Twenty Questions (and Answers) on Palestine/Israel: A Political Guide for Elected Officials

by George Bisharat, J.D, Ph.D, Emeritus Professor of Law Assisted by the Institute for Middle East Understanding


The U.S. government is a key enabler of Israel’s discriminatory treatment of the Palestinian people. Palestinian freedom, security, and equal rights should be a natural concern for all elected officials.

For more than seventy years, Israel has forcibly displaced Palestinians from their lands, denied exiled Palestinians their rights to return, maintained a system of privilege for Jews in virtually all spheres of life amounting to apartheid, and exiled, killed, imprisoned, collectively punished and tortured Palestinians who have resisted Israel’s policies.

Every year since 2016, the U.S. has given $3.8 billion in military funding to Israel, despite that country’s top 20 global per capita income ranking. Equally importantly, U.S. diplomats consistently block attempts to hold Israel accountable for its crimes, whether in the United Nations or elsewhere. The lack of accountability for Israel’s abusive and illegal behavior is a challenge to peace in the region and to the legitimacy of international law and institutions.

Israel has exploited its military superiority, including its substantial nuclear arsenal, to invade and occupy its neighbors. While this guide will focus mainly on Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians, elected officials should also be concerned with the role Israel plays both regionally and globally, including as a purveyor of militarized policing, spyware and other instruments of surveillance and repression. Meanwhile, pro-Israel groups have pushed legislation in 33 U.S. states that violate our First Amendment rights to peacefully protest against Israeli policies.

Our unconditional aid to Israel’s apartheid regime generates hostility against us and cynicism about our attempts to lead in other crucial areas of foreign policy, especially defending human rights or promoting democracy abroad, and destabilizes the entire Middle East.

This guide is designed to help elucidate both the history and current dynamics of Israel/Palestine and help address the most common issues that arise in relation to it from a principled foundation.

1. Is the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” a fair and accurate way of framing the issue?

Not really. “Conflict” implies rough parity between two or more parties to a dispute. But that is not how we typically describe an encounter in which one very powerful party is inflicting violent harm on another nearly defenseless victim. If that victim is desperately, even violently, resisting that assault, we do not call that a “conflict,” even though both are using violence.

Israel is a nuclear-armed regional military super-power, with a strong economy and substantial backing from the Global North. The Palestinians are people lacking a functioning state with no formal military at all. As we were reminded in the May 2021 bombing of Gaza, Israel repeatedly exploits its huge power advantage to inflict disproportionate death and destruction on Palestinians and their resources.

2. If this is not a “conflict,” what is it?

Israel is waging a settler-colonial war to displace the indigenous Palestinian people with Jewish settlers by force and violence. Like all peoples faced with settler colonialism, Palestinians have resisted their displacement by any and all means at their disposal. 

Israeli claims of ancient religious attachment to the land do not change the fact that Zionism – the movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine – adopted colonial ideas and methods in realizing its aim. Like other colonizers, Israel has justified its settler-colonial war on Palestinians by depicting itself as upholding liberal democracy and depicting Palestinian resistance as primitive and barbaric.

3. Who are the Palestinians and where do they live today?

The Palestinians are the indigenous Arab people of Palestine and their descendants, who today number an estimated 13 million people.

Roughly 6.8 million Palestinians live in Israel and the Palestinian territories it occupied in 1967, equaling the number of Jewish Israelis there. 1.9 million are citizens of Israel, about 2 million live in the Gaza Strip (70% of them refugees expelled from Israel), and about 2.9 million in the West Bank. 

Other large concentrations of Palestinians live in Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. Smaller numbers of Palestinians live in more distant Arab countries or further abroad in the West and elsewhere, including the United States.

4. How did the Palestinians come to be so dispersed?

In the mid-19th century, Palestine was a predominantly Arabic-speaking country with a few ethnic minorities; about 85% of its residents were Muslim, 11% Christian, and 4% Jewish.

The demography of Palestine began to change rapidly during the British Mandate (1923-1948) as the British supported the Zionist movement’s aim of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine against the expressed will of the majority Palestinian population. 

By 1948 Jews, mostly emigrants from Europe, grew to about ⅓ of the total population. Against the steadfast opposition of Palestinians, the United Nations General Assembly recommended the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. Palestinians still made up the overwhelming majority of the population and owned well over 90% of the land.

The UN partition plan was never implemented. Instead, British authorities announced their intention to withdraw from Palestine, triggering a civil war. 

Jewish Zionist militias were well-armed and trained, and launched a campaign of terror in the months leading up to Israel’s declaration of independence in May 1948. At Deir Yassin, a village near Jerusalem, more than one hundred men, women, and children were slaughtered by Zionist militiamen. 

750,000 Palestinian refugees from this terror campaign – ¾ of the Arab population – fled to surrounding Arab countries or to parts of Palestine that fell under the control of two Arab countries – Jordan in the case of the West Bank, and Egypt in the case of the Gaza Strip. Thousands more were internally displaced.

In 1967 Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (along with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Syria’s Golan Heights), again expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, some of them for a second time. Israel quickly annexed East Jerusalem, applying its own law there, but set up military governments in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians originally termed the destruction of their society and mass expulsions in 1948 “the Nakba,” or “Catastrophe.” Because Israel’s forced displacements of Palestinians have never ended, it is now common for Palestinians to refer to their experience as a “continuing Nakba.”

5. What do Palestinians mean by the right of return?

Under customary international law, refugees have the right to return to their homes and homeland regardless of the circumstances of their initial flight, and to receive restitution of their properties. This right was affirmed for Palestinian refugees by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 in 1949, and has been re-stated on numerous occasions since.

Despite this, Israel turned over the homes, businesses, fields, and personal property of Palestinian refugees to Jewish settlers, and razed as many as 600 Palestinian villages. Israel violently repelled any attempts by Palestinians to return across armistice lines, killing thousands in the early years of the state, and hundreds more in the recent Great March of Return that began in 2018 from Gaza. 

While a Jew from anywhere in the world can immigrate to Israel, Palestinians are still prevented from returning. Israel violates the right of return each and every day that it continues to bar Palestinians from their homeland.

To Palestinians, the original Nakba and the forced displacements that have followed since 1948 represent the essential injustice that they have suffered at Israel’s hands. Elected officials should follow the lead of American Jewish commentator Peter Beinart, not to mention decades of Palestinian speakers before him, and insist that the Palestinian right of return be justly addressed.

6. Why is the term “apartheid” appropriate in describing Israel’s current rule over Palestinians?

Apartheid arises when an institutionalized regime is constructed in order to allow a racial group to dominate another and is enforced by inhumane acts. It is considered a crime under international law.

As documented by Human Rights Watch, this is true of the regime of domination Israel imposes on all Palestinians, regardless of the different methods of rule it employs over Palestinian populations in Israel itself, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

Israel’s rule over Palestinians has been described as apartheid by South African freedom advocate and icon Desmond Tutu, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, and two of Israel’s leading human rights organizations, Yesh Din and  B’Tselem.

U.S. Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Betty McCollum, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar have all referenced Israeli apartheid. A July 2021 poll by the Jewish Electorate Institute indicates that 25% of Jewish Americans agree that Israel practices apartheid, and 34% believe that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is similar to racism in the U.S. Israeli Jews have also spoken out in opposition to their government’s apartheid nature.

We should encourage congressional hearings into these credible allegations of Israeli apartheid.

7. Who are the Palestinian citizens of Israel and what rights do they have?

Palestinian citizens of Israel, dubbed “Israeli Arabs” by the state, are those who escaped expulsion in 1948 and their descendants, who now constitute approximately 20% of Israel’s total population. Israel’s estimated 75% Jewish majority is a result of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and the continued denial of the rights of return of Palestinian refugees to this day.

Israel seized the lands both of Palestinian refugees who fled abroad and of many who stayed within its borders in the early years of its statehood. But forced displacements continue in the Naqab (Negev) Desert and elsewhere. Israel has built some 900 towns for Jewish settlers since its founding, and virtually none for its Palestinian citizens.

Palestinian citizens of Israel are permitted to vote, stand for parliamentary election, serve in the judiciary, and practice professions. For the first time ever, an independent Palestinian political party joined the ruling Israeli coalition government in 2021.

But as in the Jim Crow era in the United States, a variety of laws, policies, and informal practices ensure that Palestinian citizens remain politically disempowered. Housing in Israel is almost entirely segregated, a condition that is permitted under Israeli law, with Israeli town admission committees assessing applicants’ “social and cultural suitability” (code for excluding Palestinian citizens of Israel from predominantly Jewish neighborhoods). Education is separate and unequal.

In 2018, Israel passed the Jewish Nation-State Law. This law entrenches the claim that only the Jewish people have rights to national self-determination in the “Land of Israel,” demotes Arabic as an official language of the state, and establishes Jewish settlement as a national value. In other words, the Israeli legal system not only lacks an equivalent to the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, its law formalizes Jewish supremacy. 

This racist legislation is only one of 65 Israeli laws that explicitly discriminate against Palestinians or privilege Jews, according to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

A “Jewish democratic state” is just as much a contradiction as a “White democratic state” or a “Christian democratic state.” Elected officials should insist that Israel work toward a future in which it becomes a state for all its citizens, not just Jews.

8. What is life like for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip?

The Gaza Strip is a densely populated Palestinian territory bordering Israel, the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt with roughly 2 million Palestinians, half of whom are children under the age of 18, all living within an area less than ⅛ the size of Rhode Island.  Approximately 70% are refugees or descendants of refugees who were driven from Israel beginning in 1948. 

In 2007, when the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, rose to power in Gaza, Israel imposed a suffocating siege, preventing Palestinians from traveling in and out unless they obtain a hard-to-get Israeli permit, and barred most trade with the outside world.

Israel regularly fires on Palestinian fishing boats off the coast of Gaza and at individuals near the fence Israel erected around Gaza in the 1990s. This area includes some of the richest agricultural land in Gaza, so Palestinian farmers risk life and limb merely trying to eke out a living for their families.

These are among the reasons why the United Nations considers Gaza to be under Israeli occupation even following Israel’s withdrawal of its settlements in 2005. Israel also controls most of Gaza’s electrical grid and population registry, by which all government identification is issued.

At times, Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups have responded to Israeli raids and other provocations by firing mortars or unguided missiles into Israel, or releasing incendiary balloons carried by the wind into Israeli-tended fields. 

In May 2021 for example, as Israel was about to displace Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem and was violently repressing Palestinian demonstrators in the city, Hamas unleashed a barrage of missiles into Israel.

Unguided Palestinian rockets are by their nature indiscriminate, and have caused fear and chaos in Israel, and somewhat fewer than one hundred deaths there over the last twenty years. Incendiary balloons have caused some damage to agricultural fields and nature preserves.

Israel, which has highly sophisticated targeting capabilities and multiple means of remote delivery, including aircraft, drones, and long-range artillery, has deliberately and disproportionately attacked Palestinian civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza, killing thousands, including elderly men and women, and many children. Israelis commonly refer to these periodic assaults on the Gaza strip as “mowing the lawn.”

Today, 97% of Gaza’s water is unfit for human consumption, and 80% Palestinians in Gaza endure power cuts every day. The heavily damaged health care system also cannot handle the needs of Palestinians, and Israel frequently prevents patients from leaving Gaza to seek life-saving care. Unemployment in Gaza is about 50%, and the poverty rate exceeds 50%.

The U.S. must insist that Israel ends its cruel and inhumane siege on Gaza, which has transformed that area into an open air prison for its 2 million Palestinian residents.

9. Is life different for Palestinians in the West Bank?

Yes and no.

While Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza in 2005 and has since treated it as a “hostile entity” (even though maintaining effective control of it from the outside), the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is where Israeli settler colonialism is still steadily marching forward, and where Palestinians are continuing to be displaced in favor of Jewish settlers at the point of the gun. 

Israel has ruled the West Bank since 1967 through a harsh and violently repressive military government. This fundamental reality was not significantly changed under the so-called “peace process.” While U.S. media tend to report on “violence” in the region in periodic flare-ups when Jewish lives are threatened, for Palestinians the violence of Israeli military government is a daily, constant experience.

The Oslo Accords of the 1990’s divided the West Bank into three categories: Areas A, B, and C.  Area C comprises 60% of the West Bank, where Israel maintains full control. Area B comprises 22%, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) exercises municipal powers while security is handled by Israel. Area A consists of 18% of the West Bank, mainly Palestinian population centers in which the PA manages municipal affairs and internal security.

Israel also controls borders, airspace, electromagnetic frequencies in all three areas and in practice has raided and arrested Palestinians in Area A at will.

Forced displacement for Jewish settlement occurs in a variety of ways, some formal and authorized under Israeli law, others simply by raw violence at the hands of Jewish Israeli settlers, and still others by a combination of state authority and private Israeli violence working together. The Israeli organization B’Tselem has counted more than 200 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, of which 131 are state-sponsored and another 110 are “illegal” even under Israeli law. In fact, all Israeli settlements are war crimes under international law.

The West Bank is also where Israeli apartheid is most visible. Jewish settlers are subject to Israeli civil law and administration; Palestinians are subject to draconian military regulations barring association and expression, enforced in military courts with nearly 100% conviction rates. Jewish settlers vote in Israeli elections; Palestinians have no political voice in the only government that has real power over their lives. 

Jewish settlers live in segregated communities, and speed between them along newly built secure highways with yellow license plates; Palestinians travel along dilapidated winding roads with blue license plates peppered with hundreds of Israeli military barriers that severely restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement. 

Jewish settlements are connected to the Israeli national water grid, receiving water sufficient to fill swimming pools, while Palestinians often must truck in water for domestic consumption at great expense. 

The Israeli Supreme Court has entertained numerous challenges to Israeli military policies in the West Bank, from land confiscations, home demolitions, detentions without trial, the building of a separation or apartheid wall, targeted killings, torture of Palestinian detainees, and more.

In more than fifty years, the court has rarely found in favor of Palestinian claimants, and instead has provided a legal fig leaf to the military’s most abusive practices.

Elected officials should advocate for an end to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank.

10. What is the situation like for Palestinians in Jerusalem?

Jerusalem is holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and is the site of cherished shrines for each of the three religions. In recognition of this, the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan provided for an international administration of the city, allocating it to neither the proposed Jewish nor Palestinian state.

Zionist militias took over the western half of the city in 1948, and then seized the eastern half from Jordan in 1967 and claimed to unite them under Israeli law. But legal sovereignty over both halves of the city remains unsettled in the view of most nations, which is why they have established embassies in Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem.

When Israel took over East Jerusalem, it also expanded municipal boundaries to encompass 28 villages in the West Bank. 

Palestinian residents, now about 428,000, were given a status akin to permanent residency, entitled to vote in municipal but not Israeli national elections. A tiny minority of others have sought and received Israeli citizenship.

Israel has engaged in a concerted campaign since 1967 to “Judaize” and ensure its permanent control over the city. The components of this campaign include ringing the eastern side of the city with Jewish settlements, disconnecting Palestinians in the city from surrounding towns and villages; barring most West Bank Palestinians from entering the city, including for worship; severely limiting permits for new Palestinian construction, coupled with demolitions of unauthorized Palestinian homes; displacing Palestinians in favor of Jewish settlers, such as in Sheikh Jarrah, or archeological parks emphasizing Jewish history, such as in Silwan; denying Palestinians residency rights if they cannot prove Jerusalem to be their “center of life;” closing important Palestinian institutions; and more.

The attachment of Jews to Jerusalem is real, and should be respected. But their attachment is not superior to that of either Christians or Muslims. Elected officials should encourage Jerusalem to be made an open city so that all religious traditions may pray and practice there equally.

11. Who are the key players in Palestinian politics?

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), an umbrella organization founded in 1964 and uniting armed resistance organizations and political parties with a number of organizations from Palestinian civil society, won international recognition as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” by the mid-1970s. The PLO reflected the hopes and desires of most Palestinians for the next two decades. 

The PLO also launched the partially successful effort for recognition of the State of Palestine, which was accepted as a non-member observer state in the United Nations in 2012, and is now recognized by 138 states of the 193 in that body.

Still, the PLO has faded in significance, mainly due to the “Oslo Accords.” That is the name given a series of agreements between the PLO and Israel starting in 1993 that many expected would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. 

The agreements also established a supposedly temporary Palestinian Authority (PA) that had limited powers over the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. The PA was dominated by Fatah, the secular nationalist and largest Palestinian political party, which had led the Palestinians into negotiations and the “peace process” to begin with.

In 2006, free and fair elections for the legislative branch of the PA resulted in victory for Hamas,  the “Islamic Resistance Movement” which was founded in 1987, opposed the peace process, and instead promoted armed struggle toward Islamic rule over all of Palestine.

A minority of Palestinians actually support the Islamist program of Hamas, but they were frustrated with corruption and incompetence of the Fatah-led PA and the failures of the “peace process” to bring about a Palestinian state.

Fatah never accepted their electoral loss, and in 2007 tried, with U.S. support, to oust Hamas militarily from its base in the Gaza Strip. Hamas fought back and won the conflict, and since that time has governed the Gaza Strip internally, while the area has remained under ultimate Israeli control. The Fatah-led PA has continued its limited authority over parts of the West Bank (as noted above, Israel directly controls the rest). 

Palestinian citizens of Israel are barred from joining outside Palestinian political parties such as Fatah or Hamas. A number of Palestinian political parties have sprung up in Israel, from leftist progressive groups like the Joint List to the conservative Islamist Ra’am.

Over time, the PA has eclipsed the PLO, and today there is no party or institution that represents all Palestinians. Many Palestinians today see the PA as Israel’s “security subcontractor” in the West Bank, devoted more to protecting Israeli settlers than to advancing Palestinian rights, and call for reviving the PLO. The first term of the PA’s deeply unpopular President Mahmoud Abbas ended in 2009, and he has cancelled any elections since.

In May 2021, Palestinian communities worldwide overcame their geographic and political fragmentation to show solidarity with their people facing forced displacement in East Jerusalem, bombardment in the Gaza Strip, and militarized policing in the West Bank. Some have termed this the “Unity Uprising.” 

Non-partisan groups like the Generation for Democratic Renewal, headed by young Palestinians not affiliated with any political party, are struggling to re-create a more unified, democratic and representative leadership.

U.S. policy should support Palestinian initiatives toward political unity and democracy and oppose the use of aid to prop up the illegitimate PA. Sustainable agreements can only be reached with the democratic consensus of all segments of the Palestinian people.

12. What about the two-state solution?

The two-state solution at one time was widely viewed as a path to peace – despite the fact that Israel would have received approximately 78% of the land, and the Palestinians, who are about equal in number to Jewish Israelis (without even counting Palestinian external refugees), only 22%.

Yet Israel has crushed any possibility of a genuinely sovereign Palestinian state by seizing Palestinian lands in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and in order to establish Jewish-only settlements, in violation of international law. 

During the so-called “peace process,” Israel increased the number of its settlers to nearly 700,000 in hundreds of illegal West Bank settlements, leaving 167 small islands of land under partial Palestinian control. Because Israel clearly aims to continue its colonization of the West Bank, and no external political forces are able or willing to stop it, the number of settlers is increasing with each passing year. 

Today, the Israeli government is no longer pretending to support a two-state solution and is categorically opposed to the creation of a viable Palestinian state, choosing illegal colonization towards permanent apartheid as its official policy.

The tendency of U.S. officials to pay lip-service to the implausible two-state solution, coupled with a refusal to outline accountability and specific consequences for Israel’s ongoing occupation, is a de facto endorsement of the status quo of Israeli occupation and apartheid. That is not the basis for peace built upon justice. Nor is a return to negotiations that merely provide a cover for Israel’s settler-colonial advance in the West Bank.

13. Is a one-state solution realistic?

As elsewhere, justice and equal rights are the cornerstones of a durable peace in Israel/Palestine.

Some have observed that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, re-uniting all of former Mandate Palestine, introduced a “one state reality” to the region. Israel was the single state exercising true sovereign powers over all of the territory, even though it did so through a combination of civilian and military administrations. Israeli Jews are the only ones to enjoy full rights of citizenship within this one state reality regardless of where they reside within it.

In other words, we already have a single state, although one currently governed by principles of apartheid. Democratizing this single state would avoid the complications of partition – borders wouldn’t have to be drawn, Jerusalem could remain unified, and Jewish settlers can remain in the West Bank (although in desegregated settlements) – and therefore may be more realistically attainable than two states.

Some Palestinians support the single state solution out of principle or simply out of recognition that no other solution is realistically possible. While a number of American and Israeli Jews support a single state, others fear either the loss of Jewish privilege or retribution by Palestinians.

Similar fears animated White Afrikaaners before the end of apartheid in South Africa, and yet the retribution never came, and the end of apartheid brought South Africans a giant leap forward towards justice. Jews and Palestinians have lived together peacefully in the past, and can do so again, when the foundations of their relationship are not domination/oppression but mutual respect and equality.

While it is not the role of U.S. politicians to dictate solutions to others, a majority of voters support a single state solution based on equal rights if a two-state solution is no longer attainable. Elected officials should insist that whatever political framework is chosen by the parties must enshrine justice and equal rights for all.

14. What’s the significance of the BDS movement?

Boycotts are time-honored non-violent means through which citizens can influence governments to respect civil and human rights. In the United States, South Africa, and elsewhere boycotts have played a significant role in popular struggles.

The movement for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (“BDS”) began in July 2005 when 170 Palestinian civil society organizations issued a call for international solidarity to press for BDS in order to compel Israel to abide by its legal obligations to: 1) establish equal rights for its Palestinian citizens; 2) respect the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes; and 3) end the occupations of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The boycott applies to Israeli institutions, not to individuals.

Boycotts within the United States are protected political speech under the First Amendment, and efforts to discourage or penalize a boycott of Israel are unconstitutional. 

Yet, this has not stopped regressive political forces from pushing at the state and federal levels for bills to penalize or stigmatize BDS in the case of Palestine. Supporting the right to boycott Israel should not be controversial for anyone who supports free speech, non-violent protest, and the U.S. Constitution.

Some politicians in the U.S. have declined to support BDS, but it is very hard to discern a principled justification for this. Israel’s supporters in this country have made opposition to BDS a litmus test, even claiming that BDS is anti-Semitic. 

Fear of such unjust and unfounded incendiary charges should not discourage elected officials from supporting one of the few effective non-violent means of protest that Palestinians have at their disposal.

15. Is anti-Zionism or criticism of Israeli policies antisemitic?

Zionism was the secular Jewish nationalist movement that arose in Europe in the 19th century as one response to Christian European persecution of Jews. It eventually fixed on the goal of establishing a Jewish state in Palestine, and serves today as Israel’s ruling ideology. 

As a political program, Zionism has always had supporters, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and opponents, both Jewish and non-Jewish. 

Indeed, there is a long history of antisemitic support for Zionism, from British Foreign Secretary Lord Balfour, who in the 19th century saw Zionism as a means to divert immigration of progressive Eastern European Jews from England to Palestine, to white supremacist Richard Spencer, who expresses admiration for Israel and has dubbed himself a “white Zionist.”

Palestinians oppose Zionism because it destroyed their society and has killed, maimed, or ruined the lives of countless Palestinians, and continues to do so. Others oppose Zionism for the simple fact that creating a state “for” one ethnic or religious group in a diverse society is necessarily racist. 

Antisemitism – hatred against Jews as Jews – like any form of racism, is abhorrent and must be condemned and actively opposed wherever it appears.

Unfounded accusations of antisemitism against those who oppose Zionism and/or Israeli state policies and practices, however, obscures the real dangers of rising white nationalism, and weakens anti-racist struggle.

Elected officials should oppose any attempts to unfairly brand critics of Israel and of Zionism as antisemitic, while at the same time denouncing real antisemitism and its rise among white supremacists.

16. Is there a natural alliance between BIPOC and Palestinians?

Yes. Black and Native Americans on the one hand, and Palestinians on the other hand, have recognized affinities and have offered mutual solidarity for decades, dating back to the early days of the civil rights and Black and Native American power movements of the 1960s. 

Black Panther leaders such as Fred Hampton saw the Palestinians as part of a global opposition to racism, imperialism, and predatory capitalism. Black leaders have also been concerned by Israel’s discrimination against Black Jews (from Ethiopia and elsewhere) and harsh treatment of African asylum seekers.

The synergy between Black Americans and Palestinians has been re-invigorated in recent years as activists in the U.S. and Palestine are recognizing ever more organic ties. This is especially true of the efforts to end militarized policing which has been fostered by Israel’s active training of U.S. law enforcement. 

Palestinians were among the first to express solidarity with demonstrators in Ferguson in 2014, offering them guidance on how to cope with tear gas and other repressive police tactics. Palestinians were also present at the Standing Rock protest in 2016 against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The overarching principles uniting BIPOC and Palestinian struggles are anti-racism and the quest for justice, and equal rights for all human beings, regardless of color or creed.

Elected officials should welcome efforts to strengthen solidarity between BIPOC and Palestinians in the United States and in Palestine.

17. Is Israel progressive when it comes to gay rights?

Patriarchal and homophobic attitudes are present in both Palestinian and Israeli societies, although Israeli officials frequently tout Tel Aviv’s tolerant atmosphere as if this justified Israel’s violence against the Palestinian people. This practice has been denounced by progressive gay Palestinians and others as “pinkwashing.”

Israel has threatened to out gay Palestinians, often exploiting information gathered via warrantless electronic surveillance, and demanding that they inform on family, friends, and neighbors, thus adding to the burdens of Palestinian queers seeking a full and free life in their homeland.

Militarized societies and colonial oppression have often bred misogyny and homophobia. Israeli feminists denounce Israel’s misogyny and link it to the exalted status of the military in their society. Israeli Jewish women and Palestinian queers will have the best opportunity to achieve justice, dignity, and freedom, when Israel is decolonized and Israeli and Palestinian men and women are all free.

Elected officials can celebrate the freedoms achieved by the Jewish Israeli LGBTQ community while opposing both Israel’s exploitation of Palestinian queers and homophobia within Palestinian society.

18. Are Israel’s recent peace agreements with several Arab countries a step in the right direction?

Not really. On the one hand, peace is always welcome. But the agreements were made in a period in which Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights are becoming more severe, and without any requirement that those violations cease. 

The idea behind the agreements seems to be to demonstrate that Israel can have its cake and eat it too – in other words, to achieve peace with the Arab world while continuing its colonial takeover of the West Bank and maintaining apartheid policies with respect to all Palestinians without consequence.

It is not an accident that the agreements have been reached with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco – all repressive Arab states that received various rewards from the U.S., including, in the case of the UAE, a promise to sell them F-35 fighter aircraft. This seems more like cementing a military alliance among anti-democratic states than a move to usher in genuine peace.

We can support agreements between Israel and Arab states that genuinely support peace and do not disincentivize Israel from respecting Palestinian rights.

19. In light of all of this, what explains U.S. policy toward Israel and the Palestinians?

A well-organized and well-financed pro-Israel lobby, exemplified by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), accounts in part for our unconditional support of Israel. 

Many pro-Israel organizations have also worked for decades to cultivate a positive image of Israel in Western public opinion, through news media and education, while simultaneously promoting negative images of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims more generally.

But it is unlikely that “the Lobby” would have gained the apparent influence it wields in Washington (a former official of AIPAC once boasted that he could have the signatures of seventy senators on a napkin within 24 hours) if it ran counter to other powerful special interests – in particular the U.S. arms industry and its ally, the hawkish foreign policy establishment.

Military aid to Israel is recycled into the American economy by the requirement that Israel spends most of its aid on U.S.-made armaments. Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed, Raytheon, and other major American arms makers have profited handsomely via this indirect transfer of U.S. taxpayer money.

Since the 1970’s Christian evangelicals have added electoral muscle to the pro-Israel coalition within the United States. Christian evangelicals have been welcomed in Israel, and have been actively courted by U.S. politicians.

We urgently need policies toward Israel/Palestine and the rest of the world that prioritize peace, justice, equality, and human rights for all, and that support accountability for human rights violations whenever and wherever they occur. Military aid or arms sales to any state that abuses human rights, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, should come to an end. Fueling death and destruction abroad does nothing to help working families in the United States.

20. What’s the bottom line for elected officials on this issue?

Elected officials in the United States can no longer afford to tolerate regressive policies toward Israel/Palestine. Our interests as a nation, not to mention those of the nearly 14 million souls currently living in Israel/Palestine, will be better served by policies that promote justice and equal rights for all people, within our borders, and outside of them as well.

Additional Resources:

– The Institute for Middle East Understanding: The IMEU produces videos and graphics to explain and contextualize Palestine-Israel, pitches journalists on news stories and connects journalists to Palestinians in the U.S. and Palestine to comment on the news of the day.

– Mondoweiss: Mondoweiss is a progressive news website devoted to following the news in Palestine-Israel and its reverberations in the U.S. They publish original on-the-ground reporting, analysis by scholars and reports on the Palestine solidarity movement.

– +972 Magazine: +972 Magazine is an independent web magazine based in Palestine-Israel that produces investigative reporting and analysis on developments in the region.

– Jewish Currents: A magazine that publishes online and in print, Jewish Currents focuses on the rich tradition of thought, activism, and culture of the Jewish left, as well as original investigative reporting on developments in Palestine-Israel and the politics of Palestine in the U.S.

– The Journal of Palestine Studies: The premier academic clearinghouse on Palestine, the Journal of Palestine Studies offers incisive scholarship and history on Palestinian politics, economy and culture.