It is the mantra of protestors against Israel all over the world.
It is meant to be inflammatory.
It is meant to shut down all other discussion.
It is meant to delegitimize Israel as a nation.
But is it true?
Apartheid was specifically used to describe the racial segregation in South Africa prior to the 1990s. It is a Dutch word meaning “apartness.” In South Africa, it described the rule of a white minority (about 10% of the population) over the black majority (about 90% of the population). Blacks could not vote or participate in the government of their own nation. Intermarriage was prohibited. Segregation was enforced in all phases of life, including work, school, public transportation, restaurants, and swimming pools.
This bears no semblance to the nation of Israel.
Israel is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. It has one of the highest percentage of immigrants (from multiple different ethnicities) of any other nation in the world. Arabs in Israel can vote, participate in government, and participate in all civic activities. There are Arabs serving in the Knesset (Israeli parliament), acting as judges, even on the Supreme Court, leading hospitals, teaching in universities, serving as diplomats, police officers, and army officers. If you ever visit Israel, then you will see mosques and minarets throughout the nation and regularly hear the Muslim call to prayer during the day.
Does Israel have problems?
Are there injustices? Instances of discrimination? Ethnic conflicts?
Israel has issues like any nation that has a mixed ethnic population. But it is not “racist” in its very existence, as stated by so many groups that desire to de-legitimize Israel as a nation. It is actually the freest, most democratic nation in that region of the world.
Does simply being predominantly Jewish make it racist?
So when it comes to the word “apartheid,” I can’t help but think of the classic line from The Princess Bride.
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
So how did we get to this point? What is the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
If you truly want to understand what is going on in Israel today, then you have to step back and get the bigger view. This requires a little reading and research into history. Let me give you the most concise summary that I can give you.
The Jews have been connected to the land of Israel since 2000 BC.
Anyone who reads the Bible or studies secular history knows that the Jews have been in the land of Israel since the call of Abraham around 2000 BC.
They have been oppressed, driven out, taken captive, and under subjugation over the course of those four thousand years but it is not a stretch to say that the land of Israel (often called Palestine today) has been tied to the Jewish people from the very beginning of human history.
Two key dates are worth mentioning.
586 BC. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple and took much of the population into exile. When they were finally allowed to return (under the Persians), many did while others continued living in what would be the modern-day nation of Iraq.
Over time, the Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem and the Jews enjoyed a brief time of independence. But soon the Romans would take over the land of Israel and put the Jews under their control.
AD 70. The Romans would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple and again scatter many of the Jews around the world.
Israel ceased to be a nation after AD 70.
The land was no longer known as Judea and Samaria but was called “Palestine” to disassociate the Jews from this area of the world.
But the Jews never lost their longing and love to some day return to Jerusalem and to the land of Israel. At the end of every Passover meal, the common saying was “next year in Jerusalem.”
It seemed like a vain hope.
The Jews were systematically persecuted throughout much of history.
Scattered throughout the world, the Jews never could find a true home. And no nation every seemed to welcome them for long.
Both Muslim and Christian nations found reason to persecute and oppress the Jewish people. They were blamed for killing Jesus, for poisoning food and water, for causing the bubonic plague, and for creating any financial crisis that happened to fall on a nation.
This persecution increased substantially in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Many nations talked about having a “Jewish problem,” trying to figure out what to do with the Jews that lived in their territory.
The National Anti-Semitic Party in Hungary (yes, that was their actual name) started a slogan, “Jew, Go Back to Palestine!”
Many nations wanted the Jews to leave and go back to their homeland. Jews took this to heart and began to dream of a day when the majority of Jews could once again live in the land of Israel.
Theodor Herzl (1860-1904) lived in Hungary at the time and heard this slogan many times during his lifetime. In 1896, he wrote a book, The Jewish State, which would lay out his plan for the establishment of a Jewish state either in Palestine or somewhere else like Argentina or Uganda. In Herzl’s mind, a Jewish state would solve the “Jewish problem.” His hope was that it would also end anti-Semitism and bring greater peace into the world.
BUT in the meantime, the persecution of Jews and the rise of anti-Semitism continued.
In Russia, the pogroms began.
A pogram is defined as “an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group, in particular that of Jewish people in Russia or eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”
When local cities and citizens got tired of the Jews in their area, they would often rise up (with tacit approval from the authorities) and kill many Jews, displace the survivors, and take over their property.
As one Russian Jew wrote during this time:
For the living, the Jew is a dead man. For the natives, an alien and a vagrant. For property holders, a beggar. For the poor, an exploiter and a millionaire. For patriots, a man without a country. For all classes, a hated rival. (Leon Pinsker)
In the end, close to 200,000 Jews would be killed in the Russian pogroms.
Aliens. Refugees. A people without a nation.
Beginning in the late 19th century, Jews from around the world began to migrate more and more to Palestine. There was already a small, isolated Jewish community in this area but now more and more Jews began to come, looking for freedom, looking for peace, looking for some place to call home.
The land of Palestine was a loosely populated, mostly undeveloped territory of the Ottoman Empire.
What was Palestine like in the 19th century?
It was mostly rural with villages dispersed throughout the region. It was described as “tribal” and “clannish” with no central authority or governance. The Turks ruled over the area but did little to develop it. Though the area was mostly Arab, there were over 25,000 Jews who lived in the area, mostly concentrated in Jerusalem where they were a majority.
As more and more Jews began to arrive, they purchased more and more land and began to form their own communities. Most of the land they purchased was either desert or swamp land (usually sold at a steep price) but they began to develop it as best as they could. In 1909, Tel Aviv was born. During this time, many also began to speak Hebrew and to try to revive this ancient language which had mostly disappeared.
In 1938, Walter Lowdermilk, an American soil scientist, would visit the land of Israel and remark that what the Jews had done in water reclamation and agriculture was “the most remarkable work he had seen in all the world.” (Even today the nation of Israel remains the most innovative in the world with agricultural strategies and water reclamation that is studied by many other nations. Their process of “drip irrigation,” in which not one drop of water is wasted, is just one example.)
In 1917, something else significant happened. The British government, recognizing the historical ties of the Jews to the land of Israel and the significant developments that they were accomplishing there, made the Balfour Declaration:
His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object…
At the time, this was a remarkable statement…but it had no real political weight.
That was until the “Jewish problem” in Europe would give birth to the “final solution” in Germany.
Nazi Germany seeks the complete annihilation of the Jewish people.
Hitler saw the Jews as the ultimate enemy not only of Germany but also of all of humanity.
If…the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity and this planet will, as it did thousands of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men. …Here he [the Jew] stops at nothing, and in his vileness he becomes so gigantic that no one need be surprised if among our people the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew. (Adolf Hitler)
Hitler’s solution to the problem of the Jew was their complete annihilation.
By the end of the Holocaust, six million Jews would be massacred. This number represents roughly one-third of the total Jewish population throughout the world.
Most people are familiar with the atrocities committed against the Jews in Germany and Eastern Europe during the Holocaust. But what most people do not realize is that while the Jews were trying to escape the Holocaust, many could find no place to land.
In the years leading up to World War II, thousands and thousands of Jews from Eastern Europe migrated to Palestine. They heard the drumbeats of war and wanted to escape to a place of safety. But as their numbers in Palestine increased, the Arabs in the area revolted. Violence erupted. Riots began. Jewish stores and farmlands were attacked. The British, who were overseeing Palestine at the time, tried to quell the violence but suffered attacks as well. In an effort to appease the Arabs, the British decided to limit Jewish immigration into the land. Eventually, the only way that the Arabs could be appeased was by making all Jewish immigration into Palestine illegal. Thus, when WW II started and many Jews tried to make their way to Palestine, often they were re-routed or sent to containment camps in other parts of the world.
Many Jews traded the barbed wire of Germany for the barbed wire of remote islands and refugee camps.
Even while being slaughtered, the Jew continued to be a person without a home.
Behind the scenes, Haj Amin al-Husayni, the mufti of Jerusalem and an Arab representative, met with Adolf Hitler in Germany. Their goal was the same: the annihilation of the Jews.
After Germany’s surrender and the end of WW II, the issue of the Jews and the Arabs in the land of Palestine became a burning issue. The British washed their hands of the whole affair. They quickly realized that the Israeli-Arab conflict was beyond their ability or willingness to resolve.
The newly formed United Nations appointed a special committee to try to formulate a solution. In 1947, their conclusion was that Palestine needed to be divided into separate Jewish and Arab states with Jerusalem under international control. With American and Russian support, along with the support of many nations around the world, Resolution 181 was approved on November 29, 1947.
Andrei Gromyko, the Soviet representative at the UN Meeting, stated what most people clearly understood at the time:
The Jewish people had been closely linked with Palestine for a considerable period in history… As a result of the war, the Jews as a people have suffered more than any other people… The Jewish people were therefore striving to create a State of their own, and it would be unjust to deny them that right.
Israel finally had a home!
But it would not be easy to keep.
The day after the UN vote, the Arabs attacked the Jews living in Palestine. In the minds of many Arabs, there could be no “two state solution.” The only solution they would accept would be the complete elimination of the Jews from Palestine.
This was made even more clear on the day after Israel finally declared their independence as a nation on May 14, 1948. Before the celebration could even get started, the new nation of Israel was attacked by Arab armies from Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.
Amazingly, or perhaps you could say miraculously, with a fledging army and little help from the other nations, Israel survived.
Despite fierce opposition from all around…to the north, to the east, and to the south…Israel’s Declaration of Independence offered a hand of peace:
We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. …The State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex. And to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel, we invite you to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship.
The hand of peace was extended but unfortunately it was not taken hold of.
The beginning of the Palestinian refugees.
Even before Israel officially became a nation, many Palestinians began to leave. But as the war continued, and as Israel strengthened its borders, the number of Arabs who fled or were forced out of their homes (depending on which historical narratives you read) increased.
It soon became a crisis…and a humanitarian disaster.
There is no easy way around it.
In one sense, you could argue that all of the Arabs should have stayed and welcomed the opportunity to help the Jews build a new nation. But in another sense, it is understandable that many would feel like the change was too great and that they were being forced out of their land.
In the end, 700,000 Palestinians would be displaced.
Ironically, almost exactly the same number of Jews would flee Muslim nations at the same time…not to mention, the millions of Jews who had already been displaced.
The difference would be, while the displaced Jews would find their way to Israel, the Palestinian refugees would be unable to find a home in the other Arab nations. Perhaps they simply did not want another home but it also appears that the Arab nations around Israel did not seek to welcome them in. In many ways, the refugee crisis would be an ongoing issue that the Arab nations would use to attack Israel at the UN and in other negotiations.
Historian Daniel Gordis observes:
From Israel’s perspective, it seemed rather than solving the problem of the refugees, Lebanon, Syria, and (to a lesser extent) Jordan chose to keep the refugees as an ace in their pocket. They would use this “asset” in future negotiations with the Zionist enemy–for even then, they were determined not to end the conflict until Israel no longer existed.
Whether one agrees with Gordis’ assessment or not, the reality is that the Palestinian refugee crisis still exists today 75 years later. And for the most part, the only solution to this problem in the minds of several Arab nations, along with many terrorist groups who have formed against Israel, is the complete removal of the Jewish people from the land or at least their total subjugation.
Since 1948, Israel has faced ongoing wars and failed attempts at peace.
The story of Israel from 1948 until today is one of frequent conflict and failed attempts at peace.
In every instance, Israel has been the nation that has been threatened or attacked first. The rationale behind these attacks is that Israel should not exist in the first place.
In 1967, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan formed an alliance together to attack Israel. Their objective was simple: To destroy Israel. In Arab nations around the world, the chant began to go up: “Death to the Jews!” and “Drive the Jews into the sea!”
Unfortunately, the rest of the world, including the U.S., France, and Great Britain, decided to stay on the sidelines. As the western world became more dependent on Arab oil and as the US found itself embroiled in the Vietnam War, there was simply no interest in helping Israel defend itself.
Israel was on its own.
After exhausting every diplomatic effort it could and seeking every avenue to peace, Israel went to war.
The war was over in six days. Israel was victorious and gained control of the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank (including Jerusalem), and the Golan Heights.
Though it was a victory on the battlefield, it was the beginning of even more problems for the Israeli government. Now they had control over territory that was almost entirely populated with Muslim Arabs. Finding a way to govern these territories while maintaining peace became an increasingly impossible task.
Meanwhile, the Arab world was now even more unified in their opposition to Israel.
On September 1, 1967, the Arab League (a council of 22 Arab nations) met in Khartoum, Sudan and passed the Khartoum Resolution.
The Arab Heads of State have agreed to unite their political efforts at the international and diplomatic level to eliminate the effects of the aggression and to ensure the withdrawal of the aggressive Israeli forces from the Arab lands which have been occupied since the aggression of June 5. This will be done within the framework of the main principles by which the Arab States abide, namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.
The Resolution has shaped the Arab nations’ approach to Israel even to this day. The Three No’s of the Resolution have served as a mantra in many Arab nations:
- No peace.
- No recognition.
- No negotiations.
Within the West Bank (the area from Jerusalem to the Jordan River), the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) rose in power. The PLO’s leader, Yassar Arafat, began using terrorist tactics to attack the Jews, not only in Israel but around the world. His stated goal was “to uproot the Zionist entity from our land and liberate it.”
PLO terrorists made covert raids into Israel to kill civilians. They hijacked planes which carried Israeli passengers. They attacked a Jewish senior center in Germany. And they played a role in the taking of hostages at the 1972 Olympics where 12 Israeli athletes were tortured, castrated, and killed.
Other terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas also began with the same stated goal: the destruction of Israel.
The very charter of Hamas makes this goal clear:
Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it…
Palestine is an Islamic land… Since this is the case, the Liberation of Palestine is an individual duty for every Moslem wherever he may be…
[Peace] initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement… Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the infidels as arbitrators in the lands of Islam…
There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.
Despite these stated goals, Israel continued to work toward peace.
Israel relinquished the Sinai Peninsula back to Egypt in order to make peace. Anwar Sadat and Menachim Begin signed this agreement at Camp David in 1978. The Arab League would withdraw Egypt’s membership in response to this agreement. A few years later, Sadat would be assassinated.
In 1993, Israel would enter into an agreement with the Palestinian Authority in the Oslo Accords. Israel withdrew from the West Bank and relinquished control to the Palestinian Authority. Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat would shake hands together in front of Bill Clinton at the White House.
After this agreement, terrorist attacks in Israel increased rapidly. More Israelis died between 1994-1996 from terrorist attacks than at any other time in their history (until the most recent attacks from Hamas).
Arafat said the right things in the news but did nothing to stem the attacks behind the scenes.
Clinton would later say that believing Yasser Arafat was “the biggest mistake I made in my presidency.”
Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, accused the Jews of starting both world wars and fabricating the Holocaust. He called the death of six million Jews “a fantastic lie.”
Israel seemed to face a “no win situation.” Every time they gave up land or control of a territory in exchange for peace, they faced more and more terrorist attacks.
As former Prime Minister Shimon Peres said: “Instead of thanks, we got bombs.”
Turning the court of public opinion against Israel.
Unable to win on the battlefield, the PLO and the Arab nations began to take their case to the UN and to the court of public opinion.
In 1975, with a strong alliance of 19 Arab nations and 16 Communist nations, along with many African nations, the UN passed Resolution 3379 which stated that “zionism is a form of racism.” In other resolutions, Israel was equated with zionism which meant that Israel, by its very existence, was a racist nation.
Daniel Moynihan, the US ambassador to the UN at that time, was unequivocal in his opposition to these resolutions.
The UN has become the locus of a general assault by the majority of the nations of the world on the principles of liberal democracy which are now only found in a minority of nations… This resolution is the very quintessence of the totalitarian mode. A total inversion of meaning…a total distortion of truth…a reckless act…one of the most grievous errors of the thirty year life of the United Nations.
The general consensus among Arab and Communist nations was that Israel as a nation was wrong from the very beginning. In the first decade of the new millennium, the UN would go on to issue 314 resolutions concerning Israel, nearly 40% of their total resolutions passed at that time. Almost all of them condemned Israel in some form or fashion. At the same time, the UN did not pass a single resolution against China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, or Sudan which had egregious human rights violations.
Other “human rights” groups and organizations soon took up the mantle of the UN condemnation of Israel. Amnesty International. Human Rights Watch. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. All found reasons to condemn Israel, even while Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boldly declared, “The Iranian nation is committed to the full annihilation of Israel.”
Iran, which is the strongest supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah, continues to use its power and resources to seek the destruction of Israel…and continues to rule their own people with a totalitarian fist.
A nation bent on Israel’s annihilation funds terrorist organizations bent on Israel’s annihilation and yet many young people and college campuses in America see Israel as the problem.
This is the propaganda campaign of anti-Semitism. And unfortunately, it can be very effective.
Israel’s battle with Hamas today.
This brings us to our present day.
And the babies, children, and teenagers (at a music festival focused on peace no less) killed were not collateral damage. They were specifically targeted.
Israel will respond militarily.
In fact, Israel has to respond for their own future security.
The situation in the Gaza Strip is tragic. It is deplorable in many regards. But Israel is in another “no win” situation. To open the doors to Gaza is to open the doors to terrorism. To withdraw and to blockade it is to earn the condemnation of many “human rights” organizations around the world.
To appease Hamas will lead to more deaths.
To attack Hamas will also lead to more deaths.
Hamas is not interested in peace.
They will use their own civilians as “human shields” and blame Israel for any human loss.
Their objective is not peace…but destruction.
They are not interested in a “two state solution.” They only want one solution: the complete annihilation of Israel.
When one party is only committed to your destruction, then peace is simply not possible.
This does not mean that we don’t pray for peace…that we don’t pray for the protection of innocent lives in the Gaza Strip…that we don’t pray for wisdom and discretion for the leaders of Israel.
All people are made in the image of God.
All are valuable in God’s eyes.
This also does not mean that we see all of Israel’s actions as absolutely right. Israeli soldiers and citizens have committed atrocities in the past. They have, at times, abused their power, acted unjustly, been guilty of discrimination.
Just as all of us are valuable in God’s eyes, all of us are also sinners.
We are all capable of the worst of sins.
So is there moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas?
When injustice is committed by Israel, their free press will point it out. Citizens will call it out. The government will condemn it and seek to rectify it.
On the other hand when injustice is committed by Hamas, there is no free press to point it out. Their citizens have no voice. Their government will celebrate it and seek to multiply it.
In any nation in the world, sins will be committed.
Injustice will happen.
Evil will occur.
But the question is whether those evil actions are in contradiction to your stated values and constitution or are they in line with them.
Israel is not an apartheid state.
It is an attacked state.
Israel is not a perfect state.
But it is a democratic state.
Israel is not always right.
But they are a rightful ally.
That is why we should stand with them and seek their good.
Pray for peace in Jerusalem: May those who love her be safe. (Psalm 122:6)