Everything Missing From the Human Rights Watch Report Calling Israel Apartheid | Opinion

I am a left-of-center Israeli who believes our continued occupation of the West Bank is a national tragedy. In my youth, I served in the West Bank and in Gaza during my regular IDF service and in reserve duty, experiences which convinced me of the folly of our occupation. But I'm also well aware that if someone made me king of Israel tomorrow, I would not know how to end the occupation without endangering the safety of Israel and its people. And merely stating that the occupation is bad is not the same thing as finding a way to end it.

Unfortunately, that's essentially all the left is capable of producing these days. To wit, the human rights watchdog organization Human Rights Watch issued a report this week accusing Israel of "the crimes of apartheid and persecution." The report is filled with lengthy legal definitions that stretch the term apartheid well beyond the average layperson's understanding of the term. But the report's real weakness is in its total lack of any context. Perhaps most crucially, it has erased any agency the Palestinians might have had throughout the course of our long conflict with them.

And that agency began right from the beginning. In November 1947, the United Nations voted to partition what was then Palestine into a Jewish State and an Arab State. The Jews accepted the plan, but the Arabs rejected it, and promptly attacked the Jewish State. If that attack had never happened, there never would have been Palestinian refugees or a conflict.

It would be the first of a series of similar decisions made by Palestinian leadership that contributed greatly to the situation we find ourselves in today. In 1967, Israel begged King Hussein of Jordan not to attack, but the king ignored Israel's entreaties, and Israel was again attacked by numerous neighboring Arab states. Somehow, Israel prevailed, and in the process, occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Again, Israel offered to withdraw from the land captured in exchange for peace. Again, the response from the Arab states was clear: No.

Palestinian terrorism
A picture taken on April 28, 2020 shows traces of blood at the scene of a reported stabbing attack in the central Israeli city of Kfar Saba, northeast of Tel Aviv. - A Palestinian teenager stabbed an Israeli woman in Kfar Saba before he was shot by a security guard, as Israel marked Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

In 1994, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took a big risk for peace by recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a terror organization. Rabin allowed the PLO to establish limited sovereignty in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The most fundamental part of the agreement, which included changing the PLO charter, was that both sides would no longer settle their differences using violence. Rabin paid for entering this agreement with his life.

The list goes on: In 1999, Prime Minister Ehud Barak tried to resolve the remaining differences with Palestinians, but the Palestinians flatly rejected both Barak's best offer as well as a subsequent offer by the U.S. to try to bridge the differences between the sides. With that Palestinian rejection came the Second Intifada, a series of suicide attacks and bombings that took place all over Israel, killing 1,137 Israelis and wounding 8,34. A generation of Israeli children grew up afraid to board a bus, terrified that a nearby Arab might possess a gun or bomb.

So it's unsurprising that in 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came to the conclusion that a negotiated solution between Israelis and Palestinians was unlikely. He promoted instead a separation of the sides. Sharon removed Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, where Jewish settlements existed amidst a sea of Palestinians.

And it's here, in Gaza, that the lack of context in the HRW report is particularly striking. The report refers to Hamas' Gaza takeover as the reason Israel began restricting Gaza's commerce and transit. That narrative ignores the fact that when Hamas staged its violent takeover, it dismissed demands by the International Quartet to recognize the State of Israel and remove its stated desire to destroy Israel from its charter. By ignoring the Quartet's demands, Hamas effectively asserted it was in a state of war with Israel.

It's not only effectively at war. Hamas continues to fire missiles at Israeli cities. And still, Israel does not completely blockade the strip until Hamas surrenders; it allows hundreds of trailers each day to bring supplies and fuel into Gaza.

But beyond the sins of omission, there are two very fundamental flaws with the HRW report. The first is the construal of Arab Israelis and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as one entity. HRW defines all Arab-Israelis as "Palestinians living in Israel," despite the overwhelming preference of the people it describes to a self-identity as Israeli Arabs, and not Palestinians.

This matter because Arab Israelis are deeply integrated into Israeli life. They make up over 20% of the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers in Israel. University campuses are filled with Arab Israeli students. Many have now entered Israel's world-class high-tech sector.

It's definitely true that Arab Israelis suffer discrimination, and there are problems within their communities. But at this very moment, Arab Israeli political parties are about to actively participate in deciding who will form the next Israeli government. To even intimate that apartheid takes place in Israel proper undermines the very meaning of the term.

Secondly, the report's attempt to describe the Arab-Israeli conflict as an ethnic clash in which one side is carrying on "crimes of apartheid" against the other, weaker ethnic group is a fundamental mischaracterization of the conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not an ethnic conflict; it is a national conflict between the Jews of Palestine, who agreed to a partition plan, and the Arabs who did not.

This national conflict has been going on for over a hundred years. Fortunately for the Jews who lived in Palestine, they prevailed in the War of Independence, just as Israel continues to prevail. Otherwise, the Jews would no longer be here.

This is not to say that everything in the report is false. As an Israeli, I am not proud of many of the actions carried out by Israeli governments over the generations, or even today. But many of those decisions were and are made based on the security needs of the country and Israel's people.

Until the Palestinians are willing to publicly accept an end of the conflict that does not provide for the return of the many generations of refugees born in the last 80 years, we have no clear path to end the occupation of lands, a stone's throw from our country's main international airport.

Israel is not beyond critique. I constructively criticize many of our policies. But over the top, one-dimensional accusations lacking nuance like those that fill the HRW report do not undermine Israel; they undermine legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.

Folks: It's time to do better.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.