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Photo: AP
Refuting the lies on the past 50 years will help advance the debate on a proper agreement
Photo: AP
Ben-Dror Yemini
The truth about the occupation
Op-ed: It’s been 50 years since Israel gained control of the territories, and figures show that the Palestinians have actually experienced a major improvement over that period. In most areas, their situation is much better than that of Arabs in neighboring countries. The lies about a genocide and destruction must therefore be shattered.
I doubt there is a more common phrase than “the occupation corrupts.” A large number of organizations, activists and writers go to the trouble of filling this slogan with content. Nobel Prize laureate José Saramago argued  in the past that “what is happening in Palestine is a crime we can put on the same plane as what happened at Auschwitz.” Auschwitz of all places?

 

 

The more moderate version justifies the boycott proposals with claims about “the destruction of education.” That was the argument voiced, for example, by Prof. Lawrence Davidson to justify his support for the boycott. Author Yitzhak Laor went as far as writing that “gas chambers are not the only way to destroy a nation. It is enough to develop high rates of infant mortality.”

 

There are thousands of comments and publications of this kind, which describe the Palestinians' lives as a living hell. A significant part of these publications is produced by Israelis. Some of them are evil people. Others, the more moderate ones, distort the facts in a bid to “open the world’s eyes” and save Israel from itself.

 

The low infant mortality rate, the high birth rates and the rise in life expectancy among the Palestinians serve as proof that there is definitely no genocide (Photo: Roy Idan)
The low infant mortality rate, the high birth rates and the rise in life expectancy among the Palestinians serve as proof that there is definitely no genocide (Photo: Roy Idan)

 

A lot of Europeans, by the way, believe these horrific accounts. Different surveys show that many residents of European countries, sometimes even the majority, believe that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians is similar to what the Nazis did to the Jews. The propaganda of horror is winning.

 

From ‘fake news’ to ‘fake academia’

Where does the truth lie? Let’s start with education. Is higher education really being crushed? Well, according to the testimony of the former president of Bir Zeit University, Gabi Baramaki, “Before June 5, 1967, no universities existed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.” Today, there are more than 50 higher education institutions in the territories.

 

Moreover, according to a study commissioned by the Palestinians, “Palestinians now have the highest per capita rate of university graduates in the Arab world.” So this is what “a systematic destruction of education” looks like, according to Prof. Davidson and the other demonization publications. We’re moving from “fake news” to “fake academia.”

 

An actual blood libel

The most serious claim was presented by Laor. Have the brutal Israeli soldiers really found a sophisticated way to carry out an annihilation, by dramatically increasing the infant mortality rate? Well, according to Dr. Wael R. Ennab of Al-Najah University, the infant mortality rate in 1967 was between 152 and 162 per 1,000 live births. It dropped to 132 in 1974 and reached 53 to 56 in 1985. The rate kept dropping, reaching—according to World Bank figures—less than 30 in 1993, when the Oslo Agreements were signed. It kept going down, and while Laor published his fake data, in 2002, the infant mortality rate was 25. It has kept dropping since then and has already reached 18.

 

The sharp drop, from 1976 to 1993, took place under direct Israeli rule. The drop continued under the Palestinian Authority, but at a more moderate pace. For the avoidance of doubt, the infant mortality rate among the Palestinians is much lower than the global average of 31.7, and is significantly lower than the average in the Arab world—28.

 

Why did Laor publish an actual blood libel? It’s likely a result of the same logic under which the opposition to the occupation legitimizes every lie. Only several weeks ago, someone wrote in Haaretz that “Breaking the Silence have to be liars.” In fact, all speakers of this kind “have to lie,” because if the real figures are presented—they will be in trouble.

 

Absolutely no genocide

The meticulous ones even talk about a “genocide.” The more moderate ones, like senior Breaking the Silence activist Noam Chayut, argue that “the unusual person is the one who is unwilling to kill civilians.” Since tens of thousands of soldiers have served in the territories, one might conclude that tens of thousands of Palestinians have been killed for blood passion.

 

Well, in 50 years of Israeli rule, 11,000 to 12,000 Palestinians have been killed, mostly terrorists or involved civilians. In fact, this conflict has claimed the lowest number of victims, less than the global average of traffic-related deaths and a lot less than the victims of murders in most big cities in the United States. Just for the sake of comparison, jihad massacres more than 20,000 people every year. That does not include wars.

 

In general, the Palestinians' life expectancy has gone up from 48.6 in 1967 to about 73 (or 75, according to different sources) today. The population growth rate is among the highest in the world too—2.9% a year, according to World Bank figures in 2015, compared to a global average of 1.2% and the Arab world’s average of 2%.

 

When one combines the low infant mortality rate, the high birth rates and the rise in life expectancy, the result can be called many things, but there is no serious damage to the Palestinians and definitely no genocide. As a matter of fact, that is such a crazy argument that—as George Orwell said—there are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.

 

I can touch on more and more areas, in which an objective examination will reveal an amazing improvement in the past 50 years. For example, in the area of water. In 1967, only four of 708 Palestinian towns and villages were connected to running water. Today, 643 communities are connected to running water (97% of the population). The Palestinians' water consumption from natural sources has increased as well, while the Israelis’ water consumption has dropped (the Israelis are increasingly moving to desalinated water.

 

Violent society? End of democracy?

Other claims made as part of the “occupation corrupts” festival are that Israel is becoming more violent. That’s not true. The National Violence Index points to a drop in violence since 2004. On an international level, Israel is similar to the OECD average. In other words, there is no proof of a connection between the control of the territories and the level of violence in Israel. The violent discourse on social media is on the rise, but that is a weed which characterizes all democratic countries with freedom of speech.

 

The same applies to the cries of despair about the end of democracy. The Israel Democracy Institute’s 2015 Democracy Index stated as follows: “The common feeling that the situation of Israeli democracy is deteriorating and has reached its lowest level, as it is reflected primarily in the media, is likely not completely accurate in light of the comparative international findings.”

 

The lies must be refuted

It’s been 50 years since Israel gained control of the territories, and figures show that the Palestinians have actually experienced a major improvement. In most areas, their situation is much better than the situation of Arabs in neighboring countries. So the lies about Auschwitz and the destruction and the mass killing must be shattered.

 

That doesn’t mean there is no injustice. That doesn’t mean there is no room for criticism, even profound criticism, against certain actions committed by Israel. That doesn’t mean that there are no hooligans in the territories, even if they are a small minority. That doesn’t mean that the settlement enterprise should be justified. And that definitely doesn’t mean that the occupation should be perpetuated or that we should march with our heads held high towards the disaster called one big state or a binational state.

 

All it means is that we must refute the lies about what the Palestinians have experienced in the past 50 years under Israeli rule. That will only work to advance the discussion on the proper agreement, both for the Palestinians' sake and for Israel’s sake.

 

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