Israel discriminates against Jews
The Sharon government is discriminating against ... Jews
By Sara Roy
Special to The Daily Star, Saturday, June 05, 2004
Since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced his intention to "withdraw" from the Gaza Strip last month, there has been a great rush of activity not only within the diplomatic and international donor communities, but also within the Israeli left, which has finally been galvanized into action after many years of being politically adrift.
The source of their enthusiasm is the belief that an Israeli redeployment will create opportunities for the economic development of Gaza and, by extension, for further Israeli concessions in the West Bank and for restarting a desperately needed political process that can lead to a peace settlement.
While the meaning of Sharon's Gaza plan and its attendant possibilities can certainly be debated, particularly in light of the horrific events in Rafah a few weeks ago, a policy that has been recently implemented by the Israeli government and that is little known in the outside world (or for that matter inside Israel and the Occupied Territories) will clearly militate against Gaza's development and any process of political rapprochement.
This policy, in the form of an Israeli government regulation, states that no Jew from anywhere in the world will be allowed to enter and work in any part of the Gaza Strip and certain parts of the West Bank, specifically "Area A" (which includes the major Palestinian towns) and the seam line around the separation wall. Instituted at the beginning of the current uprising but not enforced until recently, the regulation falls under the joint jurisdiction of the Shin Bet (Israel's domestic security service), the Interior Ministry
and the Airport Authority. It bars all Jews from entry into Palestinian areas because, according to an official Israeli source, as "potential citizens of Israel" Jews, no matter what their nationality, are at great risk of being kidnapped or attacked by Palestinians.
This policy, which effectively profiles Jews and encourages others to do the same, first came to light when a donor government with a substantial assistance program in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was informed that one of its contractors implementing a project in Gaza would no longer be allowed entry there. After numerous inquiries by officials of the donor government, they were told that the contractor - an American Jew whose name is undeniably Jewish - was barred because of his ethnicity.
Apparently this was not the first such incident. Approximately one year ago, an American Jewish researcher who had been to Gaza several times before, and who also had an easily recognizable Jewish name, was suddenly told she could no longer enter because she was a Jew.
But how is such a policy to be enforced? For those people with clearly identifiable Jewish names the issue is easily addressed. For those with names that are not obviously Jewish, other methods of investigation may become necessary. Paraphrasing one incredulous US State Department official who was interviewed on the new regulation for confirmation: "This policy is unbelievable. I am breathless. What are we supposed to do now? Are we to vet all potential contractors, looking for all the identifiable Jews on the list and eliminate them from competition and bar others from applying? No Jews need apply. What does that remind you of? Is this supposed to be Israeli government policy?"
Israel's new regulation has dangerous implications, especially with regard to the unintended consequences it will no doubt create. It will lead to discriminatory practices against Jews by participating donor governments and agencies, including the US government. Perhaps, more alarmingly, by engaging in discriminatory practices and policies that are formally mandated by Israel, foreign governments, non-governmental organizations and other professional organizations working in the West Bank and Gaza will unwittingly fuel growing anti-Semitism in a manner that can only be described as bizarre.
Furthermore, Israel's new policy should be understood as a way of further separating Jews and Arabs and thereby encouraging, if not sanctioning, the continued dehumanization of one people by the other. It is also, incidentally, meant to silence dissenting Jewish voices. Thanks to such a scenario, which the Sharon government has worked hard to create, the damage incurred will defy the efforts of international assistance programs to address problems emanating from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - whether those programs include Jewish participants or not.
Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University. She wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR