An infuriating comparison

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The comparison between what is happening today in the lands of historic Eretz Yisrael where Jews and Arabs live together, albeit in armed conflict, and what took place between whites and blacks in South Africa, is infuriating. This applies to both the practical as well as the principled side of the issue.

The whites conquered territories in Africa, installed colonialist rule, and a negligible minority ruled over an absolute majority. The lands where the colonialist forces settled, including in South Africa, were taken from their former inhabitants.

In contrast, the Jews returned to their historic homeland, from which they had been exiled for nearly 2,000 years. All the territories that were settled since the commencement of the orderly, slow and non-threatening return of the Jewish people to its land in the last quarter of the 19th c. were, without exception, purchased at full price. Moreover, when the Jews began to return to their land its foreign rulers, the Ottoman Empire, ruled over Arabs and Jews alike. This points to an additional indisputable historic fact: after the Jews went into exile the land was ruled only by foreign conquerors; no other nation established its sovereignty there.

The Jewish people’s war of independence in 1948-9 was in fact initiated by the Arabs. On May 15, 1948 five Arab standing armies–of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan, Iraq and Lebanon–invaded the country that had that day declared its independence. After nearly two years of a tough and painful defensive war in which the Jewish people, scarcely three years after the Holocaust, lost one percent of its sons and daughters, including Holocaust survivors, the invaders were expelled. Under United Nations auspices armistice agreements were signed with the invading states.

The 1949 armistice lines could have been converted into borders sanctioned by peace agreements had the Arabs so desired. Instead, they geared up for a second round. After 19 years, 10 of them accompanied by constant hostile but not decisive aggression, Egypt closed the Tiran Straits in May 1967, expelled the UN from Sinai and thereby in effect declared war on Israel. Syria joined her, as did, in the course of the war itself, Jordan.

It was in this war that the Jewish people returned to the very heart of its land, the land of the Bible: to Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and to the Old City of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.

After several years hesitation there began a movement of settlement in these liberated territories. True, to put it mildly, the settlers were not welcomed by the Arabs. But that does and cannot make this a "South African situation". The Arabs were offered–in complete contrast to their situation under Jordanian rule–political solutions which, had they embraced them, would long ago have given them sovereignty, had that indeed been their true objective.

The Oslo accords, which I opposed because I knew their outcome would be catastrophic, created an "irreversible" reality leading to the creation of such a sovereign state. Some 42 percent of Judea and Samaria were delivered over to the Palestinian Authority. This is, in practice, sovereignty. And in these effectively sovereign territories dwell 96 percent of the Palestinians. Prior to the terror war they launched in October 2000 they were, unlike the blacks under apartheid, free of any Israeli rule, enjoying all the symbols of sovereignty: a flag, presidential and parliamentary elections, media free of any Israeli control (but not of control by Yasser Arafat), and foreign relations with many countries, including representation in the UN. Israel withdrew from these territories and, had they not been used for the launching of Qasam rockets or suicide bombers, would never have returned, certainly not to rule. Even we, the settlers, acquiesced de facto in this withdrawal.

But the Palestinians did not suffice with a state alongside Israel. They wanted, and still want, a state instead of Israel. This is the central reason for the current terror war in which Palestinians too have suffered greatly-and not Israel’s rule which, in the eyes of those who are ignorant of history and harbor a pathological hatred for Israel, somehow seems to resemble apartheid.

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Yisrael Harel was the chairman and general secretary of the Yesha Council between 1980 and 1995. It was during these years that, thanks to the energetic efforts of Ariel Sharon, most of the settlements were established in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District. In 1995, Harel participated in secret meetings between settler leaders and senior officials and intellectuals in the Palestinian Authority. He is featured on Media Monitors Network (MMN) with the courtesy of Bitterlemons.org.

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