As you drive up Route 1 towards Jerusalem, the road divides into two. The left-hand lanes approaching the holy city are designated “for Jews only”. The right-hand lanes leading off the highway are signposted “Obligatory for non Jews”.
Of course, this is nonsense, because, under Israeli jurisdiction, for the first time in two thousand years, the holy sites of Jerusalem and, indeed, of all of Israel are open without restriction to those of all religions and of none.
The same could not always be said of the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Muslims were not permitted to enter it following its capture by the Crusaders in the year 1100, and, when the Turks and later the Jordanians gained control, Jews were not allowed past the seventh step leading up to the tombs.
The 7th annual Israel Apartheid Week is scheduled to take place around the world at the beginning of March this year. Its organisers describe its purpose as “to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.”
Those who are familiar with Israel will know that the very notion of the country being an apartheid state is absolute nonsense. There are Arab judges, Arab members of Knesset and Arab consuls. Bedouins serve alongside Jews in the army. Go into our hospitals, where Jewish and Arab medical staff work side by side treating all of Israel’s population without distinction. Arab and Jewish presenters work alongside one another on TV shows. Enter our universities, where lecturers and students come from all strands of society. Visit our banks, our supermarkets and our shopping malls, where Jews and Arabs work and shop side by side.
However, it was the American psychologist and philosopher, William James, who said: “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.” We need to be telling the world and those misguided people taking part in Israel Apartheid Week and supporting BDS campaigns that they are being sold a Palestinian propaganda lie, whose intention it is to delegitimize the only fully democratic state in the Middle East.
Whereas Jews and Arabs live side by side in Israel, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has already made it abundantly clear that Jews will not be allowed to reside in a Palestinian State once it is established. Only last summer, he was quoted by the official Palestinian news agency Wafa as having said: “I would not agree to having Jews among the NATO forces, or that even a single Israeli will live among us on Palestinian land.”
Of course, it is true that Arab travellers – and not only Arabs – are subject to particular scrutiny at Israel’s airports. Of course it is true, especially since the Intifada, that most Palestinians are not allowed to enter Israel. Of course, it is true that certain roads on the West Bank are closed to Palestinians. But that is not because of a policy of apartheid, but rather reflects a genuine and justified concern for safety in a country that was already the victim of terrorist attacks long before the assault on the World Trade Center or the murder of innocent commuters on the London underground.
As you drive up the highway towards the holy city of Mecca, the road divides into two. The overhead traffic signs indicate that straight ahead leads to “Mecca (Muslims only)”. The two lanes that lead off to the right are signposted “Riyadh” and are designated as “Obligatory for non Muslims”. So it is in a country where Jews are banned from entry and Christians are forbidden to build churches. But nobody says a word.