For all their rhetoric about Israel’s “vicious” and “brutal” occupation, Palestinians including their leaders sometimes let down their guard and candidly acknowledge how much they prefer Israel to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Here are some of their themes:
Restraints on violence. After the PA police raided the house of a Hamas supporter in an after-midnight operation, roughed up both him and his 70-year-old father, the father yelled at the police, “Even the Jews did not behave like you cowards.” And the son, when he came out of the PA jail, declared his experience there much worse than in the Israeli ones. An opponent of Yasir Arafat pointed out how Israeli soldiers “would first fire tear gas, and then fire rubber bullets, and only then shoot live ammunition … But these Palestinian police started shooting immediately.”These comments point to some Palestinians appreciating the benefits of elections, rule of law, minority rights, freedom of speech, and a higher standard of living. In effect, they acknowledge Israel as more civilized than the PA. Amid all the PA’s political extremism and terrorism, it is good to know that a Palestinian constituency also exists for normality.
Rule of law. Haydar “Abd ash-Shafi,” a Gazan leader, once observed, “Can anyone imagine that a family would be happy to hear a knock at the door in the middle of the night from the Israeli Army?” He went on: “When the infighting began in Gaza, the people were happy because the Israeli Army imposed a curfew.” Likewise, Musa Abu Marzouk of Hamas compared Arafat unfavorably with the Jewish state: “We saw representatives of the Israeli opposition criticize [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak and they were not arrested … but in our case the PA arrests people as the first order of business.”
Democracy. Israel’s 1999 elections, in which the sitting prime minister lost, impressed many Palestinian observers. Columnists remarked on the smooth transition in Israel and wanted the same for themselves: “I envy [the Israelis] and desire a similar regime in my future state.” Even Hasan al-Kashif, director-general of the PA’s Information Ministry, contrasted the changes in Israel with the power of “several names in our leadership,” who go on ruling in perpetuity. Nayif Hawatma, leader of the terrorist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, wants the PA to make decisions like Israel, by presenting them for a vote.
Minority rights. Christians and secular Muslims particularly appreciate Israel’s protection at a time when Palestinian politics has taken an increasingly Islamist cast. A Christian Palestinian declares that, when the Palestinian state comes into existence, “the sacred union against the Zionist enemy will die. It will be time to settle accounts. We will undergo the same as our Lebanese brothers or the Copts in Egypt. It saddens me to say so, but Israeli laws protect us.”
Freedom of expression. In an ironic turn of events, Na‘im Salama, a lawyer living in Gaza, was arrested by the PA on charges he slandered it by writing that Palestinians should adopt Israeli standards of democracy; for his audacity, he spent time in jail. Hanan Ashrawi, an obsessive anti-Israel critic, acknowledges (reluctantly) that the Jewish state has something to teach the nascent Palestinian polity: “Freedom would have to be mentioned, although it has only been implemented in a selective way, for example, the freedom of speech.” ‘Iyad as-Sarraj, a prominent psychiatrist and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, confesses that, “during the Israeli occupation, I was 100 times freer [than under the Palestinian Authority].”
Economic benefits. Palestinians who live in Israel (including Jerusalem), appreciate Israel’s economic success, social services, and many benefits. Salaries in Israel are about five times higher than in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Israel’s social security system has no parallel on the Palestinian side. Palestinians living outside of Israel want economically in; when the Israeli government announced the completion of the security fence in one region, a resident of the West Bank border town of Qalqiliya reacted with revealing outrage: “We are living in a big prison.”
Unfortunately, it remains a furtive constituency with no political import. The time has come for decent Palestinians to make their voices heard and state that Israel’s existence is not the problem, but the solution.