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Israel, the Conflict and Peace: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

5 Nov 2003

See: Israel, the Conflict and Peace: Answers to frequently asked questions - Updated November 2007

(November 2003)


The Conflict

  • What caused the current wave of Palestinian terrorism?
  • How can the terrorism be stopped?
  • Why have children been involved in the violence?
  • Are targeted operations justified?
  • What was the "hudna"?
  • What is the security fence?
  • What is the Palestinians' humanitarian situation?
  • What is the claim of "return" for Palestinian refugees?
  • Is Palestinian terrorism part of international terrorism?
  • Why does Hizbollah continue to attack Israel?


  • How can peace be achieved?
  • How does Israel view the Roadmap?
  • What is Israel's position on a Palestinian state?
  • Why is Arafat not a partner for peace?
  • How does incitement harm peace?
  • What should be the Arab world's role?

    Delegitimization and Antisemitism

  • Is anti-Zionism different from antisemitism?
  • What is Holocaust denial?
  • Why has there been a rise in antisemitic incidents?
  • Does the international community treat Israel fairly?
  • Has the media been fair in covering the conflict?

    Basic Issues

  • What is Zionism?
  • Why is Israel a Jewish state?
  • What is the status of Jerusalem?
  • What is the status of the territories?
  • Are the Israeli settlements legal?
  • How are democratic values protected in Israel?


  • Israel's Declaration of Independence
  • UN Security Council Resolution 242


    Over the past three years, Israel has suffered from terrorist attacks on an almost unprecedented scale. Its citizens have had to live with the day-to-day fear of being blown up by suicide bombers or shot to death by Palestinian gunmen. Over 900 Israelis have already lost their lives and many thousands more were maimed or psychologically scarred for life.

    The violent confrontation that exists since September 2000 is all the more tragic due to the fact that a peaceful settlement was so close at hand immediately prior to the start of the violence. Had the Palestinian leadership chosen the path of negotiations and compromise at Camp David in the summer of 2000 Israelis and Palestinians would now be living side-by-side in peace.

    Although there has been international sympathy for the victims of terrorism, Israel's inherent right to defend itself against terrorist attacks has been called into question. Israel has also been subjected to a world-wide campaign to delegitimize its very existence. Moreover, certain basic issues concerning Israel itself have been increasingly misrepresented or misunderstood.

    This booklet provides Israel's viewpoint on some of the questions that have frequently been raised regarding Israel, the conflict and efforts to reach a peaceful resolution.

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    The Conflict

    t What caused the current wave of Palestinian terrorism?

    ©Sasson Tiram 
    Suicide bombing at Café Hillel in Jerusalem (9 September 2003)

    The wave of terrorism that began in September 2000 is the direct result of a strategic Palestinian decision to use violence - rather than negotiation - as the primary means to advance their agenda. Despite Palestinian claims to the contrary, Israel's so-called "occupation" of the territories is not the true cause of the terrorism, as negotiations could have peacefully resolved all aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict well before the violence started.

    When the wave of violence and terrorism began in September 2000, the Palestinians originally claimed that it was a spontaneous reaction to the visit of then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount. However, later statements by Palestinian leaders in the Arab-language media contradicted this assertion. Neither did the report issued by the Mitchell Committee, composed of American and European leaders, give support to the earlier Palestinian claim. Consequently, Palestinian spokespersons changed their tactics and instead began to assert that the violence was a response to Israel's "occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza.

    Ambushed bus from Eilat to Be'er Sheva (17 March 1954)

    The charred remains of a No. 18 Jerusalem bus after it was blown up by a suicide terrorist bomber at the intersection of Sarei Yisrael and Jafo Streets (25 February 1996)

    This claim ignores events both before and after 1967 (when Israel came into control of the territories during a war of self-defense) that prove that the "occupation" is not the true cause of Palestinian terrorism. Not only did Palestinian terrorism precede Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza; it has often hit brutally at those moments, as in 1994-1996, when the peace process was making the greatest progress. The history of Palestinian terrorism makes it abundantly clear that the terrorists are not opposing Israel's presence in the territories they are opposed to making any kind of peace with Israel.

    Indeed, the current wave of terrorism began shortly after intense high-level negotiations were conducted to find a permanent resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In July 2000, a Middle East peace summit was held at Camp David, hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton and attended by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak. During the summit, Israel expressed its willingness to make far-reaching and unprecedented compromises in order to arrive at a workable, enduring agreement. However, Yasser Arafat chose to break off the negotiations without even offering any proposals of his own. Consequently, the summit adjourned with President Clinton placing the blame for its failure squarely at Arafat's feet.

    Nevertheless, Israel continued to pursue a negotiated peace. At the Taba talks in January 2001, the Israeli government made known to the Palestinians its willingness to make additional compromises in order to achieve peace.

    Inexplicably, the Palestinians again rejected a peaceful solution. Later Palestinian claims belittling the Camp David and Taba proposals were refuted by the most senior American officials involved in the negotiations. In an April 22, 2002 television interview, former US Special Envoy Dennis Ross characterized the charge that the West Bank would be divided into cantons as "completely untrue," noting that the offered territory "was contiguous."

    Israel had already demonstrated its willingness to take substantial risks for peace. In the framework of the peace treaty with Egypt, it returned the Sinai Peninsula, an area that had given Israel significant strategic depth. In the negotiations that had been conducted since September 1993, Israel had gone far in addressing Palestinian aspirations in the West Bank and Gaza. It negotiated the establishment of a Palestinian Authority (PA) in the territories, which gradually expanded its jurisdiction and powers. In fact, after extensive Israeli withdrawals, the PA administered a significant portion of territory and 98% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.

    It is clear that the current wave of Palestinian terrorism, which began in the wake of the Camp David summit failure, has nothing to do with a spontaneous Palestinian action to "resist the occupation." The Palestinian leadership had taken a strategic decision to abandon the path to peace and to use violence as their primary tactic for advancing their agenda. This decision undermined the bedrock foundation of the peace process - the understanding that a solution can only be reached through compromise rather than inflexibility, and through negotiation rather than violence. The Palestinian claim that Israel's presence in the territories caused the terrorism began as a desperate attempt to deflect criticism after Arafat rejected Israel's peace proposals. It quickly evolved into an excuse for the inexcusable - the indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians.Terrorist attacks can never be justified, and they are particularly tragic when the disputed issues could have been settled through negotiations. The Palestinian Authority had been given a real opportunity to end the conflict through negotiations. However, Israel's olive branch was met with a hail of gunfire and a barrage of suicide bombers. The greatest obstacle to peace is not the lack of a Palestinian state, rather it is the existence of Palestinian terrorism.

    Despite fervent Palestinian claims to the contrary, the PA's deliberate decision to use violence as a political tool is the true and only source of the wave of terrorism that began in September 2000. It is that decision that has caused the death of over 900 Israelis and severely harmed Israel's dreams of peace with its Palestinian neighbors.


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    t How can the terrorism be stopped?

    True and lasting peace can only be achieved by a negotiated settlement. However, for negotiations to have a chance to succeed, Palestinian terrorism must end.

    Over the past three years, Israel has been subjugated to a wave of terrorism that has killed over 900 and injured thousands more. Israeli citizens have lived in daily fear of being murdered by suicide bombers, car-bombs and gunmen. Jewish holy sites have been desecrated and destroyed, while Jewish worshippers have been blown up.

    The government of Israel has a duty to protect the lives of its citizens. However, the fight against terrorism poses a difficult dilemma for Israel. As a democratic state, Israel must strive to find the proper balance between its imperative security needs and its desire to uphold the democratic values and freedoms its holds dear. Finding this balance is never an easy task for any democracy under fire. Israel's task is made all the much harder given that the Palestinian terrorists it faces have no respect either for human life or for the rule of law. They not only target Israeli citizens; they also hide behind the Palestinian civilian population, confident that any Palestinian casualties will be blamed on Israel, no matter which side is responsible.

    In order to fight terrorism effectively, while attempting to minimize harm to the local Palestinian population, Israel has employed a variety of defensive methods. Passive security measures, which include roadblocks and curfews as well as the security fence, are aimed at limiting the free movement of terrorists.

    Unfortunately, the daily lives of many Palestinians have also been affected by these measures. However, the difficulties caused by the security fence or roadblocks, as regrettable as they are, cannot compare to the irreversible harm to innocent lives caused by terrorism.

    Active security measures against the terrorists are taken when more passive measures do not suffice. Even then, Israel makes every effort to minimize harm to bystanders. Israel has consistently attempted to limit its use of military force. For example, it waited 18 months before beginning any large-scale military operations against terrorism. That took place only after near daily suicide bombings in March 2002, culminating in the Passover eve massacre, left Israel with no choice.

    It is never easy for a democratic country to fight terrorism. This mission is made more difficult when that state is subjected to international pressure to conform to impossible standards. Almost every defensive measure taken by Israel - whether it involves passive security measures, legal steps or proportionate and necessary military action - has met with international criticism. Israel will continue to uphold its democratic values; however, it must also protect the lives of its innocent civilians.

    One-sided and unfair international criticism of Israel only encourages more Palestinian terrorism. Despite their commitments to the contrary, the Palestinians have yet to abandon their armed struggle. The chances of achieving peace would be increased if the international community were to respect Israel's right to self-defense while simultaneously making clear to the Palestinian leadership the futility of terrorism. International pressure on states that sponsor and assist Palestinian terrorism should be applied and the funds to terrorist organizations should be cut off. Only when the Palestinians finally abandon terrorism and truly commit to solving political disputes by negotiation can peace be possible.


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    t Why have children been involved in the violence?

    Instead of educating for peace, as Israel does, the Palestinian leadership has encouraged its youth to take an active role in the violence. Instead of making every effort to protect all the children, as Israel does, the Palestinian terrorists have deliberately targeted Israeli young people.

    Israel is devoted to educating its children for tolerance and coexistence, teaching them to respect all peoples in accordance with Israel's democratic values and ideals. Israeli children are taught in their schools and via the media that the pursuit of peace is the highest calling. Israel believes that the key to a true and lasting peace lies in educating the next generation of both Israelis and Palestinians to live side-by-side.

    In contrast, the Palestinian Authority has deliberately created a culture of hatred that encourages Palestinian children to take an active role in violent activities. It has trained young people in the use of weapons and created an atmosphere that prepares them to become suicide bombers. Most casualties among Palestinian youngsters have occurred due to their direct participation in the violence or as the result of Israel's confrontations with terrorists who hide among the Palestinian population. The Palestinian Authority has not attempted to safeguard Palestinian children from harm, rather it has chosen to use them as a propaganda tool.

    Shaked Avraham, murdered during the Jewish New Year holiday meal (26 September 2003)

    Photo of a Palestinian baby dressed as a suicide bomber found in Hebron (June 2002)

    Palestinian Authority schools, summer camps, mosques and official media have all participated in creating this culture of hate. The cynical use of children as pawns in the conflict begins in the education system. Instead of educating children for peace, as Israel does, Palestinian textbooks openly teach hatred of Israel and the Jewish people. Educational facilities are used to inspire hero-worship of suicide bombers, psychologically preparing Palestinian children to follow in their footsteps. Children are given weapons to carry in anti-Israel rallies or are dressed up as suicide bombers. Youth groups and official PA summer camps teach young people to become holy warriors, actually training them in the use of firearms.

    This cult of martyrdom has inspired Palestinian children to take an increasingly active role in the violence. The average age of suicide bombers has dropped and attacks carried out by teenagers have become more and more frequent. Younger children, some no more than toddlers, have been used to provide cover for the transportation of weapons and explosives.

    The Palestinian Authority's manipulation of children, which has been extensively documented by the media, constitutes a reprehensible violation of every international treaty and convention meant to protect children in situations of armed conflict. The PA's heinous exploitation of children is both profoundly immoral and fundamentally illegal.

    ©Flash 90 
    Young girl injured in suicide bombing of Jerusalem bus No. 2 in Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood
    (19 August 2003)

    Targeting children in terrorist attacks also violates international laws and norms. Hundreds of Israeli children have been killed and wounded in numerous terrorist attacks over the decades. They were not incidental victims of the violence, but were the intended and preferred victims of the Palestinian terrorists. Israeli children have been deliberately targeted by Palestinian snipers and roadside bombs. Youngsters were bludgeoned and stoned to death by terrorists while hiking near their homes. Suicide bombers have murdered more than 70 children since September 2000, choosing to strike at places where young people are known to congregate - discos, bus stops, fast-food restaurants and shopping malls. These suicide terrorists stood face-to-face with their young victims, including babies, before deciding to detonate their explosives. In one of the most horrendous terror attacks - the suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus on August 19, 2003 - 7 of the dead and 40 of the injured were children.

    The suffering of any child is tragic and regretful, and Israel believes that every effort must be made to protect all children - Israeli and Palestinian - from the violence. Palestinian schools and media must stop preaching incitement to violence and hatred, and join Israel in teaching the next generation to live in peace.


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    t Are targeted operations justified?

    As long as the Palestinian Authority does nothing to stop the terrorist attacks, Israel has no choice but to act to prevent them, including by means of targeted counter-terrorism operations. Under international law, individuals who actively take part in hostilities are legitimate military targets.

    In its signed agreements with Israel, the Palestinian Authority undertook to stop all violence, arrest terrorists, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, collect illegal weapons and end incitement to violence. Yet in the more than a decade that has passed since the 1993 Oslo Accords, the PA has done nothing to fulfill its obligation, but instead has actively encouraged and supported terrorism. This terrorism has deliberately targeted civilians for murder. The inaction of the Palestinian Authority in the face of widespread terrorist activity in the areas under its control, coupled with its active support of this violence, have left Israel with no alternative but to take itself the necessary action to prevent terrorist attacks.

    Still, over the past three years, Israel's security forces have been faced with an untenable dilemma - how to uphold Israel's democratic values and the rules of armed warfare while fighting terrorists who are willing to violate every norm of civilized behavior. Israel has desperately searched for ways to effectively stop terrorists, who are hiding among the Palestinian population, without harming innocent Palestinians.

    Whenever possible, Israeli operations are directed toward apprehending terrorists and their accomplices, and bringing them to justice. In a small minority of cases, arrests are impossible, primarily due to the fact that the terrorist operatives and their ringleaders are given refuge in the heart of PA controlled areas. When this happens and when there is a clear terrorist threat, Israel has had to undertake preventive measures, including targeted counter-terrorism operations aimed at stopping terrorists from perpetrating attacks.

    International law, in general, and the law of armed conflict, in particular, recognize that individuals who directly take part in hostilities cannot then claim immunity. By initiating and participating in armed attacks, such individuals have designated themselves as combatants and have forfeited such legal protection. In terrorist organizations such as the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, there is no true division between the so-called political arm and the military arm - leaders from all parts of the organization are actively involved in ordering and planning terrorist attacks, and, therefore, can be considered legitimate military targets. By the same token, an individual who becomes a combatant is considered to remain a combatant until hostilities come to an end and not merely during that exact instant when the individual is carrying out an attack.

    For more than three years, Israeli civilians and soldiers alike have had to face thousands of organized, violent and life-threatening attacks, only a small percentage of which have been reported in the media. These attacks have included suicide bombings, shootings, violent riots, lynchings, fire-bombings, roadside ambushes, mortar barrages, and car bombs directed at civilian targets. The Palestinians have also attempted - but fortunately failed - to carry out acts of "mega-terrorism," including attempted attacks on the the Pi Glilot gas and fuel storage facility near Tel Aviv and the truck bombing of Tel Aviv's largest skyscrapers. To date, over 900 Israelis have been killed and thousands wounded as a result of this violence.

    Under these difficult conditions, the Israel Defense Forces have acted with the greatest possible restraint, taking action only when inaction by Israel would have resulted in the loss of innocent lives. Israel always strives to use the minimum force necessary to prevent terrorism, acting in compliance with the principles and practice of armed conflict. It takes care to target only those responsible for the violence, and makes every effort to avoid the involvement of innocent civilians. In contrast, Palestinian terrorists deliberately target innocent civilians and use weapons designed to cause the greatest possible injury and death.

    The Israeli government regrets the loss of any life, whether Jewish or Arab, in the present wave of violence. Terrorist attacks have both taken innocent lives and gravely wounded the peace process. Terrorism remains the primary obstacle to peace and it is imperative that the violence ends so that both parties can return to constructive negotiations. A just and sustainable solution can be found only through dialogue, not armed conflict. However, while the terrorism continues, Israel has an indisputable responsibility to act in self-defense and protect its citizens.

    In the final analysis, responsibility for all the casualties lies with the Palestinian leadership, which has initiated the violence and refuses to bring it to an end. Were Palestinian violence and terrorism to end, Israel would have no reason to take preventive countermeasures.

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    t What was the "hudna"?

    On June 29, 2003, following talks with the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian terror organizations declared a "hudna" - a term that has been interpreted abroad as a ceasefire. However, a "hudna" is a temporary respite from fighting designed to gain time to regroup and rearm. About two months later, following a series of terror attacks, the Palestinian terror organizations declared the "hudna" was at an end.

    Under the first phase of the Roadmap, the Palestinian Authority is obligated to end terrorism by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, confiscating illegal weapons and arresting those involved in planning and carrying out acts of terror. The "hudna," however, was an internal Palestinian arrangement, which the Palestinian Authority used as a means for avoiding its obligations under the Roadmap to fight terrorism.

    The "hudna" was used by the terrorist organizations themselves, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as a tactical ploy for gaining time to build up their strength for the next round of terrorist attacks. The "hudna" was a cover for the Palestinian terror organizations to plan new terror attacks, dig tunnels for smuggling in weapons, increase the range of the Kassam rockets, as well as to regroup and train their forces.

    While interpreted abroad as a ceasefire, the term "hudna" was seen by the Palestinian terror groups and their supporters in the Arab world as a mere tactical truce in keeping with Islamic history. In the year 628, when the prophet Mohammed considered his forces to be too weak to overcome the rival Kuraysh tribes, he concluded with them a ten-year truce ("hudna") referred to as the Hudaybiya accord. Less than two years later, having consolidated their power, the Muslim forces attacked the Kuraysh tribes and defeated them, thereby enabling Mohammed to conquer Mecca. Since that time, Muslims have understood "hudna" to mean a tactical truce intended to allow a favorable shift in the balance of power. Once that occurred, the truce could be broken. It was, therefore, no coincidence that the Palestinian terror groups adopted the term "hudna."

    ©Sasson Tiram 
    The remains of carnage: the suicide bombing of Jerusalem bus No. 2 in Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood
    (19 August 2003)

    Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared that their "hudna" would last three months, while Fatah declared a six-month "hudna." Yet, they did not wait even that long to renew terrorism. Since the "hudna" was declared in late June, and even before the mid-August suicide bombing of a Jerusalem bus, six Israelis and one foreign national were murdered in terrorist attacks, 28 civilians were injured; 180 terror attacks in all took place, including 120 shootings; 40 terror attacks were thwarted by Israel. The bus bombing in Jerusalem on August 19 claimed an additional 23 lives, 7 of them children, while 136 were injured, including 40 children. It was clear that the Palestinian terrorist organizations never had a real ceasefire in mind, let alone an end to terrorism.

    Israel has, consequently, declared that it will not accept a new "hudna." Only by fulfilling the requirements of the Roadmap, i.e. dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and organizations as well as put an end to incitement, will the Palestinians meet their obligations and commitments.


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    t What is the security fence?

    The security fence currently being built between the Palestinians in the West Bank and Israeli population centers is a defensive measure. It is designed to prevent terrorists from carrying out attacks in Israel. The fence does not annex any territory to Israel, nor does it establish any borders. Its path was chosen in accordance with security and topographic considerations, while every effort has been made to minimize disruption to the daily lives of the local Palestinian population.

    Since September 2000, a large majority of the Palestinian terrorist attacks that took the lives of over 900 Israelis have emanated from the West Bank. Palestinian centers of terrorism are often located within short walking distance of Israeli centers of population. Israel has been searching for ways to prevent the infiltration of terrorists and their weapons into its towns and cities. The decision to establish the security fence was taken only after other options were tried, but failed to stop the deadly terrorist attacks.

    The security fence is a defensive measure whose sole purpose is to place a physical barrier in the path of terrorists and prevent their infiltration into Israel. A similar fence already exists in Gaza - built in accordance with the 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement between Israel and the PLO - and it has a proven record of successfully preventing terrorist attacks.

    The establishment of the security fence is consistent with international law. Moreover, the Roadmap peace initiative does not restrict the deployment of defensive measures such as the security fence. Indeed, since terrorism has been the greatest obstacle to peace, it is hoped that by preventing terrorist attacks, the security fence will contribute to the search for peace.

    The security fence forms a strip approximately the width of a four-lane highway. At its center is a chain-link fence that supports an intrusion detection system. This technologically advanced system is designed to warn against infiltrations, as is the dirt "tracking" path and other observation tools. Despite the many pictures being shown in the international media of a tall concrete wall, most of the security fence (approximately 95%) will consist of this chain-link fence system.

    In addition to its efforts to ensure the security of its citizens, Israel attaches considerable importance to the interests of the local Palestinian residents. Israel recognizes the necessity of finding an appropriate balance between the imperative need to prevent terrorism and the humanitarian needs of local residents.

    Most significantly, the security fence does not attempt to mark in any way any future border - an issue reserved for negotiations between the sides. It is also important to note that the security fence area does not annex any land to the State of Israel. No particular preference was given to using land in the West Bank itself, and indeed, in certain sections, the security fence is being built within Israel's pre-1967 lines. The fence does not change the status of Palestinian lands, their ownership or the status of the residents of these areas. Only a small number of Palestinian villages will be included on the western side of the security fence. Their residents will not have to relocate and their legal status will remain unchanged.

    Israel has made the use of public lands a priority in building the security fence, in order to avoid, as far as possible, the requisition of private lands. If this is not possible, then private land is requisitioned, not confiscated, and it remains the property of the owner. When private lands are used, owners are offered full compensation, in accordance with the law. Legal procedures are already in place to allow every owner to file an objection to the use of their land.

    Regarding agriculture, the security fence was located, to the greatest possible degree, on unused land, and every attempt is made to avoid separating owners from their property. In circumstances where such separation is unavoidable, special gates are being built, allowing farmers access to their fields. Other steps have also been taken, such as the replanting of trees affected by the construction.

    The Palestinian claim that the security fence was established in a deliberate attempt to limit their rights is totally baseless. Israel has made every effort to ensure that the security fence causes as little disruption to daily life as possible given the security situation.

    Moreover, this claim endeavors to blame Israel, the victim of terrorism, for taking a purely defensive measure while ignoring the profound threat to human life posed by the Palestinian terrorism that emanates from the West Bank. There would have been no need for a security fence had there not been an orchestrated campaign of terrorism that targets Israeli men, women and children.

    The only motivation for establishing the security fence is Israel's desire to protect innocent lives.


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    t What is the Palestinians' humanitarian situation?

    The Palestinian leadership's decision to employ violence as a political tool sabotaged Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation, causing a sharp decline in the economic well-being of the Palestinian population.

    Israel had made substantial efforts since the signing of the Oslo accords to facilitate Palestinian-Israeli economic cooperation in the context of the peace process. As a result, there had been a marked expansion of Palestinian trade and employment in Israel, as well as other forms of economic cooperation from 1994 until the outbreak of the present violence.

    Israel, in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, had undertaken a broad range of actions since 1994 in order to promote and improve the free movement of goods and workers from the Palestinian Authority areas into Israel. In addition, industrial parks had been set up in the Palestinian Authority, involving substantial Israeli investment and economic incentives. These measures had a significant, positive impact on the Palestinian economy.

    Unfortunately, the violence and terrorism have led to a sharp decline in economic activity in the area, with economic repercussions for both the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

    The government of Israel is seeking to stabilize the situation in the territories, and to ease conditions for those living there. Israel has no desire to burden the Palestinian civilian population not involved in terrorism and violence.

    Nevertheless, the acute security threat presented by Palestinian terrorism makes some measures unavoidable, if Israel is to fulfill its duty as a sovereign state to safeguard the lives of its citizens. A security fence is being built along the West Bank to prevent terrorist infiltration. Travel restrictions have been put into effect to stop terrorists from reaching their targets. The passage of Palestinians from the PA areas into Israel has also been limited, so as to prevent the spillover of violence and terrorism into Israeli cities. These measures, and additional precautions such as roadblocks, are designed to hinder the movement of terrorists and explosives, thereby saving innocent lives.

    Exceptions to the restrictions have been made for the movement of commercial goods, food, medicine, medical crews and ambulances, which continue to circulate as freely as possible (given Palestinian use of ambulances to transport wanted terrorists and weapons). Moreover, procedures have been simplified to enable speedy delivery of humanitarian goods, such as medical supplies, to the Palestinian Authority.

    Unfortunately, terrorists have used every Israeli attempt to ease restrictions on Palestinian daily life as an opportunity to renew their attacks on Israeli citizens.

    It is Israel's policy to differentiate as much as possible between those perpetrating, aiding and directing terrorist activities, and the civilian population which is uninvolved in terrorism. When calm prevails in a particular area, improvements can be implemented there independently of other areas. Consequently, the impact of events on the local civilian population is dependent, more than any other factor, on the level of terrorist activity in any particular area.

    It must be stressed that the purpose of the security precautions is not to unduly burden the Palestinian population, but rather to ensure the security of Israeli citizens facing daily threats to their very lives. The end to these restrictions, like peace itself, is dependent on an end to the violence and terrorism.

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    t What is the claim of "return" for Palestinian refugees?

    At the same time that the Palestinians are calling for a state of their own, they also demand a "right to return" to land inside the State of Israel's pre-June 1967 lines. However, no such right exists under general international law, the relevant UN resolutions or the agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

    The immediate cause of the plight of Palestinian refugees was the Arab leadership's rejection of UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947 (which would have partitioned the British Mandate area into two states) and the war they then started in the hope of destroying Israel. During the hostilities, many Arabs abandoned their homes, whether following calls from Arab leaders to avoid hindering the progress of their advancing armies or out of fear.

    With few exceptions, almost all the Arabs who left did so voluntarily, ignoring Israel's calls (including in its Declaration of Independence) to stay in Israel. Those who chose to remain in Israel after 1948 became Israeli citizens.

    The fate of the Palestinian refugees who chose to leave stands in sharp contrast to that of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled Arab countries following the establishment of the State of Israel. These Jewish refugees - a number similar to the Palestinian refugees of this period - were integrated into Israeli society, despite the heavy burden this placed on its developing economy.

    The Arab states (with the notable exception of Jordan) have deliberately perpetuated the Palestinian refugee problem, exploiting it as a weapon in their struggle against Israel. From 1948 to the present day, the refugees have largely been confined to crowded camps as a matter of policy. The Arab regimes, including the oil-rich states, have chosen to invest in supporting terrorism, making little attempt to help rehabilitate the lives of the refugees. This policy was pursued in order to gain international sympathy for the Palestinian cause, at the expense of the Palestinians themselves.

    Since Israel is neither at fault for the creation of the refugee problem nor for its perpetuation, it should not be asked to take upon itself responsibility for this problem.

    The international community has played a role in perpetuating the Palestinian refugee problem. It has averted efforts to resettle the refugees, as is the international norm. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, responsible for finding permanent homes for all refugee groups around the world, does not do so for the Palestinians. Instead, a special agency was set up to handle Palestinian refugees. This organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), operates solely to maintain and support the Palestinians in refugee camps.

    The international community has yielded to political pressure from Arab regimes and in effect granted the Palestinians an exception from the internationally accepted definition of a refugee under the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol which make no mention of descendants. According to this exception - which has never been granted to any other population - all the generations of descendants of the original Palestinian refugees are also considered refugees. This means that the vast majority of Palestinian refugees who demand to immigrate to Israel have never actually lived within the borders of Israel. Moreover, the exceptional definition of refugees in the Palestinian case includes any Arab who lived in the area that became Israel for just two years before leaving.

    These exemptions have inflated the number of Palestinian refugees and allowed it to expand over the years from the hundreds of thousands to the millions. Currently, the population of Israel is just over 6.7 million, of which 19% are Arab Israelis. The mass immigration of millions of Palestinians into Israel would obliterate Israel's basic identity as the homeland of the Jewish people and a refuge for persecuted Jews. Consequently, the demand to live in Israel is nothing more than a euphemism for the demographic destruction of the Jewish State.

    Palestinian leaders and spokespersons frequently claim that the Palestinians have a legal right to immigrate to Israel. In actuality, no such right has been included in the agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors, nor is it recognized in international law or the relevant UN resolutions.

    None of the agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors mention a claim of "return." Indeed, during the peace process, both the Israelis and the Palestinians agreed that the question of refugees was a matter for negotiations, one to be resolved as part of a permanent settlement between the sides.

    In international law, the principle of return is addressed in relevant human rights treaties. However, the principle only deals with individuals (not an entire people) and as a rule, governments have limited the right to reenter a state to nationals of that state.

    The Palestinians falsely assert that their claim is based on UN resolutions, most specifically paragraph 11 of General Assembly Resolution 194. Nonetheless, the General Assembly is not a law-making body and General Assembly resolutions on political matters do not create legally binding obligations.

    When referring to General Assembly Resolution 194, a number of additional points are relevant. This was an attempt by the UN in 1948 to bring the sides to negotiations by making recommendations regarding a number of key issues (Jerusalem, borders, refugees, etc.). This attempt failed to achieve results and was later supplanted by UN Security Council Resolution 242. Only one paragraph in 194 discusses refugees. That paragraph does not contain a single reference to any rights, but rather merely recommends that refugees should be permitted to return. It is illogical to demand implementation of a single sentence independently of the rest of the resolution. Additionally, the resolution sets specific preconditions and limits for return, foremost amongst them that the refugees must be willing to live in peace with their neighbors. The support among the Palestinian population for the wave of terrorism that began in September 2000, as well as at other times in the past, appears to preclude this possibility.

    UN Security Council Resolution 242 (adopted in 1967 after the Six Day War and considered to be a cornerstone of the peace process) reinforced Israel's position by again omitting any reference to a "right of return," or even to General Assembly Resolution 194. Instead, 242 confines itself to affirming the necessity "for achieving a just settlement of the refugee problem."

    The Palestinian claim of unlimited immigration to Israel is a political ploy made by those who do not want Israel to exist. It is disingenuous that the Palestinians are simultaneously appealing for a state of their own while calling for the right to freely immigrate to yet another state, Israel. By continuing to demand a "right" that would, in effect, negate the basic identity of Israel, the Palestinian leadership is undermining prospects for peace.


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    t Is Palestinian terrorism part of international terrorism?

    Rewarding Palestinian terrorism would not only endanger Israel, but would threaten the stability of the region and the safety of the democratic world. Rewarding terrorism only breeds more terrorism.

    Any political gains made by the Palestinians through the use of terrorist violence will contribute to the proliferation of terrorism across the globe. Rewarding terrorism serves only to invite others in the Middle East and elsewhere to use similar tactics. The success of Palestinian terrorism would also encourage the further radicalization of Arab and Muslim populations made all too vulnerable to extremism by failed socio-economic conditions within their own states and ideologies that encourage hatred and violence.

    The Arab-Israeli conflict has been used by many in the Middle East to excuse their anti-American, and ultimately anti-Western, activities. Terrorism, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, often targets democratic societies. Studies of suicide terrorism have shown that it is not motivated by despair - rather it is almost always conducted as part of an organized campaign to obtain political or military objectives. Al-Qaeda's attacks on the U.S. were an assault on the ideals of freedom that the United States represents. They were part of bin Laden's plans for a jihad aimed at reshaping the world in accordance with his extremist interpretation of Islam. Although bin Laden's basic goals are unrelated to Israel, attacks on the American people have been exploited by anti-Israeli elements to advance their agenda in the Middle East.

    Over several decades, Palestinian violence has played a major role in the development of ever more dangerous forms of terrorism. It was the Palestinians who pioneered the use of terrorist hijackings. Palestinians may not have invented suicide bombers, but they have refined the technique, creating a cult of martyrdom that promotes more suicide bombings. The bombers are revered, their pictures hung in town squares and in schools, relatives are urged not to mourn but to celebrate their deaths, soccer teams are named for them while Palestinian television plays the farewell videos of suicide terrorists over and over again. This phenomenon bodes ill for the next generation, educated to worship these symbols of death and destruction. Children taught from the earliest age to hate, kill and destroy are a tragedy for their own people and a potential danger for others.

    Palestinian propaganda blurs the difference between acts of terror that target innocents and defensive countermeasures aimed at stopping terrorists. Justifying any terrorist attack harms the worldwide effort to delegitimize terror and its sponsors.

    Palestinian terrorism must not be allowed to succeed. To do so would not only encourage further acts of violence against innocent civilians in Israel, but also increase the chances that the scourge of terrorism will continue to proliferate and increasingly endanger democratic states throughout the world. Denying suicide terrorists their goals is an important step towards stopping the phenomenon of terrorism as a whole.


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    t Why does Hizbollah continue to attack Israel?

    Despite Israel's fulfillment of UN Security Council Resolution 425 and its withdrawal from southern Lebanon in June 2000, Hizbollah (backed by Syria and Iran) has flagrantly violated that resolution by continuing to attack Israel. Whether in acts of terrorism, including support given to Palestinian terror groups, the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and civilians, the heartless treatment of Israeli MIAs, the cross-border shellings of northern Israel - Hizbollah continues to keep the Israel-Lebanese border on edge.

    Hizbollah is a radical Shiite Moslem terrorist organization that operates in Lebanon. A key pillar of its extremist ideology is its call for the destruction of Israel through jihad (holy war). Hizbollah's ideology comes from Iran; moreover, it receives military, logistical and economic support from both Iran and Syria. In addition to calling for the destruction of Israel, Hizbollah also calls for a struggle against the United States as part of Hizbollah's desire to foment an Islamic revolution and its ambition to turn Lebanon into an Islamic republic like Iran.

    Iran, which completely opposes all efforts to achieve peace with Israel and which has supported terrorism to subvert such efforts, as well as seeking to develop its own non-conventional weapons capability, backs Hizbollah to the hilt. Syria, which dominates Lebanon and occupies parts of it, uses Hizbollah as a belligerent instrument against Israel, in order to advance Syria's political and strategic objectives in its own conflict with Israel. Syria also actively supports a number of Palestinian terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and hosts terrorist headquarters and training camps in the Damascus area. Lebanon, too, supports Hizbollah, allowing it to operate against Israel from within Lebanese territory, in direct contradiction to international law.

    ©Sasson Tiram 
    Grieving mother holds photo of teenager from Shlomi, Haviv Dadon, 16, who was killed by an anti-aircraft shell fired by Hizbollah terrorists in Lebanon, as he sat with friends.

    On many occasions, Hizbollah has bombarded towns in northern Israel. On August 10, 2003 one such bombardment killed a 16-year-old youngster and wounded three others in the town of Shlomi.

    Hizbollah's attacks continue to take place in spite of the fact that Israel unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon in June 2000 and thereby fulfilled its commitments according to UN Security Council Resolution 425, as was later confirmed by the UN itself. Israel withdrew to what is called the "blue line," which was delineated by the UN in cooperation with Israel and Lebanon. Israel calls for the removal of Hizbollah forces from the border in southern Lebanon and for the deployment of Lebanese military units along the border, as required by Resolution 425. Hizbollah has developed missile capabilities which endanger areas in northern Israel and, therefore, the dismantling of those missiles is an essential condition for stability and calm.

    ©Sasson Tiram 
    Damage caused to a house in Rajar by Hizbollah shelling

    Hizbollah gives support to Palestinian terrorist activities and, to various degrees, is involved in them, including through the smuggling of arms, guidance and training. Thus, Hizbollah's activities not only create tension in the north but add fuel to the fire in the Palestinian conflict against Israel.

    Hizbollah has, moreover, been involved in acts of terror against western targets, such as the 1983 and 1984 bombings of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, the 1983 bombings of the U.S. marine barracks and French unit of the multinational force in Beirut, the 1984 and 1988 hijackings of Kuwaiti airliners, and the 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires as well as the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center there.

    ©Sasson Tiram 
    Boy severely injured by the Hizbollah shell that hit
    his home in Rajar

    Thus far, the United Nations and the international community, with few exceptions, have refrained from condemning Hizbollah terrorism. This abject failure extends to muting any criticism of Syria for its support for terrorism, its harboring of terrorist groups, and the blatantly antisemitic statements made by its leader, Bashir Assad.

    It is essential that the international community and the United Nations assume their responsibilities and demand of those states that support Hizbollah terrorism that they desist. The international community should clearly condemn Hizbollah's actions as gravely violating UN resolutions, in particular Security Council Resolution 425. Hizbollah should be put on the terrorist list of all countries, as part of the overall international community's struggle against terrorism. The international community should show integrity and condemn countries like Syria and Iran that sponsor terrorism. Lebanon should be called upon to fulfill its obligations as noted by UN Security Council Resolution 425 and recent resolutions on UNIFIL.


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    t How can peace be achieved?

    Peace can be achieved only through negotiations to bridge gaps and resolve all outstanding issues. For negotiations to be possible and for them to have a chance to succeed, Palestinian terrorism and incitement, supported by Arab countries, must be brought to an end.

    Israel has always been willing to compromise and all Israeli governments have been willing to make major sacrifices for the sake of peace. However, peacemaking requires concessions and confidence-building measures on both sides. Just as Israel is willing to address the rights and interests of the Palestinians, Israel has rights and interests that need to be addressed. When in the past, Israel met Arab leaders, like President Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan, who spoke the language of peace to their own people and were willing to take concrete steps for peace, Israel reached agreements with them and peace was achieved.

    Only negotiations can lead to peace. Attempts by the Palestinians and the Arab countries to compel Israel to accept Palestinian demands or one-sided UN resolutions promoted by the Arab states will not bring the parties closer to peace. UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which all parties in the region accepted, provide an important outline for conducting negotiations on a permanent settlement. Israel has also indicated, provided certain important conditions are met, its readiness to implement the measures of the Roadmap. But the Roadmap will work only if the Palestinians fulfill their obligations, something they have not even begun to do, especially when it comes to dismantling the terrorist infrastructure and ending incitement, as required in the first phase of the Roadmap.

    Peacemaking requires the creation of a positive atmosphere, one that is free of terrorism and incitement, and one that promotes efforts to achieve mutual understanding. Israel had on many occasions taken steps to help improve Palestinian living conditions and the rehabilitation of the Palestinian economy. Israel has made and is willing to make in the future goodwill gestures as confidence-building measures - such as easing restrictions by removing road barriers, lifting closures, allowing Palestinian workers into Israel, and withdrawing from Palestinian towns. Israel is ready to take these steps provided that Israeli security is not harmed and that the Palestinians do not respond with terrorism.

    Positive steps taken by the Arab countries would also help generate a positive atmosphere, as would re-energizing the multilateral contacts and the Barcelona process, both of which seek to promote regional cooperation. Positive movement and cooperation on issues that affect the lives of all who live in the region would contribute psychologically to tackling the difficult political issues that need to be addressed and resolved.

    Finally, peace must mean the resolution of all claims and the end of the conflict. Once a peace agreement is reached, a new leaf must be turned and the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel's relationship with all its neighbors must be put on a new footing, one characterized by dialogue and cooperation, rather than by antagonism and confrontation.


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    t How does Israel view the Roadmap?

    On May 25, 2003 the Government of Israel accepted the steps set out in the Roadmap in the hopes that this initiative could help achieve a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. However, the Palestinians have yet to live up to their obligations under the first phase of the Roadmap, primarily the "unconditional cessation of violence."

    The Roadmap is a performance-based guide that was formulated by the members of the Quartet - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the UN. Israel's acceptance of the Roadmap was accompanied by comments that Israel considers integral to its implementation. The United States committed itself to fully and seriously addressing these comments. Moreover, Israel attaches importance to President Bush's June 24, 2002 vision for achieving peace, as expressed also in the Roadmap. In that speech, President Bush emphasized that achieving the vision of two states living side-by-side in peace requires, as a critical first stage, Palestinian reform and an end to Palestinian terrorism.

    Israel's acceptance of the steps of the Roadmap is yet another expression of Israel's willingness to extend its hand toward peace. Indeed the Government's decision reflects a readiness to make profound compromises in order to end the conflict, provided these compromises will not endanger Israel's security in any manner. Furthermore, subject to security conditions, Israel desires to contribute to the improvement of Palestinian life and the rehabilitation of the Palestinian economy.

    However, the Roadmap itself and Israel's willingness to move forward require that the Palestinians live up to their obligations at each and every phase. Of critical significance is the requirement in the first phase of the Roadmap that the Palestinians undertake an "unconditional cessation of violence" by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, confiscating weapons, and arresting and disrupting those involved in conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere. The Palestinians must also end incitement. By its own acceptance of the Roadmap, the Palestinian Authority undertook an obligation to end terrorism and incitement in the manner required by the Roadmap. Israel has emphasized that these conditions are essential before progress can be made on moving into the second phase of the Roadmap.

    The Government of Israel considers its comments to the Roadmap, along with the American commitment to address these commitments, as key to the implementation of the Roadmap. In addition to Israel's comments regarding the necessity of Palestinian action against terrorism and incitement, the comments also state Israel's non-acceptance of the Palestinian claim regarding the return of refugees. In accepting the steps set out by the Roadmap, the Government of Israel clarified that the resolution of the issue of the refugees will not include their entry into or settlement within the State of Israel.

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    t What is Israel's position on a Palestinian state?

    Israel has no desire to rule over the Palestinians. While this is an important aspect of Israel's position on the establishment of a Palestinian state, Israel's security and other vital rights and interests also play an important role. Under no circumstances could Israel accept the establishment of a terrorist state on its borders.

    In his speech at the June 4, 2003 Aqaba Summit meeting with U.S. President Bush and then Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas, Prime Minister Sharon had the following to say about a Palestinian state:

    "Israel, like others, has lent its strong support for President Bush's vision, expressed on June 24, 2002, of two states - Israel and a Palestinian state - living side by side in peace and security. The government and people of Israel welcome the opportunity to renew direct negotiations according to the steps of the roadmap as adopted by the Israeli government to achieve this vision."

    It is in Israel's interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state. A democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state. We can also reassure our Palestinian partners that we understand the importance of territorial contiguity in the West Bank, for a viable, Palestinian state.

    In this same speech, Prime Minister Sharon emphasized that "there can be no peace, however, without the abandonment and elimination of terrorism, violence and incitement." Not only is this a fundamental condition that has been stipulated in detail in the first phase of the Roadmap, but without its fulfillment, the establishment of a Palestinian state would mean the establishment of a terrorist state along Israel's borders, and that would be unacceptable.

    Any discussion on the creation of a Palestinian state should concentrate on the nature of that state. Its parameters, including final borders, are to be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. Other elements are also critical to Israel's security. Efforts towards establishing a Palestinian state must take Israel's rights and vital interests into account, especially on matters of security, so that there can be peace and stability in the region.


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    t Why is Arafat not a partner for peace?

    At the start of the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993, Yasser Arafat gave an explicit pledge to abandon terrorism and to commit to the principle that the conflict can only be resolved through negotiations. In the ten years since then, over 1100 Israelis have been murdered in acts of terrorism (over 900 of them since September 2000). Arafat is directly to blame for this terrorism and for the grievous damage the violence has done to the peace process.

    In his letter of September 9, 1993 to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat pledged that "the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence" and that the PLO commits itself "to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations."

    The entire peace process had been predicated on Arafat's promise. Regrettably, he decided to breach that commitment and pursue a strategy of armed struggle. Palestinian terrorists attacked Israelis even during the early years of the peace process, despite the progress being made in negotiations. Finally in September 2000, following Arafat's rejection of the peace settlement offered by U.S. President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Barak at Camp David in July of that year, Arafat chose to intensify the violence, a decision confirmed in statements made by Palestinian officials.

    On December 6, 2000, the semi-official Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam reported as follows:

    "Speaking at a symposium in Gaza, Palestinian Minister of Communications, Imad Al-Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current Intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself. Mr. Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this Intifada as a culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount."

    ©Sasson Tiram 
    Suicide bombing of bus no. 14 in center of Jerusalem (11 June 2003)

    Yasser Arafat's personal involvement in terrorism is clear. Not only has he done nothing to stop terrorism, but he has aided and abetted it, using it as a tool to pressure Israel. Arafat has signed the checks that fund terrorist groups and their activities, approved the smuggling of arms (as was so dramatically seen with the arms shipment found aboard the Karine A in January 2002), and shielded wanted terrorists in his own headquarters. Significantly, Arafat's own faction, Fatah (the Al-Aksa Brigades), and his special bodyguard unit, Force 17, have actively engaged in terrorism.

    Since 1993, Arafat has used the language of jihad (holy war) in many of his speeches and declarations. Consistently finding excuses for terrorism (even while paying lip service to condemnations of it) and by attempting to co-opt Hamas and other terror groups (rather than dismantling them as required, for example, by the Roadmap) - Arafat shows that he has no intention of ending terrorism. Arafat has proven, time and again, that he cannot be trusted, that his commitments are without value, and that he will not deliver when it comes to his promises.

    But, beyond that, Arafat has failed his own people. His rejection of the offers and concessions made by Israel at Camp David in the summer of 2000 blocked the fulfillment then of Palestinian aspirations within the context of a peace agreement with Israel. Nearly three years later, Arafat's undermining of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) which led to Abbas' resignation in September 2003 caused major damage to efforts to advance the Roadmap that would potentially have fulfilled international aspirations to promote the peace process. Moreover, the rampant corruption within the Palestinian Authority, the disappearance of millions of dollars and euros into the pockets of Arafat and his cronies, and his refusal to carry out genuine reform of the Palestinian Authority - demonstrate that it is not the Palestinian people's interest that he has at heart, but Arafat's interest.

    Israel is prepared to negotiate with any Palestinian leader who lives up to the Palestinian obligations and commitments that are vital to a successful peace process, first and foremost - fighting terrorism and ending incitement that nurtures hatred and violence. For many years, Israel hoped that Arafat was that kind of leader, but the last three years especially have shown that he is not.

    Israel has no intention of telling the Palestinians whom they should choose as their leader. However, Israel has no obligation to deal with one who has shown repeatedly that he cannot be trusted and whose word means nothing. Israel is interested in a genuine peace process with a partner who will work for peace. Israel is not interested in a futile and barren exercise that will ultimately yield nothing but continued conflict and anguish. Israel desires a genuine partner for peace. Arafat is not that partner.


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    t How does incitement harm peace?

    There is a direct connection between anti-Israeli and antisemitic incitement and terrorism. The incitement and extreme anti-Israel indoctrination that is so pervasive in Palestinian society nurture a culture of hatred that, in turn, leads to terrorism.

    The many attempts to bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict are known, not coincidentally, as the peace process. The transition from a state of war to a state of peace is not the result of just a one-time diplomatic act of signing an agreement. Rather it is a process that continues over time, a process that demands a mutual effort to change positions, values, and the perception of the former enemy. It requires a transition to a new paradigm, the creation of a new state of mind.

    In a number of Arab countries and in Palestinian society the struggle against Israel takes center stage, and the call to destroy Israel has been at the core of their social-cultural-political ethos. In some Arab societies, this situation prevails to this very day. The Palestinians' vehement anti-Israel rhetoric has had a crippling impact throughout the region on efforts for peace. The intense coverage of the Palestinian perspective of events and incitement from Palestinian spokespersons have enflamed anti-Israeli sentiments in Arab countries, even influencing many pro-peace Arab states to downgrade their ties with Israel. Palestinian incitement causes violence in the short term, while in the long term it reduces the chances for peace and reconciliation between Israel and its neighbors.

    Brandishing toy guns at a Palestinian kindergarten graduation ceremony

    The Palestinian education system, media, literature, songs, theater and cinema are mobilized for extreme anti-Israel indoctrination, which at times degenerates into blatant antisemitism. The incitement to hatred and violence is pervasive almost everywhere in Palestinian society: in nursery schools and kindergartens, youth movements, schools, universities, mosque sermons, and street demonstrations. This creates a culture of hatred and violence, which in turn provides fertile ground for terrorism and murder.

    Incitement against Israel has many faces. It begins by totally ignoring the very existence of the State of Israel. The maps in the schools and universities do not bear even the name of Israel, nor a large number of its cities and towns. Beyond that, the incitement extols the names and deeds of the suicide bombers, names football teams after them, and holds the terrorists up as models to be emulated. The incitement includes antisemitic cartoons that use the same kind of motifs and imagery that were used against the Jews during the Nazi era.

    The question that must be asked is what kind of future does the industry of incitement offer the next generation, which is growing up learning to hate. Will that young generation be capable of thinking in terms of peace, of good neighborliness, of tolerance and compromise? Can Palestinian society create the new state of mind that is needed for peace, which is more than just signing a peace treaty?

    One cannot ignore the intensity of the feelings that exist on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East. Feelings of deep anger and frustration exist on Israel's side as well. But, there is a huge difference between feeling anger and frustration, on the one hand, and promoting a culture of hatred, on the other.

    Unlike a large part of Palestinian society, Israeli society sees peace as the noblest of goals, its highest of aspirations on both the individual and national level. The desire for peace, for calm and for the normalization of day-to-day life is at the very center of Israel's being and culture. The thousands of songs, books, artistic works, and articles that have been written about peace in Israel, since the very establishment of the state, are too numerous to mention. Peace is an important core value, the greatest dream of every mother and father, the embodiment of the Zionist idea which envisages Israel living in peace and cooperation with all its neighbors.

    There is no legitimate reason why Israeli children learn about peace and coexistence in their schools, while in contrast Palestinian children are learning to honor the suicide bombers and jihad. Those who desire peace should educate for peace, and not promote hatred and murder.


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    t What should be the Arab world's role?

    Israel desires peace with all Arab countries. Moreover, the Arab states have the potential to make an important and positive contribution to the peace process as well as change the face of the region for the better. But, for this to happen, they must stop supporting terrorist activities. They must cease incitement and antisemitic propaganda against Israel which do nothing but generate further hatred and provide a fertile ground for terrorism. The Arab world's policy of confrontation towards Israel should be replaced by a policy of dialogue.

    Palestinian and other terrorist organizations in the Middle East receive support, including funds and arms, from various Arab countries. Some Arab states, among them Syria, along with Iran back the most violent and dangerous terrorist organizations, such as Hizbollah. Syria hosts the headquarters and training bases of several Palestinian terror organizations, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This support must stop so that terrorism can be brought to an end. Only then will peace efforts have the chance to succeed.

    In recent years, the most extreme forms of anti-Israel incitement have been allowed to flourish in Arab countries, recalling earlier periods of the Arab-Israel conflict. There is a proliferation of antisemitic propaganda in mosques and in schools, in the state media and in academia. This racist material, similar to that used in ages past against the Jewish people - such as blood-libels and the so-called "Elders of Zion" - generates further hatred and provides a fertile ground for terrorism.

    ©Israel Government Press Office 
    Leaders of Egypt, the U.S. and Israel clasp hands at Israel-Egypt peace treaty ceremony
    (26 March 1979)

    While there are no illusions that the Arab states will agree with Israel on the specific issues in dispute, they should agree that resolving those issues will involve compromises from both sides. Israel cannot be expected to accept ultimatums or "take-it-or-leave-it" propositions, such as the decisions of the Arab League's Beirut Summit in late March 2002, which were based on the Saudi initiative. Those decisions stated, in effect, that peace would be made with Israel only if Israel were to accede to all Arab demands and conditions; Israel's rights and interests were totally ignored as was the need for negotiations and compromise to resolve all outstanding issues.

    International forums, like the United Nations, should not be misused, as they are year-after-year by the Arab countries who press for adoption of the same fruitless one-sided anti-Israel resolutions, instead of looking for a fresh and constructive manner to resolve differences.

    Israel believes that the way towards peace requires using all appropriate venues for dialogue and working for regional cooperation. The Barcelona Process (which envisages European-Mediterranean cooperation) and multilateral talks

    ©Israel GPO 
    Senior IDF and Jordanian army officers shake hands at the Israel-Jordan peace treaty signing ceremony
    (26 October 1994)
    on such subjects as water, refugees, arms control, environment and economic development should be reinvigorated. In this way, issues that affect the lives of all who live in the region can be addressed. That, in turn, would create a positive atmosphere that would enhance efforts to resolve the difficult political issues of the peace process.

    President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan showed real leadership in making peace with Israel. Countries like Egypt, Jordan and Morocco (which also played a key role in promoting peace) can contribute by showing the rest of the Arab world the way to enter into peaceful and cooperative relations with Israel.

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    Delegitimization and Antisemitism

    t Is anti-Zionism different from antisemitism?

    Israel, as a democracy, is receptive to fair and legitimate criticism. However, all too often Israel is singled out and held up to standards not applied to any other state. Although valid criticism of Israel has absolutely no connection to antisemitism, some of the unreasonable condemnation has its roots in antisemitic attitudes, often disguised as "anti-Zionism." Just as in the past Jews were the scapegoat for many problems, today there are attempts to turn Israel into an international pariah.

    "Antisemitism" is the name given to the form of racism practiced against the Jewish people. Though the literal interpretation of antisemitism would appear to denote hostility to all Semitic peoples, this is a fallacy. The term was originally coined in Germany in 1879 to describe the European anti-Jewish campaigns of that era, and it soon came to define the persecution or discrimination against Jews throughout the ages.

    Hatred of the Jewish people is an age-old phenomenon, traditionally associated with expressions of xenophobia and religious intolerance. Antisemitism has taken different forms and used various motifs throughout history. In modern times, it has been promoted by extreme nationalistic and even racist ideologies. Severe antisemitism exists in Arab countries today.

    Egyptian version (1994) of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"
    Egyptian version (2001) of antisemitic tract "The International Jew"

    Antisemitism reached its peak in the Holocaust. Over 6 million Jews (one third of the world's Jewish population) were brutally and systematically murdered during World War II.

    Modern antisemitism in Europe, after being repressed for decades, has erupted with renewed fury in recent years in a new form: "anti-Zionism," or hatred of the State of Israel.

    Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people - an expression of their legitimate aspiration to self-determination and national independence. The Zionist movement was founded to provide an ancient people with a sovereign state of its own, in its ancestral homeland. Israel is the modern political embodiment of this age-old dream.

    The goal of anti-Zionism is to undermine the legitimacy of Israel, thereby denying the Jewish people their place in the community of nations. Denigration of Zionism is therefore an attack on Israel's basic right to exist as a nation equal to all other nations, in violation of one of the fundamental principles of international law.

    Just as antisemitism denies Jews their rights as individuals in society, anti-Zionism attacks the Jewish people as a nation, on the international level. Similar to the use of "the Jew" as a scapegoat for many a society's problems, Israel has been singled out for disproportionate and one-sided condemnation in the international arena.

    Anti-Zionism is often manifested as attacks on Israel in the United Nations and other international forums. Over the years, many a meeting and event of the international community has been exploited as an opportunity to condemn Israel - no matter what the subject matter, no matter how tenuous the tie to the conflict in the Middle East.

    Moreover, it is no coincidence that the recent censure of Israel in international forums and the media has been accompanied by a sharp increase in antisemitic incidents in many parts of the world.

    As a nation dedicated to the principles of democracy, Israel believes that criticism, whether by other nations or our own people, is a powerful force for positive change. However, there is a clear distinction between legitimate calls for improvement and the attempt to delegitimize Israel by consistently singling it out and holding it up to standards not applied to other states. All this ignores the context in which Israel must strive to survive in the face of violent attacks against its citizens and, all too often, against its very existence.


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    t What is Holocaust denial?

    The Holocaust was the deliberate and systematic attempt to exterminate the entire Jewish people. Modern attempts to diminish or deny this tragedy, unique in its scale, desecrate the memory of its millions of victims.

    In 1933, Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany and established a racist regime, in which Jews were deemed to be "Untermenschen" (sub-humans), not part of the human race.

    After Germany instigated World War II in 1939, Hitler began implementing his "Final Solution" to annihilate the Jewish people. His forces concentrated the Jews in ghettos and established labor, concentration, and extermination camps to which the Jews were transported. Those deemed unfit for labor were exterminated, while most of the remaining Jews died of deliberate starvation and disease. Documents uncovered after the war show that Hitler's aim was to exterminate every Jew in the world.

    ©Yad Vashem Archives /  Film & Photo Dept. 
    Survivors of Buchenwald concentration camp

    During the six years of the war, 6,000,000 Jews - including 1,500,000 children - were murdered by the Nazis. Hitler's deliberate annihilation of the Jews, carried out with chilling efficiency, killed one-third of the Jewish population of the world. This genocide was unique in scale, management and implementation. It sought to destroy an entire people, wherever they could be found, merely for being born Jewish. For these reasons it was given a name of its own: the Holocaust.

    Now, little more than fifty years later, many antisemites deny that the Holocaust took place, or attempt to diminish the tragedy by claiming that its scale was much smaller. Some racists wish to cleanse Nazism of its evil stain. Others believe the State of Israel was established to compensate the Jews for the Holocaust; by denying that it took place, they seek to deprive Israel of its right to exist. This is why Holocaust deniers have much support in Arab countries. In fact, some Arab leaders during World War II supported the Nazi plans to annihilate the Jews, and some Arab voices have been heard in recent times complaining that Hitler did not finish the job.

    In recent years, Holocaust denial has taken on a new facade. Malicious haters of Israel from both the left and the right wings of the political spectrum frequently equate Israelis with the Nazis and the Palestinians with the Jews. Not only is this an abhorrent blood libel aimed at delegitimizing the very existence of Israel, it is an attempt to minimize the Holocaust. By comparing the two situations, which absolutely share no common ground, Israel is both immorally condemned and the suffering of Holocaust victims is trivialized.

    Holocaust denial, in all its forms, is a moral abomination and it should never be tolerated. Only by remembering, documenting and commemorating the Holocaust, can we ensure that nothing like it will ever happen again to Jews or to any other people on earth.


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    t Why has there been a rise in antisemitic incidents?

    The campaign to delegitimize Israel has led to a sharp increase in anti-Israel and antisemitic attacks worldwide. Increasingly, the line between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitic attacks on Jewish targets has blurred.

    Since the beginning of the violence in September 2000, Israel has been subjected to a worldwide campaign of delegitimization. It has been attacked in the media and international forums, vilified by political leaders and intellectuals. It has had its very right to exist questioned, as has its basic duty to defend its citizens. Extremists on the left and the right have joined together in their hatred of the Jewish State.

    These attacks go beyond justifiable criticism, which Israel, as a vibrant democracy, considers part of the legitimate discourse of states. However, it is not legitimate to censure Israel in a grossly disproportionate way, single it out and hold it up to impossible standards not demanded of any other state.

    The reasons behind this growing phenomenon are many. It is closely connected to the ability of the Palestinians to market their image as one of powerless victims. They have used this perception to play on the sentiments of those who advocate human rights (while the Palestinian leadership and terrorists violate the most basic human rights of innocent Israeli victims of terror and of their own people). Other condemnation is more ideologically based, often advanced by those who are willing to ignore all transgressions of totalitarian regimes, no matter how egregious, yet criticize any defensive steps taken by democratic states. Traditional antisemitic attitudes, often cloaked as anti-Zionist positions, have also played a role. Bias in the media has also been an important contributing factor to the delegitimization of Israel.

    These attacks on Israel's legitimacy have been accompanied by physical attacks on Jewish targets the world over, including in Europe. Antisemitic incidents have included bombings of synagogues and Jewish schools, vandalism and desecration of Jewish cemeteries, death threats and violence against Jews, and unprovoked assaults up to and including murder. These hate crimes directed against Jewish individuals and community institutions are often disguised as "anti-Zionist" actions.

    ©2002 Reuters 
    Damage after attack on synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia (Apr 11, 2002)

    The situation in the Middle East is even worse. Virulent anti-Israeli rhetoric is commonplace and has intensified. Antisemitic and anti-Israeli myths, often perpetuated by governments (such as in statements made by Syria's President Bashir Assad and Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir), are readily believed by large percentages of the region's population. The relentless flow of outrageous and unfounded accusations emanating from Palestinian spokespersons has greatly contributed to the growing wave of antisemitism. One of the consequences has been an increase in the attacks on Jewish targets in the Arab world, leading to loss of life such as during the April 2002 terror attack on the ancient synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia - 12 European tourists, 4 local Arabs and a Jew were murdered.

    Israel is gravely concerned by the recent significant rise in antisemitism that targets Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere. This should arouse the deep concern of all civilized peoples. Israel calls on the governments of countries where the scourge of antisemitism is spreading to take all measures necessary to ensure the security of Jewish communities - and to bring the perpetrators of these deplorable attacks to justice. Antisemitic incitement - whether by individuals, organizations or even the leaders of certain countries - should be strongly condemned.

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    t Does the international community treat Israel fairly?

    The State of Israel is part of the family of nations and an active participant in international organizations. While the United Nations has from time-to-time adopted resolutions which would provide a fair basis for advancing peace between Israel and its neighbors, much of the time the UN has taken a biased approach against Israel.

    Israel joined the United Nations as its 59th member on 11 May 1949. Since then, it has participated in a wide range of UN activities and has actively contributed to UN organs and international agencies devoted to health, development, labor, food and agriculture, education and science. Israel also plays a role in the work of non-governmental organizations conducted under UN auspices, which deal with issues ranging from aviation to immigration, from communications to meteorology, from trade to the status of women.

    Some UN resolutions have been of crucial significance for Israel, among them Security Council Resolutions 242 (22 November 1967) and 338 (22 October 1973), which provide an agreed framework for settling the Arab-Israel conflict. Over the years, the UN has at times contributed to bringing about a cessation of hostilities between Israel and its Arab neighbors by appointing mediators, extending UN auspices to cease-fire and armistice agreements, and stationing UN forces between the adversaries.

    On the other hand, the UN has been often misused and turned into a partisan battleground in the ongoing political campaign carried out against Israel by its adversaries in the region. The 21 Arab states, with the aid of Islamic countries and the non-aligned camp, constitute an "automatic majority" for hostile initiatives, assuring the adoption of anti-Israel resolutions in the General Assembly and other UN forums.

    Since the end of the Cold War and with the momentum gained in the Arab-Israel peace process, a somewhat more balanced approach began to be felt in General Assembly resolutions regarding the Middle East. The General Assembly's 1991 repudiation of its infamous 1975 resolution libeling Zionism as racism is one such example. Israel has also been allowed to increase its involvement in United Nations activities, due to its recent limited admission into a regional group (although participation in a regional group was uniquely long-denied to Israel).

    However, the outbreak of Palestinian violence and terrorism in late September 2000 and the ensuing three years has largely reversed the positive trend. The Palestinian leadership, the Arab member states and their supporters in the UN seek to exploit the politically motivated unrest to their advantage against Israel in the international arena. As in the past, blatantly one-sided resolutions against Israel are often proposed and adopted. At times, even international gatherings, like the "2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance" in Durban, have been abused and hijacked to engage in antisemitic and extreme anti-Israel bashing. Syria, a terrorism sponsoring state, has become a member of the Security Council and seeks to misuse that forum as another means to strike at Israel. Unfortunately, all too often an appalling anti-Israel bias on the part of the UN casts a dark shadow on its integrity and raises serious doubts about its ability to contribute to the easing of tensions, let alone play a constructive role in promoting a genuine and fair peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.


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    t Has the media been fair in covering the conflict?

    The international media's coverage of the conflict in the Middle East has in many cases been unbalanced, unfair and biased against Israel.

    The modern press, especially the electronic media, is a means for conveying huge amounts of information to millions of people. Commercial competition affects the way the media provides speedy and concise information. This competition often leads to a superficial and simplistic portrayal of a reality that is actually complex and complicated, such as the one existing in the Middle East.

    The contradiction between the need to report about the complex reality of the Middle East and the need to provide concise information as simply (and even as superficially) as possible, often results in a distorted, unbalanced and unjust coverage of matters that pertain to Israel.

    In many cases, the media tends to portray a complex situation through black-and-white stereotypes, in which Israel is perceived as playing the role of an "occupier" that is trampling on the rights of the "occupied." This in turn automatically leads to the distorted portrayal of Israel as the root of all evil in the Middle East.

    However, the reality is much more complicated than that. Fairness requires that the reason why Israel came into control of the territories should be examined, as should the fact that ever since 1948, the Arab world has called for the destruction of Israel, by whatever means possible. Unfortunately, this reality, with its broad and profound ramifications, is difficult to convey in a television report that lasts mere seconds, or at most just a few minutes.

    News coverage of the Middle East usually provides a momentary snapshot of current events. Visuals can provide dramatic pictures, but in most cases they provide little insight into the broader circumstances in which the image was shown, indeed often taking events out of their context.

    The image of a Palestinian youth facing an Israeli tank is a news story that stirs the emotions of the television viewers, a story that sells well. But this imagery is a gross distortion of the reality. In the picture the tank is seen as representing the "cruel and powerful occupier," the embodiment of a wrong that is supposedly the source of the Middle East conflict. However, reality is much more complicated than an image that captures a single moment - its before and after unknown to the viewer. Furthermore, the picture and its accompanying report generally say very little or nothing about the ongoing Palestinian terrorism which is the sole reason for the tank's being there in the first place. The media says very little about the Palestinian terrorists intentionally operating from urban centers. Little is shown about how the terrorists mingle with the Palestinian civilian population, cynically using children and other civilians as their pawns and shields behind which they launch their attacks against innocent Israelis. Very little if anything is said about the terrorists knowing that the Israel Defense Forces will do all that is possible to avoid harming innocent civilians, even at the expense of endangering the lives of Israeli soldiers.

    Another reason for the imbalance in the media coverage is that on Israel's side the representatives of the international press work in an open and democratic society, in which freedom of the press and freedom of expression are guaranteed. The international press in Israel has access to every news source and to every opinion in the democratic political spectrum, as it should be. In contrast, Palestinian society and the societies in most of the Arab world have no freedom of expression, no freedom of the press. The opportunity in those societies to independently report events is virtually nonexistent, and, consequently, the ability of the foreign press to provide authentic, objective and credible reports is very limited.

    In the past, there have been a number of known cases in which the Palestinians threatened to harm foreign reporters who sought to report events that might damage Palestinian interests. Likewise, there have been cases in which the Palestinians agreed to allow the press some "freedom" in doing their work on the condition that the reports would correspond to the views and message that the Palestinians wanted to convey.

    The international media has severely criticized Israel for restricting the freedom of movement of the Palestinians and for the suffering of the Palestinians at roadblocks that were placed in the territories by the Israel Defense Forces since the outbreak of violence in September 2000. The scenes that appear on television screens are indeed hard-hitting. They show women and children waiting, often for long periods, for security checks at the roadblocks. These reports show a situation that is only part of the picture, for the most part ignoring the context and the fact that the only reason for the roadblocks being there is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from reaching Israeli civilian populations. Also ignored is the Israeli government's obligation to defend its citizens from those who are on their way to blow themselves up and murder innocent bystanders in cafes, buses, shopping malls and other public places in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other Israeli cities. Does the media's focus on the roadblocks give due consideration to the right of Israeli civilians to live free from the threat of terrorism and violent death? The answer generally is no.

    One of the most prominent examples of the fundamentally biased and unfair approach taken by much of the international media was seen in its handling of the fierce battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian terrorists in Jenin in April 2002. A short time after the battle, most of the international media hastily jumped to conclusions and described the battle as an Israeli "massacre" of Palestinians. Israel was also immediately accused of having destroyed the city of Jenin. Israel was both tried and judged in the media, before even the most basic facts were known. Most of the international media swallowed hook, line and sinker the Palestinian propaganda version of what transpired. Had they verified the facts the media would have known that what was initially described as a "massacre" was actually a battle in which 56 Palestinians (the vast majority of them armed terrorists) were killed, as were 23 Israeli soldiers. What was initially described as the "destruction of Jenin" turned out to be a battle in only a very small area (about 100 x 100 meters), a tiny fraction of the entire city.

    In the worst manifestations of media bias, particularly in some political cartoons and some opinion columns, the language and content vis-à-vis Israel have gone to an extreme. The very legitimacy of Israel's existence is questioned and at times even antisemitic stereotypes and symbols, similar to those attacking the Jewish people in the past, have been used.

    However, what has generally characterized the international media bias is the double standard it uses towards Israel. While as a democracy, Israel welcomes legitimate scrutiny, the media relentlessly scrutinizes Israel, out of proportion to any other western democracy. Totally and unjustifiably ignored is the fact that Israel faces an existential threat from a significant portion of the countries in the region. These states, who have not yet reconciled themselves to Israel's existence as a Jewish state, are themselves very far from meeting even the most basic standards of democracy and freedom. Moreover, while criticizing almost everything Israel does in fighting terrorism, the international media has often ignored the fact that other western democracies have used similar or even harsher measures when confronting threats to their national security and the safety of their citizens.

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    Basic Issues

    t What is Zionism?

    Zionism is the movement for the reestablishment of the Jewish people's self determination in their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.

    In 70 CE, the Romans destroyed the Jewish people's holy Temple and razed the city of Jerusalem, the religious and administrative capital of the Jewish people. Jewish independence came to an end, and in the decades that followed, most of the Jews in the Land of Israel were exiled. They never stopped hoping to return home, and expressed these yearnings in prayer and literature. At the end of the annual Passover meal, Jews all over the world repeat the vow "Next year in Jerusalem," and at Jewish weddings the groom recites "If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning" (Psalm 137).

    The Jewish connection with the Land of Israel is not manifested in prayer alone. In fact, throughout history, there has always been a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel.

    ©Israel Government Press Office 
    David Ben-Gurion declares Israel's Independence (14 May 1948). Above him is a photo of Theodore Herzl.

    In the late nineteenth century, as national movements took shape in Europe and as antisemitism on that continent grew, an Austrian Jewish journalist, Theodor Herzl, began to organize the national movement of the Jewish people - the Zionist movement. The goal of this movement was a political solution: an independent state for the Jewish people. The most natural place for this state was Zion, or the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel), the homeland of the Jewish people.

    Herzl elaborated this vision in his book The Jewish State. He envisioned a developed, thriving country in which all inhabitants, Jews and non-Jews, would live in peace and tranquility. This vision and its fulfillment are Zionism.


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    t Why is Israel a Jewish state?

    The State of Israel is a Jewish state, first and foremost, in view of the right of the Jewish people to an independent state of their own, and by reason of the historic and biblical connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel (Eretz Israel). There is no other land in which the Jewish people can lay claim to their own independent sovereign state.

    Although for 2000 years, the Jewish people yearned and prayed for the day when they could reestablish their own national home, this right could be fulfilled only following the modern national reawakening of the Jewish people towards the end of the nineteenth century. This reawakening led to the establishment of the Zionist movement and received important initial recognition in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which stated that the British Government viewed "with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." That recognition was later officially endorsed by the League of Nations in 1922.

    On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181 calling for the termination of the British Mandate in Palestine, and the creation of a Jewish state and an Arab state in that territory. The Arab countries rejected the UN decision and started a war, while the Jewish people celebrated this landmark resolution. On 14 May 1948, David Ben Gurion declared the "establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Israel, to be known as the State of Israel." In this way, the Jewish people exercised their right to self-determination in their own land.

    ©Israel GPO / Nathan Alpert 

    Immigrants arriving in Israel from Ethiopia and from the former Soviet Union

    Israel was founded to provide a much-needed homeland for the Jewish people, who had been persecuted in other lands over the ages. The Declaration of Independence states explicitly that the "State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles." The Law of Return (enacted in 1950) implements this principle, establishing the right of every Jew to settle in Israel and providing a refuge for any Jew fleeing persecution. Therefore, every Jew is entitled to return to his or her historical homeland and be naturalized in it.

    The Law of Return is not discriminatory. It does not prevent persons of non-Jewish origin from being naturalized in Israel; this possibility is available under other laws.

    In accordance with its Declaration of Independence, the State of Israel was founded as a democratic state based upon the principles of the separation of powers, freedom, and complete equality before the law for all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, gender or nationality. These principles apply today.

    There is a large Arab minority in the State of Israel constituting 19 per cent of its population. The Arab population of the State of Israel enjoys full civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, religion and worship. They vote in Israel's elections and Arab representatives are elected to Israel's parliament. Israeli Arabs serve as judges, mayors, and civil servants. In addition to Hebrew, Arabic is an official language of the state.

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    t What is the status of Jerusalem?

    Jerusalem is a holy city for the three monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is the religious status of Jerusalem which endows such great significance to this city and all that happens within it. Israel recognizes and guarantees the rights of all worshippers and their holy shrines in the city, and, indeed, in the country as a whole. At the same time, Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel.

    Jerusalem has a very special significance for the Jewish people. It served as the historic capital of the Jewish people, since King David made it the capital in 1004 B.C.E. Jerusalem remained the capital until its destruction at the hands of the Romans in 70 CE and the loss of Jewish independence.

    Jerusalem is the "heart and soul" of the Jewish people's spiritual identity and national yearnings. On every occasion that the Jews have been an independent people in the Land of Israel, Jerusalem has been their capital. Throughout the centuries, no other nation, other than the Jewish people, made Jerusalem its capital. While important to other faiths, Jerusalem is at the center of the Jewish religion.

    ©Sasson Tiram 
    Israel's Parliament, the Knesset

    Jewish independence was renewed in 1948, with the establishment of the State of Israel. Shortly thereafter, the Knesset (Israel's parliament) determined that Jerusalem would be the capital of the State of Israel. Following this decision, the government institutions were located in Jerusalem, including the President's Residence, the Government ministries, the Knesset and the Supreme Court. In 1980, the Knesset legislated the

    ©Sasson Tiram 
    Jerusalem's Old City with its Jewish, Christian and Moslem shrines

    Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, which enshrined its decision in law.

    Most states have not respected Israel's sovereign right to determine its own capital city, and have refused to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The reasons for this are essentially political, and are contrary to principles of international law. Israel should enjoy the same basic right as any other country in determining the choice of its capital city, and it has exercised this right in deciding that Jerusalem is the capital city of Israel.


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    t What is the status of the territories?

    Control over the West Bank and Gaza passed to Israel in 1967 in a war of self-defense. For nearly a quarter of a century afterwards, the Palestinians rejected every Israeli overture, missing opportunity after opportunity to peacefully resolve the dispute through negotiation. Yet as long as the future status of the West Bank and Gaza is subject to negotiation, Israel's claim to these disputed territories is no less valid than that of the Palestinians.

    Jewish communities in the Land of Israel from ancient to modern times

    Israel's current presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip dates back to 1967 and the Six Day War. However, these territories had formed the cradle of Jewish civilization during biblical times and Jewish communities existed there over thousands of years. Modern-day Israel has deep ties to the many historical sites located in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yet Israel's claim to these territories is based not only on its ancient ties, religious beliefs and security needs; it is also firmly grounded in international law and custom.

    It is important to remember that Israel's control of the territories began as a result of a war of self-defense, fought after Israel's very existence was threatened. It has continued due to the intransigence of Israel's Arab neighbors, who steadfastly rejected Israel's many offers of peace, including its post-Six Day War message that it would exchange most of the territory in return for peace. In 1979 Egypt and in 1994 Jordan finally signed peace treaties with Israel. But the Palestinians have yet to do so.

    It has been asserted that Israel's continued presence in the territories violates UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967, one of the cornerstones of the peace process. This allegation ignores both the language and the original intent of 242. The framers of this resolution realized that the pre-1967 borders were indefensible, and deliberately chose to use the term withdrawal "from territories" (and not "from all the territories" as the Palestinians claim) in order to indicate the need for changing any future borders.

    Moreover, Resolution 242 (and Resolution 338 of 1973) places obligations on both sides. The Arab regimes cannot demand that Israel unilaterally withdraw while they ignore their own responsibilities and the need for negotiations. They deliberately overlook the fact that 242 calls for the "termination of all claims or states of belligerency" and the "right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force."

    Israel's presence in the territories is often incorrectly referred to as an "occupation." However, under international law, occupation occurs in territories that have been taken from a recognized sovereign. The Jordanian rule over the West Bank and the Egyptian rule over the Gaza Strip during the years 1948-1967 resulted from a war of aggression aimed at destroying the newly established Jewish State. Their attacks plainly violated UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (also known as the Partition Plan). Accordingly, the Egyptian and Jordanian seizures of the territories were never recognized by the international community. As neither territory had a prior legitimate sovereign, under international law these areas cannot be considered as occupied and their most accurate description would be that of disputed territories.

    Palestinian spokespersons not only claim that the territory is occupied, they also allege that occupation is - by definition - illegal. However, international law does not prohibit situations of occupation. Rather, it attempts to regulate such situations with international agreements and conventions. Therefore, claims that the so-called Israeli "occupation" is illegal - without regard either to its cause or the factors that have led to its continuation - are baseless allegations without foundation in international law.

    Palestinian efforts to present Israel's presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the primary cause of the conflict ignore history. Palestinian terrorism predates Israel's control of the territories (and even the existence of the State of Israel itself). The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was founded in 1964, three years before Israel's presence in the territories began. Moreover, Palestinian terrorism has often peaked during those periods when a negotiated settlement was closest at hand, whether at the height of the Oslo process in the mid-1990s or after Israel's unprecedented peace proposals at Camp David and Taba in 2000.

    The West Bank and Gaza Strip are best regarded as disputed territory over which there are competing claims that should be resolved in peace talks. The final status of these disputed territories can only be determined through negotiations between the parties. Attempts to force a solution through terrorism are ethically indefensible and only serve to encourage further violence and terrorism.


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    t Are the Israeli settlements legal?

    Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are legal both under international law and the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Claims to the contrary are mere attempts to distort the law for political purposes. Yet whatever the status of the settlements, their existence should never be used to justify terrorism.

    The Palestinians often claim that settlement activity is illegal and call on Israel to dismantle every settlement. In effect, they are demanding that every Jew leave the West Bank and Gaza. By contrast, within Israel, Arabs and Jews live side-by-side; indeed, Israeli Arabs, who account for 19% of Israel's population, are citizens of Israel with equal rights.

    The Palestinian call to remove all Jewish presence from the disputed territories is not only discriminatory and morally reprehensible; it has no basis either in law or in the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

    The various agreements reached between Israel and the Palestinians since 1993 contain no prohibition whatsoever on the building or expansion of settlements. On the contrary, they specifically provide that the issue of settlements is reserved for permanent status negotiations, which are to take place in the concluding stage of the peace talks. The parties expressly agreed that the Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction or control over settlements or Israelis, pending the conclusion of a permanent status agreement.

    It has been charged that the provision contained in the Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement prohibiting unilateral steps that alter the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip implies a ban on settlement activity. This position is disingenuous. The prohibition on unilateral measures was designed to ensure that neither side take steps that would change the legal status of this territory (such as by annexation or a unilateral declaration of statehood), pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations. The building of homes has no effect on the final permanent status of the area as a whole. Were this prohibition to be applied to building, it would lead to the unreasonable interpretation that neither side is permitted to build houses to accommodate the needs of their respective communities.

    As the Israeli claim to these territories is legally valid, it is just as legitimate for Israelis to build their communities as it is for the Palestinians to build theirs. Yet in the spirit of compromise, successive Israeli governments have indicated their willingness to negotiate the issue and have adopted a voluntary freeze on the building of new settlements as a confidence-building measure. The present government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has officially declared that it will not establish any new settlements, while remaining committed to providing for ongoing needs in the development of existing settlements (Article 2.11, Basic Guidelines of the 30th Government of Israel, February 2003).

    Furthermore, Israel has established its settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in accordance with international law. Attempts have been made to claim that the settlements violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which forbids a state from deporting or transferring "parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." However, this allegation has no validity in law.

    Although Israel has voluntarily taken upon itself the obligation to uphold the humanitarian provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel maintains that the Convention (which deals with occupied territories) is not applicable to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As there was no internationally recognized legal sovereign in either territory prior to the 1967 Six Day War, they cannot be considered to have become "occupied territory" when control passed into the hands of Israel.

    Yet even if the Fourth Geneva Convention were to apply to the territories, Article 49 would not be relevant to the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

    The Convention was drafted immediately following the Second World War, against the background of the massive forced population transfers that occurred during that period. As the International Red Cross' authoritative commentary to the Convention confirms, Article 49 (entitled "Deportations, Transfers, Evacuations") was intended to prevent the forcible transfer of civilians, thereby protecting the local population from displacement. Israel has not forcibly transferred its civilians to the territories and the Convention does not place any prohibition on individuals voluntarily choosing their place of residence. Moreover, the settlements are not intended to displace Arab inhabitants, nor do they do so in practice. According to independent surveys, the built-up areas of the settlements (not including roads or unpopulated adjacent tracts) take up about 3% of the total territory of the West Bank.

    Israel's use of land for settlements conforms to all rules and norms of international law. Privately owned lands are not requisitioned for the establishment of settlements, which may only be located on public lands. Extensive investigations are made to confirm that planned settlements are not situated on private property. In addition, all settlement activity comes under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Israel (sitting as the High Court of Justice) and every aggrieved inhabitant of the territories, including Palestinian residents, can appeal directly to this Court

    The Fourth Geneva Convention was certainly not intended to prevent individuals from living in their ancestral lands or on property that had been illegally taken from them. Many present-day Israeli settlements have been established on sites that were home to Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza in previous generations, in an expression of the Jewish people's deep historic and religious connection with the land. Many of the most ancient and holy Jewish sites, including the Cave of the Patriarchs (the burial site of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and Rachel's Tomb, are located in these areas. Jewish communities, such as in Hebron (where Jews lived until they were massacred in 1929) existed throughout the centuries.

    Other communities, such as the Gush Etzion bloc in Judea, were founded before 1948 under the internationally endorsed British Mandate. The right of Jews to settle in all parts of the Land of Israel was first recognized by the international community in the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. The purpose of the Mandate was to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in the Jewish people's ancient homeland. Indeed, Article 6 of the Mandate provided for "close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use."

    For more than a thousand years, the only time that Jewish settlement was prohibited in the West Bank was under the Jordanian occupation (1948-1967) that resulted from an armed invasion into Israel. During this period of Jordanian rule, which was not internationally recognized, Jordan eliminated the Jewish presence in the West Bank (as Egypt did in the Gaza Strip) and declared that the sale of land to Jews was a capital offense. It is untenable that this outrage could invalidate the right of Jews to establish homes in these areas, and accordingly, the legal titles to land that had already been acquired remain valid to this day.

    As the former US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Professor Eugene Rostow, has written: "the Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the local population to live there." (AJIL, 1990, vol. 84, p.72)

    In conclusion, the oft-repeated claim regarding the illegality' of Israeli settlements has no legal or factual basis under either international law or the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Such charges can only be regarded as politically motivated. Most importantly, any political claim - including the one regarding settlements - should never be used to justify terrorist attacks on innocent civilians.


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    t How are democratic values protected in Israel?

    Israel's Declaration of Independence (May 1948) proclaims that the State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

    ©Israel Government Press Office 
    Israel's Declaration of Independence

    Israel has no written constitution. However, the Knesset has enacted a series of Basic Laws which will eventually be brought together to form a formal constitution. The 1992 "Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty" explicitly provides that human rights shall be interpreted in the spirit of the principles of Israel's Declaration of Independence. Although the Declaration is not a legally binding document, it is expressed in the Supreme Court's interpretation of laws. It is a task of this court, the watchdog of Israeli democracy, to safeguard human and civil rights.

    In addition to the Basic Laws, a body of case law has developed over the years which protect civil liberties, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and equality. As in other western democracies, these are fundamental values in Israel.

    ©Sasson Tiram 
    Seats of democracy: Israel's Supreme Court and Knesset

    In the absence of a formal Bill of Rights, the Supreme Court has largely contributed to the protection of civil liberties and the rule of law. In its capacity as the High Court of Justice and acting as the court of first and last instance, the Supreme Court also hears petitions brought by individuals appealing for redress against any government body or agent. These petitions play an important role in guaranteeing individual human rights for both Israeli citizens and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

    ©Israel Government Press Office 
    2003 Elections for the 16th Knesset:
    A polling station in Shoham

    In addition to its highly respected legal system, Israel has all the formal and informal institutions that guarantee respect for democratic values. Free and independent elections result in the establishment of local and national governments that reflect the will of the people. There is a separation of powers between the three branches of government - the executive, the legislature (Israel's Knesset) and the judiciary. Moreover, checks and balances are built into the system, as in every other true democracy.

    Israel's media has absolute freedom, and operates as an independent watchdog on the government. Israel has an abundance of non-governmental organizations that also guard against any infringement on human rights.

    The citizens of Israel have all the rights and privileges of the citizens of any modern, western-style democracy. Both Arab and Jewish Israelis have the right to vote and to be elected, to worship freely, to petition the government and courts if needed, and to express their opinions openly and without fear. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where both Arabs and Jews have equal rights under the law and can enjoy all the benefits of democracy.

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       which came first - terrorism or "occupation"?
       victims of palestinian violence and terrorism since september 2000
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       the tanzim: fatah's fighters on the ground
       incitement, antisemitism and hatred of israel in palestinian school textbooks
       antisemitism today
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       holocaust-related websites
       israel among the nations: united nations
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       jerusalem, capital of israel
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       israeli settlements and international law
       political structure and elections
       human rights and the rule of law
       answers to frequently asked questions: palestinian violence and terrorism; the international war against terrorism
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