Dishonest Divestment

In 2004, at its 216th General Assembly, the national governing body of the Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA), instructed its Mission Responsibility through Investment Committee to consider divesting stock in companies doing business with Israel. The 2.7 million member denomination did so, to compel Israel to end the “occupation” of Arab lands and stop building what Church leaders describe as a “separation wall” securing Israel from terrorist attacks. Further consideration of divestment will take place at the upcoming 217th General Assembly this summer. Other denominations in the United States, Canada and Europe followed the PCUSA by unfairly singling out Israel as the primary offender in the Arab Israeli conflict.

In a recent letter congratulating the terrorist group Hamas on victory in Palestinian elections, PCUSA leaders referred to Israel’s “illegal occupation of Palestinian territory” and reiterated support for a two-state solution. Words matter and the misleading connotations in that letter typify commonly held misperceptions concerning Israel’s role in the conflict between the Jewish state, the Palestinian Authority, and most of Israel’s Arab neighbors.

The Arabs—not Israel—have rejected the two-state solution since 1947, when United Nations Resolution 181 called for the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab Palestinian states. The Jews in Palestine accepted UNR 181 and declared their independence on May 14, 1948. Meanwhile, six Arab armies attacked Israel attempting to destroy it. After Arab aggression failed and a ceasefire took effect, Jordan annexed the West Bank—which had no legal standing, since territory cannot be annexed as a hostile act of war. The 1948 (pre-1967) borders constituted ceasefire lines and did not establish sovereignty, which requires a formal treaty. Today, the Israeli army occupies the Golan Heights seized in 1967 from Syria; strategic high ground which Damascus wants back and Israel will return as soon as porcine aviate. That aside, Israel has always supported a two state solution. Hamas, by contrast, remains committed to the eradication of Israel.

Too often, Israel alone is blamed for the suffering in the region. In fact, Muslims living in Arab countries suffer far more than Arabs living in Israel, where all Israelis—whether Jew, Arab or Gentile—have protected civil rights. The real cause of suffering is the Palestinian leadership and Muslim regimes that support terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, whose violence perpetuates the conflict.

Israel is a democracy. Until the United States and its coalition partners established fledgling democratic regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, Turkey was the only other democracy in the region. Most Moslem countries range from beneficent fiefdoms like the United Arab Emirates, to totalitarian—sometimes theocratic—dictatorships that abuse human rights and practice apartheid based on ethnicity, religion and gender.

Prior to 1948, the term “Palestinian” referred to everyone living in Palestine, regardless of ethnicity.Since then it has come to mean Arabs, whether native or recent immigrants into the region. The remarkable thing about Israel is that Jews migrating to Israel from all over the world cultivated the land, built the economy and attracted Arab immigrants. The Israelis have improved the living conditions of everyone living within their borders.

Israeli forces do not “occupy” the Palestinian territories in the sense Allied forces occupied Japan or Germany after World War II. While Israeli security forces maintain a presence in many Palestinian cities, the Palestinian Authority has its own government, police and security forces. Israeli security controls transit points between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

In 2003, after two years of concerted terrorist attacks initiated by Yasir Arafat’s Second Intifada, Israel began constructing a “separation barrier” which many well-intentioned—but misinformed—observers in the West erroneously and variously characterize as “a wall” or an “electrified fence.” It is neither. Of the 370 miles of fence only 5-percent is actually a wall. Most of the walled sections are in areas where a larger fence and security zone would require displacement of individuals from their homes and businesses. The fence runs 52 miles inside or on Jerusalem’s boundaries of which 16 miles are concrete walls meant to stop sniper fire into Israeli homes and businesses. Electronic monitoring fences and access roads make up the rest.

As of mid-February, in the six years of the Second Intifada, Palestinian terrorists had inflicted 7,633 casualties among Israelis and claimed 1,084 lives of which 761 were civilians.With the separation barrier, the number of Israeli fatalities dropped steadily from 214 in 2003 to 117 in 2004. In 2005, there were four large-scale terrorist attacks in Israel claiming 24 Israeli lives and many smaller scale attacks in which 21 Israelis were murdered and 231 wounded, indicating that the security barrier is having an effect. Additionally, with the barrier, fewer Palestinians blow themselves up and fewer still are killed in Israeli retaliatory strikes. The barrier saves lives even if it imposes hardships on Palestinians who work in Israel.

Israel, a democracy where human rights are respected and the rule of law prevails, has made the Middle East a better place. Its gross national product dwarfs those of its neighbors…combined. Israel’s leadership in the fight against terrorism benefits the same Western democracies that—all too often—condemn it for actions taken in self-defense.

Israel seeks peace and harmony with its neighbors. The West needs to appreciate Israel for its marvelous contributions to the region and to Western civilization. Divestment initiatives are dishonest in their assumptions and do a disservice to a great nation and people.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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