other multi-ethnic democracies, struggles with disadvantages its minorities face, its laws seek to eradicate inequality. Nor does Israel practice apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians are not citizens of Israel, and the vast majority do not want to be. They are governed by their own leaders—Hamas and the Palestinian Authority—and wish for their own state. Israeli measures like the security barrier do not exist to separate people based on religion or ethnicity but rather to protect Israeli civilians of all backgrounds from racist, terrorist groups. When Palestinian leaders finally agree to peace, these measures will become unnecessary

Anti-Black Racism

Why does Israel have racist policies against African migrants?

Race is not the main issue when it comes to African migrants in Israel. Israel has helped nearly 100,000 Ethiopian Jews escape to Israel since the 1970s. It may be the only country in history that has airlifted Africans to its shores to live as equal citizens. The main issue is illegal immigration—a global phenomenon that Israel and many other liberal democracies are struggling with today. Israel’s challenge is to determine who entered the country illegally for economic reasons and who is a refugee deserving of asylum, all while enforcing its immigration laws and addressing the concerns of its legal citizens. Israel’s policies, while certainly controversial, are more humane than those of liberal democracies like the U.S., the UK, Australia, France, Italy, and Switzerland, among others.

Didn’t Israel sterilize Ethiopian women because of anti-black racism?

Israel did not and has never sterilized Ethiopian women. This slander stems from a scandal in which an Israeli NGO gave small numbers of Ethiopian immigrants temporary birth control shots without properly explaining their effects. While this was a case of medical misconduct, it certainly was not “sterilization” or proof of institutionalized racism in Israel. In the first Israeli media report about this scandal, one of the Ethiopian women who came forward clearly stated that no one was preventing her from having more children in Israel.

Why is Israel training American police to oppress black people?

This accusation is not only false but also echoes a dark history of injustices in which Jews were scapegoated for injustices they had little or nothing to do with. Firstly, American police of all colors go to Israel to be briefed by experts on counter-terrorism, not community policing or crowd control. Secondly, a tiny fraction of American police has participated in these exchange programs. Those who go are senior staff, not officers who patrol the streets. No officer involved in police brutality or an unjustified shooting of a black person was trained in Israel beforehand, and any training their supervisors may have received was related to an entirely different aspect of policing. According to Kasim Reed, the mayor of Atlanta and a prominent black leader, ending these programs in Israel would deprive Americans of crucial counter-terrorism knowledge and thus endanger public safety for all. Those who attack Israel in this way are promoting hate, diverting attention from important social justice issues, and harming Americans of all backgrounds.

Palestinian Prisoners in Israel

Why does Israel keep Palestinian political prisoners, including children, in humiliating conditions?

Israel is a democracy and does not take political prisoners. It imprisons those who are involved in violence against Israelis after convicting them in a court of law. Unfortunately, terrorist groups recruit and pay Palestinian children to engage in violence, forcing Israel to detain minors in some cases. However, Israel does not imprison minors under the age of 14 and detains very few under the age of 16. Israeli prison conditions meet or surpass those of other liberal democracies according to reports from MSNBC and elsewhere. During the July 2014 conflict with Hamas in Gaza, Israel moved Palestinian prisoners away from a facility in the south to keep them safe from rockets fired by Hamas.

Unequal Power Dynamics

Given that Israelis are much more powerful than Palestinians, don’t they have primary responsibility for ending the conflict?

While Israelis are stronger than Palestinians, ending the conflict is the responsibility of both parties. Relative power does not determine morality or responsibility, especially when leaders of the seemingly weaker party reject peace and promote terrorism. Even when Israel was weaker, it offered to exchange land for peace with the Palestinians and its other neighbors. Regrettably, Palestinian leaders said no to every offer and often followed these rejections with violence. The Jews are a historically oppressed minority who liberated and empowered themselves to protect their people, rights, and independence in their ancestral home. They have used power with restraint while continually searching for peace. Furthermore, their strength is crucial because the Iranian regime and the racist terrorist groups it sponsors engage in violence and repeatedly threaten to destroy Israel. The Jewish people’s empowerment should be celebrated, not used as a political weapon by those who seek to tear Israel down and undermine hopes for a just peace.

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