This past November, Israel faced an unfortunate and oft-repeated event as the country was hit by a barrage of attacks by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. The majority were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, but many also hit Israeli towns and cities close to Gaza, including the port city of Ashkelon. After one attack, one person in the city was killed: A 48-year-old man named Mahmoud Abu Asabeh who lived in a small town on the West Bank.
Abu Asabeh, a man who had called for an end to the violence, was in Israel on a work permit and died after a rocket hit his apartment. Israeli firefighters searched the building and evacuated others, but he wasn’t found until an hour later and succumbed to his injuries. Now, according to The Times of Israel, his family is now suing the state of Israel and its rescue services for 10 million New Israeli shekels, the equivalent of $2.7 million, claiming negligence and seeking reparations from the government.
On platforms from the United Nations to college campuses, Israel has been accused of implementing an unequal treatment of its minority citizens and, more broadly, those who are not Jewish. Yet in this short and sad story — which remains largely not covered by many media outlets — important truths about the Jewish state become apparent to those following the event.
Developments in this story have revealed the remarkable fact that the Israeli judicial system — often accused by critics for discriminating against Israel’s minorities — allows Palestinian Arabs to sue Israel in a court of law. Neither the terror victim nor his family held Israeli citizenship or residency, apart from his approved work permit for temporary stay in Ashkelon, and yet they were allowed a legal privilege that could have otherwise been reserved for Israelis. Furthermore, if the case continues to move through the courts, it may be heard by many Arab judges of Christian and Muslim faith in the Israeli circuit, including George Karra, an Arab justice on the Supreme Court of Israel. This reality is a stark contrast to the widespread claims of mistreatment of Arabs in Israeli courts, and the insistence of groups such as the Palestinian Authority that, because Israel is a Jewish nation, it is institutionally racist or discriminatory toward its minority Arab population.
The Times of Israel also reported that the Jewish Agency for Israel, an organization that was created for the support of Israeli and world Jewry, has pledged to financially aid Abu Asabeh’s family through their Fund for Victims of Terror. The fund is intended for use by all Israeli citizens, regardless of religious or ethnic background. This action is even more substantial because the Jewish Agency will be using these resources to not only come to the aid of a Muslim family, but a family that lives in the West Bank. Yet the terror attack happened in Israel, and thus this Jewish-Israeli organization was on hand to assist. A deed such as this speaks volumes to the efforts of Israel — not only by its government, but its society — to pursue fairness and justice in their dealings. If Israel really did not care about its non-Jewish citizens, residents or even temporary workers, the Jewish Agency would not extend itself in this manner to help a Palestinian family in need.
Nevertheless, many in politics, journalism and academia still continue to perpetuate the myth that Israel is an apartheid state that is only concerned with the fortunes of Jewish citizens, and regard Arabs as second-class citizens. In Michigan alone, the charge has been levied across all parts of society, from newly-elected U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib to professors at the University of Michigan. They claim that because of the disputed Israeli presence in the West Bank, and because Israel has designated themselves as a distinctly Jewish state, those who are not Jewish face a disadvantage. However, every detail of this ongoing case proves these claims to be falsehoods. After a rocket attack by Gazan-Palestinians, a family of Muslim Arabs, citizens under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, received the same legal rights and relief privileges as Israeli citizens, both Jewish and of other backgrounds. They will be supported by an organization founded to support the welfare of Jewish people and the Jewish state, but is clearly committed to upholding the equality that makes Israel unique.
When one takes an honest look at the region, it is immediately apparent that Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a tolerant and equal society for minorities. A December 2017 study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel found Israeli-Arabs had the highest life expectancy among Arab populations from all countries in the Muslim world, at 79 years (though this is low compared to the Jewish population at 82.7 years and the OECD average of 81.6 years). In addition, Israel is one of just a handful of countries in the region in which the Christian population is growing. In surrounding states, the outlook for ethnic and religious minorities is bleak at best. Christians in Egypt and Syria have faced persecution for years now, as extremists and the tyrannical regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad have caused their rights to be reduced and civilians to be killed. In contrast, Israel is a refuge in which Jews, Muslims and Christians all enjoy civil and religious liberties on a scale of equality not seen elsewhere in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, this approach to equality — and the commitment to all citizens — is not shared by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. President Mahmoud Abbas has expressed repeatedly that he does not want “a single Israeli — civilian or soldier” in a potential future Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders, making his disdain for them known. In addition, according to the Times of Israel , “No senior Fatah or PA officials attended the burial service” for Abu Asabeh in November, but a month prior when it was suspected that Israeli settlers killed a Palestinian, many of these officials “took part” in the funeral. Since Abu Asabeh’s death could not be blamed on Israel, to Fatah, there was apparently no need to pay its respects to its grieving citizens.
In these statements and actions from Palestinian leadership, both an intolerance toward others and a stunning lack of empathy run prevalent. In Israel, a multi-religious Arab minority — which comprises just over 20 percent of the population — is given full rights and liberty. In the West Bank, Jews are given an ultimatum: If a Palestinian state is created, leave or risk your freedom and lives.
Those who seek justice and fairness in politics and reporting must acknowledge Israel’s efforts and success in creating a bastion of liberal democracy in a Middle East filled with extremism and rife with persecution. The story of Mahmoud Abu Asabeh and his family — though heart-wrenching to its core — is a reminder of what makes the Jewish state worth defending for anyone who truly cares about the advancement of humanity around the globe. Israel provides and prioritizes civil rights in a region that has been historically and presently devoid of leadership that cares about democratic values. Even while under siege from a barrage of rockets and terrorist attacks, Israel provides an opportunity for people like the Abu Asabeh family to hold Israeli government and rescue services accountable in a court of law for accused negligence and untimeliness. Herein lies just one reason why Israel is inspiring and worth defending. Supporting its well-being and existence is in the moral and strategic interest of the United States and all those who work towards the cause of freedom worldwide.
Noah Ente can be reached at email@example.com.