By Jonah Cohen
The Jewish Journal
A number of progressive publications and social media influencers have spent the past few weeks accusing Israel of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” One prestigious magazine, The New Republic, branded Israel as a “settler colonial” state engaged in a “never-ending war against Palestinian health,” a kind of updated version of the old European charge that Jewish intruders poison their neighbors’ wells. But if all that were true, then wouldn’t these crimes be reflected in the standard health indexes used worldwide to measure a people’s overall physical well-being—such as in Palestinian life expectancy, infant mortality, population growth, and so on? Let’s look at the data.
In 1967, the year Israel took over the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Jordan and Egypt, the average Palestinian could expect to live only 49 years, according to a United Nations report by Dr. Wael Ennab of An-Najah National University in the West Bank. Once Israel entered the scene, that expectation climbed to 56 years in 1975, jumped to 66 years in 1984, and has since hovered around 75 years, which is higher than the global average. It is also higher than in Iran, Pakistan, and many Arab countries, including Egypt. It is even higher than several countries in the Americas. Israeli presence in the land, while bemoaned by many Palestinians, nevertheless corresponded with major leaps forward in human longevity.
Here again we find improvements in Palestinian well-being since 1967. The Palestinian infant mortality ratio in 1967 was between 152 and 162 per 1,000 births, dropping to 132 per 1,000 in 1974, and plummeting to 53-63 per 1,000 in 1985. Happily, the number has now plunged to 15.6 per 1000, making Palestinian babies safer than those in many other countries. A pregnant woman’s baby stands a better chance of survival in the West Bank and Gaza Strip than in Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, and numerous other nations around the world.
Birth Rates, Death Rates, Population Growth
As a result of high birth rates and dropping death rates, the West Bank and Gaza Strip are among the world’s top areas in population growth. Add the above data on ever-rising life expectancy and plummeting infant mortality, and a complex picture emerges in which, somehow, amid decades of war against the Jewish state, Palestinian life and health are improving.
Access to Water
If it is true that “water is life,” then Israel has enhanced life for Palestinians by providing increased access to clean drinking water. When Jordan occupied the West Bank, just four out of 708 Palestinian towns and villages had modern water supply systems and running water. Enter the hated Jews and in just five years the network of fresh water sources expanded by 50 percent and continued to grow, thanks to Israel’s introduction of modern water management techniques, extensive pipeline development, and deep wells beside urban centers. By 2004, 96 percent of the West Bank population enjoyed running water, even during months of low rainfall. Palestinian water consumption also consistently rose, exceeding annual increases from population growth. Regrettably, theocratic Hamas’s sewage management and over-pumping of Gaza’s aquifer—and obsession with war—have worsened regional difficulties. But if Palestinians made peace with Israel, then pioneering Israeli conservation technologies would surely offer yet more hope and benefits to Gazans’ water situation.
Given the extensive media coverage and worldwide protests over alleged Israeli war crimes, one might reasonably assume that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is among the bloodiest disputes on earth, if not in history. But judged in terms of total dead—roughly 30,000 over 100 years—the conflict is in fact a minor skirmish in comparison to the butcher’s bill of South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, or nearly any European and American wars. Of the 5 million lives lost in the last 70 years of wars in the Middle East and North Africa, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict encompasses less than 1 percent of the total in the region. In the last 10 years, the death toll in Syria’s civil war has proved over ten times worse than the entire history of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. By some estimates, Palestinians are more likely to die in a car accident than at the hands of an Israeli soldier.
I don’t cite the above data in order to justify every Israeli policy regarding the West Bank and regarding the Gaza Strip. Nor do I want to minimize or discount the civilians who suffered in the latest round of Hamas-Israel fighting. My point here is that these decades-long trends of rising Palestinian life expectancy, declining infant mortality, growing populations, increased water supplies, and comparatively low casualty rates disprove the incendiary claims that Israel is committing genocide, guilty of ethnic cleansing, or in a never-ending war against Palestinian health. Such accusations are as false as the old antisemitic charge of well-poisoning, which once sparked medieval riots and pogroms not so unlike today’s attacks against Jews on the streets of Europe and America.
Given all the above data, it seems fair to say that if Palestinian leaders hadn’t rejected numerous offers for statehood—in 2000 at Camp David, in 2001 at Taba, in 2008 after the Annapolis Conference, to name just three—then Palestinian health would now be on par with the world’s most flourishing nations. Unfortunately, for many progressive news outlets today, promoting these peace plans isn’t as exciting as decrying genocide and other mythical Jewish crimes, but such compromise proposals remain far more likely to advance Palestinian health and well-being.
Jonah Cohen is communications director for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA.org).