Israel is right to bar foreign agitators

The usual suspects are all up in arms about the “undemocratic, McCarthyite blacklist” that Israel has imposed on activists in certain pro-BDS organizations, like the particularly vile “Jewish Voice for Peace” (JVP). Here is an almost-honest description of the goals of the BDS movement that JVP supports, from its Executive Director, Rebecca Vilkomerson:

BDS is a call from Palestinian civil society to build a global movement to pressure Israel to end the occupation, offer full equal rights to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and allow Palestinian refugees the right to return. The BDS movement is inspired by the tradition of nonviolent resistance to oppression, and draws on the example of the movement to divest from South African apartheid and other examples of targeted economic and cultural pressure to achieve justice.

Vilkomerson, who is terribly pained by the fact that she will not be permitted to visit relatives in Israel, pretends that allowing millions of “refugees” who are not refugees to “return” to a place they have never lived means something other than replacing the Jewish state of Israel with yet another Arab state. It doesn’t, and it would achieve neither justice nor peace. An influx of hostile Arabs, who have been raised and indoctrinated from birth to be an army to kill and disperse the Jews of Israel, would result in a bloody civil war at best, and a second Holocaust at worst. One wonders if Vilkomerson thinks about the fate of her Israeli relatives if her organization were to suceed. Probably they hold foreign passports, just in case.

It is also important to understand that “Palestinian civil society” is a shorthand for nongovernmental organizations primarily funded by virulently anti-Israel elements in European countries (and the US), including governments, church organizations and others, which simply want the embarrassingly successful Jewish state to disappear. Just as Arab Muslims don’t believe that Jews can be sovereign in an area that they regard as properly dar al islam, many Europeans take the position, going back to the dawn of Christianity, that the Jew ought not to be sovereign anywhere – and particularly not in the Holy Land or the Holy City, Jerusalem.

Let’s face it, they don’t give a damn about the rights of Palestinian Arabs. If it’s about rights, why are the Palestinians cared about so much more than the millions of other oppressed people, many of them Muslims and Arabs too? Where was the boycott and divestment movement against Bashar al-Assad? Where is it today when Iranians are in the streets demonstrating against a corrupt, tyrannical, misogynistic, homophobic regime which is also the biggest exporter of terrorism in the world?

The purpose of the movement is not to pressure Israel to grant anyone their rights, which “Palestinian citizens of Israel” already have, and which “Palestinian refugees” do not deserve. Israel is not hurt by the boycotts or divestments, which have very little real effect on her economy. Their true aim is to delegitimize Israel as a state, and to provide an excuse to demonize her with vicious propaganda in order to drain potential diplomatic and military support from her in her ongoing war for survival.

So just as Israel would be justified in keeping out terrorists who want to kill Jews, she is justified in refusing to admit Vilkomerson, who wishes to non-violently enable terrorists to kill Jews. Because this is precisely what the BDS movement is doing.

Jonathan Tobin would agree with most of what I’ve said, but he thinks that the blacklist of BDS groups is counterproductive:

While BDS is an annoyance to Israel, it has done little damage to the nation’s prosperous economy. … The real danger from BDS comes from the way anti-Israel groups operating on college campuses in the U.S. and elsewhere promote and practice anti-Semitism. They seek to not merely intimidate Jewish and other pro-Israel students from speaking out, but also to effectively make it difficult to openly live as Jews. …

Keeping people out of Israel simply for expressing an opinion, however odious it might be, is a mistake since the boost it gives them far outweighs the cost of any mischief they might get up to once in the country. Allowing BDS supporters to play the martyr also gives another excuse for newspapers like The New York Times to treat JVP like a legitimate organization rather than a group of Jews giving cover to anti-Semitic hatemongers. It also gives them an opportunity to falsely smear Israel as a tyrannical state rather than the pluralistic democracy that it is.

I get the point. But there is another point that I think Tobin misses. Just as allowing terrorist murderers to remain alive damages Israel’s honor and deterrence, allowing foreign agents into the country who are enemies of the state like Rebecca Vilkomerson has a similar effect. Leaving aside the damage from the provocations that she would doubtless commit – she might join Arab rioters like the Tamimis at Nabi Saleh, for example – her presence would broadcast that Israel was too weak to keep her out. It would serve as encouragement for others like her.

This is sometimes hard for liberals to understand, especially in the coastal suburbs of the US, where it’s generally believed that allowing every kind of expression short of violence is a sign of strength. But maybe they should look to both their inner cities and their flyover country, where cultures exist in which allowing yourself to be “dissed” is a sign of weakness and an invitation to violence. Sometimes strength may be in restraint, but sometimes it’s demonstrated by fighting back. This is certainly true in the Middle East we live in, where no country in its right mind would allow agitators like Vilkomerson past passport control.

The New York Times would argue that JVP is a legitimate organization regardless of what Israel does, but by barring it, at least Israel makes clear that she does not agree with the Times. And while Israel is (unfortunately, to my mind) too committed to free speech to bar its own subversives like Gideon Levy from spewing their vile lies and libels, it is not a sign of tyranny to keep foreign agitators outside.

It’s just good sense.

Posted in Europe and Israel, Information war | 2 Comments

Where may a Jew live?

In my previous post I said that Rabbi Raziel Shevach, z”l, was murdered only because he was a Jew. A reader of my blog took issue, and because I think this question is important, I’ve decided to write a special pre-Shabbat post. Here is the comment:

I very much regret the loss of lives and certainly of a young father of 6 children.

But Rabbi Raziel Shevach Z.L. was not killed because he was a Jew. He was killed because he was Jew living in an unsecured area. A security fence/wall was build to protect Israeli from terror and people living on the other side of that wall know the risk involved traveling around as if there is no war going on. This rabbi was trusting that Hashem would protect him.

The least charitable interpretation to give to this comment is to say that it implies that we must allow Jew haters the right to determine where a Jew may or may not live. I don’t think the writer intended that, but it is a somewhat slippery slope. There are places in France and the UK and perhaps other countries where a Jew may not live, because he or she will certainly be attacked by antisemites. But can we allow this to be the case anywhere in the Jewish state?

One could interpret the comment as simply pointing out that it’s dangerous to drive on Route 60 near Schechem at night. But this amounts to the same thing. Rabbi Shevach lived there. Should he stay at home after dark? Not that it would make so much difference. The murderers came to the homes of the Fogel family, Dafna Meir, the Salomon family, and many others.

So does it mean that a Jew should not live outside the security fence, or, in other words, that Israel should not include most of Judea and Samaria as part of the state? We are fortunate to have an answer, because this proposition has been empirically tested. Every Jew, living and dead, was removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005. One of the reasons for taking this step was that the Jews living there were exposed to terrorism. And what happened? The Jew haters did not stop trying to kill Jews, they simply developed means to attack Jews on the other side of the fence, with rockets and tunnels.

Route 60 in Samaria is dangerous, but if we decided on that account to end the Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, the danger would move to Route 6. Terrorists will not be appeased by withdrawals, they will be encouraged. The object of the Jew haters is to drive the Jews out of the land of Israel. The way to frustrate their design is to stay in the land of Israel. What could be simpler?

I am sure that Rabbi Shevach believed that Hashem would protect him, but I’m also sure that he understood that Hashem gave us the land of Israel to live in it, not to run away.

Shabbat shalom!

Posted in Jew Hatred, Terrorism, Zionism | 1 Comment

Shoot to kill, not to neutralize

Every time there is a horrific terrorist murder of a Jew because he or she is a Jew, I am compelled to write one of what I am calling my “outrage posts.”

I’m outraged that this can continue, over and over. Every time, I write that we need a death penalty, or that we should fire a cruise missile at the center of the town that the murderers came from and then build a Jewish town on the ruins. Every time, I write that the perpetrators will almost certainly be caught, but the chances are good that they will survive their arrest and get more-than-humane treatment in an Israeli prison, and their families will receive a monthly stipend from the Palestinian Authority paid for by the US, the EU and even Israel. And every time, I am reminded of the Shalit deal, where a kidnapped soldier was traded for more than a thousand terrorists, including mass murderers.

Yesterday it was Rabbi Raziel Shevach, a 35-year old father of six children, mohel and volunteer medic, murdered in a drive-by shooting on Route 60 near Shechem, in Samaria. Because he was a Jew.

Rabbi Raziel Shevach, Hy”d, with his family

Rabbi Raziel Shevach, Hy”d, with his family

You can’t look at this picture without wanting to cry. Unless, of course, you are a member of Hamas, which announced that they “bless the heroic Nablus operation,”  the murder of Rabbi Shevach; or if you belong to Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, which praised the “skilled and experienced” terrorist who carried out the “operation” and escaped.

This will undoubtedly contribute to the death penalty debate which is currently taking place in the Knesset. I have always favored a death penalty for terrorist murderers, but now I’m not so sure. If such a law passes it will surely include all kinds of safeguards and chances to appeal to the Supreme Court, and who knows what else. It will certainly take time before all the options are exhausted. This is Israel, after all, which aspires to be Berkeley, California, and you know how long it takes (forever) to get a murderer executed in California.

A death sentence that could be executed within a few weeks after the crime would be great. For that matter, so would a real life sentence without possibility of early release. But neither of these are likely.

Most of the time the security forces succeed in finding the terrorists responsible for crimes like this. And despite the fact that there are some terrorists who do want martyrdom, most of them don’t. So they give themselves up to the PA, which hands them over to Israel. Or they manage to surrender to our forces peacefully. And then they get the country-club prison, the conjugal visits, the Open University correspondence courses, the salary from the PA and perhaps an early release. I urge these terrorists to show that they are real men. Don’t go quietly! When the army or YAMAM comes to get you, point your guns at them. They’ll give you a sporting chance, which is more than you gave Rabbi Shevach.

I’ll support the death penalty law. While it probably won’t make much difference, it will make a statement. More important would be a decision by the IDF and police brass that security forces should shoot to kill, not to “neutralize,” and definitely not take terrorists alive. I’ve explained my reasons before, but the most important reason is that in the Middle East upholding your honor is an important part of deterrence; and a people that lets its members be killed without responding in kind loses its honor.

The lesson that these incidents teach me, over and over, is that there is no possibility of sharing our country with the Palestinian Arabs. They have never accepted the idea of Jewish sovereignty and never will. They will always believe that we stole the land and their honor and will always want to get them back, and violence will always be the preferred means. Incitement to murder in their official media, social media and mosques only increases from day to day.

It is the most elemental kind of conflict between human tribes, from long before the dawn of civilization. Two tribes want the same piece of land. Only one side can win. But today modern techniques of incitement and propaganda have made it possible for the tribes to be much larger and the conflict more permanent. It can’t be snuffed out or redirected. And geography doesn’t permit a compromise. One side or the other will have to win.

I wanted to believe, and indeed I did believe for many years, that compromise was possible. A deal could be worked out. Two states for two peoples. But one by one or ten or twenty at a time, Jews were murdered: rabbis, beautiful young girls, old men, soldiers, a bride having lunch with her father on the eve of her wedding, Jews shopping in stores, Jews walking on the sidewalk, riding in cars and buses, praying in synagogues, eating pizza, celebrating holidays, having Shabbat dinner with their families, waiting in line to go into a club, waiting for a bus or a ride, doing anything at all in eretz yisrael.

Rabbi Shevach is the latest, but he won’t be the last.

There have been too many. For me, the debate is over. It doesn’t matter whose narrative is closer to the truth (ours is, but it doesn’t matter). It doesn’t matter how much we Jews really, really want peace. It isn’t up to us.

What matters is that we are engaged in a war that has been waged against us since long before the founding of our state, whose objective has always been to prevent Jewish sovereignty anywhere in our homeland. Our enemies are not confused: they want total victory, and they understand what that means in a practical sense. We need similar clarity, because for the Jewish people, this is an existential war.

We can win it or we can disappear.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Terrorism | 3 Comments

Why UNRWA has to go

UNRWA provides healthcare, education and welfare payments for about 5 million people with Palestinian refugee status. It received its mandate to temporarily provide relief for the 600,000 to 700,000 Arabs displaced by the 1948 war from the UN General Assembly’s Resolution 302 of 1949. The resolution notes that

…continued assistance for the relief of the Palestine refugees is necessary to prevent conditions of starvation and distress among them and to further conditions of peace and stability, and that constructive measures should be undertaken at an early date with a view to the termination of international assistance for relief.

The resolution did not set out criteria for eligibility for refugee status. This was apparently decided by UNRWA staff itself. But the criteria were chosen in a way that contradicted the intent of the resolution. Instead of being structured so that the refugees could ultimately be weaned off of the international dole, the definition of a refugee, the actions of the agency and the behavior of the host countries where the refugee camps were located, all operated to create the largest possible refugee population – and a population that would continue to increase without limit.

UNRWA defined a refugee as someone who was displaced after as little as two years residence in Palestine before 1948, it made refugee status hereditary without a limitation on the number of generations, and it paid welfare benefits according to family size. These conditions ensured the continued increase of a dependent population. Today there are about 5 million people with Palestinian refugee status: refugees, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Not only have there been more and more refugees created, their quality of life has been poor. The host countries (Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Jordan, Palestinian Authority) restricted the mobility of the refugees, requiring them to live in specified locations, and in some cases limited the occupations that they were permitted to engage in. Refugee camps – today some the size of cities – were deliberately neglected. During the 1970s, Israel attempted to improve the conditions in some of the camps that came under its control, but was prevented from doing so by the PLO. In places where there are restrictions on employment like Lebanon, or places like Gaza where the economy is particularly weak, young men have no options for employment. UNRWA itself is a major employer of refugees; some 97% of its employees are Palestinian. In Gaza, one of the only other options is to join Hamas’ “security forces” or one of the other armed militias.

Unsurprisingly, the UNRWA schools teach hatred of Israel and nurture the Palestinian themes of dispossession and revenge. Its installations in Gaza have been used to store weapons, on the usually correct assumption that the IDF will spare them.

Most people who favor the continued existence of the state of Israel agree that UNRWA is an agency designed to perpetuate the conflict, not to ameliorate it. And yet, Israeli officials – in particular, the IDF – and the most important pro-Israel organizations in the US have always stepped back from deploying the one weapon that could actually force change, which is cutting the hundreds of millions of dollars the US, UNRWA’s largest donor, grants the agency each year. This is because the IDF (AIPAC follows the Israeli government’s lead, which in turn follows the IDF’s) sees the status quo as the least bad of all possible alternatives. If UNRWA went away, who would feed, educate and take care of 5 million dependent Arabs? Would the IDF itself have to take charge? UNRWA schools teach anti-Zionism, but what would Hamas or Islamic State schools teach? Would the humanitarian condition of the refugees decline even further, and if so, would this bring instability and terrorism?

The IDF and Israeli government have not wanted to step into the unknown, preferring the devil they know to the one they don’t, and the US has followed their lead. But simple Malthusian mathematics proves that this status quo is unsustainable. The US, EU and other donors can’t continue to meet the needs of a geometrically increasing population. And while Israel may feel that continuing to buy off the Palestinians is in her national interest, it is not obvious to the US and others that it is in theirs.

But there is, or should be, a much greater problem from the Israeli point of view. And that is that UNRWA’s very definition is profoundly anti-Israel. It is the embodiment of the Palestinian “right of return,” by virtue of its hereditary definition of “Palestinian refugee.”

The main stumbling block to ending the conflict between Israel and the Arabs (the Palestinians and others) is the claim that the “refugees” are pressing to “return” to “their homes.” This claim is what distinguishes our conflict from countless territorial disputes all over the world. It is what makes the dispute not be over borders, but over the existence of our state.

The Palestinian narrative of dispossession is buttressed by this massive UN enterprise to maintain what is in effect a nation in exile, a nation waiting to burst its bonds and expand into what it sees as its land, driving out its temporary Jewish interlopers. It is not surprising that the Palestinians expect the UN to force Israel to give them everything they ask in negotiations – after all, it has been meeting their physical needs for nearly 70 years.

In order to end the conflict without the destruction of one or both sides, any negotiation has to be reality-based. But thanks to UNRWA and their other allies, the Palestinians have developed fantasies. Two of the subjects of these fantasies are Jerusalem and the “right of return.” The fantastic Palestinian beliefs that they will possess the holy sites in Jerusalem, and that the “refugees” will “return” to Haifa, Yafo, Acco and other places make it impossible to settle the conflict peacefully.

President Trump seems to think, as his State Department does not, that a switch from fantasy to reality may have a positive effect. I think he’s right. In any event, it’s certainly true that indulging Palestinian fantasies has so far been profoundly unproductive.

Although it is not a sufficient condition for an eventual peaceful settlement, it is a necessary one that the Palestinians divest from their fantasies. And the only way to lose the “return” fantasy is to end the concept of a permanent refugee population. If there are no refugees, then there can be no question of  “right of return.” That means that UNRWA and its fundamental principle of hereditary refugee status needs to be ended too, even if the process is somewhat uncomfortable – both for the Palestinians and for Israel. Some way can be found to phase out humanitarian aid slowly, but the ideological principle has to change now.

Possibly the economic facts of life and some of the geostrategic changes in the Middle East that have been gathering steam recently will make it possible for this to happen in the near future. And then, maybe in a few generations, we can think about the possibility of actual peace between the Jews and the Arabs.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, The UN | Leave a comment

Trump can end the Palestinian refugee problem

Recently Donald Trump and Nikki Haley made news by threatening to cut off (or at least sharply reduce) funds given to the Palestinians. Trump wasn’t clear about which funds, but Haley referred to US support for UNRWA, the welfare agency which maintains the ever-growing class of “Palestinian refugees.”

It’s important to understand what a Palestinian refugee is, because it is very different from any other kind of refugee.

A refugee is normally someone who fled or was driven from his own country by war, political unrest or natural disaster. Often they do not have a permanent home and are temporarily living in a refugee camp. They have no independent means of sustenance, and are dependent on charity.

The UN has an agency, the UNHCR, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whose job it is to help such people survive until they can either return home or make a new life in a new place. For example, today there are millions of refugees from places like Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, South Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and more. UNHCR feeds refugees and provides temporary housing and medical assistance in the short term, and tries to provide longer range solutions such as resettlement so that people can stop being refugees. In 2016, UNHCR says it has resettled over 189,000 people. This is a drop in the bucket when there are 17.2 million refugees in the world, by UNHCR figures, but it is something.

UNHCR has a budget of $7.7 billion and about 11,000 employees worldwide; it is funded by voluntary contributions, 87 percent of which come from the EU (yes, I was surprised to read this too).

Europe today is in the process of being overrun by people claiming to be refugees. It’s important to distinguish refugees, who have been forced to leave their homes, from migrants, who have chosen to emigrate in order to improve their lives. But that’s not what I am writing about today.

From the point of view of UNHCR, a refugee is a person in a particular condition. Its goal is to reduce the number of people in that condition, by finding permanent jobs and places to live, by helping stateless refugees get asylum in places where they will not be victimized further. Refugee status for UNHCR is a situation, not a defining characteristic of a person. It is something undesirable that one wants to end as soon as possible.

A “Palestinian refugee,” on the other hand, is something else entirely. Palestinian refugee status was granted to anyone who could prove that he had resided in Mandate Palestine for at least two years in 1948 (since June 1, 1946) and was then displaced (voluntarily or not) from his home. And it inheres in the person, not his situation; so even if, for example, a Palestinian refugee gets rich and builds a mansion in Samaria or Jordan, he still keeps his refugee status. Not only that, but it is hereditary – a father passes his refugee status down to his children and his grandchildren. Apparently there is only one way to lose Palestinian refugee status, and that is for a refugee to “return” to “his home” in what is today Israel.

UNHCR does not deal with Palestinian refugees. A special UN agency, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) was created in 1949 just for the refugees of 1948. Estimates vary, but there were probably about 600,000 Arabs displaced by the war. Some Arabs who were not actually displaced received refugee status, and a figure of 750,000 Palestinian refugees is quoted by UNRWA. Thanks to the unique hereditary nature of Palestinian refugeehood, there are today about 5 million “Palestinian refugees.” UNRWA spends about US $1.5 billion each year housing, feeding and educating the refugee population, meeting their medical needs, and so on. Palestinian families also receive welfare payments depending on the size of the family. The lion’s share of this comes from the US and the EU, with small amounts from the rest of the world (including the Arab world).

“Palestinian refugees” live in camps in the Gaza Strip (1,300,000), Judea/Samaria (800,000), Lebanon (450,000), Syria (526,000), and Jordan (2,175,000). These “camps” are more like large neighborhoods or small cities than the temporary refugee camp that comes to mind. They are administered by the host governments (including the Palestinian Authority) and provisioned by UNRWA. In Lebanon, restrictions on education and employment reminiscent of apartheid have been placed on residents; in Syria, refugee camps have been attacked by regime forces and residents massacred.

Think about it. There are now four generations of refugees. A migrant who arrived in Mandate Palestine in 1946 to work for the British authorities and then left in 1948 was guaranteed support in perpetuity for himself and all his descendents. But UNRWA’s mandate does not include resettlement, and none of the host countries – not even the Palestinian Authority! – will grant citizenship to “Palestinian refugees.” Once a Palestinian refugee, always a refugee.

UNRWA has about 30,000 employees, some 99% of whom are Palestinians. Its educational system is designed to teach the Palestinian narrative of victimization and revenge. In the Gaza strip, it teaches the Hamas ideology of hatred for Jews as well.

This is not a formula for solving a refugee problem, the way the problem of the millions of refugees of WWII was solved. It is a way to create a continually growing dependent class of stateless, disaffected and furious people. The welfare system encourages large families, while at the same time the refugee camp system makes it impossible for most of the young males to find work. No wonder the camps have proved to be a fertile breeding ground for terrorism!

How did this happen? How is it that the international community tried to solve every refugee problem except this one, which it chose to exacerbate? The simple answer is that the Arab nations wanted it as a weapon against Israel, and the West gave them what they wanted so as not to imperil its supply of oil.

But the times have changed, Arab oil is not what it used to be, the conservative Sunni Arab nations are more worried about Iran than Israel, and simple mathematics have made the maintenance of the refugee population too expensive. At the same time, Mr. Trump has voiced the feeling of many, which is that the Palestinians, with their unique sense of entitlement, know only how to take, and are not willing to make the slightest gesture toward compromise.

If the goal is a peace agreement between Israel and the PLO (in my opinion a terrible idea) then Trump is quite right that continuing to pay them while they refuse to negotiate is stupid. But leaving  this aside, maybe there is a bigger opportunity. Is it not time to move to end the “Palestinian refugee problem” for once and for all? Here is how to do it:

First, stop creating new refugees. Children of refugees will no longer inherit their status. At the same time, the host countries will be expected to grant full residency  to those who request it (interestingly, this is already the case for the one refugee camp, Shu’afat, that is located in an area under Israeli civil control – its residents have been treated as Arab residents of Jerusalem). The hosts will be required to remove apartheid-like restrictions on the refugees. Welfare and other aid will be phased out, and the funds intended to pay for education and medical care will be transferred to the host countries – under careful control – to begin bringing those services directly to the residents.

Ultimately UNRWA itself will disappear. Those who have inherited refugee status will lose it. The few real refugees – those who actually left in 1948 (a babe in arms then will be 70 this year) – will come under the UNHCR framework.

In order for there to ever be peace between Israel and her neighbors, the Arabs must face reality: that Israel is a legitimate country belonging to a legitimate people, and that the Palestinians are not going to “return” to it, not ever. The charade of the “Palestinian refugee” must end.

Today Trump has an opportunity to tear away another veil of pretense, just as he did for Jerusalem, the capital of Israel,

He should go for it.

Posted in Israel and Palestinian Arabs, The UN | 1 Comment