Israel or the Palestinians? Making the moral Choice

By Wayne Dunn

(Posted April 28, 2002. A version was originally published in TRV only a few days before 9-11, under the title "Choosing Life or Death in the Middle East.")

As the Israeli military stomps Palestinian gunmen and levels their lairs, the chorus of voices chanting "restraint!" has unfortunately been joined by the Bush administration, albeit with less gusto than the Europeans.

But its detractors notwithstanding, Israel is doing what a free nation's government is supposed to do when its citizens' property and lives are threatened with force: it's responding with force.

While Israel's retaliations aren't aimed at non-combatants, Arafat's quasi-governmental Palestinian Authority (PA), by contrast, actually lauds terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, attacks whose ultimate purpose allegedly is to deliver Palestinians their "rights."

But while suit-and-tie sporting PA spokesmen appearing on TV and talking up Palestinian "freedom fighters" may woo some Westerners, the fact is that far too many Palestinians, steeped in religion, scorn the very concept of individual liberty.

It is precisely because of the Arab world's animosity toward individual rights and strict adherence to religious dogma, that an Arab living in Israel is much freer than he would be living in an Arab country.

For example, the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel guarantees Arab residents "full and equal citizenship and due representation."1 Peaceful Arabs living in Israel are free to work, to own property, to speak their minds, to practice any or no religion, and, as citizens, to join or start a political party and to even hold office. In fact, several current Knesset members are or were activists in nonviolent Arab organizations. 2

Do such winds of freedom blow in neighboring Egypt, whose constitution is shaped by Islamic jurisprudence? Just ask university professor Nasr Abu Zeid, whose 12 books were banned and who, on August 5, 1996, was told by Egypt's highest court that as an "apostate from Islam" he must divorce his wife. 3 (The Zeids went into exile instead.)

Can a Palestinian living in Jordan, say, practice Buddhism or be an atheist? Well, he'd better step gingerly, because Article 2 of Jordan's constitution makes Islam the state religion. And while Article 15 grants that "every Jordanian shall be free to express his opinion," it ends "provided that such does not violate the law"4 - which is a loophole big enough for the government to ride a camel through.

But the cultural divide between Israel and its neighbors runs deeper than one or two freedoms. The fundamental difference lies in the Israelis' general respect for man's life and the Palestinians' virtual worship of death - a difference that Muslim leaders loudly proclaim.

Sheik Ikrima Sabri, leading clergyman of the PA, just days before June 2001's Tel-Aviv suicide bombing, said in a televised sermon, "The Muslim loves death and martyrdom, just as [the Jews] love life. There is a great difference between he who loves the hereafter and he who loves this world. The Muslim loves death [and seeks] Martyrdom."5

Similarly glorifying martyrdom was Chief Mufti of the PA's Police Forces: "From the moment the first drop of his blood is spilled, [] he sees his seat in Paradise [and] marries [seventy beautiful] black-eyed [women]."6

But praising suicide isn't just the domain of wild-eyed clergymen or PA thugs. The Saudi ambassador to London, Ghazi Al-Qusaibi, published an ode to martyrdom in the April 13 edition of a London-based Arabic newspaper. It ends, appropriately enough, "The Day of Jihad is the Day of Blood."7

Imagine a Palestinian press that heralds dying for Allah. Imagine a Palestinian mother wishing she had a hundred sons to give to martyrdom.8 Imagine a father responding to his son's suicide-bombing death with: "What can I say? I am very proud of him."9

Such is the degree of irrationality and malevolence that Israel is forced to contend with.

But the Arab world despises Israel not for its flaws, but for its merits - not because of its religious elements, but because of its secular ones: for importing into the Middle East the Western values of freedom, reason and science. Israel's technological might and economic prosperity - products ultimately of freedom and individual rights - provide a poignant contrast to the Arab nations' oppression and stagnation - products ultimately of religious zeal and "otherworldliness." And it's a contrast that stings the Arabs.

Palestinians should stop fighting the Israelis and start imitating them. They should stop exploding themselves and start extolling life. They should stop vying for a martyr's funeral rites and start valuing individual rights. But until then Israel must remain poised to grant them their death wish.

And the Bush administration, for the sake of squashing terrorists and winning the war, should stop pretending that Israel and the Palestinians are equally "at fault" and proclaim that a free nation defending its citizens' lives is morally superior to a terror machine "heaven"-bent on ending them.


1 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, http://www.knesset.gov.il/main/eng/engframe.htm

2 For personal profiles of Knesset members, go to: http://www.knesset.gov.il/main/eng/engframe.htm

3 The Middle East Times, http://www.metimes.com/cens/34freedom.htm

4 Jordan's Constitution, http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/constitution_jo.html

5 The Middle East Research Institute, Special Dispatch Series #226, http://www.memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP22601

6 The Middle East Research Institute, Inquiry and Analysis Series - No. 25

http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA2500

7 The Middle East Research Institute, Special Dispatch Series - No. 372

http://www.memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP37202#_edn3

8 From Fox News Channel report that aired in mid-April, 2002.

9 Father of suicide bomber Nabil al-Arair said this to an Associated Press reporter; cited on PBS Online NewsHour, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/july-dec00/middle_youth.html

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© COPYRIGHT 2002 by Wayne Dunn