Human Rights in the Occupied Territories: Comparing the Hebrew and US Press

Israel Shahak
Summer 1989

Note: I use "Hebrew" rather than "Israeli" by way of excluding the English Language paper, the Jerusalem Post. I exclude it not only because most Israelis read Hebrew, but because there is a vast difference between Israel's Hebrew papers and the Post, which is best understood as an American-Jewish paper published by chance in Jerusalem.

The Hebrew media is far more honest than US newspapers (and Jerusalem Post) in the way they cover human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories. The US press ignores root causes and basic factors, present from 1967, that are openly discussed in the Hebrew media. The most fundamental fact – omitted also in US coverage Jewish affairs – is the existence Jewish racism and chauvinism, whose uncontrolled expression is germane to human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, and to a smaller extent inside Israel too. This can be seen in all areas of life in the Occupied Territories, but most importantly in land and water, so crucial in the Middle East.

The situation is simple: The Israeli government confiscates, by a variety of excuses, land in the Occupied Territories, which is then devoted to the exclusive benefit of Jews. Haaretz, the most important Hebrew paper, published on September 27, 1985, a lengthy article (Orit Shohat, "A Person Should Not Grow Tomato…") in which this situation is discussed in detail and explicitly compared with the South African apartheid regime.

Another article in Haaretz (Zeev Schiff, "A Human Time Bomb," 13 December 1987) noted that the number of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip was 634,000 at the end of 1986 and the density of the population immense, but about 2500 Jewish settlers in Gaza, representing 0.4% of the population, "have received already 28% of all state land of Gaza Strip." The land alredy taken over in Gaza and allocated for exclusive Jewish benefit, but not yet distributed to Jewish settlers, amounted to about 40%.

A similar situation exists in the West" Bank, where land allocated for exclusive Jewish use amounts to over 50%, while the number of Jewish settlers is about 60,000. Officially, the Palestinian population of the West Bank is about 850,000, but well-informed Israeli researchers put the figure at 1,100,000. By this measure, the apartheid favoring Jews in the Occupied Territories is worse than apartheid in favor of whites in South Africa. In essence, Palestinians cannot settle, or even rent a house or open a business, on a huge proportion of their land in the Occupied Territories, while Jews can.

Incidentally, the same principle is also applied to land in Israel, and no sector is as racially segregated as the kibbutzim, so very much lauded in the US. No Arab-Israeli citizens are allowed to join a kibbutz, even if they served in the army; other non-Jews are usually required to convert to Judaism if they want to join. Can one remember any US newspaper mentioning this basic fact about kibbutzim?

Haaretz (25 September 1985) did so, along with many other articles in the Hebrew press. When Yitzhak Bar-Nur, in charge of the information office of the Jewish National Fund of the World Zionist Organization, was asked whether its regulations for the use of land "prevent kibbutzim and moshavim from accepting non-Jewish members, Israeli Arabs for example, Bar Nur replied: "The regulations are still intact and valid, and according to them… no one else may purchase these lands. Even leasing or temporary exploitation is for Jews only.'"

Access to water in the Occupied Territories is also subject to racist regulations. Let us again quote the Haaretz article of September 27, 1985: "The Arab villages get their water from private wells which are controlled by the military authorities so that no one shall take more water than the allocation of 1967." This means that the apartheid regime in the Occupied Territories prevents the development of Palestinian agriculture. The Jewish settlers, on the other hand, get greater and greater amounts of water in spite of their small numbers – more water now than is allocated to all Palestinian farmers. In this respect as well, apartheid is worse than in South Africa.

Two other aspects of Jewish racism prevalent in the Occupied Territories are never mentioned in the US press. Palestinian policemen, who are a part of Israeli police and wear Israeli uniforms, are forbidden to arrest or even to stop any Jew, even for a traffic offense. Their salary is half that of a Jewish policeman on the same job, according to journalist Michal Sela (Koteret Rashit, 16 March 1988). And many West Bank gas stations operated by Jewish settlers (and frequently described by Hebrew papers) reserve one lane, usually the right one, for Jews only; Palestinians are prohibited from using it even if it is empty.

US media were surprised by the outbreak of the intifada and its continuation because they refused to recognize Jewish racism. If US journalists want to understand the situation, they might put themselves in the mind of a Palestinian who sees his or her land taken away, with the help of US money, for exclusive Jewish benefit. Let them apply the same standards to Jewish racism as to anti-Semitism, since both are deplorable and should be equally opposed.

Israel Shahak is president of the Israeli Human Rights Commission.