One of the most common vilifications Israel has to bear is the so-called ‘occupation’ of the West Bank and the forced rule over the Arab population living there. The Arabs are depicted as suffering, poorly treated and unemployed, denied access to proper facilities and forced to live without proper infrastructure. These claims define the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria as an immoral one, even a war crime. But is this the reality? Do these claims reflect the truth?
Anyone who travels through Judea and Samaria and sees the Arab cities and villages there will discover a highly-westernized living standard and rapid expansion, belying the the claims of suffering and discrimination.
In May 2011, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics published a report with data on the quality of life in the region. This report reinforces the impression on the ground. The data demonstrates that the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria has resulted in an immense improvement in civilian infrastructure and has provided the population with proper access to basic resources such as water and electricity. The opening of the Israeli work market has also resulted in a significant boost to the local economy.
When this information is compared with data collected from Arab populations in Arab countries, it becomes clear that the Arabs of Judea and Samaria enjoy a much higher standard of living.
Results of the ‘occupation’
The standard of living enjoyed by Arabs in Judea and Samaria is much higher than that in Arab countries in many respects: food expenses, housing costs, private ownership of property (82% own their homes), ownership of cellular phones, internet access. The percentage of literacy in the population – 92% – is considerably higher than that found among the rest of the Arab population in the Middle East. Life expectancy stands at 74, higher than the rest of the Middle East and closer to Israeli standards.
Water consumption by the Arab population has doubled from 64 million cubic ft. per year to 120 million, 90% of it distributed to homes via modern infrastructure. This is the result of efforts made by Israel’s national water company, Mekorot, to connect as many Arab villages to a modern water system as possible. Availability of water influences the quality of life, so the growth in consumption testifies to an increase in living standards.
Most of the local population prefers Israeli sovereignty
A survey of the Arab population in east Jerusalem in January 2011 by the Washington Middle East Institute sheds light on the local population’s true preferences:
If the two state solution is actualized, would you prefer to live in Israel or Palestine?
If your neighborhood is fully annexed to Israel, what would you do then?
It can be concluded that the so-called Israeli ‘occupation’ has benefited the local population more than it has impaired it, and that they themselves realize it and appreciate it.
Just this past week (Feb. 22), Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz and Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat announced that they have allocated half a billion NIS to be invested in a new plan aimed at developing new roads and improving infrastructure in east Jerusalem. Over 30 major routes are included in this project. The project was developed in cooperation with local community administrators and residents’ representatives, ensuring that priorities are properly set, and that their needs are met. Mayor Barkat emphasized that this project will create a significant improvement in the quality of life of the residents of east Jerusalem, strengthening economic and urban development in this part of the city.