Settlements Plan Spotlights Dark Issues


The conventional explanation for Israel’s more controversial measures, including, in particular, the security fence under construction and the new marriage law passed by the Knesset, is that these are responses to the ongoing conflict. (The new marriage law cancels the automatic citizenship hitherto accorded Palestinian spouses of Israeli citizens.)

But underlying that explanation, there is a darker and infinitely more problematic reality: Israel does not know what to do with or about the 1.2 million of its citizens (20 percent of the total population) who are Arabs — or, as they increasingly choose to define themselves, Palestinian Israelis.

While all the hubbub about fences and settlements and such continues, at quite a distance from the real-time radar screen, a new drive has been launched in Israel that perhaps more explicitly than ever highlights the issue — or, if you will, Israel’s dilemma. The World Zionist Organization is undertaking a project to build 30 new settlements in the Negev and the Galilee — that is, within the Green Line.

So wherein lies the problem? These are not controversial settlements in the West Bank or Gaza. No one questions Israel’s right to build wherever it chooses to within the Green Line. Everyone knows that too much of Israel’s population is concentrated in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and that the Negev and the Galilee are relatively sparsely populated.

The name of this new program reveals its problematic aspect: "The New Challenge: A Zionist Majority in the Negev and Galilee."

Please understand, no test of Zionist conformity will be administered to would-be residents of the new settlements. The word "Zionist" in the title of the project is really a euphemism; the intention is a Jewish majority. But it would be at the least impolitic to say it quite that baldly, so the word "Zionist" is used as a substitute or subterfuge.

The treasurer of the Jewish Agency says essentially as much, explaining that "the settlement drive is the only way to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish state."

Demography is on everyone’s mind these days. We’re told that such "painful compromises" as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may be prepared to make in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority derive from his appreciation that if Israel retains the West Bank and Gaza and the Palestinians who live there, it will be only a few short years before Jews are a minority in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan.

So in order to preserve itself as a Jewish state, Israel must disgorge the land it has occupied since 1967 — that, or as Israel’s far right members of the governing coalition would have it, disgorge the Palestinians who live on the disputed land.

But demography within the Green Line? Yes indeed, to the tune of $40 million a year for the project’s first two years — that’s Jewish Agency money — plus a promise not likely to be fulfilled of an additional $400 million from the government. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that "to attract Jewish families to Arab regions, the Jewish Agency plans to invest heavily in local educational resources" — better teachers, longer school days, an upgrading of regional colleges.

The irony here is that by every available measure — teacher training, dropouts, kindergarten availability, special education, per capita pupil expenditures and so forth — the Arab educational sector has never experienced anything near equality with the Jewish educational sector nor has it enjoyed the extraordinary infusion of funds that is here contemplated.

Now put yourself in the shoes of an Arab citizen of the State of Israel, told again and again that you have greater freedom and a higher standard of living than Arabs in neighboring countries. But because you are an Israeli citizen, your natural population of reference is not the Arab citizen of Lebanon or Syria, it is the Jewish citizen of the State of Israel.

And now imagine that you are informed that it is a goal of the Jewish people, as represented by the Jewish Agency, to see to it that "real Zionists" — never mind that a large number of those "real Zionists" are non-Jewish immigrants from Russia — outnumber you even in regions within Israel where your ethnic/religious group has long been predominant.

This is not about being gracious to the stranger, because we were strangers in Egypt. We are talking here about Israeli citizens.

The fact that 20 percent of Israelis are Palestinians creates real tensions around the definition of a "Jewish state." By all indications, Israel has done and is doing a miserable job in dealing with those tensions, aggravating them rather than defusing them.

To be sure, the conflict has exacerbated the problem — but think for a moment how very differently the conflict might have played out had Israel, from its inception, opted for genuine equality for its Arab citizens. The fact that Israel is explicitly a Jewish state need not have precluded it from making a real home for all its citizens.

Instead, it has relied on a mix of crumbs and rhetoric to address the matter. And now, 55 years into a policy of shameful neglect, it finds itself on the brink of a whirlwind and flails about in ways that will newly aggravate the already strained relationship.

It turns out that we here in America are directly implicated in this latest aggravation: the chair of the task force charged with developing the details of the program is the incoming chairman of the board of United Jewish Communities, and the project is part of Partnership 2000, a Jewish Agency program that links Diaspora Jewish communities with Israeli communities.

Sorry, folks. This is not the Zionism in which I was reared — nor the Judaism.


Leonard Fein’s most recent book is “Against the Dying of the Light: A Father’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope (Jewish Lights, 2001).

Conquest by Birthrate


A leading Arab think tank is backing an old strategy — to defeat the Jewish State from within by encouraging the growth of its Arab population.

The prime proponent of the conquest-by-demography theory is Wahid Abdel Maguid, chief editor of the Arab Strategic Report, the publication of Egypt’s premier think tank, the Al-Ahram Institute. The institute is part of the group that runs Egypt’s semiofficial newspaper of record, Al-Ahram.

"We are capable of increasing the demographic threat against Israel, if we demonstrate the necessary determination," Maguid declared in a recent interview with the London-based Al-Hayat Arabic newspaper.

Israel’s Arab population is estimated at some 1.2 million, compared with approximately 5 million Israeli Jews.

However, the Arabs’ birthrate is far higher than the Jews’, and Maguid estimates that Israel’s Arab population will equal its Jewish population in 34 years’ time through natural population increase.

Israel, of course, is not unaware of the demographic threat. Israeli surveys also warn of the dangers the Arab birthrate poses to Israel’s nature as a Jewish State, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stresses the need to bring as many Jewish immigrants to Israel as possible.

Maguid outlines a five-pronged strategy for making sure this "population bomb" can be accelerated, thus defeating Israel without another major Arab-Israeli war. Several of these processes already are under way, though not as part of a concerted Arab strategy:

Limit or reverse emigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. In fact, levels of immigration have fallen sharply from their highs in the early- to mid-1990s;

Bring Arabs living inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders into close alignment with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, encourage them to spurn their identity as Israeli citizens and give them decision-making roles in the anti-Israel campaign. This development, which began with the Oslo peace process and which has been encouraged by the Palestinian Authority, saw its fullest expression in the Israeli Arab riots that accompanied the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada in the fall of 2000;

Maintain a continual intifada to discourage Jewish immigration to Israel and encourage Israelis to emigrate;

Build worldwide condemnation of Israel as a "racist" state to prevent Israeli pressure on Arabs to leave Israel or to reduce their birthrate. (This fall’s U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, was the apex of this effort to date.)

promote an influx of Arabs into pre-1967 Israel through infiltration and marriage. According to Israeli media reports, this is occurring now.

Maguid proposes that future anti-Israeli actions be spearheaded by Arab citizens of Israel, and be coordinated with the Palestinians and other Arab states.

He believes that Arab infiltrators into Israel should focus on marrying Israeli Arabs, making it virtually impossible for Israel to expel the illegal immigrants — at least without opening itself to charges of racism.

The population battle already has been joined, though not yet in the organized way Maguid advocates. According to Israeli estimates, more than 50,000 Arabs have moved into Israel since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.

They are mainly Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians who enter Israel to find work, and take up residence in Israeli Arab communities. Security sources claim that some have carried out or supported acts of terror, and some are believed to be agents of the Palestinian Authority.

A key battleground of the future may be in the field of aliyah. One plank of the new Arab strategy should be undermining Israeli aliyah efforts, Maguid argues.

He urges Arabs to meet with candidates for immigration to Israel — especially in the ex-Soviet states — and tell them that living in Israel will present more daily hardships and security threats than they currently experience.

This is hardly new, however, as the Arabs and Palestinians mounted a fierce — though unsuccessful — propaganda effort to persuade ex-Soviet leaders not to allow Jewish emigration in the early 1990s.

Key to discouraging aliyah will be continuing the intifada, Maguid says. He also recommends stressing the feelings of "marginalization and disappointment" that some Russian immigrants reportedly feel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon constantly stresses his commitment to Jewish immigration from the Diaspora, often talking of bringing 1 million more Jews to Israel in coming decades, especially from the former Soviet Union, South America and South Africa.

The Palestinian Authority also recognizes the importance to Israel of immigration. Its spokesman condemned Sharon’s proposal for increased immigration as a "powder-keg" likely to set off a new explosion in the tense region — even as the Palestinian Authority insists that some 4 to 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants be granted a "right of return" to homes they left in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

The Palestinian Authority statement expressed fears that new Jewish immigrants could be placed in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but Maguid’s fear is that — even if settled within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, as are the vast majority of immigrants — these immigrants would help Israel maintain a Jewish majority.

Both Sharon and Maguid would agree on one thing: To the winner of the population battle will go control of the state. Should the Arabs become the majority within Israel, Maguid has no doubt about the type of state that would be imposed.

"Palestine can be made Arab again — Arab, and not binational — Arab Palestine," he writes. In a new, Arab-dominated state, those Jews who wished to remain, could live "strong and respected under the umbrella of our Arab culture," he proposes.

A Drink from the Same Cup


If the pursuit of peace in the Middle East will not unite the parties concerned, then one life-sustaining element may. Israeli, Arab and American researchers and engineers have come together to find ways to produce more potable water for agricultural use, as demands for supplies of Middle Eastern and Californian freshwater continue to increase.

“Urban demands [for water] are increasing with the increase in population and standard of living,” said Uri Shamir, head of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology’s Water Research Institute, a multidisciplinary research center that focuses on the science, technology, engineering and management of water. Fresh water that has been used for agriculture, said Shamir, must be shifted to the cities.

“If we want to maintain agriculture the way we have at the moment, we need water and more water,” said Raphael Semiat, head of the Rabin Desalination Laboratory at the Technion, a laboratory funded by Los Angeles businessman Rob Davidow, who’s a world leader in waste-water and sea-water desalination R & D.

With water resources limited throughout the Middle East, the Palestinian-Jordanian-Israeli Water Project has been launched to research new, safe, cost-efficient methods to irrigate crops. One of the more popular methods researched and employed by the project’s committee, which is composed of scientists from the Technion, Ben-Gurion University, Jordan’s Royal Scientific Society and the Palestinian A-Najjah University, is waste-water recycling, a method that purifies waste-water with minimal harm to the environment.

Soon, even this process will not suffice, and the more expensive sea-water desalination process will supplant it — especially in California and Israel, where sea water is abundant.

“It’s a solution that is not free of difficulties, but it is basically on your own territory, using an infinite source — the ocean,” said Shamir, who is currently conducting research in management of disputed international waters at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Sea-water desalination works in one of two ways: a thermal process, which evaporates and then condenses clean water vapor, and water membranes, which filter water through tiny pores about 0.1 micrometers small.

Researchers from the Rabin Desalination Laboratory have worked with I.D.E. Technologies (formerly Israel Desalination Engineering) of Ra’ananna, Israel and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California who have joined with Parsons Corporation of Pasadena and Reynolds Metals Co., to design a state-of-the-art, generic desalination facility that could purify up to 80 million gallons a day using the thermal process. After two years of R & D, the design of the 540-foot tower is now complete, and the partners are looking for investors to implement the design and construct a plant. The most viable locations for the plant are along California’s coast, since Israel’s coast is more populated.

The Jordanians and Palestinians are less likely to employ sea-water desalination because they have little or no access to the sea. Nevertheless, efforts are still underway to conduct joint research on desalination with Palestinian and Jordanian scientists. The Joint Palestinian-Jordanian Water Project, however, needs more funds as well as a more peaceful political environment to resume this research with full force.

“We are trying to continue unhampered,” said Shamir, who believes that cooperation for knowledge for society’s benefit will eventually override any disharmony caused by nationalistic strife.