November 28, 2023

Some Facts About Israel You Might Have Missed

The people of this tiny nation have taken a historically underdeveloped region and built a thriving country.

By Rob Schwarzwalder

In terms of its natural resources, Saudi Arabia is one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Holding known oil reserves of roughly 265 billion barrels, this nation of 37 million boasts a landmass of 830,000 square miles, and Saudi’s people have a per capita income of about $34,000.

Israel’s total area is about 100 times smaller than Saudi Arabia — 8,600 square miles. The Jewish state has about 14 million barrels worth of proven oil reserves; statistically, this equals to 0% of the total known oil reserves in the world (although Israel is seeking to optimize its oil resources nonetheless). Since its inception as an impoverished nation in the late 1940s, Israel’s per capita income is now better than $53,000 — the highest, by far, in the Middle East.

My point is not to disparage the Arab countries surrounding Israel. Rather, it is to recognize that the people of this tiny nation have taken a historically underdeveloped region and built a thriving country. Writing for Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, scholar Peter Berkowitz notes that since the early years of the 20th century, “Jewish residents of Palestine and then Israeli citizens have planted over 250 million trees, and Israel has become a world leader in desalination and irrigation. A booming wine industry and large offshore gas fields contribute to the diversification of Israel’s economy.”

Additionally, the Bloomberg Innovation Index ranks Israel as having the second-highest level of technological research and development in the world (South Korea is number one). Idan Adler of the consulting and accounting giant Deloitte writes that Israel is “one of the hottest innovation and technology hubs in the world. With over 6,000 active startups and an economy dominated by industrial high-tech and entrepreneurship, Israel certainly [has] earned its nickname ‘The Startup Nation.’”

So far, so good. But what about the 700,000 Palestinian Arabs who, in 1948, either left what is now Israel or were forced to flee? Is it fair of the Jews in Israel not to allow the descendants of those who left, now numbering around six million people, not to return?

First, no one should underestimate the difficulties experienced when people have to flee from their homes, leaving behind what they have known for the uncertainties of exile. At the same time, bear in mind the context of the original flight: Arab military resistance to the new Jewish state was intense. As the U.S. State Department reports, on May 13, 1948 — the day before the State of Israel was formally created — the Jewish people in Israel were attacked by “Arab armies from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt. Saudi Arabia sent a formation that fought under the Egyptian command.” Also, various Arab leaders called on Palestinian Arabs to flee, and many Palestinians left with the defeated Arab armies. And since 1948, Israel has fought several major wars with its Arab neighbors and been under continuous assault from Islamist terrorists on its borders.

So, should Israel allow those who left and their now millions of descendants back in? Consider three essential and generally unacknowledged realities. First, as scholar and journalist Fareed Zakaria has written, “anti-Semitism has spread through the Islamic world like a cancer. … Anti-Semitism is now routine discourse in Muslim populations in the Middle East and also far beyond.” The fact that every Arab nation is virtually Jew-free makes this point vividly. And nowhere was this more evident than in the demonstrations supporting Hamas’s horrific attack on Israel of last month in Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Yemen, not to mention “people, including children, waving Palestinian and Hamas flags, dancing and singing in the streets” in “major Palestinian cities, including Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus, and Jenin.”

For Israel to invite people possessed by an acute hatred for the Jewish people to enter its territory would be little more than national suicide.

Second, why have the Arab nations all around Israel not thrived as has the Jewish state? Why have the heirs of the Palestinian migration not rebuilt their lives as fully as the Jews of Israel, a ragged and brutalized people who sought only to live in their ancestral homeland after the Holocaust? Could it not be that the Arab cultures in which they live — oppressive, autocratic, religiously constrictive — discourage the kind of personal liberty and economic innovation that have built Israel into the thriving society it now is? Or that erstwhile Palestinian leaders have siphoned-off the billions in aid they have received to line their own pockets?

Finally, the persecuted Jewish people, for centuries driven from pillar to post in many regions of the world, just want a place to call their own. One need not believe in the demonic origin of anti-Semitism, as do I, to simply acknowledge that an irrationally hated people group, the longtime brunt of pathological maltreatment from Germany to Iran, deserve a place where they can breathe easily and live normal lives.

America is such a place — and must always be — but Israel is uniquely and deservedly so. Long may the flags of both nations wave.

Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University’s Honors College.

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