We are frequently instructed about the purported awfulness of Israel by the news media and those who dwell in the groves of academe. One allegation is that Israel is akin to the ancien regime in South Africa, with the Jews of Israel as the evil white men, and the Palestinians cast in the role of their virtue-filled, dusky-hued victims. In a letter to the editor in the 23 June 2005 issue of the London Review of Books, Edward Luttwak responds bracingly to one of these commonly encountered allegations. Luttwak notes that an earlier article had referred to “white” Israelis and to Palestinians as “dark” or “black”, as he writes, “implicitly to suggest a comparison with apartheid South Africa, as Palestinian propagandists frequently do these days by referring to the ‘Apartheid Wall’ and so on.” He goes on:
As it happens, the Israeli of median coloration has a darker skin than the median Palestinian. Of substantive importance – unlike pigmentation silliness – is the continuing exercise of democratic representation on the part of Israeli Palestinians whose votes elect the many Israeli-Palestinian mayors, town and regional councilors, and members of parliament. If that had been true of apartheid South Africa, with one-man-one-vote representation at the local, regional and national level, the word ‘apartheid’ would signify the accomplishment of political equality instead of its opposite. Moreover, a few brave and very imperfect experiments aside, Israeli Palestinians remain the only Arabs anywhere who do have civil rights and democratic representation.
Luttwak’s only mistake is that the Arabs who live in Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and a few other places also have “rights and democratic representation”. It is only in countries which have Arab majorities and are run by Arabs that Arabs are universally denied basic freedoms, including being routinely murdered by their own governments.
The fact that Israel has “gerrymandered” Gaza and the West Bank out of their domain of civil liberty is not so much apartheid as the desire to avoid being suicide-bombed. The Israelis are now in the process of establishing a defensible perimeter, and are removing their “settlers”, who ended up serving as hostages. With that indefensible “salient” removed, the Israelis are free to wash their hands of the Palestinians, other than actively patrolling their defensive line. (See Martin van Creveld’s excellent book Defending Israel. The Israelis seem to be following a program similar to the one he outlines in that book. Israeli experts can correct me if that is wrong. The book is good either way.)
Let’s see how the Palestinians do with their wonderful new opportunity to found their own state on their two choice pieces of real estate. Odds are they will end up with a typical Arab country – a poverty-stricken tyranny. There is no evidence that anything better is coming down the pike.
The whole post-Ottoman period has been a pitiful performance by the entire Arab world. Blaming the Jews and the Americans for their incapacity to organize even one truly decent government is an increasingly pathetic excuse. Other parts of the world were exploited far worse by colonialism and they are nonetheless performing much, much better than any Arab country.
Yet more reason to hope that the Iraqis can get a viable, non-despotic country going. That is setting the bar pretty low, but in the race for political development the Arab countries have shown themselves to only be qualified for the Special Olympics. Maybe the Iraqis can toddle across the finish line in that easy league without falling on their faces. They’ll be the first. It is still up in the air. Here’s hoping. Another eighty or ninety years like the last ones in the Arab Middle East is too rotten a prospect to contemplate.