My university is known as being one of the most liberal colleges in the United States. I have attended it for the past two and a half years, and I can attest that the title of a liberal college campus is certainly applicable to my school, as it is an incredibly forward-moving institution. On any given day, it is not uncommon to hear choruses of individuals standing up for gender equality and women’s rights, to witness undergraduates condemning the oppression of minority groups, and to see students holding signs protesting the anti-LGBTQA laws in Russia.
All of this is wonderful, it is progressive, and it speaks to the democratic values that I am proud to uphold myself. However, among the chorus of students pressing for positive change, I hear the shouts of ‘Free Palestine’. This baffles me. One reason that I find this confusing is because of the pure irony of the term ‘Free Palestine’. First of all, Palestine has never been a sovereign entity. The name refers to land, which the Romans re-named ‘Palestina’ in 135 AD following the Jewish revolt led by Bar Kokhba against the Romans, the land that has been passed from imperial power to imperial power.
The state of Israel is the only sovereign country that has ever existed within this area’s borders. Therefore, how can ‘Palestine’, which has never been a sovereign entity, be freed? Who is ‘Palestine’ being freed from? My guess is that these students mean to free ‘Palestine’ from the Jews, the only continuous native inhabitants of the land for over three millennia. My second question is: what are these students referring to when they say ‘Palestine’? Are they talking only about a small fraction of geographic Palestine, which is called Judea and Samaria (what some call the West Bank), or are they referring to all of Palestine, which includes the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, the state of Israel, as well as Judea and Samaria? I presume that the advocates for ‘Free Palestine’ are talking about Judea and Samaria, which Israel gained control over from the Jordanian occupation in 1967. Then, my last question is: How can a group of like-minded individuals who believe in freedom of speech, who feel strongly that women should be granted the same opportunities as men, who believe in equal rights for minority groups, and who believe in the rights of LGBTQA individuals support the entity where none of these liberal principles are upheld?
The Palestinian Authority (PA), led by President Mahmoud Abbas, controls much of the area within Judea and Samaria; however, not only does the PA not promote any of the democratic values that my fellow university students and I cherish, it squanders and infringes on these rights. Abbas is now in the 10th year of a term that was scheduled to end in January of 2009, which makes the PA-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria under the rule of an economically, politically, and morally corrupt dictator. Palestinian-Arab journalists and civilians alike are denied freedom of speech, and if either is found questioning or criticizing the Palestinian Authority, they are risking their safety and often their lives. Media outlets, such as TV stations and radio stations, are closely monitored, censored, and controlled by the PA, not allowing any broadcasting that did not come directly from the PA’s media centers. What remains on the radio and on TV is libelous and slanderous anti-Semitic rhetoric.
In addition to the restrictions on freedom of speech, there is also profound gender inequality in the Palestinian Authority. Honor-killings are not uncommon in the PA, and women are not legally protected against such human rights violations as domestic abuse. LGBTQA individuals are also systematically persecuted, criminalized, tortured, and sometimes executed, causing many gay, lesbian, and bisexual Palestinian-Arab individuals to seek asylum in Israel. Additionally, not a single Jew lives in the areas of Judea and Samaria that are completely PA-controlled; Israelis are warned against entering into these areas by the Israeli authorities for their own protection. Jews entering these areas would have reason to fear for their lives.
Israel, on the other hand, is a thriving and growing liberal democracy. Israel protects its citizens, regardless of their sexuality, their ethnic background, or their gender. Every citizen of Israel has equal rights and equal opportunities to vote, to buy property, to obtain jobs, and to go where they please within the country, whether they are Jews, Arabs, Druze, Christians, Russians, Somalis, Ethiopians, or of any other background. Not only do these rights exist, they are encouraged to be exercised by every citizen of the country. Every Israeli citizen is entitled to representation in the government as well. For example, in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, there are Arab parties and parliamentary groups that represent Arab communities in Israel and provide them with a voice. One example of an Arab parliamentary group in the Israeli Knesset is the Ra’am-Ta’al-Mada. Many parties and parliamentary groups, the Ra’am-Ta’al-Mada being one of them, have a history of criticizing many of Israel’s policies; however, they are still given the freedom to express these criticisms without fear of punishment or persecution, which cannot be said for any dissenting views that may be present within the Palestinian Authority.
Women’s rights are stringently upheld in Israel as well. There are multiple female representatives in the Knesset, and Golda Meir, one of the founders of the state and the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, was also the third female Prime Minister in the history of the world. While there are rules that impose specific restrictions on women within certain religious communities under Israeli sovereignty, these are implemented by the communities themselves in accordance with their interpretations of religious law, and are not institutionalized or applied to greater Israeli society. Communities such as these are not unique to Israel; in every liberal democracy in the world, including the United States, there are communities that uphold a unique code of rules that they apply to members of their own community for religious or cultural reasons. This is one of the beauties of living in a free country.
Not only are the rights of ethnic minorities and women protected in Israel, the rights of LGBTQA individuals are upheld. Google ‘Gay Tel Aviv’, and you will find a host of websites providing tourists and Israeli citizens alike who identify with the LGBTQA community information about and access to the best gay clubs, bars, and beaches in the city. Every year, one of the biggest Gay Pride parades in the world is also held in Tel Aviv. I attended the parade last summer with a few of my friends, and I was thrilled to see the joy, the love, and the support that emanated from the parade from members of the LGBTQA community as well as from members of the straight community. During the parade, I walked with both tourists as well as Israeli citizens, gay and straight, adults and children, from a host of ethnic and national backgrounds, and all of us marched as equals. That was a great taste of freedom.
It seems nonsensical to me that individuals who claim to be liberal and who claim to cherish democratic values would demonize Israel, a thriving liberal democracy, and the only one of its kind in the region. I am further perplexed that these same individuals would spend time and energy advocating for the support of a dictatorial kleptocracy whose leaders incite, indoctrinate, and oppress its civilians and who hope to one day annihilate the tiny Jewish state. As journalist, writer, and activist Caroline Glick wrote in her new book, The Israeli Solution, ‘Israel is not a melting pot. It is a multicultural society.’ And as a human being that values multiculturalism, that values democracy, and that values the principles that democracy upholds, I unequivocally support the state of Israel and the freedom that it represents.