Israel government answers to frequently asked questions
Israel Foreign Ministry, January 2001
Who is responsible for the outbreak of violence?
A simple, compelling and important truth has somehow been lost in the recent
turmoil enveloping the Middle East. The events recently witnessed in our region
are the result of a clear Palestinian decision to pursue violence as a
political tool. The Israeli government and people desperately yearn
for this violence to end, while our Palestinian neighbors do not.
Israel seeks to resolve its differences with the Palestinians at the
negotiating table, while Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority
have chosen – and often sung the praises of – ongoing, violent
Yasser Arafat must be held accountable for the wave of violence
still sweeping through the territories. This so-called “uprising” is
no more than a calculated, cynical effort by Arafat to achieve
through violence the maximalist political aims which he failed to
attain through negotiations.
Although many would have us believe otherwise, what we are witnessing is a
deliberate choice by the Palestinian leadership to pursue violence
rather than negotiation.
Recently, the Palestinian media has clearly confirmed this to be
the truth. On December 6, the semi-official daily Al-Ayyam
reported as follows:
“Speaking at a symposium in Gaza, Palestinian Minister of
Communications, Imad Al-Falouji, confirmed that the Palestinian
Authority had begun preparations for the outbreak of the current
intifada from the moment the Camp David talks concluded, this in
accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself.
Mr. Falouji went on to state that Arafat launched this intifada as a
culminating stage to the immutable Palestinian stance in the
negotiations, and was not meant merely as a protest of Israeli
opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount.”
(Al-Ayyam, 6 December 2000)
Similar statements have been made by other Palestinian officials,
in the Palestinian and Arab press and media.
The current confrontation was deliberately initiated, and
continues to be nurtured, by the Palestinian leadership as a
strategic choice on their part. This was true from the earliest days
of the crisis, and it remains true today. To that end, Yasser Arafat
and the Palestinian Authority have:
- Used official Palestinian media to incite his people to violence
against Israel and Israelis.
- Authorized the Fatah militia – the Tanzim – to fire on Israelis,
with guns supplied by the Palestinian Authority.
- Released dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists from
Palestinian prisons, signaling to these organizations they have a
green light to launch an abhorrent campaign against innocent Israeli
citizens. Arafat’s policies have thus led to a series of bloody
terrorist attacks, including car bomb explosions in Jerusalem and
Netanya, and road side ambushes targeting civilian vehicles,
including school buses and family automobiles.Why is this violence occurring?
Contrary to what has been claimed in various circles, the visit of Ariel Sharon to
the Temple Mount in late September did not trigger the “uprising.” It was just
a pretext for a premeditated campaign of violence. Indeed, the
present wave of disturbances dates back to mid-September, before the
Sharon visit, when firebombs and stones were thrown at Israeli
positions at the Netzarim junction in Gaza. This was followed
shortly afterwards by the killing of an Israeli soldier by a
roadside bomb, at the very same place, on September 27. Two days
later, an Israeli police officer was murdered by a Palestinian
policeman who had served with him on a joint patrol.
The root of today’s events stems back to the July Camp David
summit less than three months earlier, when Arafat clearly
demonstrated his rejection of balanced compromise by dismissing all
the proposals advanced by the U.S. government. Israeli Prime
Minister Barak, for his part, was willing to consider these
proposals. Consequently, President Clinton placed the blame for failure of the
talks squarely at Arafat’s feet.
It is no accident that this violence exploded at a time when
Israel was expressing its willingness to make unprecedented,
far-reaching compromises in order to reach a workable, enduring
agreement. Arafat was given a real opportunity to achieve a
resolution through negotiations and compromise, and to bring
tangible, considerable benefits to the Palestinian people.
But Israel’s olive branch was met with a hail of gunfire, rocks
and firebombs. Rather than risk being labeled as weak by Palestinian
extremists opposed to any form of compromise or conciliation with
Israel, Arafat has preferred to cast himself as a relentless
revolutionary. He has opted to use violence as a negotiating tool.Are violence and peace talks compatible?
Since the start of the Israeli-PLO negotiations seven years ago,
Israel has gone very far in addressing Palestinian national
aspirations in the West Bank and Gaza. On the basis of Arafat’s
pledge of 1993 to abandon terrorism and commit to a negotiated
solution, Israel negotiated the establishment of an elected
Palestinian Authority which has gradually expanded its jurisdiction
and authorities, and now administers 97% of the Palestinian
population in the West Bank and Gaza.
But Israel did not stop there. The Israeli government made known
to the Palestinians, at the Camp David Summit and now publicly, its
willingness to move forward in the peace negotiations, toward the
establishment of a Palestinian state in the framework of the
permanent status agreement between us — a state which is viable,
contiguous and economically prosperous, one that bolsters regional
stability rather than the opposite. In doing so, the Israeli government
has made far-reaching political, historic and strategic compromises.
However, despite these compromises, when it became clear to the
Palestinian leadership that Israel could not fulfill every single
Palestinian demand, and that we also have aspirations and interests
which need to be addressed through reciprocal compromise on their
part, they chose to break off the negotiations and to re-embark upon
the path of violence, which they had pledged to abandon.
From Israel’s perspective, ending what the Palestinians view as
‘occupation’ or a ‘denial of rights’ is not the issue of contention.
For us, the core issue now is the Palestinian violation of the
bedrock principle of the peace process — that the solution must be
predicated upon compromise rather than intractability, upon
negotiation rather than violence.
For this reason, the Israeli government has decided that the
first order of business in any contacts with the Palestinians will
be ending the violence.
Is the IDF using excessive force in its response to the violence?
The oft-repeated charge that Israel has used excessive force
is worse than a distortion; it is the opposite of the truth.
Virtually every day during the last months, Israeli soldiers and
civilians have been confronted with dozens of organized, violent and
life-threatening attacks by Palestinians, only a small percentage of
which are reported in the media.
These attacks have included gunfire
directed at residential neighborhoods, firebombings, roadside
charges, parcel and car bombs in crowded shopping areas and violent
riots. Under these difficult circumstances, the IDF is acting with the greatest possible restraint, doing its
utmost to prevent injury and the loss of life.
Israel has no interest in escalating the violence. To the
contrary, Israel believes it is imperative that the violence be
ended so that both parties can return to the negotiating table.
Israel maintains that a just and sustainable solution can be found
only through dialogue, not armed conflict. However, as long as the
violence exists, the IDF has a clear responsibility to protect
Israeli citizens and security personnel.
The Israeli government regrets the loss of any life, whether
Jewish or Arab. In the final analysis, however, responsibility for
these deaths lies with the Palestinian Authority, which has
initiated the violence and stubbornly refuses to implement a cease-fire.
For example, Arafat would not sign an agreement which
could have brought an end to the violence, after committing to do
so, to American Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in his
meeting with her in Paris on October 4, 2000.
Nor did he live up to
his commitments under the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings of October
17, 2000 including his promise to publicly call for an end to the
violence, to restore security cooperation and to resume the peace
talks. Indeed, to this day, Arafat has yet to issue a serious public
call for an end to the violence.
Israel, on the other hand, has fulfilled all the obligations it
took upon itself at Sharm el-Sheikh, including redeployment of IDF
Why are there more Palestinian casualties than Israeli casualties?
The IDF has done everything in its power to act with
restraint in the face of dozens of shootings, violent riots and
other life-threatening acts. Given the widespread violence engulfing
the territories, it has been relatively successful in keeping down
the number of casualties.
The main reason there are fewer Israeli casualties is that fewer
Israelis involve themselves in the violence. Most violent incidents
in the territories have involved hundreds of Palestinian rioters
attacking a small handful of Israeli soldiers.
It should be stressed that in order to confront Israeli soldiers,
the Palestinian protesters must leave their residential areas and go
to the outskirts of their towns and villages. Only there will they
find the Israeli military, manning the positions which were designated
to them in the Israeli-Palestinian agreements signed by both parties.
Moreover, Israel rejects the notion that justice can be
determined by the relative number of casualties on either side. By
way of comparison, casualty totals among the allied forces in the
Desert Storm campaign in Iraq, and of the NATO forces in Yugoslavia,
were much lower than the Iraqi and Serbian casualty totals – which
also included innocent civilians tragically caught in the cross-fire
of the conflicts.
Yet, unlike the civilian casualties in Iraq and
Yugoslavia, Palestinian civilians hurt in the ‘intifada’ have
deliberately chosen to involve themselves in initiated violent
confrontations with Israeli armed forces.
Why are Palestinian children being wounded in the conflict?
The Palestinians send children to throw rocks and firebombs at Israeli soldiers.
On many occasion, the Palestinian Authority has even provided transportation,
since the Israeli military positions are located outside population centers,
far from the neighborhoods where these children live.
Armed Palestinian policemen and members of the Fatah
militia, the Tanzim, often stand just behind this human shield of
juvenile martyrs and direct gunfire at Israeli soldiers, knowing
they can exploit the children’s wounds for their propaganda
purposes. These macabre operations generally have one purpose: to
generate footage of Palestinian casualties in time for the evening news.
The calculated use of children as pawns in the conflict begins in
the Palestinian education system. Palestinian textbooks (many of
which have been recently published by the Palestinian Authority
itself) openly teach hatred against Israel and Israelis.
Palestinian children’s television glorifies martyrdom in the struggle
against Israel. Palestinian children are trained in the use of firearms in
summer camps and in youth groups. These tactics, which have been
extensively documented by the international media, are gross violations
of all existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.
The use of children in armed conflict is immoral and against
international (and even Islamic) law.
What has happened to Jewish and Muslim holy sites?
As part of their decision to pursue violence, the Palestinians have also
been waging a campaign of destruction and vandalism against Jewish holy
The most blatant example occurred when a Palestinian mob sacked,
demolished and then torched Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus).
This was done just after the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the holy
site as part of an agreement under which the Palestinian Authority
undertook to protect the Jewish holy site from harm. Following the
attack, the Palestinians repaired the site, and rededicated it as a
Subsequently, there have been further Palestinian attacks on Jewish
synagogues, including the ancient synagogue of Jericho, which was severely
damaged in an arson attack, and the synagogue in the Jewish town of Efrat.
In fact, only when the holy sites of Islam, Christianity and
Judaism have been under Israeli control has freedom of worship and
the sanctity of the sites been guaranteed.
Even during the present wave of violence, the Temple Mount in
Jerusalem has remained open for Muslim services, despite the fact that prayers
there have become a platform for incitement and rioting. Muslims have even
used the Temple Mount plaza as a base to hurl stones down on Jewish
worshippers at the Wailing Wall below.
The forced closure of Judaism’s must revered site of prayer – the
Western Wall – on the eve of the Rosh Hashanah High Holiday, as a
result of Palestinian stoning of Jewish worshippers, is tantamount
to the evacuation of St. Peter’s Square on Christmas, or the
shutdown of Mecca’s Qabaa during the height of the Haj.
And yet various Arab spokesman continue to maintain that the greatest
travesty to have occurred, the grossest violation of a sacred site,
and the most unforgivable provocation, was that brief visit of an
Israeli politician to his people’s most holy site.
What is Israel’s position regarding the Palestinian claim of a ‘right of
The Palestinian refugee problem did not spring from a vacuum. Its
immediate cause was the refusal of the Arabs to accept UN General
Assembly Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan) in 1947 and,
consequently, their invasion of the newly formed State of Israel,
initiating the war that led to Israel’s independence. During that
war, many Arabs living in the battle zones abandoned their homes,
whether following calls from the Arab leaders, out of fear of the
fighting, or in apprehension over their fate under a Jewish regime.
If the war had not been forced upon Israel by the various Arab countries
and the local Arab population, the refugee problem would not exist.
The Arab states (with the exception of Jordan) made sure to
perpetuate the refugee problem in order to use it against Israel in
their struggle to destroy her.
From 1947 to the present day, the refugees were confined to crowded
camps, where they lived in poverty and despair, and as a deliberate policy, no
attempt was made to absorb them into society or to provide for their welfare.
This policy was pursued in order to engender international sympathy for
the Palestinian cause.
Since Israel is neither responsible for the creation of the
refugee problem nor for its perpetuation, it cannot declare, even as
a gesture, its responsibility for this problem, since such a
declaration would have far-reaching implications:
A. It would encourage the Palestinian right of return to areas
that are part of the State of Israel. The arrival of millions of
Arabs in the State of Israel (whose present Jewish and Arab
population is just over 6 million) would effectively end its
independent existence as the Jewish state.
B. It would be used by the refugees as a basis for their claims
against Israel for compensation for lost property, as well as the
suffering they have undergone for the last 52 years.
C. It would facilitate claims by the refugees’ “host countries”
for compensation from Israel for the cost of “hosting” the refugees,
when these same countries are in fact responsible for creating the
problem to begin with.
It should be remembered that many Jews were forced out of Arab
countries, leaving behind vast property and wealth for which they
were never compensated. Israel took them in and integrated them into
Israeli society, despite the burden on its developing economy.
Furthermore, Israel never renounced its right to submit claims
regarding these Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
What is Israel’s position with regard to the Jewish settlements in the
Jews have been living in Judea and Samaria (“the West Bank”) and
Gaza throughout history. Excluding the period of the Jordanian
occupation (1948-1967), Jewish settlements have existed in the area
for centuries. The most prominent among them was the Jewish
community in Hebron. During the British Mandate (1919-1948), Jewish
settlements were established in the Etzion Bloc, in the areas north
of Jerusalem (Atarot and Neve Yaakov), north of the Dead Sea (Kalia,
Beit Ha-arava) and in the Gaza area (Kfar Darom).
The establishment of these communities was consistent with the
mandate that the British received from the League of Nations. They were
evacuated or conquered in the War of Independence. Following the Six Day
War, the Jewish presence in these areas was reestablished and today numbers
more than 200,000 people.
Israel’s position is that, since Jordan never had legal
sovereignty over the West Bank, and Egypt never had legal
sovereignty over the Gaza territory, these areas could not be
considered “occupied territories” under international law when
Israel took control of them in 1967, in an clear act of self
defence. Nonetheless, Israel took upon itself to apply the
humanitarian provisions cited in the international laws of
occupation to the territories under its control.
Similarly, none of the various agreements between Israel and the
Palestinians that have been signed from 1993 onwards contain any
prohibition against building or expanding settlements. Although the
Palestinians wanted to include such prohibitions, Israel objected
and demanded that discussion on the subject be postponed until the
final stage of the negotiations.
The only restriction, set down in the interim agreement, was that neither
side take steps to change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip prior to
the discussion on final status. Now that these discussions have begun, we
must deal with this topic. Israel’s position, as expressed by its leaders, is
that most of the Jewish residents should remain.
What is Israel’s position on a unilateral declaration of a
A unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state would not
only be a breach of all existing agreements between Israel and the
Palestinians; it would also contribute to the escalation of the
conflict, the worsening of violence and the destabilization of the
The Palestinians have the option of pursuing their national
aspirations through peace negotiations aimed at finding a stable,
mutually-acceptable solution which will guarantee the security of
Palestinians and Israelis alike. The one-sided establishment of a
state that is not achieved through negotiations and mutual
agreement, cannot be considered legitimate.
The establishment of a Palestinian state is acceptable, in
Israeli public opinion and by most components of the Israeli
political map. We would like this state to be established through
agreement and peaceful means, to ensure, as far as this will be
possible, that it will not be a hostile state. Israel will oppose
any unilateral declaration, because it is intended to establish a
Palestinian state through conflict and not through good neighborly
relations. Such a proclamation would undermine regional stability.
What is the situation in Israel today?
Life in Israel continues without major disruptions.
Restaurants and shopping malls are full. Tourist attractions remain
open. Industry and factories are working normally, without hindrance
or interruption – including, of course, Israel’s hi-tech sector.
In the course of the peace process, there have been many ups and
downs. Whatever the political environment, the Israeli economy has
continued to grow and develop.
How does Israel regard the severing of
relations by Morocco, Tunisia and Oman?
The breaking off of relations with Israel by Morocco, Tunisia
and Oman is extremely regrettable. At a time when all parties in the
region should be working to contain the conflict and to restore calm
to the region, it is of utmost importance to keep all possible lines
of direct communication and cooperation open. In this light, the
limiting of relations between states runs counter to the interests
of the region and is particularly unfortunate.
And what about cyber-terrorism?
During the past months, the website of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as
well as other Israeli websites, have been victimized by cyber-terrorists.
Like the book-burners of the past, these digital vandals are engaged
in a reprehensible effort to block access to the truth.
What is Israel doing about attacks on Gilo and other Jerusalem
Gilo is a residential neighborhood of about 40,000 which lies within the
municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and of Israel as defined by Israeli law. In
recent weeks, it, together with other Jerusalem neighborhoods, has been
subjected to indiscriminate sniper and machine gun attacks from neighboring
areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Israel condemns in the strongest possible terms these repeated attacks
by Palestinians on homes of innocent Israelis in Gilo. The unprovoked and
deliberate firing on civilian targets is utterly reprehensible.
The attacks against Gilo have been launched from the adjacent
Christian Arab village of Beit Jala. Israel believes that they are a
deliberate attempt by Palestinian militias to draw the Christian
world into the conflict by provoking Israeli reprisals.
As a result, Israel has done its utmost to respond to these unprovoked
attacks on Gilo with the greatest possible restraint, pinpointing only those
buildings from which the attacks have been launched.
How are the Palestinians faring economically?
Israel has made substantial efforts since the signing of the Oslo
accords to facilitate Palestinian-Israeli economic cooperation in
the context of the peace process. As a result, there was a marked
expansion of Palestinian trade and employment in Israel, as well as
other forms of economic cooperation from 1994 until the present
outbreak of violence.
Israel, in collaboration with the Palestinian Authority, has
taken a broad range of actions since 1994 in order to promote and
improve the free movement of goods and labor from the Palestinian
Authority into Israel. Industrial parks have also been set up in the
Palestinian Authority, involving substantial Israeli investment and
economic incentives. These measures have had a significant, positive
impact on the Palestinian economy.
Unfortunately, the recent events have led to a sharp decline in
economic activity in the area, with economic repercussions for both
the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Measures taken to ensure the
safety of Israeli citizens in Palestinian-controlled areas –
protecting them from atrocities like the lynching in Ramallah – have
had an adverse economic impact.
At the same time, to prevent the spillover of violence from the territories
into Israel, and to minimize the possibility of terrorist attacks, security forces
are restricting entry of Palestinians from the territories. Exceptions
are made for the movement of commercial goods, food, medicine,
ambulances and medical crews, which continue to circulate freely.
Moreover, procedures have been simplified to enable speedy delivery
to the Palestinian Authority of humanitarian goods, such as medical supplies.
It must be stressed that the purpose of the closure policy is not
punitive, but has become necessary to ensure the security of Israeli
citizens in these trying times.
What about the outbreak of anti-Semitism worldwide?
Israel is concerned by the recent, significant rise in anti-Semitism, which
has targeted Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere. These
anti-Semitic attacks, which are occurring against the backdrop of
the present conflict in the territories, have included bombings of
synagogues, violence against Jews, desecration of Jewish cemeteries
and other forms of vandalism. These incidents should arouse the deep
concern of all civilized peoples.
Israel calls on the governments of countries where the plague of
anti-Semitism is spreading to take all measures necessary to ensure
the security of Jewish communities – and to bring the perpetrators
of these cowardly attacks to justice.