Friday, April 22, 2005


"The Hell of Israel Is Better than the Paradise of Arab Rule"
In the Palestinian Authority's (PA) elections that took place in January 2005, a significant percentage of Arab Jerusalemites stayed away from the polls out of concern that voting in them might jeopardize their status as residents of Israel.

"I can't vote. I'm afraid I'll get into trouble. I don't want to take any chances." Asked if he would vote, a taxi driver responded with indignation, "Are you kidding? To bring a corrupt [Palestinian] Authority here. This is just what we are missing."

"at several balloting locations in the city [of Jerusalem], there were more foreign election observers, journalists, and police forces out than voters." It also explains why, in the previous PA election in 1996, a mere 10 percent of Jerusalem's eligible population voted, far lower than the proportions elsewhere.

At first blush surprising, the worry about jeopardizing Israeli residency turns out to be widespread among the Palestinians in Israel. No opinion surveys cover this delicate subject, but a substantial record of statements and actions suggest that, despite their anti-Zionist swagger, Israel's most fervid enemies do perceive its political virtues. Even Palestinian leaders, between their fulminations, sometimes let down their guard and acknowledge Israel's virtues.

This undercurrent of Palestinian love of Zion has hopeful and potentially significant implications. Pro-Israel expressions fall into two main categories:
  1. preferring to remain under Israel rule
  2. praising Israel as better than Arab regimes

No Thank You, Palestinian Authority
Palestinians already living in Israel, especially in Jerusalem and the "Galilee Triangle" area, tell, sometimes volubly, how they prefer to remain in Israel.

Jerusalem. In mid-2000, when it appeared that some Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem would be transferred to Palestinian Authority control, Muslim Jerusalemites expressed less than delight at the prospect. Peering over at Arafat's PA, they saw power monopolized by domineering and corrupt autocrats, a thug-like police force, and a stagnant economy. Arafat's bloated, nonsensical claims ("We are the one true democratic oasis in the Arab region") only exacerbated their apprehensions.

‘Abd ar-Razzaq ‘Abid of Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood pointed dubiously to "what's happening in Ramallah, Hebron, and the Gaza Strip" and asked if the residents there were well off. A doctor applying for Israeli papers explained -

  1. The whole world seems to be talking about the future of the Arabs of Jerusalem, but no one has bothered asking us. The international community and the Israeli Left seem to take it for granted that we want to live under Mr. Arafat's control. We don't. Most of us despise Mr. Arafat and the cronies around him, and we want to stay in Israel. At least here I can speak my mind freely without being dumped in prison, as well as having a chance to earn an honest day's wage.
  2. In the colorful words of one Jerusalem resident, "The hell of Israel is better than the paradise of Arafat. We know Israeli rule stinks, but sometimes we feel like Palestinian rule would be worse."


The director of the Bayt Hanina community council in northern Jerusalem, Husam Watad, found that the prospect of finding themselves living under Arafat's control had people "in a panic. More than 50 percent of east Jerusalem residents live below the poverty line, and you can imagine how the situation would look if residents did not receive [Israeli] National Insurance Institute payments." In the view of Fadal Tahabub, a member of the Palestinian National Council, an estimated 70 percent of the 200,000 Arab residents of Jerusalem preferred to remain under Israeli sovereignty.

A social worker living in Ras al-‘Amud, one of the areas possibly falling under PA control, said -

  1. "If a secret poll was conducted, I am sure an overwhelming majority of Jerusalem Arabs would say they would prefer to stay in Israel."
  2. "They tell me—we are not like Gaza or the West Bank. We hold Israeli IDs. We are used to a higher standard of living. Even if Israeli rule is not so good, it is still better than that of the PA."
  3. "People look at what is happening inside the Palestinian-controlled areas today and say to themselves, ‘Thank God we have Israeli ID cards.' In fact, most of the Arabs in the city prefer to live under Israeli rule than under a corrupt and tyrannical regime like Yasser Arafat's"

Hisham Gol of the Mount of Olives community council put it simply -

  1. "I prefer Israeli control."

An affluent West Bank woman called a friend in Gaza to ask about life under the PA. She heard an ear-full -

  1. "I can only tell you to pray that the Israelis don't leave your town," because "the Jews are more human" than Palestinians.

Zohair Hamdan of Sur Bahir, a village in the south of metropolitan Jerusalem; he organized a petition of Jerusalem Arabs demanding that a referendum be held before Israel lets the Palestinian Authority take power in Jerusalem.

  1. "For 33 years, we have been part of the State of Israel. But now our rights have been forgotten." Over a year and a half, he collected more than 12,000 signatures (out of an estimated Jerusalem Arab population of 200,000). "We won't accept a situation where we are led like sheep to the slaughterhouse." Hamdan also expressed a personal preference that Sur Bahir remain part of Israel and estimated that the majority of Palestinians reject "Arafat's corrupt and tyrannical rule. Look what he's done in Lebanon, Jordan, and now in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He has brought one disaster after another on his people."

As Mahmoud Mahajnah, 25, (of the Galilee Triangle) told Agence France-Presse

  1. "Yasir Arafat runs a dictatorship, not a democracy. No one here would accept to live under that regime. I've done my [Israeli] national service; I am a student here and a member of the Israeli Football Association. Why would they transfer me? Is that logical or legitimate?"
  2. one resident was quoted - "the ‘evil' of Israel is better than the ‘heaven' of the West Bank."

Shu‘a Sa‘d, 22, explained why -

  1. "Here you can say whatever you like and do whatever you want—so long as you don't touch the security of Israel. Over there, if you talk about Arafat, they can arrest you and beat you up."

Another young man, ‘Isam Abu ‘Alu, 29, put it differently -

  1. "Mr. Sharon seems to want us to join an unknown state that doesn't have a parliament, or a democracy, or even decent universities. We have close family ties in the West Bank, but we prefer to demand our full rights inside Israel."

The entrance to Umm al-Fahm, the largest Muslim town in Israel, sports the green flags of the Islamic Movement Party that rules the town, along with a billboard denouncing Israel's rule over Jerusalem. That said, Hashim ‘Abd ar-Rahman, mayor and local leader of the Islamic Movement, has no time for Sharon's suggestion (of Umm al-Fahm being ceded to a nascent PLO State)

  1. "Despite the discrimination and injustice faced by Arab citizens, the democracy and justice in Israel is better than the democracy and justice in Arab and Islamic countries." Nor does Ahmed Tibi, an Israeli Arab member of parliament and advisor to Arafat, care for the idea of PA control, which he calls "a dangerous, antidemocratic suggestion."
  • 30 percent of Israel's Arab population, a May 2001 survey found, agree to the Galilee Triangle being annexed to a future Palestinian state
  • February 2004 Haifa-based Arab Center for Applied Social Research said 90 percent then preferred to remain in Israel.
  • 73 percent of Triangle Arabs said they would resort to violence to prevent changes in the border.
  • So intense was the Arab opposition to ceding the Galilee Triangle to the Palestinian Authority that Sharon quickly gave the idea up.

2004 as Israel built its security fence some Palestinians, like Umm al-Fahm's Ahmed Jabrin, 67, faced a choice on which side of the fence to live. He had no doubts.

  1. "We fought [the Israeli authorities so as] to be inside of the fence, and they moved it so we are still in Israel. We have many links to Israel. What have we to do with the Palestinian Authority?"
  2. His relative, Hisham Jabrin, 31, added: "We are an integral part of Israel and will never be part of a Palestinian state. We have always lived in Israel and there is absolutely no chance that that will change."


"We no longer fear the Israelis or the Americans, regardless of their hostility, but we now fear our Arab ‘brothers.'" Or, in the general observation of a Gazan, "The Arabs say they're our friends, and treat us worse than the Israelis do." Here are examples of attitudes toward three states -

  • Syria - Salah Khalaf (a.k.a. Abu Iyad), one of the PLO's top figures, declared in 1983 that crimes committed by the Hafiz al-Assad regime against the Palestinian people "surpassed those of the Israeli enemy." In like spirit, Yasir Arafat addressed a PLO figure murdered at Syrian instigation at his funeral: "The Zionists in the occupied territories tried to kill you, and when they failed, they deported you. However, the Arab Zionists represented by the rulers of Damascus thought this was insufficient, so you fell as a martyr."
  • Jordan - Victor, a Jordanian who once worked as advance man for a senior Saudi government minister, observed in 1994 that Israel was the only Middle Eastern country he admires. "I wish Israel would just take over Jordan," (his brother nodding in vigorous agreement) "The Israelis are the only people around here who are organized, who know how to get things done. And they're not bad people. They're straight. They keep their word. The Arabs can't do anything right. Look at this so-called democracy in Jordan. It's a complete joke."
  • Kuwait - Palestinians collaborated with Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait in 1990, so when the country was liberated, they came in for some rough treatment. One Palestinian newspaper found that in Kuwait, "Palestinians are receiving treatment even worse than they have had at the hands of their enemies, the Israelis." After surviving the Kuwaiti experience, another Palestinian minced no words: "Now I feel Israel is paradise. I love the Israelis now. I know they treat us like humans. The West Bank [still then under Israeli control] is better [than Kuwait]. At least before the Israelis arrest you, they bring you a paper." With less exuberance, Arafat himself concurred - "What Kuwait did to the Palestinian people is worse than what has been done by Israel to Palestinians in the occupied territories."

Protection of minorities

Christians and secular Muslims particularly appreciate Israel's protection at a time when Palestinian politics has taken an increasingly Islamist cast. The French weekly L'Express quotes a Christian Palestinian to the effect that when the Palestinian state comes into existence -

  1. "the sacred union against the Zionist enemy will die. It will be time to settle accounts. We will undergo the same as our Lebanese brothers or the Copts in Egypt. It saddens me to say so, but Israeli laws protect us." His fear is in many ways too late, as the Palestinian Christian population has precipitously declined in recent decades, to the point that one analyst asks if Christian life is "to be reduced to empty church buildings and a congregation-less hierarchy with no flock in the birthplace of Christianity?"

Economic benefits

Palestinians who live in Israel (including Jerusalem) appreciate Israel's economic success, social services, and many benefits. Salaries in Israel are about five times higher than in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Israel's social security system has no parallel on the Palestinian side. Palestinians living outside of Israel want economically in; when the Israeli government announced the completion of an 85-mile-long section of a security fence to protect the country from Palestinian terrorists, one resident of Qalqiliya, a West Bank border town, reacted with a revealing outrage: "We are living in a big prison."

Tolerance of homosexuals

In the West Bank and Gaza, conviction for sodomy brings a three- to ten-year jail term, and gay men tell of being tortured by the PA police. Some of them head for Israel where one estimate finds 300 mostly male gay Palestinians living. Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International comments, "Going to Israel is a one-way ticket, and once there their biggest problem is possibly being sent back."

Daoud Abu Naim, a medical researcher in Philadelphia, while visiting family in Shuafat -

  1. "There is a difference between the Israeli and the PA occupation...... The Israelis whom I met with over the years have been diverse. Some have been insensitive to our needs, and some have not been. On the other hand, the Arafat/Rajoub regime is more than simply "corrupt." It is exclusively interested in setting up a dictatorship in which Palestinian citizens will have no civil liberties whatsoever."


Several themes emerge from this history. First, for all the overheated rhetoric about Israel's "vicious" and "brutal" occupation,

  1. Palestinians are alive to the benefits of its liberal democracy. They appreciate the elections, rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, minority rights, orderly political structures, and the other benefits of a decent polity. There is, in short, a constituency for normality among the Palestinians, difficult as that may be to perceive in the hate-filled crowds that so dominate news coverage.
  2. Second, many of those who have tasted Israel's economic benefits are loathe to forego them; however impervious Palestinians may seem to economics, they know a good deal when they have one.
  3. Third, the percentage of Palestinians who would prefer to live under Israeli control cited in the estimates noted above—an overwhelming majority of 70 to 90 percent—point to this being more than a rarity among Palestinians. This has obvious implications for Israeli concessions on the "right to return," suggesting that Palestinians will move to Israel in large numbers.
  4. Fourth, it implies that some of the more imaginative final status solutions that involve the redrawing of borders will be hard to implement; Palestinians appear no more eager to live under Palestinian Authority rule than are Israelis.

In word and deed, then, even Palestinians acknowledge Israel as the most civilized state in the Middle East. Amid the gloom of today's political extremism and terrorism, this fact offers wisps of hope.


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