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Last weekend, college students from around the country converged on Stanford University for a conference of the Students for Justice in Palestine. SJP representatives and groups from dozens of universities got together to discuss strategies, experiences, and proposals. I remember attending and organizing conferences like these when I was a student at the University of Michigan, and if these students were anything like me, they must have been exhilarated.
In my days in college (not that long ago, by the way, especially since I was a student for ten years), I participated in and led dozens of demonstrations. We created mock checkpoints, we brought in speakers, and we even blindfolded ourselves and pretended we were prisoners once. Pretending is much better than the real thing.
I’m sure their most recent gathering energized this new batch of students. But I thought I might help out a little bit with some Palestinian talking points for anyone interested.
I’ll just suggest answers to some of the most common arguments posed by pro-Israeli groups. Before I begin, it is important to understand that most of the individuals who make these pro-Israel arguments live in an alternate reality. Therefore, if they do not respond well to the counterarguments that I suggest, you should not take it personally. Feeling sorry for them would probably be more appropriate.
Israel has already made painful concessions by withdrawing from Gaza and Lebanon.
No. Withdrawing from land you gained and occupied through force is not a “concession.” “Concession” comes from the verb “concede.” To “concede” means to “admit that something is true or valid after first denying or resisting it.” So, for instance, one might accurately say, “Israel recently made a painful concession by stating that hummus is, in fact, part of native Palestinian cuisine and has absolutely nothing to do with Israeli culture.” I can dream, can’t I?
Dismantling unjust and unlawful conditions that you created in the first place is not a “concession.” If you think it is, you might be living in an alternate universe. You may also still be wondering why Santa Claus never responded to any of your letters.
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.
Nope. This one is especially delusional. Let’s first assume, for the sake of argument, that Israel is a “democracy.” If she were, would she be the “only” one? “Only” is defined as “being the single one,” or “single in distinction.” Of course, we now have democracies in Iraq, Tunisia, and Egypt. Egyptians are so democratic that they demonstrated against Mubarak, then ousted Mubarak, then elected Morsi, then demonstrated against Morsi, and then ousted Morsi. That is democracy in full force.
Lebanon is sort of democratic, and Iran has democratic tendencies too. In fact, until a few years ago, Lebanon and Iran were the only other countries in the Middle East to have something called a “living former president.” If that’s not a sign of democracy, I don’t know what it is.
But, of course, the real question we should ask ourselves is whether or not Israel actually is a “democracy.” “Democracy” means “government by the people, where the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.” It could also mean “a state of society characterized by formal equality of rights and privileges.”
Israel operates two separate school systems for its almost 2 million schoolchildren. One is for Jewish students, and one is for Arab students. Israel spends about $1 on Arab students for every $3 it spends on Jewish students. That doesn’t sound like “formal equality.” Palestinians are denied adequate resources and their identity is completely ignored in the teaching process.
About half of Israel’s Palestinian college graduates are jobless. The infant mortality rate among Arab citizens of Israel is two and a half times that of Jews. Arab elementary and middle school students trail their Jewish counterparts in math, science, and English, and the gap is only widening. Remember, sixty years ago, when America decided that “separate but equal” was an illusion? Well, Israel never got the memo.
Sure, Israel’s Palestinian citizenry of about 1.5 million people can vote. But the ability to vote is not the only measure of a democracy. If you go to the gym once a week, are you healthy? If you go to the gym every day but still eat fried food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, are you healthy? If you spend 45 minutes a day on the treadmill but still end each evening with your favorite hookah, are you healthy? Democracy is not about occasional practices here and there. It’s about continuously working hard in every way to maintain that sexy figure.
If you think Israel is a functioning democracy that cares about all of its citizens, you may be hallucinating and hearing voices. I would suggest therapy, followed by an aggressive regimen of antipsychotic medications.
Israel and America have shared values.
No. I was an American student. I grew up in American history, government, and social studies classes. And there was one thing about American society that was constantly drilled into our brains. “We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” That’s right, the Constitution. It is at the heart, implicitly or explicitly, of every political and legal discussion in this country. It denotes our individual rights, and it enshrines our political and social values. Our politicians take an oath to uphold it. Our civil rights movements would have gotten nowhere without it. It is the heartbeat of our democracy.
In fact, we value constitutions so much that when we invaded Iraq, toppled Saddam, and rebuilt their government, the first thing we did was to help them write a new constitution. We spent millions of dollars and lent them some of our most prominent legal scholars. The Iraqi constitution has numerous provisions guaranteeing civil rights, political rights, and personal liberty. It even codifies the principle that all people are equal before the law, regardless of religion or ethnicity.
In the Israeli constitution… oh yeah, Israel has no constitution. And there is a simple reason for that. Israel does not want to codify into a sacred document what she truly believes: the only people who should receive the full protection of the government and its laws are Jews and Jews only. Creating a constitution might force Israel to join the civilized world and declare all of her citizens as equals. Or she would have to actually engrave her discriminatory beliefs onto tablets of stone for all of humanity to see. But why make that choice when you don’t have to?
Israel and America might share bank accounts, but they don’t share values. If you think they do, you might suffer from pseudologia fantastica, or pathological lying. There are support groups for that.
Israel is not an apartheid state like South Africa was.
Well, this one is actually true. “Apartheid” in South Africa was an official policy of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race. Remember, Israel has no constitution. And she really has no “official policies.” She simply chooses to pretend as if Jews are the only people living in the lands that she controls.
See, apartheid in South Africa was very ugly, but at least it was clear. When apartheid rule was established in 1948 (coincidence?) by white Afrikaners, it was unique from segregation anywhere else in that it was actually formalized through national law. The South African government was unabashedly honest in its racism. Sure, Israel has separate roads and buses for Jews and Palestinians, military checkpoints, discriminatory marriage laws, Jewish-only settlements, and a big, ugly wall. We Palestinians, like the black South Africans under apartheid rule, are being treated by the government that rules over us as subhuman. There can be no arguing that.
But the weird thing about apartheid is that in order to practice it you must announce that you are practicing it. David Ben-Gurion once said that unless Israel was successful in ridding itself of the Arabs, it would become an apartheid state. What he meant was that a government based on ethnic or racial superiority in a land with more than one ethnicity or race can only masquerade as a democracy for so long. Eventually, you need to either get rid of the other races or actually make laws to preserve your own superiority.
Israel is not an apartheid state. Not yet. But she is definitely on her way.
There are many more arguments to be counter-argued with truth and logic. If I can be of any further assistance, get in touch with me. I’m a comedian, so I am free on… well, I’m always free.
* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."