When discussing the issue of Israel, the question at hand is: should Israel exist at all? And, if it should exist, should the state belong to the Jewish people?
The answer to both questions is a resounding yes.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is perhaps the most widely discussed geopolitical issue to date. Being the cause célèbre it is, most people tend to have some sort of opinion regarding it; broadly speaking, either on the side of the Israelis or the Palestinians. Those who side with the Palestinians make numerous claims – among them: that Israel is ‘occupying’ stolen land, that Israel routinely carries out unjustified attacks on Palestinian civilians, and that the very existence of Israel upsets life in the Middle East. It is safe to say that these accusations are unfounded.
The foundational argument – the one from which all others stem – made by those on the side against Israel is the claim that the land is ‘occupied’ and stolen from the native Palestinians. This statement relies on the indubitable truth that a large bulk of Israel’s population can be attributed to worldwide Jewish immigration beginning in the early 20th Century. As a result, a large portion of Israelis are not ethnically Middle-Eastern. Therefore, it becomes more convenient for those with an agenda to claim that the land has been stolen by European, North American, and South American Jews. Despite this, the claim that Israel is “occupying land,” the creation of a Jewish State in the Middle East is legal nonetheless. In fact, in the words of Alan Dershowitz, “Of all the countries that have come into existence in the last century, no country’s birth certificate is more legitimate than that of Israel’s.”
It is reasonable to state that the creation of Israel is equally – if not more so – legitimate as that of Hungary or Austria. This is because these countries, as we currently know them, were constructed from the division of the land belonging to the Central Powers defeated in the First World War, just as Israel was. While the states of Hungary of Austria were constructed from the ashes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the land of modern-day Israel exists within the borders of the former Ottoman Empire. These three countries all owe their existence to resolutions passed by the victors of World War 1, which redrew borders, created new countries, and broke up empires. In the case of Israel, the resolution was known as the Resolution of San Remo.
The claim that Israel’s creation is ‘illegal’ under ‘international law’ holds little merit. In a video lecture titled ‘The Legal Case for Israel,’ Professor Eugene Kontorovich makes the following points (paraphrase.)
The establishment of these countries is, in fact, legal under ‘international law’ – international law being either A) a treaty, or B) custom. As there is no ‘Global Congress’ or decision-making body, in order for a decision to become so-called ‘international law,’ it must meet the aforementioned criteria. Any of the numerous United Nations General Assembly resolutions that call the existence of Israel “illegal” are not legally correct, as it is not what we know to be international law.
Therefore, whenever the UN General Assembly makes worldwide news for condemning the ‘illegal’ activity of Israel, there is not a shred of legitimacy to the claim.
The decision to create Israel (as well as its neighbouring countries) was made in 1920 at the San Remo Conference in San Remo, Italy. But both prior and after the conference, the list of decisions, documents, declarations, resolutions, agreements, and treaties that further legitimise Israel’s existence include:
- The Balfour Declaration of 1917, a letter from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Walter Rothschild on behalf of the British Government favouring the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine.
- League of Nations Resolution (British Mandate for Palestine) of 1922, which incorporated the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the Covenant of the League of Nations Article 22. The job of establishing a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine was given to Britain. The mandates created at the San Remo Conference lead to the creation of the borders of countries of the Middle East that we know today. Border disputes in the past have been legally assessed by resorting to the mandates outlined at the San Remo Conference.
- The Anglo-American Convention of 1924, an agreement made by the United States with Great Britain to support its efforts in creating a Jewish Homeland in Palestine so long as it followed the requirements outlined at the San Remo Conference four years earlier.
- the UN Partition Plan of 1947, a United Nations resolution for the creation of two states; one Jewish, and one Arab. Zionists reluctantly accepted, however, Arab leaders did not. The plan was never implemented as a result. If it had, it would have become binding international law.
- Declaration of the nation’s statehood in 1948, which was internationally recognised.
And yet, the United Nations continues to call Israel’s existence “illegal,” despite being well-aware of the truth.
A similarly controversial topic is the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. This presence is thought to be an “illegal occupation,” by Israel’s critics. However, Israel’s necessary military presence in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is due to the danger posed by terror groups in these regions. Under international law – remember that old thing? – a nation has the legal right to occupy a neighbouring state out of defence (“Charter of the United Nations,” 1945.)
Although it is disputed whether or not Israel’s occupation of certain parts of the West Bank is purely out of defence, it cannot be disputed as a historical fact that when Israel fully withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel saw rockets being fired into it from the newly self-governed region. Due to past withdrawals, it would be foolish for Israel to fully leave the West Bank, and in doing so, place its major cities within rocket strike distance of their enemies. The world cannot demand Israel commit suicide by using the vague and inappropriate excuse of ‘international law’ as a reason for its non-existence.
The claim that the existence of Israel makes the Middle East worse off is equally absurd. It seems unquestionable that the Middle East is far better off with a Jewish democracy in its midst. As a colleague of mine often says, “Israel is the little piece of the West – out East.” A Huffington Post poll ranked Israel as the best Middle Eastern country to live in as a woman in 2013, and a poll released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development determined Israel to be the second most educated country in the world. Also, when Israel was first created, and a refugee crisis ensued, Israel welcomed thousands of Jews who were forcibly removed from surrounding Arab countries. In terms of quality of life, the treatment of women, and the welcoming of refugees, Israel is a small beacon of Western life in a part of the world ravaged by turmoil.
But there is also the violence question. It is easy to condemn the actions of Israel when media sources like CNN and the BBC are constantly showing images of dead Palestinian children, presumably killed by Israeli rockets. But these organisations only show one side of the story. They do not show Israelis being stabbed in the streets by not only men, but also by women and children; they do not show the Hamas rockets that land in Israel; and they do not show the schools, hospitals and homes that Hamas fires these rockets from. As a result of these nearly unreported attacks, much of Israel’s military presence is due to the need of self-defence.
But is the ongoing violence the fault of the Israelis, the Palestinians, or who? Critics of Israel contend that Israel is responsible for the continuing conflict due to its unwillingness to compromise and negotiate. But Israel’s longstanding interest in trying to find peace goes back all the way to its founding. For example, if Israel didn’t want peace between both Arabs and Jews, then why did the early Zionist leaders accept the United Nations Partition Plan in the 1940s while the Arabs did not?
Israel has made numerous efforts to end the ongoing conflict, including the peace treaty with Egypt in 1978, which led to the full withdrawal of Israeli troops in the Sinai Peninsula in 1982, as well as the 2005 abandonment of Gaza. While the retreat from Sinai largely brought with it peace, Israel’s demilitarization of the Gaza Strip resulted in the opposite. Israel soon saw the firing of rockets from the unmonitored region into Israel. In this case, Israel took a risk in an attempt to make peace and paid for it with civilian casualties.
Today’s world is a hyperbolic one. In place of serious debate, politically committed individuals often surrender to their emotions in place of reason, and the result is a mass of white noise and unmitigated falsehood. The issue of Israel seems to attract this sort of attention, but nearly tenfold.
It is clear then that many of the common claims made by opponents and critics of Israel are unfounded, misleading, or outright false. Despite what we are told, Israel’s existence in the Middle East is, in fact, legal; despite what we are told, Israel’s presence is beneficial to the Middle East; despite what we are told, the constant violence in the region is not the sole fault of the Jewish State. The West should begin to stop demonizing Israel and start treating it like the legitimate, moral, and negotiator that it truly is.