Palestinians aren't famous for a love of Zion. Still, their four decades of firsthand experience with Israel has made even the most devoted enemies of Israel admit to its virtues. And, surprisingly perhaps, they are quite voluble on this subject.
Pro-Israel statements fall into two categories: those praising Israel as a better than the Arab regimes; and those that acknowledge it protects the Palestinians from themselves.
Better than the Arab regimes. Overheated rhetoric against Israel's occupation notwithstanding, Palestinians prefer it to what they experience under fellow Arabs.
The Kuwaiti experience highlighted the contrast between the rule of law in Israel and the despotism of the Arab countries. One man still living in Kuwait after its liberation minces no words. He says "Now I feel Israel is paradise. I love the Israelis now. I know they treat us like humans. The West Band is better (than Kuwait). At least, before the Israelis arrest you, they bring you a paper."
With less exuberance, Yassir Arafat concurs with this sentiment, saying, "What Kuwait did to the Palestinian people is worse than what has been done by Israel to Palestinians in the occupied territories."
Kuwait's eviction of 300,000 Palestinians pointed up another fact: Israel expels criminal elements, not whole communities. A pro-PLO newspaper concludes, "In Kuwait, Palestinians are receiving treatment even worse than they have at the hands of their enemies, the Israelis."
Nor is Kuwait the only problem. Syria may be even worse. Middle East Watch notes, for example, that Palestinians in Syria are imprisoned at a rate 20 times that of Syrians. For this and other reasons, Salah Khalaf declared in 1983 that crimes committed by the Hafez Assad regime against the Palestinian people "surpassed those of the Israeli enemy."
Tow years later, at the funeral of a PLO figure murdered at Syrian instigation, Arafat addressed the dead man, saying "The Zionists in the occupied territory tried to kill you, and when they failed, they deported you. However, the Arab Zionists represented by the rulers of Damascus thought this was insufficient, so you fell as a martyr."
Generalizing about Arab regimes, a PLO official observes, "We no longer dear the Israelis or the Americans, regardless of their hostility, but we now fear our Arab ‘brothers'." Nor is this just talk: On several occasions, Palestinians have taken refuge in Israel. In 1970, for example, they escaped Jordanian forces by crossing the Jordan River to the West Bank.
Protecting Palestinians from themselves. As the intifada degenerated into sheer fratricidal murder – dubbed the "intrafada" – PLO leaders increasingly appreciated Israeli's firm hand. According to an unofficial transcript, the head of the Palestinian delegation to the Arab-Israeli peace talks made this remarkable observation: "Can anyone imagine that a family would be happy to hear a knock at the door in the middle of the night from the Israeli army?"
He continued, "When the infighting began in Gaza, the people were happy that the Israeli Army imposed a curfew."
Some Palestinians go further and concede that life under the Israeli occupation beats what they'll experience with an independent Palestinian state. As Palestinian politics take on a fundamentalist cast, secular Muslims and Christians find Israel's freedom of religion increasingly attractive. A Christian Palestinian explains that when such a state comes into existence, "the sacred union against the Zionist enemy will die. It will be time to settle accounts. We will undergo the same as our Lebanese brothers or the Copts in Egypt. It saddens me to say so, but Israeli laws protect us."
Again, these pro-Israel sentiments are not merely talk. In 1982, for example, Palestinians crossed into Israel to flee the PLO's tender mercies in Lebanon.
In brief, even Palestinians acknowledge Israel as the most civilized state of the Middle East.