The Case for Israel

The Case for Israel

by Alan Dershowitz

ISBN: 9780471679523

Publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Published in Calendars/History

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Sample Chapter


The Jewish nation of Israel stands accused in the dock of international justice. The charges include being a criminal state, the prime violator of human rights, the mirror image of Nazism, and the most intransigent barrier to peace in the Middle East. Throughout the world, from the chambers of the United Nations to the campuses of universities, Israel is singled out for condemnation, divestment, boycott, and demonization. Its leaders are threatened with prosecution as war criminals. Its supporters are charged with dual loyalty and parochialism.

The time has come for a proactive defense of Israel to be offered in the court of public opinion. In this book, I offer such a defense-not of every Israeli policy or action but of Israel's basic right to exist, to protect its citizens from terrorism, and to defend its borders from hostile enemies. I show that Israel has long been willing to accept the kind of two-state solution that is now on the proposed "road map" to peace, and that it was the Arab leadership that persistently refused to accept any Jewish state-no matter how small-in those areas of Palestine with a Jewish majority. I also try to present a realistic picture of Israel, warts and all, as a flourishing multiethnic democracy, similar in many ways to the United States, that affords all of its citizens-Jews, Muslims, and Christians-far better lives and opportunities than those afforded by any Arab or Muslim nation. Most important, I argue that those who single out Israel for unique criticism not directed against countries with far worse human rights records are themselves guilty of international bigotry. This is a serious accusation and I back it up. Let me be clear that I am not charging all critics of Israel with anti-Semitism. I myself have been quite critical of specific Israeli policies and actions over the years, as have most Israel supporters, virtually every Israeli citizen, and many American Jews. But I am also critical of other countries, including my own, as well as European, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. So long as criticism is comparative, contextual, and fair, it should be encouraged, not disparaged. But when the Jewish nation is the only one criticized for faults that are far worse among other nations, such criticism crosses the line from fair to foul, from acceptable to anti-Semitic.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times got it right when he said, "Criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is vile. But singling out Israel for opprobrium and international sanction-out of all proportion to any other party in the Middle East-is anti-Semitic, and not saying so is dishonest." A good working definition of anti-Semitism is taking a trait or an action that is widespread, if not universal, and blaming only the Jews for it. That is what Hitler and Stalin did, and that is what former Harvard University president A. Lawrence Lowell did in the 1920s when he tried to limit the number of Jews admitted to Harvard because "Jews cheat." When a distinguished alumnus objected on the grounds that non-Jews also cheat, Lowell replied, "You're changing the subject. I'm talking about Jews." So, too, when those who single out only the Jewish nation for criticism are asked why they don't criticize Israel's enemies, they respond, "You're changing the subject. We're talking about Israel."

This book will prove not only that Israel is innocent of the charges being leveled against it but that no other nation in history faced with comparable challenges has ever adhered to a higher standard of human rights, been more sensitive to the safety of innocent civilians, tried harder to operate under the rule of law, or been willing to take more risks for peace. This is a bold claim, and I support it with facts and figures, some of which will surprise those who get their information from biased sources. For example, Israel is the only nation in the world whose judiciary actively enforces the rule of law against its military even during wartime. It is the only country in modern history to have returned disputed territory captured in a defensive war and crucial to its own self-defense in exchange for peace. And Israel has killed fewer innocent civilians in proportion to the number of its own civilians killed than any country engaged in a comparable war. I challenge Israel's accusers to produce data supporting their claim that, as one accuser put it, Israel "is the prime example of human rights violators in the world." They will be unable to do so.

When the best is accused of being the worst, the focus must shift to the accusers, who I contend may be guilty of bigotry, hypocrisy, or abysmal ignorance at the very least. It is they who must stand in the dock of history, along with others who have also singled out the Jewish people, the Jewish religion, the Jewish culture, or the Jewish nation for unique and undeserved condemnation.

The premise of this book is that a two-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian claims is both inevitable and desirable. What precise form this solution will and should ultimately take is, of course, subject to considerable dispute-as evidenced by the failure of the Camp David and Taba negotiations in 2000-2001 to reach a mutually acceptable resolution and by the disputes surrounding the "road map" of 2003. There are really only four possible alternatives to a Jewish and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace.

The first is the preferred Palestinian solution demanded by Hamas and others who reject Israel's very right to exist (commonly referred to as rejectionists): namely, the destruction of Israel and the total elimination of a Jewish state anywhere in the Middle East. The second is preferred by a small number of Jewish fundamentalists and expansionists: the permanent annexation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the expulsion or occupation of the millions of Arabs who now live in these areas. The third alternative was once preferred by the Palestinians, but they no longer accept it: some kind of federation between the West Bank and another Arab state (i.e., Syria or Jordan). The fourth, which has always been a pretext to turn Israel into a de facto Palestinian state, is the creation of a single binational state. None of these alternatives is currently acceptable. A resolution that recognizes the right of self-determination by Israelis as well as Palestinians is the only reasonable path to peace, although it is not without its own risks.

A two-state solution to the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict also seems to be a rare point of consensus in what is otherwise an intractable dilemma. Any reasonable consideration of how to resolve this longstanding dispute peacefully must begin with this consensus. Most of the world currently advocates a two-state solution, including the vast majority of Americans. A substantial majority of Israelis have long accepted this compromise. It is now the official position of the Palestinian Authority as well as the Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi Arabian, and Moroccan governments. Only the extremists among the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as the rejectionist states of Syria, Iran, and Libya, claim that the entire landmass of what is now Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip should permanently be controlled either by the Israelis alone or by the Palestinians alone.

Some academic opponents of Israel, such as Noam Chomsky and Edward Said, also reject the two-state solution. Chomsky has said, "I don't think it's a good idea," although he has acknowledged that it may be "the best of various rotten ideas around." Chomsky has long preferred, and apparently still prefers, a single binational federal state based on the models of Lebanon and Yugoslavia. The fact that both of these models failed miserably and ended in bloody fratricide is ignored by Chomsky, for whom theory is more important than experience. Said is adamantly opposed to any solution that leaves Israel in existence as a Jewish state: "I don't myself believe in a two-state solution. I believe in a one-state solution." He, along with Chomsky, favors a binational secular state-an elitist and impractical solution that would have to be imposed on both sides, since virtually no Israelis or Palestinians would accept it (except as a ploy to destroy the other side's state).

To be sure, the poll numbers in favor of a two-state solution vary over time, especially according to circumstance. In times of violent conflict, more Israelis and more Palestinians reject compromise, but most reasonable people realize that whatever particular individuals would hope for in theory or even claim as a matter of God-given right, the reality is that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will go away or accept a one-state solution. Accordingly, the inevitability-and correctness-of some sort of two-state compromise is a useful beginning to any discussion that seeks a constructive resolution of this dangerous and painful conflict.

An agreed-upon starting point is essential, because each party to this long dispute begins the narrative of its claim to the land at a different point in history. This should not be surprising, since nations and peoples who are in conflict generally select as the beginning of their national narrative a point that best serves to support their claims and grievances. When the American colonists sought separation from England, their Declaration of Independence began the narrative with a history of "repeated injuries and usurpations" committed by "the present king," such as "imposing taxes on us without our consent" and "quartering large bodies of armed troops among us." Those who opposed separation began their narrative with the wrongs perpetrated by the colonists, such as their refusal to pay certain taxes and the provocations directed against British soldiers. Similarly, the Israeli Declaration of Independence begins its narrative with the land of Israel being "the birthplace of the Jewish People," where they "first attained statehood ... and gave the world the Eternal Book of Books." The original Palestine National Charter begins with the "Zionist occupation" and rejects any "claim of historical or spiritual links between the Jews and Palestine," the United Nation's partition of Palestine, and the "establishment of the state of Israel."

Any attempt to unravel the complexly disputed and ultimately unverifiable historical contentions of extremist Israelis and Arabs only produces unrealistic arguments on both sides. It is, of course, necessary to have some description of the history-ancient and modern-of this land and its ever-changing demographics, for no reason other than to begin to understand how reasonable people can draw such diametrically opposed conclusions from the same basic facts on the ground. The reality, of course, is that only some of the facts are agreed upon. Much is disputed and believed to be absolute truth by some, while others believe that its opposite is equally true.

This dramatic disparity in perception results from a number of factors. Sometimes it is a matter of the interpretation of an agreed-upon event. For example, as we will see in chapter 12, everyone agrees that hundreds of thousands of Arabs who once lived in what is now Israel no longer live there. Although the precise number is in dispute, the major disagreement is whether all, most, some, or none of these refugees were chased out of Israel, left because Arab leaders urged them to, or some combination of these and other factors. There is also disagreement over how long many of these refugees had actually lived in the places they left, since the United Nations defined a Palestinian refugee-unlike any other refugee in history-as anyone who had lived in what became Israel for only two years prior to leaving.

Because it is impossible to reconstruct the precise dynamics and atmospherics that accompanied the 1948 war waged by the Arab states against Israel, the one conclusion about which we can be absolutely certain is that no one will ever know-or convince his or her opponents-whether most of the Arabs who left Israel were chased, left on their own, or experienced some combination of factors that led them to move from one place to another. Israel has recently opened many of its historical archives to scholars, and newly available information has produced more insights and interpretations but has not-and will never-end all disagreements.

Similarly, the 850,000 Sephardic Jews who had lived in Arab countries before 1948, most of whom ended up in Israel, were either forced to leave, left on their own, or experienced some combination of fear, opportunity, and religious destiny. Again, the precise dynamics will never be known, especially since the Arab countries they left do not maintain, or refuse to share, historical records and archives.

Each side is entitled to its self-serving narrative so long as it recognizes that others may interpret the facts somewhat differently. Sometimes the dispute is about definition of terms rather than interpretation of facts. For example, it is often claimed by Arabs that Israel was allocated 54 percent of the land of Palestine, despite the fact that only 35 percent of the residents of that land were Jews. Israelis, on the other hand, contend that Jews were a clear majority in the parts of the land allocated to Israel when the United Nations partitioned the disputed land. As you will see, precise definitions can sometimes narrow disparities.

Another starting point must include some kind of statute of limitations for ancient grievances. Just as the case for Israel can no longer rely exclusively on the expulsion of the Jews from the land of Israel in the first century, so too the Arab case must move beyond a reliance on events that allegedly occurred more than a century ago. One reason for statutes of limitations is the recognition that as time passes it becomes increasingly difficult to reconstruct the past with any degree of precision, and political memories harden and replace the facts. As it has been said, "There are facts and there are true facts."

With regard to the events preceding the First Aliyah in 1882 (the initial immigration of European Jewish refugees to Palestine), there are more political and religious memories than true facts. We know that there has always been a Jewish presence in Israel, particularly in the holy cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, and Safad, and that there has been a Jewish plurality or majority in Jerusalem for centuries. We know that European Jews began to move to what is now Israel in significant numbers during the 1880s-only shortly after the time when Australians of British descent began to displace Aboriginal Australians and Americans of European descent began to move into some Western lands originally populated by Native Americans.

The Jews of the First Aliyah did not displace local residents by conquest or fear as the Americans and Australians did.


Excerpted from "The Case for Israel" by Alan Dershowitz. Copyright © 2004 by Alan Dershowitz. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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