Understanding the nuances of Israel’s complex reality in the region

The horrific events of October 7th, orchestrated by Hamas terrorists and Islamic Jihad, have left a lasting mark on the global conscience. The brutality of the massacre, which mercilessly targeted innocent men, women, and children and the kidnapping of many of them to Gaza, has shattered long-held illusions and highlighted the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the aftermath of these events, it is important to explore the intricate historical context and present-day challenges facing Israel and its relationship with the Arab-Muslim world, recognizing that the situation is far from black and white, as often portrayed. The Western world must recognize the challenges Israel faces that many other countries are lucky to avoid.

Photo credit: AFP

The first misunderstanding I would like to address is the well-known narrative that often portrays Israel as a foreign implant in the Middle East, a colonial project, with no legitimate right to exist. However, a more nuanced examination of history reveals a different truth. Not only do historical records and archaeological findings confirm the longstanding connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, but also, prior to Israel’s establishment, Jews and Arab Muslims coexisted in the region for centuries alongside Christians and other communities. Unfortunately, violence against Jewish communities in the area predates the formation of Israel by decades as well. Pogroms and brutal massacres were tragically common occurrences in various Muslim countries, including North Africa, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, as well as in the land of Israel itself with numerous examples such as the “Farhud” in Iraq and the Hebron massacre in 1929, to name a few. All these attacks led the Jewish people to the conclusion that there is no other option but to establish their own state.

Furthermore, it is important to understand the complexity of Israel’s status as the lone democracy in the Middle East which is not merely a slogan but a hard-won reality. In a region characterized by authoritarian regimes and systemic oppression where leaders have massacred their own people, ranging from the Assad regime in Syria, to the ayatollahs in Iran, Israel stands as a beacon of freedom and democracy. Despite facing constant threats from hostile neighbors and being the only UN member that faces existential threats, it has carefully maintained its democratic values and commitment to pluralism. The vibrant democracy in Israel, with its robust civil society and independent judiciary, stands in stark contrast to the autocratic regimes that surround it. These differences make it hard for Israel to compete with its enemies because they adhere to different rules and values.

Since its establishment, Israel has steadfastly upheld its commitment to democracy and international law, despite facing relentless criticism. This resilience is born from the unique threats Israel encounters. Against considerable odds, Israel has tirelessly pursued peace with the Arab world, securing agreements with Egypt, Jordan, the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, and more recently, with Morocco, Sudan, the UAE, and Bahrain. These agreements highlight Israel’s contributions, from forming alliances against threats like the Ayatollahs in Iran to sharing technological innovations. Hope for lasting peace emerged, especially with the discussions of normalization with Saudi Arabia. However, the October 7th attacks and subsequent war shattered these hopes, provoking criticism and hate towards Israel. Now, Israel confronts renewed challenges, both regionally and internationally, amidst rising anti-Semitism and bias.

Despite its adherence to democratic values and international law as seen in Israel’s participation and cooperation with the ongoing ICJ proceedings, Israel continues to face criticism from many around the world who fail to grasp the complexities it faces. This opposition pushes Israel towards isolation on the global stage while fighting an asymmetrical war against enemies who do not adhere to international norms, including using civilians as human shields. Unfortunately, global criticism persists, often overlooking the complex challenges Israel confronts while ignoring the atrocities elsewhere in the world, such as the 500,000 killed by Assad’s regime in Syria.

Tal Becker, the legal adviser from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and British barrister Malcolm Shaw KC representing Israel at the International Court of Justice hearing in The Hague (THILO SCHMUELGEN/REUTERS).

The recent massive terror attacks serve as a reminder of the challenges facing Israel and the broader region. However, there is still hope. Israel’s resilience and commitment to democracy offer a path forward towards peace and stability in the Middle East and I truly hope that people around the world will start seeing the bigger picture and understand the different challenges Israel has to face. I hope people will try to see the situation from the perspective of Israel and not only through the lens of a citizen living in a faraway nation. The only way for enduring peace in the region, is to understand each other’s perspective and context, while working together towards a better future rather than against each other.

As a finishing note, I draw inspiration from the words attributed to Abdul Rahman Wahid, the former president of the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia: “Israel stands as an island of democracy in a sea of misunderstanding.”

About the Author
The writer is a third year Government and Sustainability student at Reichman University and a Fellow at the Argov Fellows Program in Leadership and Diplomacy. Concurrently she works at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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