Tashbih Sayyed, Muslim Pakistani scholar, journalist, author and former Editor in Chief of Our Times, Pakistan Today, and The Muslim World Today http://www.muslimworldtoday.com/land30.htm A Muslim In A Jewish Land: I tried very hard to find any Muslim state that has true democracy and where religious minorities are accorded equal democratic rights, but failed. The map of the Muslim world is too crowded with kings, despots, dictators, sham democrats and theocratic autocrats and the persecution of minorities is an essential part of Islamist social behavior. Here, protected by Israel's democratic principles, the Muslim Arab citizens of Israel are afforded all the rights and privileges of Israeli citizenship. When the first elections to the Knesset were held in February 1949, Israeli Arabs were given the right to vote and to be elected along with Israeli Jews. Today, Israel's Arab citizens are accorded full civil and political rights entitled to complete participation in Israeli society. They are active in Israeli social, political and civic life and enjoy representation in Israel's Parliament, Foreign Service and judicial system. Large Arab residences, wide spread construction activity and big cars underlined the prosperity and affluence of Palestinians living under the Star of David. The big houses owned by Arab Israelis and the amount of construction that was going on in the Arab towns exposed the falsity of propaganda that Israel discriminates against Israeli Arabs from buying lands. The Arab Waqf owns land that is for the express use and benefit of Muslim Arabs. Government land can be leased by anyone, regardless of race, religion or sex. All Arab citizens of Israel are eligible to lease government land. On my way from the city of David to the Royal Prima hotel in Jerusalem, I asked my Palestinian taxi driver how he feels about moving to the territories under Palestinian Authority. He said that he could never think of living outside Israel. His answer blasted the myth spread by anti-Semites that Israel's Arab citizens are not happy there. Another Israeli Arab informed me that Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights. In fact, Israel is one of the few countries in the Middle East where Arab women can vote. In contrast to the non-Israeli Arab world, Arab women in Israel enjoy the same status as men. Muslim women have the right to vote and to be elected to public office. Muslim women, in fact are more liberated in Israel than in any Muslim country. Israeli law prohibits polygamy, child marriage, and the barbarity of female sexual mutilation. Moreover, I found out that there are no incidences of honor killings in Israel. The status of Muslim women in Israel is far above that of any country in the region. Israeli health standards are by far the highest in the Middle East and Israeli health institutions are freely open to all Arabs, on the same basis as they are to Jews. Israel's Arabic press is the most vibrant and independent of any country in the region. There are more than 20 Arabic periodicals. Today, there are hundreds of Arab schools. Israeli universities are renowned centers of learning in the history and literature of the Arab Middle East. Aware of the constraints that a non-Wahhabi is faced with while performing religious rituals in Saudi Arabia, Kiran (my wife) could not hide her surprise at the freedoms and ease with which peoples of all religions and faiths were carrying out their religious obligations at the Church of the holy Sepulcher, Garden Tomb, Sea of Galilee, newly discovered Western Wall Tunnels, Western Wall, tomb of King David and all the other holy places we visited. My first visit to Israel has not only consolidated my belief that Israel is vital for the stability of the region but has also convinced me that the existence of Israel will one day convince the Muslims of the necessity of reformation in their theology as well as sociology. Looking at the development and transformation that the land has gone through because of the Jewish innovative spirit, hard labor and commitment to freedoms for all times to come, I am convinced that it is true that God created this earth but it is also a fact that only an Israel can keep this earth from dying.