Governing After War – The Case of Israel

Part I: The Wrong Foundation

In this and the next blog, I want to discuss a new foundation for governing Israel to guide the new Israeli government on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. In this first blog, I want to review the proposal of the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) for such a foundation as a foil for my own proposal found in Part II, tomorrow. IPF broadcast a webinar (it is accessible from a recording on their site – called “Realistic Reset” setting forth its foundation. The program began by expressing regret and compassion for those who died in the recent Israel-Gaza War and Susie Gelman, the host, insisted that we not resign ourselves to the inevitability of violence and the prospect of peace. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot, indeed, must not be ignored.”

But that is precisely what I am going to do in this blog – bracketing an emphasis with the pursuit of a two-state solution. I will review the immanent likelihood of the new government in Israel and the implications, first, for Israeli domestic policy, secondly, for foreign policy and only last and very sketchily, non-citizen Palestinian policy. This does not mean that I accept that violence is inevitable, that the conflict is never-ending and that nothing can be done to avert another round. Rather, I am convinced that the road to peace with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank runs first and foremost through Israeli domestic policy, primarily with Israel’s Arab population, and then through its foreign policy. Both of those directions of effort, if they succeed, I am convinced will have profound effects on the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

There was a second emphasis of the Israel Policy Forum webinar – the critical role of the U.S. After four years of one-sided pro-Israeli policies, it is undoubtedly true that the there will be a shift in emphasis coming from the U.S., especially given the development of a pro-Palestinian voice among “progressives” in the Democratic Party. However, I do not expect that shift to make a critical difference and expect the Biden administration to continue its deep and strong support for Israel and its efforts to ensure the security of Israel while continuing to relegate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a back burner. Rather, it will be the shift in domestic politics that will make the greatest difference.

IPF adopted the traditional liberal advocacy posture of more balanced support for both Israeli and Palestinian self-determination – in other words, a two-state solution – even if that objective is seemingly out of reach today. In contrast, I suggest that relegating a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the back burner, a process well underway before the recent Gaza War, and which has received considerable blame for the outbreak in the Gaza violence, should be continued and reinforced. It is not that I am unappreciative of the experts, the thoughtful analyses and the educational resources the IPF brings to the table, but I do believe putting a continuing emphasis on peace is a mug’s game.

IPF admitted there would be no easy fix, especially after the troublesome policies of the Trump administration. The prospect and support of the US for annexation of large parts of the West Bank was found particularly troubling. However, my argument will be that the make-up of the likely new government of Israel will necessarily take annexation off the table. It is no longer immanent even if the creeping occupation of significant areas of the West Bank by 460,000 settlers makes the pressure for such a prospect greater, especially with the continuing decline of the Palestinian populations in those areas.

Trump cut off all aid to the Palestinians. Biden, as a stopgap measure, restored the aid the UNRWA. The Trump administration threw the Palestinian diplomatic delegation out of Washington and, with the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the move of the U.S. embassy to Israel, it also eliminated its diplomatic presence for the Palestinians. The Biden administration is on its way to restoring a diplomatic presence for Palestinians either in Ramallah or, more likely, in East Jerusalem. IPF pushed a platform with four legs:

  • Strengthening America’s support for Israel’s security
  • Rebuilding ties with the Palestinians
  • Continuing the work of the Abraham Accords and promoting continuing Israeli integration into the region
  • Restoring a political horizon for a two-state solution.

The problem, of course, is that the first has always been a bipartisan US policy, the third is just the policy of normalization by another name and the fourth is simply rhetoric since restoring the political horizon for a two-state solution ranges anywhere from new initiatives in the peace process to all quiet of the Gaza and West Bank fronts with no significant initiatives in either direction. Only the second effort veers radically and dramatically away from the Trump administration of not only ignoring but undercutting US-Palestinian relations. Further, there is no indication that such efforts will make any great difference to the results of the pre-Trump administration policies. It is as if the Americans cannot and will not recognize that the US is now a side rather than central player in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

When IPF tried to understand the instigation, the push for what it called “the latest flare-up” in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship after seven years of relative calm, the focus remained on Gaza and not on the far more significant Arab-Jewish clashes in Israel’s mixed cities and the relative quiet in the West Bank, in spite of the war in Gaza. Further, the claimed previous calm on the Gaza front was truly relative since shooting off missiles had been a regular feature of the past Hamas activity and its militant allies. The big difference in the onset of this Gaza-Israel conflict was twofold: seven missiles were set off at the same time; second, they targeted Jerusalem. Israel had been waiting in full readiness when the opportunity was ripe to launch an all-out attack on the military build-up in Gaza. The Jerusalem missile attack simply provided the opportunity.

Nickolay Mladenov contended that there had been “a very long period of quiet in Gaza.” According to him, Hamas miscalculated the response of Israel, and Israel had made mistakes with the provocations at the al-Aqsa Mosque, in the eviction efforts at Sheikh Jarrah and in the security efforts at Damascus Gate at the Old City. However, Mladeno conceded that Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to cancel the Palestinian election was probably the most proximate cause, even though most interpreters insisted that this was simply Hamas’ excuse for instigating the war and directly challenging Israel; Hamas used the situation to advance its political position among the Palestinians and assume the leadership from Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. The firing off of the missiles was clearly intended to escalate the conflict, but not nearly to the extent of the result.

Israel, on its part, had its own agenda:

  • stop security threats from Gaza for, at least, a number of years and reassert security control
  • establish zero tolerance for missiles
  • eliminate as many terror tunnels as possible
  • expose the fact that such tunnels ran 7.5 metres under UNRWA schools
  • end incendiary drones and balloons being sent from Gaza across into Israel
  • obtain the return of two Israeli civilians, one Bedouin and one Jewish, both mentally challenged, as well the bodies of two soldiers held in the 2014 war
  • stabilize the economic situation in Gaza, the most difficult of all, because that is not how the victimization card works for Hamas and there is no one in Israel that I know of politically, intellectually and morally brave enough to take up this challenge
  • to diminish the confidence of Hamas and its support from the Palestinian community, but the reverse happened since Hamas is much more confident and the PA weaker
  • one unintended consequence, but one that has emerged, was the emerging weariness of donors supporting Gaza once again saddled with the terrible costs of rebuilding Gaza
  • there was one intentional goal with respect to donors – ensuring that money for humanitarian aid does not go to Hamas; no longer would suitcases of cash from Qatar be allowed to be imported into Gaza

There was almost no possibility that the aftermath of the war would bring an end to Hamas’ corruption even if money donated by donors did not go to Hamas. Would it be possible for Hamas and the PA to form a technical government of national unity that could negotiate peace? This a possible outcome, intended by neither side, but nevertheless unlikely. The most likely consequence and the most undesirable one by far is that Hamas gained mastery of the political and economic narrative.

One other consequence, but not of the war itself, has been the strengthening of democratic politics in Israel. After four elections in two years, it looks like Israel will have a stable government going into the future, a least for a time. There is no parallel outcome on the Palestinian side. The democratic deficit with respect to no elections for 15 years does not seem to be on the verge of ending.

However, as long as the new dominant emerging narrative on the Palestinian side remains one of deliberate conquest and displacement, colonialism and repression, apartheid and discrimination, by Jews, and given Israel’s government of unity that runs from right to left, there can be neither any significant initiative on this front from either the Palestinians or the Israelis. Even if one for some strange reason appeared, there is no way to reconcile the newly emerging dominant narrative with a two-state solution. Why would the proponents of this narrative, including a strain of critical Jews and Israelis who have adopted it, celebrate and support normalization with the Arab states and its expansion when, in the new narrative, this simply makes room for increasing the spread and grasp of colonialization?

Yet the last is the major piece of good news emerging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, sometimes you have to make an existential choice – adoption of the new colonialist narrative or pushing normalization. You cannot do both. For normalization is, from the perspective of the new dominant narrative among Palestinians and critics, just a sign of victory for colonialism.

In other words, expect the impasse on the peace front to continue. That does not mean expanding settlements and undermining the eventual possibility of a two-state solution. That means that the US can at best have modest ambitions with respect to the Israel-Palestinian peace process.

Shira Efron, however, believes there is an opportunity that has emerged as a result of the outcome of the recent Gaza War – the prospect of strengthening the Palestinian Authority which can be promoted. Martin Indyk, at least, recognizes that with Naftali Bennett as Prime Minister and the other hawkish Israeli politicians in the cabinet, with the strongest proponent of annexation and strongly opposed to a two-state solution as Prime Minister, the best prospect is a freeze not an advance on this front. Since the reform of the PA and restoring its leadership does not seem realistically to be in the works, what non-cynical option is available?

What then is the alternative? Michael Koplow also does not believe that Biden is willing to get bogged down in the ephemeral pursuit of a two-state solution, especially with the growth of the “progressive” critics of Israel within the Democratic Party. The Gaza War, irrespective of the consequences, has certainly not made a two-state solution more viable or urgent. I, however, do not think that, given the new Israeli government, that even small steps on this front will be possible. However, at least progress on human rights for Palestinians, particularly Israel’s own Arab citizens, is congruent with both the Biden administration and the new unity government.

This is the clue that there are other possibilities on the domestic policy front. I will expand on that and then try to reconcile this emphasis with new openings in dealing with the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza in my next blog.


Prophecy in the Twenty-First Century: Parsha Shelach

There is a controversy currently underway in the aftermath of the most recent Gaza War. On the one hand, there are Israelis who accuse Netanyahu and Gantz of cowardice, of holding back and of failing, once and for all, to go into Gaza, dislodging Hamas, disarming the Palestinians and eliminating Gaza as a threat to Israel. From the left wing, “progressives” are denouncing the military response altogether. The seven missiles sent against Jerusalem that triggered the war were just responses to the excess use of force by the Israeli police in the Al-Aqsa Mosque as well as to the other practices, such as in Sheikh Jarrah of evicting Palestinians from their homes.  Israelis did not use enough force. Israelis used far too much force. Which portrait is correct?

Rabbi Yitz Greenberg in his writings has stressed two very different roles for the prophet:

  1. As God’s spokesperson, to deliver God’s message to the Jewish community;
  2. To serve as spokesperson of his people and advocate on their behalf before God.

The two roles have the same standard of measurement – the Covenant God made with the people of Israel. When addressing the people, the prophet must remind them of their obligations under the Covenant and the consequences to them if they are not fulfilled. When addressing God as an advocate for his people, the prophet must remind God of His obligations to the people under the Covenant, however wayward the people have been, and the consequences, this time, both to God and His chosen people if God does not keep His side of the bargain.

As Yitz described it, the great crisis between these two roles came in the aftermath of the Golden Calf incident. And God’s decision – soon retracted – that He was going to abandon the Israelites to their own fate and begin to create a new nation from a core, the core of Moses and his family (Exodus 31:10-14) Moses rejected the offer unequivocally and insisted that God live up to His side of the deal He had made. Moses was sticking to the fate of his people.

י  וְעַתָּה הַנִּיחָה לִּי, וְיִחַר-אַפִּי בָהֶם וַאֲכַלֵּם; וְאֶעֱשֶׂה אוֹתְךָ, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל.
10 Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them; and I will make of thee a great nation.’
יא  וַיְחַל מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-פְּנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו; וַיֹּאמֶר, לָמָה יְהוָה יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ, אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, בְּכֹחַ גָּדוֹל וּבְיָד חֲזָקָה.11 And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said: ‘LORD, why doth Thy wrath wax hot against Thy people, that Thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
יב  לָמָּה יֹאמְרוּ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר, בְּרָעָה הוֹצִיאָם לַהֲרֹג אֹתָם בֶּהָרִים, וּלְכַלֹּתָם, מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה; שׁוּב מֵחֲרוֹן אַפֶּךָ, וְהִנָּחֵם עַל-הָרָעָה לְעַמֶּךָ.12 Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying: For evil did He bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people.
יג  זְכֹר לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבָדֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לָהֶם בָּךְ, וַתְּדַבֵּר אֲלֵהֶם, אַרְבֶּה אֶת-זַרְעֲכֶם כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמָיִם; וְכָל-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתִּי, אֶתֵּן לְזַרְעֲכֶם, וְנָחֲלוּ, לְעֹלָם.13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Thy servants, to whom Thou didst swear by Thine own self, and saidst unto them: I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.’
יד  וַיִּנָּחֶם, יְהוָה, עַל-הָרָעָה, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לַעֲשׂוֹת לְעַמּוֹ.  {פ}14 And the LORD repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people. {P}

It is not often that we see God repenting for what He had said. This happens again in this week’s parashah. When the spies return from Canaan with the warnings of ten of the twelve spies concerning the wrath and formidable force the Israelites would face if they crossed into Canaan, the people panicked. They trembled to their very toes. And they implored Moses to stop and turn around.

Stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?

There’s battle lines bein’ drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speakin’ their minds
Gettin’ so much resistance from behind

(It’s time we)
Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singin’ songs and carryin’ signs
Mostly sayin’, “hooray for our side”

(It’s time we)
Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the man come and take you away

(We better)
Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?
(We better)
Stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?
(We better)
Stop, now, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?
(We better)
Stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s goin’ down?

The key verse is the following:

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the man come and take you away

The fear was both of the enemies they faced and of God’s wrath if they hesitated from facing their enemies. That was real paranoia.

Moses had handled God’s wrath with diplomacy. But when he witnessed firsthand, not the people’s fear, but the joy with which they danced when they had turned their backs on God. Moses, in an absolute fury and fit, broke the tablets of the law that he had brought down from the mountain and rebuked the people. Previously, Moses had quietly but firmly stood up to God. This time, he lost it. Furious beyond measure, he gathered the Levites who went through the camp killing 3,000, .5% of the total population. It was a slaughter.

What does Rabbi Greenberg focus on when he came to the returning spies?

In this parashah (as at the Golden Calf), Moses holds up the banner of a religious role model and leader. The prophet is ready to give his life for the people. To be religious is to be ready to give one’s life for others—not to seek exemptions from danger on the grounds of being devoted to Torah. The prophet does not simply judge the people in God’s name. The religious leader brings the people’s needs and concerns to God and, sometimes, asks for different instructions. The prophet does not lay the blame on the people, and he will stand with them and even take punishment with them as he tries to sustain them through failure or loss of nerve.

Moses had learned patience. Moses had learned to understand the people’s fears and to turn them around. But then why did Moses take his wrath out against the spies? Why? After all, they had reported back accurately what they had seen – giants burying their own dead. But they also offered their interpretation that the Israelites were akin to inyenzi, to grasshoppers, compared to the giants. It was not like the extremist Hutu branding the Tutsi as inyenzi who need to be exterminated. The Israelites branded themselves.

They saw but they were blind. They suffered from mindblindness, not in what they saw but how they interpreted what they saw.

What about the present? What about the reports back if the IDF invades Gaza by land? This is a case where the authorities in charge of Gaza declare with their words that the Jews should be eliminated from Palestine, all of Palestine. This was not a case of projection of what they saw into how they were perceived by the giants. They merely took seriously the actual words of Hamas. Further, the Israelites were not afraid of the Palestinians in Gaza but calculated that if they went in with a land force, three consequences would inevitably follow:

  1. They would suffer a significant number of casualties.
  2. Afterwards, they would be burdened with the occupation of Gaza.
  3. The wrath of the world would increase rather than recede as the memory that the Israelis had killed far more Gazans than the Gazans had killed Israelis faded from memory.

The spies who returned from Canaan to advocate no invasion were wrong, not because they saw giants, but because they saw themselves as inyenzi, as grasshoppers. In contrast, the intelligence services that advocated no invasion of Gaza were correct because they acted like true giants and saw no need either to conquer the Palestinians in Gaza and certainly not of exterminating them. Limiting the capacity of Hamas and its allies to kill for another decade was sufficient.

What then is God’s message to the Jewish people in this moment of trial by fire? Hold your fire. Be moderate even when, in the name of human rights and progress, your enemies see you as extremists. Be modest in your goals. How do we know this is the true message of God? We do not. But we do know and can verify that the Israeli intelligence services were not reporting back inaccurately, not only what Hamas and its allies were saying and doing, but reporting accurately. More importantly, the estimate of their own capacities and abilities to respond were more or less accurate. And where they were not, there was a determination to make corrections. The Israelis are not suffering from mindblindnesss when it comes to Gaza.

By and large, Israel behaved appropriately.

Part II: Truth, Empathy, Justice and Peace –

Four dimensions for managing and possibly resolving violent conflict

As I have written, the debate has shifted for the critics of Israel – from two nations competing for the same land in which the division of the land arrived at was unfair and unjust to the Palestinians, to a different narrative of an oppressed group denied self-determination by an repressive colonial and apartheid regime that perpetuates injustice, both by denying Palestinians the right to self-determination and by the unequal and unjust treatment of even its own citizens who are Palestinian. The source of the violence in both cases is injustice, just differently characterized in the two accounts.

Justice then is the necessary condition to ensure a sustainable peace. On the other hand, peace is supposed to be a necessary condition for attaining true justice. Justice and peace, in this view, are symbiotically related, each dependent on the other, although they refer to different spheres. Justice, that is social rather than just legal justice, is concerned with minimizing inequality. Peace is concerned with minimizing violence. Inequalities foster violence and violence benefits those who have little interest in human rights.

The realistic but positive option is to increase the justice for both groups in the expectation that the prospect of violence will be reduced. However, the problem is not that simple. When Israel removed its settlements and its military from Gaza in 2005, the justice for Palestinians was purportedly increased in that self-determination was now in their own hands. As well, the Israelis left behind an economic infrastructure that could be used to improve the living standards of the Gazans. But Hamas won the election in Gaza, deposed the Palestinian Authority from any role and introduced a more repressive regime. Further, after the evacuation, instead of turning the greenhouses left behind by the settlers into thriving production centres, they were dismantled.

This, of course, does not prove that there is no correlation between improved justice and improved prospects of peace. But it does suggest that there is no necessary link between the two. They are independent elements of a society, sometimes working in cooperation for improvement, but at other times, as in the case above, injustice increased with the withdrawal of the military. Further, with increased independence and self-determination, Gaza became a centre for attacking Israel on a major scale on four different occasions – 2008-9, 2012, 2014 and 2021. Violence increased significantly with an increase in Gazan self-determination.

There was and remains a reason for that. There is a gap between the increased justice the Gazans gained and the increased sense of the injustices of the past when 720,000 refugees fled, and the Palestinians lost their lands and homes. Thus, the perceived and felt net sense of injustice rose even though, in any objective measure, the justice in terms of self-determination increased.

Is there a correlation between increased sense of injustice and an increased propensity to engage in violence?  Even in that sense, when repression sets in, there is often a decline in violence because the new regime may be so repressive that violence of all kinds declines except for that committed by the regime itself. In sum, there is no necessary connection between improvements in justice and a decline in violence. These are two independent variables. Look at it another way. Right wing commentators have suggested that the 2021 Gaza War broke out precisely because Iran was seeking a revived nuclear deal with the US. Iran unleashed its minions in Gaza to stir up trouble and offer a warning signal to America about what could happen if the US continues to reinforce a pariah status for Iran.

In parallel to the relationship believed to exist between the degree of injustice and the degree of violence, there is a general belief that an increased understanding of the perspective of the other will enhance the prospects of peace. But when commentators study the thought processes and beliefs of Hamas leaders and understand how powerful the antipathy to Israel is and that they truly intend, as their charter states, to work to dismantle and destroy Israel, Israel is prone to increase its ability to respond militarily to deter a resort to violence by Hamas. In some situations, enhanced empathetic understanding of the beliefs, emotions and thinking of the other can be correlated with enhanced violence.

If we examine the correlation between truth and the use of violence, the more acutely a nation understood the real nature and intentions of a regime like Stalin’s or Hitler’s, the more resolved the nation was to recognize that “peace in our time” was an unlikely prospect and that one had better prepare for war. They say that truth is the first casualty of war. But it may be truer to say in some cases that truth can be the first and primary cause of war and the resort to violence.

My point is simply that there is no necessary connection between truth, between empathy and between injustice and the prospect of peace and war. Further, there is no correlation between injustice and empathy. Even though one’s initial judgement is that there would be. After all, if one can get inside the head and heart of another and more acutely recognize the injustices that others suffer, one would think that increased empathy would be correlated with an increased desire to bring greater justice to that other.

It is possible, however, that if one gets to understand the injustices experienced by another, one may become more determined than ever not to get into the position of the other, and, even more dangerously, decide to reinforce the repression of the other in fear of what the freedom from repression might bring in a backlash from the other. All this does is attempt to destroy false correlations without providing any substitute.

That is because I cannot find regular correlations between and among these various values and individual cases. Instead, I suggest that conclusions not be drawn on the basis of expected correlations, nor on the basis of only one or two of the above dimensions. Instead, one should conduct a detailed case study to ascertain how degrees of violence, degrees of justice, degrees of empathy and degrees of truth all interact to result in the net possibility of increased or decreased violence. The case analysis should yield what can come out of different combinations and what cannot emerge.

Eliminate the can’t, the impossibilities from one’s consideration and focus on the realities. Then of the much more limited set of possibilities, analyze what the effects of different elements and their combination are likely to be. Taking into consideration the realistic alternative possibilities, choose the option you most prefer to promote and which levers are most susceptible to affecting the outcome and how your own position can help tip the balance one way or another.

If we use the Gaza-Israeli conflict as an example and one key element in the larger Israeli-Palestinian struggle, the factual analysis, it becomes clear that the closer one studies the case, the clearer it becomes that inconvenient facts are being ignored and that other facts are simplified beyond recognition. More often than not, the prescribed framing of the narrative even determines what is believed to be the case rather than what is the case.

Further, when empathetic reenactment enters into the equation, the prospect of Hamas doing anything besides possibly harassing and threatening Israel, no matter what degree Israel reduces the pressures on Gaza to prevent the import of military equipment, then one cannot help but arrive at a decision that a policy of enhanced controls, and, hence, enhanced injustices on the Gazan people, is the most likely path of reducing the prospect of violence. In fact, the clearer Israel communicates the message that it is ready to resort to the use of violence to deter Hamas, the less likely Hamas will be to resort to violence itself.

This is particularly true if there is no political gain to be expected from bystanders driven by sympathy rather than empathy, driven by a repugnance against violence, driven by a deep-seated sense of injustice that they are willing, indeed eager, to set aside inconvenient facts that may challenge such a position of naivete. Ironically, in the pursuit of peace and justice, such bystanders may be complicit in enhancing violence rather than diminishing its prospects.

I am not suggesting that realism is the answer, that an opposite simplification, such as all nations are determined in their policies by the protection of their own interests and that a hard-hearted approach is necessary. Hamas could change. The PLO did, perhaps insufficiently, but it did change. So did the attitudes of the countries that entered the Abraham process of normalization. Counties must be ready to adapt quickly to these changes which enhance the prospects of peace, the prospects of reducing injustices, the prospects of enhancing the understanding the other. The bottom line requires a detailed attention to the truth in any situation and the avoidance of eliding the truth, distorting it, underplaying it and otherwise not paying it the greatest respect – often the consequence of an overriding a priori picture that enhances mindblindness rather than insight.

Truth, Empathy, Justice and Peace –

Four dimensions for managing and even resolving violent conflict

In this blog I will illustrate how, implicitly and explicitly, evidence is piled up to show Israel fostering violence and how injustices and humanitarian mistreatment contribute to the perpetuation of violent conflict, particularly by Israel. But each of these specific claims, while usually not false in themselves, cumulatively create a false and highly selective narrative that presents, upon critical examination, a false portrait in the media war. In the next blog, rather than displaying the four concepts as complementary, I will further elaborate on the tensions between and among them that, in reality, undercut the prospect of peace. I will make an even stronger claim that it is only by addressing those tensions and conflicts among these basic moral conceptions that a path can be found that will, in the end, result in peace.

Look at the following stories published in various outlets and collected by the Foundation for Middle East:


Four Jews charged with terrorism after allegedly stabbing Arab in Jerusalem, Times of Israel

“Prosecutors filed terrorism charges on Sunday against four Jewish men accused of stabbing an Arab man in a Jerusalem market two weeks ago, seriously wounding him. The victim, 25, was at his place of work — a burger restaurant in the Mahane Yehuda market — when he was stabbed ten times by his assailants. He was rushed to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in the city, where doctors found that a knife wielded by one of his assailants had torn open his lung and liver.”

During the Gaza Flare-up, Israel Killed 27 Palestinians in the West Bank. He Was One of Them, Haaretz

“A resident of the Fawwar camp, Hussein Titi, went up to his roof to watch troops leave after they’d snatched his neighbor. Titi peeked out – and was shot dead.”

Hamas calls for ‘day of rage’ in West Bank over Al-Aqsa incursions, Al Anadolu

“Palestinian resistance group Hamas on Tuesday called for rallies in the occupied West Bank on Friday to protest settler incursions into the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Palestinians decry new West Bank restrictions on movement in wake of protests, Middle East Eye

“Residents of Palestinian villages say Israel’s army is besieging them in order to allow settlement expansion and deter protests.”

Settler crime and violence inside Palestinian communities, 2017-2020, Yesh Din

“Relations between settlers and Palestinians often echo Israel’s system of control over the Palestinians, with its hallmark hostility and sense of superiority. Attacks by Israeli civilians against Palestinians and their property are commonplace throughout the West Bank.

See also:


The versions of the narrative in pictorial terms provided in the previous blog are complemented by conclusions about justice and injustice. The injustice in not about Hamas using its donations to build terror tunnels and rockets or to aim those rockets at Israel, but about the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza that is alleged to be the source of the injustices visited upon the Gazan Palestinians. As Zaha Hassan wrote in an essay called, “Can There be Freedom, Prosperity, and Democracy for Gaza?” “Securing the rights of Palestinians in Gaza is required now. The United States should prioritize ending the Israeli blockade and restrictions on Gaza. Israel’s isolation of the Strip and its approximately 2 million inhabitants prevent Palestinian national reconciliation, guarantees recurring episodes of high-intensity violence, and condemns Palestinians to inhumane conditions. It also indefinitely thwarts a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the PLO—a U.S. policy objective—buying Israel the time and political space to cement its sovereignty over the West Bank.” The injustices are all the fault of Israel and its prime international backer, America.


That injustice extends to the permanent residents of East Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority (PA) may be unable to provide social security at all for the Palestinian residents of its territory, and certainly, Hamas cannot. But when Israel denies such benefits to Palestinians as well as their spouses, intent in their actions on the destruction of Israel, this is written up as an example of supreme injustice. “The National Insurance Institute has suspended the social and medical benefits of at least 11 political activists and former prisoners who live in East Jerusalem. These benefits are also being denied to their family members.”


Israel kills Palestinians with mental illness through impunity. My cousin-in-law was one of them, Middle East Eye

“Muhannad Tawfiq Abdelhadi, who lived with schizophrenia and was often found wandering in confusion through his Gaza neighbourhood, was shot dead by Israeli forces near the border fence.”

Killing with impunity: Israel’s undercover units in Palestine, Al Jazeera

“…These undercover units have also been involved in the sweeping arrest campaign of Palestinians currently being carried out in northern Israel, following protests there against the deaths in Gaza and the violence in occupied East Jerusalem over Palestinians being expelled from their homes.”

Occupation forces attack protesters in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, WAFA

“Israeli occupation forces on Saturday evening assaulted dozens of Palestinian protesters and solidarity activists as they were demonstrating in the occupied Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in support of its citizens who are facing an Israeli threat of eviction from their homes. Witnesses said dozens of Israeli police officers physically assaulted the protesters and attacked them with teargas and pushed them away from the entrance of the neighborhood, which has been sealed by the occupation authorities for more than two weeks.”


Thus, claims of injustice are used to insist that peace is undermined through these alleged injustices. The same happens with empathy, but that empathy is more in the version of sympathy which is used to argue that peace is undermined by a lack of sympathy for the greatest victims and the converse arguments is made that greater sympathy must be encouraged for victims to foster peace.

International Scene

Israel losing US perception battle as Palestinian sympathy grows, Al Jazeera

“Last month, as Israel carried out an 11-day bombing campaign on the besieged Gaza Strip and Hamas, the Palestinian group that controls the Strip, fired rockets back, something important was shifting halfway around the world. For the first time in a long time, Israel seemed to be losing ground in the battle of perception in the United States as lawmakers questioned their government’s pro-Israel policies.”

Statement of the Special Rapporteur – OPT – Michael Lynk – UN Human Rights Council Special Session (May 27), UN/Office of the Human Rights Commissioner

“…What we have witnessed in Gaza these past few weeks haunts the conscience of the world. Approximately 240 Palestinians killed, the majority of whom were civilians and at least 63 who were children. Almost 2,000 were injured. There has been massive property destruction. All of this at the hands of one of the best equipped militaries in the modern world. Rockets from Palestinian armed groups have killed 12 civilians in Israel. Many Israeli civilians have lived through a state of fear and suffered damage to their properties. Along the way, the strict prohibitions of international humanitarian law which bind all of these combatants have almost certainly been breached.”

Palestinians say 19 families massacred by Israel in Gaza, Al Anadolu

“Israel has committed massacres against 19 Palestinian families during its 11-day bombardment of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Health Ministry said on Sunday. A ministry statement said that 91 Palestinians were killed in these massacres, including 41 children and 25 women. According to the ministry, 21 members of the Al-Kawlak family were killed in an Israeli onslaught on Gaza City, including eight children and six women. ‘The Abu Auf family lost nine members, including a child and five women in an Israeli bombardment of their house in Gaza City,’ the ministry said. The ministry added that six members of al-Tanani family, including four children and a woman, were also killed in an Israeli airstrike on their home in the northern Gaza Strip.”


Israeli police run over child in Jerusalem for flying Palestinian flag, Al Anadolu

“A 12-year-old Palestinian child was run over by Israeli police in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood for placing the Palestinian flag on his bicycle while riding to a nearby grocery to buy bread. ‘I was on my bike to buy bread when three Israeli policemen chased me because I put the [Palestinian] flag on the bike,’ Jawad al-Abbasi said in a report he provided to the Hadassah Hospital where he has been receiving treatment.” (Video)


Israel detains more Palestinian citizens as arrest campaign enters second week, Middle East Eye

“On Monday, Israeli police arrested more than six Palestinian citizens of Israel, the latest round up in a campaign that has seen 1,700 Palestinians picked up since early May, according to a committee monitoring the situation…The arrests are part of the Israeli police’s mass arrest campaign, called ‘Law and Order’, which began on 24 May after two weeks of protests in mixed cities against Israeli settlement policies in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and the bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The Arab Emergency Committee, which was formed in the wake of the protests in early May, said it has documented that, in addition to the arrest of 1,700 Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship, there have been 300 related cases of assault. Around 100 Palestinian citizens of Israel have been arrested daily since the campaign began, the committee said, and some of them were released later.”

Also see:

Facebook’s AI treats Palestinian activists like it treats American Black activists. It blocks them. (Washington Post)Jewish and Palestinian Mobs Dueled in Israeli Towns — but the Crackdown Came for One Side (The Intercept)

The result of all of the above is that Palestinians win the media war and, further, the reinforcement of the belief that it is in and through the media that the outcome of the war will be decided.


Netanyahu attempted to block social media, says Israeli press, Middle East Monitor

“The Israeli prime minister attempted to shut down social media after Israeli-national Palestinians held protests against Israel’s attacks on East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip under blockade

Israel-Palestine: The double standard in American newsrooms, Al Jazeera/Listening Post

“News coverage in the US of the Palestine-Israel conflict has always favoured Israel but that is beginning to shift. The question is – to what extent and will it last?” (video report)

Israel’s Brutal Month With the Democratic Party – and Its Impact on Public Opinion, Haaretz

“The past several weeks has seen an unprecedented focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the Democratic Party, with rival blocs increasingly unafraid to nail their colors to the mast.”

Agence France Presse fires Palestinian journalist in West Bank, Middle East Monitor

Agence France Presse (AFP) has sacked its Palestinian correspondent in the West Bank, the journalist’s union said yesterday. Nasser Abu Baker lost his job apparently after the agency came under ‘Israeli diktats’, said the Syndicate of Palestinian Journalists, “mainly due to his involvement in the issue of seeking to bring occupation leaders before international courts for their crimes against his fellow Palestinian journalists.’”

Israel extends detention of 2 Palestinian journalists, Al Anadolu

“An Israeli court on Friday extended the detention of two Palestinian journalists detained by police in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem. Solicitor of Palestinian journalists Jad Qadmani noted the Israeli magistrate court in West Jerusalem extended the detention of Al-Qafiyah television reporter Ziynet al-Halawani and cameraman Wahbi Mekkiye at the request of the prosecutor’s office. He told Anadolu Agency that Israeli police brutally attacked the journalists and footage of the attack was presented to the court. ‘However, the court decided to extend the detention period of the two journalists for a few more days,’ he said. The journalists were detained while on duty late Thursday. Mekkiye was beaten and sustained injuries while police tried to detain him.”

Also see:

In tomorrow’s blog, I will offer an analysis of the tensions between and among the four conceptions and how they may be resolved to foster peace.

Truth and Falsehood

In addition to peace and justice, which most observers assumed were lost in the battle in the recent Gaza War, not only empathy but truth as a fourth dimension must be introduced to measure and assess the Gaza-Israel story for a “balanced” report. In the new predominant narrative of Palestinian loss and exploitation and of Jewish usurpation, oppression, displacement, replacement and apartheid, a map circulated and was published in The New York Times supposedly showing how “Historic Palestine” had been taken over by Israel. “As a technical matter, the map is a confusing mélange of images: it includes something that did not exist (Palestinian control over all the territory), something that did not happen (the proposed United Nations partition) and something odd (pre-1967 occupations by Jordan and Egypt are depicted as Palestinian-controlled).” (Glenn Kessler “The dueling histories in the debate over ‘historic Palestine’,” The Washington Post 28.05.2021)

Images are supposedly far more powerful than words. Another example of misleading and false imagery also was provided by The New York Times. In its 26 May 2021 edition on the front page appeared a story headlined, “They Were Only Children” with thumbnail photos of 69 youths under 18 years of age – 67 Palestinians and two Israelis, one Arab and one Jewish – killed in the 11 days of conflict of Israel versus Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The representation, other than intended to touch our sympathetic heart strings, was misleading in the following respects:


  • Child soldiers of 16 and 17 are not innocent children and some were definitively killed as militant participants; the Israeli actions were depicted as an offensive operation when they were a defensive response to militant provocation;

Causation of Death:

  • All 67 Gazan children were not killed by Israeli bombs since a number of Gazan rockets fell short and landed in densely populated Gaza;

Immediate Causation of War:

  • The immediate proximate causes of the war were the instability in the Israeli government that seemed to be on the verge of being resolved with the installation of a right, centre and left anti-Netanyahu coalition, at the same time as Abbas cancelled the Palestinian elections on the pretext of Israel’s failure to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority in providing voting opportunities in East Jerusalem post offices for East Jerusalemites, giving Hamas an opportunity to rain rockets down on Jerusalem in ostensible response to the troubles at al-Aqsa Mosque but, more immediately, the opportunity for Hamas to leap ahead as the leader of the Palestinian cause;

Intermediate Cause of the War

  • Netanyahu’s policies of supporting Palestinian displacement in Jerusalem, his undermining of Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority in favour of Hamas, and his alliance with evangelicals and the American right while allowing a rift in the Democratic Party between Progressives and Liberals to deepen and widen, limiting Biden’s leverage to short-circuit the war and take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the back burner of simmering animosity where he preferred to leave it to the front burner of explosive violence;

Longer Term Cause of the War

  • Netanyahu’s neglect of the peace process in favour of peace with Arab states that bypassed Palestinians. Presumably to leave them in the dustbin of history while Israel pursued creeping annexation;

Distorted Consequentialist Analysis:

  • Though two Israeli children were killed by Gazan missiles, the article did not discuss the psychological trauma on Israeli children hiding in safe rooms for 11 days as over 4,400 missiles were fired from Gaza but only the “post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fear and anxiety” of the Palestinian children;

Distorted Analysis of Accountability:

  • The role of Hamas in initiating the rockets sent to Jerusalem while attributing the deaths of Gazan children to Israeli airstrikes;

Absence of Reference to Expected Defensive Actions

  • These include the failure to build bomb shelters for civilians in Gaza, to ensure children were collected in facilities clearly identified as such for the Israeli military, the failure to ensure children were not near possible military targets and, the biggest failure of all, the failure to make sure missile launching sites were not near civilians;

Authentication and Verification Procedures:

  • These were not included if they were carried out at all;

Absence of Context:

  • Did the children die as a result of proximity to militant targets, as in the case of the death of fifteen-year-old Muhammad Saber Ibrahim Suleiman, whose father, who was targeted, was a commander in the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, or children inadvertently killed as a result of shrapnel or of the collapse of buildings when terror tunnels were exploded;

Absence of Reference to Israeli Warnings:

  • As was its practice, in an example offered, were warnings issued by Israel about the attack on the building that went unheeded?

The misuse of evaluative terminology

  • IDF firepower was represented as indiscriminate when, by all accounts, in this war they were marked by very accurate targeting, deaths were referred to as disproportionate, which they were if one uses the ratio of Palestinian children killed compared to Israelis or of British deaths from the blitz (only 40,000) compared to the half million Germans killed by allied bombs, whereas in just war assessments, proportionality refers to the amount of lethal force used relative to the military target and the risk to civilians;

Citing sources without evaluating the claims:

  • As in the above illustration.

The enormous asymmetries (not disproportion) in death and destruction to the two sides as well as in armaments and wealth are matched by other asymmetries which are often omitted from stories:

·        Hamas intends to wipe Israel off the map; Israel has no equivalent intentions re Gaza;

·        Hamas considers Israel totally illegitimate; Israel does not consider Gaza in that way;

·        Hamas engages in antisemitic tropes; though some Israelis do, Israel itself does not apply Islamophobic stereotypes to Gazans;

·        Hamas is an anti-liberal, anti-modern and undemocratic theocracy whereas Israel is a democratic relatively liberal state that embraces modernism, even though a portion of its own society is also anti-liberal, anti-modern and prefers an undemocratic theocracy;

·        Hamas, the rulers of Gaza, are characterized as a terrorist organization by most western states, but Israel is characterized as a state under constant threat of terrorism.

There is a greater overarching set of factors in weakening truth as a dimension for dealing with and understanding violent conflict, the questioning by postmodernist methodology of enlightenment rationality, objective neutrality to be balanced with the quest for legal equality of justice. Instead of a constellation of forces peculiar to a specific conflict being understood and managed, the operation of the world is characterized in terms of power struggles – white over black, colonists over the colonized – and the effort to perpetuate that power. All violence is rooted in this fundamental conflict and through this frame, all analysis must be filtered through the lens of power rivalry, thereby undercutting pluralism in the quest for objective knowledge. Claims to truth are merely claims to power and must entail competing narratives rather than the effort to establish an overarching single narrative.

The enlightenment is a fraud. Liberalism is a lie. The quest for objective truth is a chimera. We live in a world of oppression in which the oppressed are duty bound to use their energies to overthrow the oppressors. Thus, by definition, Israel as the much stronger party must be an oppressor. Oppression is the essence of Zionism. Liberal epistemology is an even bigger lie than liberalism, as are procedural rules and demands for consistency and coherence, but most of all, the principle of falsifiability. Liberals respond by declaring that the governing norm – all group relations are about power – is to be ruled out simply because there is no test that could falsify this. The response – the rule of falsifiability is but a tool for retaining power. In that effort, Israel is the junior colonizer  to America in the senior lead.

These assertions are a priori and not subject to refutation for they are ones in terms of which a proper analysis must be carried out. Any other rival overarching frame is but an effort in camouflage and deceit. Thus, not only must Israel be relegated to the ash heap of history, so also must be the epistemology of the enlightenment. Postmodernism does not accomplish this by winning the debate but by ending the debate altogether and discarding the practices that have been established over the last four centuries. Instead, subjective lived experience and emotional identification trump facts, trump empiricism and trump the search for objectivity.

Next: Connecting Truth and Empathy with Justice and Peace as Competing Categories for Depicting and Understanding Violent Conflict

Sympathy versus Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings and thoughts of others. A good historian is one who can get inside the head and heart of an agent in history and intellectually and emotionally reenact what that agent is going through and the decisions made. Sympathy, by contrast, is an attachment to and identification with the feelings and thoughts of the other such that any critical discernment is set aside in favour of emotional identification. What we find now in a great deal of reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a great deal of sympathy for the Palestinian position in the guise of empathy.

Not a day goes by now when I do not open my computer to multiple stories which provide blatant examples of journalist’s total sympathy with the Palestinian cause and almost exclusive blaming of Israel. That is, of course, Honest Reporting’s (HR) mandate. I expect bulletins from HR along these lines:

“On CBC News and CBC The National, Margaret Evans’ reporting was highly skewed against Israel, to the point that Israel was blamed almost exclusively for Gaza’s destruction, despair and deaths.”

“In The Toronto Star, Michael Lynk, the so-called “UN Special Rapporteur for the situation for human rights in the Palestinian territory,” created a false narrative of Israel as a pariah state, constantly breaking international law, in need of immediate opprobrium and an “occupier” of Gaza. Lynk’s narrative relied almost entirely on factual errors and extremely misleading statements.”

When you check up on HR, the statements are largely true.

S. Michael Lynk happens to be a Canadian now serving as the independent expert and Special Rapporteur for OHCHR (Commission on Human Rights) dealing with the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. His mandate is to investigate Israel’s violation of human rights, not those of Hamas. That is the first built-in bias. Second, his mandate applies to “Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967,” yet Gaza is included even though Israel withdrew from occupying Gaza in 2006 and the Gazan government indicated its independence in initiating wars against Israel in 2009, 2012, 2014 and most recently in 2021. Further, Lynk, as did Richard Falk before him, indicated his lack of independence and objectivity by joining in a petition, before he investigated, pointing to the “forced evictions of Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah in “Occupied” East Jerusalem “as the spark that set off a full-blown war.”

It certainly was one element, but how can one draw such a definitive conclusion without an investigation. My own previous articles summarizing the conflict over housing in Sheikh Jarrah as simply a matter of “forced evictions” is a travesty, at the very least, even if I and many others sympathize with the situation of those Palestinian families and disagree with efforts to evict them.

The collective letter went on to charge Israel with causing untold destruction to Gaza without any consideration of the role of Hamas, without an investigation as required, and when, in the case of Gaza, the territory is outside his mandate. Instead, the reference is to “indiscriminate” or “deliberate” bombing of civilians. The judgement is made about the disproportionality only by reference to the ratio of destruction, deaths and injured, not to the legal definition of proportionality relative to the military objective. Instead, without an investigation, without hearing a defence of the claims, without any analysis of the actions of the instigator of the war, the actions are asserted without qualification to be war crimes. In effect, Richard Lynk provided ample evidence that he was not independent, was not objective, was not operating within his jurisdiction and had allowed his understandable sympathy with the plight of the Palestinian civilian population of Gaza to undermine whatever discernment and objectivity he might have possibly brought to the issue.

Margaret Evans, a CBC correspondent based in the London bureau, reported on the scene from Gaza Al-Wehda Street, lined with destroyed apartments and stores. She showed two apartments hit on the worst night of the bombing campaign. “a representation of the human toll” Dr. Ayman Abu abu-Alouf, the head of internal medicine at al-Shifa Hospital, died along with two of his children and his wife. The al-Kolak family lost 22 members. It is a bleeding-heart story deliberately intended to pull at the heart strings of anyone watching. The vast destruction in Gaza is captured in miniature. However, the conflict is not put within any context of Hamas policies and initiatives or even the facts that an estimated at least 25% of the destruction was a result of rockets fired off from Gaza but which fell short and landed in Gaza.

These are two examples, one of abstract principled appeal and the other of a direct sensory appeal to sympathy offsetting any responsibility for empathetically understanding the policies of Hamas or why a significant part of the population supports Hamas. These are unequivocal examples of sympathy trumping the responsibility for engaging in empathy. Of course, the responsibility for objectivity and truth are also sacrificed, but that is the focus of the next blog.

There are many other dimensions to the way in which sympathy trumped empathy as the reining methodology of dealing with the events that took place. Sympathy can be indifferent to truth, but empathy can also be at war with truth. Arno Rosenfeld wrote a story for The Forward headlined: “A spate of antisemitism reveals Jewish community fissures.” As I foresaw in my last blog, when empathy is at war with truth, the losers are members of the Jewish community brought to profuse tears by the stories and pictures to which they are exposed. This is the case even though incidents of antisemitism are rapidly increasing in frequency. A Jewish history and Holocaust scholar is murdered in the Ukraine. A Jewish man is punched on a Berlin street, one of 3 antisemitic incidents that day in the German capital.

Ben Samuels wrote a story in The Washington Post (26.05.2021) headlined: “These Young Jewish Staffers Are Bringing Their Disillusionment With Israel to Capitol Hill.” His stories and others bring up these repeated themes:

  • They went to Jewish day schools, attended Jewish camps and often went on birthright trips.
  • They were raised to be cheerleaders of Israel.
  • They grew skeptical as they learned more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • As they launched their careers, they either bracketed their concern for Israel or even became critics.
  • Whatever position they now take, they resent being raised on heroic and mythical histories and leave out evidence that most Palestinians did not leave voluntarily; rather, a great many were forced to depart.
  • There was a narrative, but no interrogation of how Israel came to be, yet they were taught to interrogate every word of Torah.
  • Each Gaza War created a “cognitive dissonance between what they’re seeing and what they’ve learned regarding how Israel can do no wrong.”
  • Killing Palestinian civilians seemed cruel, very disproportionate and did nothing to protect Israelis.
  • Education on human rights further compounded the emerging despair about Israel.
  • Misplaced charges of antisemitism against critics of Israel fueled the direction of disillusionment.
  • Creeping annexation in the West Bank (the expansion of settlements), Netanyahu’s support for Donald Trump, the affirmation of Jewish supremacy in the nation-state law, all added to the new “truth” that Israel deserved to be a pariah state.
  • The United Nations Human Rights and the International Criminal Court, all international institutions dedicated to the universal protection of human rights, indict Israel diplomatically and legally for being an abuser of rights.
  • The fundamental sin is that “Everyone deserves basic dignity and self-determination” and Palestinians are denied both and Jews are the cause of that denial.

Therefore, Jews join Palestinians and human rights activists in demanding that Israel be held accountable for human rights violations and demanding that Palestinians have the rights to peace and justice and that means self-determination.  The divisions within the Democratic Party over support for Israel grow wider and deeper. These Jews no longer accept the claim that Israel no longer occupies Gaza but left Gaza to its own devices and withdrew its settlements in August 2005, but through a blockade, effectively continued the occupation de facto. Even though it is difficult to reconcile Israel occupying Gaza and Gaza being able to shoot well over 4,000 rockets at Israeli civilians, in spite of labour leader, Merav Michaeli insisting that Israel is not in occupation of Gaza, these newborn or evolving critics of Israel point out that:

  • Israel controls access (even though Egypt controls one access from the south).
  • Israeli blockades Gaza on land, sea and from the air.
  • Israel controls the registry of names lest any unregistered person seek to cross into Israel.
  • Israel controls the electricity supplied to Gaza, the entry of humanitarian and development aid.

This is asserted even though the United States controls all land crossings into Canada and has an economic stranglehold over Canadian economic development but no one, at least no one I know, would claim that the U.S. occupies Canada. The claim that Israel continues to occupy Gaza is accepted as truth and its denial is characterized as a lie.

However, the main issue is really the human rights of Palestinians. As Jeffrey D. Sachs wrote, “Human rights are human rights, and they are part of international law under the UN Charter. Whether the case is Xinjiang and the Uighurs, Myanmar and the Rohingya, or Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, the correct way to defend international law is through the United Nations, starting with an independent investigation under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Council.” (25.05.2021)

The defence of human rights comes at the cost of truth. The threats to expel Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem along with the Israeli-provoked violence at the al-Aqsa Mosque, compounded by right-wing Israelis marching and chanting, “Death to Arabs,” offer abundant evidence that Israel is a systemic human rights abuser. The fact that Jews owned the land on which the homes were built, the fact that the court offered a compromise to the residents – stay on for life, but pay rent and acknowledge the ownership, is left out.

The violence on the al-Aqsa Mosque is purportedly all one-sided, at least in its instigation, even though a small but significant percentage of the “worshippers” were present to instigate trouble. Arabs marching and chanting “Death to the Jews” is omitted from any part of the story. There is not even a superficial effort at objectivity, only one-sided advocacy in the place of a reflective and thoughtful op-ed. Sack’s screed went so far as to suggest that Netanyahu “may have” instigated the rocket attack from Hamas on Jerusalem in order to cling to power.

Israel’s behaviour is characterized as lawless, ruthless and “reckless anti-Arab violence” contrary to Jewish ethics “causing mass suffering and killing innocent people.” All references to military targeting are omitted. And what are the sources of that authority: Rashid Khalidi’s recent book, The Hundred Years War on Palestine which effectively trashes the tale of two nations in search of a nation-state in the same territory for a narrative of an invasive colonial enterprise determined from the beginning to repress and replace Palestinians in the land. And Human Rights Watch, which declared Israel an apartheid state, has now, effectively, endorsed this version of history. As one headline in Haaretz put it, “The Left Feels Palestinian Pain. It Must Also Recognize Jewish Fears.”

In my next blog I will take up the topic of truth as the last element to formulate a framework that includes peace and justice, empathy and truth to indicate the tensions between and among them and why all have to be brought into consideration to get a balanced and relatively accurate portrait of what is taking place.

On Prophecy

One of my sons was over visiting yesterday. During the conversation he mentioned one way he had of solving problems. He would project possible scenarios of how a situation would look like in the future. He gave as an example a projection for Israel in 2148 on the hundredth anniversary of the state. How would Israel look like and would it have tackled and resolved some or most of the problems that now afflict the state? He would envision different results, the merits and demerits of each and the steps needed to get to each one. In this manner, he could not prophesy an outcome in the sense of a prediction; he could take seriously the small steps needed to produce an outcome that he foresaw as both realistically possible and desirable. He would then focus his energies on those small steps and leave the vision of the future to history.

Is this prophecy? It does not sound like it. However, this is, in fact, the dominant mode in which improvements have been made in human history. Take health. Until two centuries ago, whether you study mortality rates among hunter-gatherers or our ancestors in the classical world, the average person lived only thirty-five years. This started to change in the mid-nineteenth century. Instead of the curve starting to flatten, in Anthony Fauci’s memorable phrase, that flat line on mortality began to curve. More and more directly upward it went until the projections of life expectancy more than doubled.

Why? Not primarily because of eureka moments. Those were rare. But because of the slow and then more rapid introduction of such measures as vaccination. Because of the provision of clean drinking water and the installation of sanitary drainage and sewage systems. These developments over a wide swath of problems and ordinary human activities that resulted in death now produced an extension of our lifespans, particularly in the richer countries of the world.  

Anticipating a future where this could come about by slow steps of amelioration is not how we normally think of prophecy. In the biblical idiom, prophecy is a vision carried through a human about God’s intentions or promised outcomes, provided human behaviour followed one trajectory. That envisioning or prophetic projection was believed to happen because God was capable of addressing us directly or indirectly through signs and portents delivered through His chosen prophets.

There is, however, a naturalistic rather than supernatural explanation for foresight and adumbrating the future. God’s prophets are those who reveal small ameliorate steps that are cumulative and result in better times. Prophecy is naturalized and God’s prophets are grounded.

In this week’s Torah portion, Beha’alotcha, (בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ ‎ — in Hebrew, literally “when you step up” or “when you ascend”). [Numbers 8:1 – 12:15], we read about how the departure from Egypt is to be memorialized in Passover and the ensuing journey out of Sinai of the Hebrews towards the Promised Land. But the people complain to God about the trip and Aaron and Miriam, for the first time, challenge Moses. This week’s portion is packed with both past history, prophecy and dissent.

Begin with the dominant narrative of the past. For Palestinians, the emerging primary Palestinian narrative of the arrival of Zionism to their shores and land is one of colonizing, conquest, oppression, repression, eviction and replacement; the Palestinians were in place and were invaded. The Zionist narrative, in contrast, is of Jewish return to their ancient homeland, a return that led to a conflict between two peoples seeking self-determination on the same land. There is, however, a Jewish narrative that parallels the emerging Palestinian one; it accepts that the Jews invaded and conquered the land and believes that the task is not yet finished.

The narrative of conquest, the narratives of displacement and replacement, necessarily means vanquishing the enemy no matter which side tells it. The narrative of idealistic settlement and restoring both the land and its ancient people to their former glory is totally open to the land being shared by two peoples who must work out how they will share the land. Currently, religious Islamic zealots are united with “progressives” who have adopted the narrative of conquest, oppression, displacement and apartheid as the dominant story, a narrative supported by religious and right-wing zealots on the Jewish side.

However, though there have been numerous wars, though there has indeed been eviction, the predominant narrative is one of peaceful settlement and of amelioration through small steps that have gradually taught the two competing communities to trust and rely on one another. The narratives of conquest and destruction of the Other are often associated with apocalyptic moments of transition. The narratives of amelioration are more often associated with numerous small steps of improvement.

The ancient narrative as constructed on Sinai is primarily about leaving a place that rejected the people as belonging there, initially through slavery, and then flight. The conflict had turned into a demographic battle with babies being killed on both sides. It is a story of deliverance, not of development.

The past construction of the narrative determined the limits of possible outcomes. From two peoples competing for the same piece of land, the solution envisioned could be a land divided between the two peoples. But when the narrative changed to one people persecuting and oppressing the other, the outcome entailed, on the conquered side, one of vanquishing the enemy, otherwise the people could never be free, combined with one of escape.

The revelation that Moses has on Mount Sinai is most frequently thought of as God transmitting His message through Moses as His spokesperson. But there is another way to view it that depends in large part on the predominant narrative governing the record of the past. If the emphasis is on the conflict with an autocratic leader who regards himself as a god, the transition is sudden, is dramatic, and is marked by departure from Egypt, both physically and metaphorically. It is an external change. But if the focus shifts from the autocracy of the other to the slavish mental way of thinking and behaving of those who flee, a process which turns an enslaved people into a people in quest of their freedom, then leaving slavery is not marked by crossing the Reed Sea, but a gradual transition over four decades of throwing off a slave mentality. The change is primarily internal.

There are two lessons here. The overarching one is that your vision of the future, without distorting the truth, dictates the dominant narrative we must present of the past. The underlying one is that details matter. If amelioration actually results from an accumulation of small changes, then it is the story of the accumulated changes that must get our attention. That means that Maimonides’, the Rambam’s version of what happened at Sinai, as most interpret him, must be rejected.  

In the still predominant interpretation of Maimonides’ version of events, in his eighth priniciple, in his supposedly stenographic interpretation of what happened and the role of Moses in it, revelation has only a heavenly source. The Torah itself is of divine origin and given to Moses by God in its entirety. As Professor Sam Fleischacker summed it up, “every letter of the Torah contains within it wisdom and wonders to whomever the Lord has granted the wisdom to discern it.”

In contrast, and a very different interpretation of Maimonides, the reference to God’s speech is metaphorical. It is equivalent to the saying that “such and such speaks to me.” This is not really a claim about speech, but a claim about identification and understanding. On the other hand, Maimonides still remains an Aristotelian who defines God as perfect and, therefore, as unchanging and, indeed, one incapable of change. For only imperfect things change to realize their potential. God as perfect cannot have potential and cannot change. This is a radically different view than the vision of God immanent in history and revealing Himself through the unfolding of history, including changing in response to the lessons God Himself obtains from that history.

And if we shift from the focus on God to ourselves, what does it mean that we are all akin to Moses on Mount Sinai. It means that we identify with Moses, we empathize with his openness to the Other that is not a projection of human imaginations of the divine as in Egypt. Instead, we are on Sinai because we accept in full the lesson that Moses heard, the lesson about the rule of law displacing the rule of an autocrat.

Second, prophecy is not about Maimonides’ elitism whereby, in order to hear and understand God, we must come as close to perfection as possible in our intellectual development, in our moral standing and in our physical capacity to avoid denigration by a focus on food or sex or the pleasures of the body more generally. One is open to revelation, not by transcending our humanity, but by expressing our humanity, that is, our love and care for others. Humanity is about caring and sharing. It is an affective much more than an intellectual enterprise. And it is one directed at the other rather than the perfection of the self.

God as a God of justice evolves from a dictator of unequivocal moral answers to a judge, an author and originator rather than an authoritative unquestioned source. That judgement must be tempered with mercy, with compassion and understanding. The revelation is the rule of law. Law is not the translation of what is revealed into rules simply that humans can understand. It is through the understanding of the rule of law that one comes closer to God. Moses is not only not a stenographer for God, neither is he a translator. He is a messenger concerning translation, and translation and interpretation as the core of the rule of law.

There is one last point. Unlike the Greeks, and Maimonides bowing before their idea that perception is ultimately knowing the Truth and that the Truth is itself a fixed point that we see, truths are themselves subject to gradual revelation and change. Truths deal with the dynamics of possibility, not the realization of certainty. The human aspiration is not to become an angel, but to struggle on earth to listen to and hear God in our everyday lives.

Torah is then not a presentation of ideal purity and a vision of perfection, but how any vision struggles for acceptance and realization. Rebellion against Moses, dissent even by his brother and sister, may have initially been dealt with by autocratic methods, but the resort to autocracy, the fall back on Egyptian modes of dealing with challenges is, in the end, why Moses cannot enter the Promised Land. He never learned how, ultimately, to extirpate the mentality of master and slave, lordship and bondage, that he had learned in Egypt.

Prophecy in this sense is the encounter with God in the dialectic weaving of our hopes and estimate of possibilities for the future with the narrative we present of the revelations of the past. It does not transcend history but is immanent in it. The issue is not whether God communicates with humans, but how He does so. Prophecy is then about what “can” be and then about how we will it to be. In small steps.

Justice and Peace

Justice is often said to be a necessary condition to ensure a sustainable peace. On the other hand, peace is supposed to be a necessary condition for attaining true justice. Justice and peace, in this view, are symbiotically related, each dependent on the other although they refer to different spheres. Justice, that is social rather than just legal justice, is concerned with minimizing inequality. Peace is concerned with minimizing violence. Inequalities foster violence and violence benefits those who have little interest in human rights.

In the second week of the recent Gaza War, there were protests organized on the front steps of the building in which the Israeli Consulate is located in Toronto. Fake blood was pored down those steps. The organizations behind the protest accused Israel of “brutal occupation, military attacks and ethnic cleansing,” whether the policies and practices applied to Gaza from which Israel had withdrawn, the West Bank in which Israel practiced creeping annexation in Area C, East Jerusalem that Israel had annexed shortly after the end of the 1967 war, and even in Israel itself where Israel was accused of continuing the displacement and eviction of Israeli Palestinian citizens.

In other words, the cause of the violence was not the seven missiles Gaza aimed at Jerusalem, but the continuing violence and injustices Israel perpetuated against Palestinians. The missile attacks against civilian targets in Israel were but justified responses to Israeli violence and unjust treatment of Palestinians. The river of faux blood on the steps was the symbol that Israel had blood on its hands. Jewish Israelis, on the other hand, mostly focus on the injustice of shooting over 4,000 missiles into Israel, even though admittedly at least 25% fell short and fell into Gazan territory.

There is now a cease-fire. The main conviction is that the cease-fire is only temporary. It may last five years. But it is simply a lull in a long-term struggle, no longer between two national groups seeking self-determination in the same territory, but between an oppressed group denied self-determination by an oppressive colonial and apartheid regime that perpetuates injustice both by denying Palestinians the right to self-determination and by the unequal and unjust treatment of even its own citizens who are Palestinian. The logic of this position and narrative is that the only way the rights of the Palestinians can be won is by the end of the colonial oppressive Jewish state. The formulation is a recipe for a fight unto the death until only one group is left standing.

As Khalil Shikaki, a renowned Palestinian pollster, wrote in Foreign Affairs, the recent “Fighting in Gaza Marks the Start of a More Violent Era.” As he subtitled his piece, “The Search for a Two-State Solution is Over.” (19 May 2021) In other words, he pronounced the end of the quest for some justice for both groups, a formula in which the solution might be asymmetrical as well as the justice achieved, but where the goal was not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers. If justice for Jewish Israelis means injustice for Palestinians, there can be no peace other than temporary cessations in open warfare.

Just as there were four different conceptions of peace described in the previous blog, there are four different visions of justice.

Zero-sum games:

  1. Justice for one group and no justice for the other.
  2. More justice for one group and less for the other, but the conception is of a fixed amount of justice to be divided up.

Positive-sum games

  • Even as one group enjoys more justice than the other, the effort is made to raise the degree of justice for the other group even if total equality may never be the result given the history of the conflict.
  • Equal justice for all by making justice rooted only in individuals and equal rights and opportunities are guaranteed to all irrespective of the ethnic origin of that individual.

In the language of can and can’t, the first option is possibly a “can,” but very unlikely given the attitudes and roles of members of the international community. The fourth is almost certainly a “can’t” given the historically ingrained animosity and distrust between the two groups and especially the leaders of each. It has as little chance and probability of a future as the utopian vision of a one-state solution with equal rights for all.

Options 2 and 3 both remain in the “can” category. Most bets currently are on number 2 even as most international efforts are rooted in the effort to pull off number 3, even as the prospects grow dimmer day after day. A good reason for this is the radicals or extremists in each camp believing in and pushing for option 1. That is unequivocally the policy of Hamas which grew in prestige and status among Palestinians in the latest round of fighting. That is true of the extreme nationalist-religious groups in Israel who would easily choose an ethno-nationalist over a democratic outcome if there had to be a choice. Fortunately, these still remain a minority, though a growing one.

These extreme nationalist religious Jewish groups are behind the pressure for evictions of Arab families in Sheikh Jarrrah and in the mixed towns and cities, such as Lod. They are prone to challenge the authority of the Muslim Waqf (under Jordanian custodial responsibility) to which Israel handed back control after the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. There has always been a tension between Israel, which retains security control over the Haram esh-Sharif, and the Waqf which administers the holy places and the plaza. These extreme nationalists are also the leaders of the settler movement in the occupied territories.

The problem is not simply these extremist pressures, but the role of the state led by “more moderate” right-wingers to foster unequal treatment of Palestinian residents in the occupied territories and even in Israel, even though, in the last ten years, the Israeli government has made a concerted effort to raise the amount of monies invested in Palestinian schools and municipalities. But this gesture was offset by the support for the nation-state bill in Israel which explicitly and formally gave a preference to Jews while reducing the status of Arabic as an official language in Israel. Further, the Knesset defeated a motion to guarantee equal treatment of minorities.

The anti-democratic measures in the Palestinian-run territories have been even much more extreme. Hamas is explicitly anti-democratic, only favouring elections when its election prospects look good. Hamas runs a theocratic government that first achieved power in an election and then staged a coup against the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA is itself anti-democratic, canceling the planned election ostensibly because of Israeli non-cooperation in facilitating voting in East Jerusalem.  Neither Palestinian government in the West Bank or Gaza supports an independent judiciary or an outspoken civil society, though the PA has shown more tolerance than Hamas that has become more ruthless in its attacks on Israel, risking to its own populace and certainly constitutional rules and norms.

As domestic extremist forces gain strength in each camp, the prospect of option 2 in the justice realm is outpacing prospect 3, though both still remain viable possibilities. The problem is the direction. For as option 2 increases in probability, option 1 moves from the “can’t” camp to the “can” or possibility camp. In that case, diaspora Jews would have to choose between retaining support for an increasingly undemocratic ethno-nationalist state and a decreasingly democratic one. That process is already underway as more Jews raise their voices and participate in  the utopian vision which, in reality, reinforces the extremist number 1 option in favour of the Palestinians. And liberals are torn between resigning themselves to accepting the inevitability of number two while continuing to push for option 3, but are discouraged as option number 1 gradually moves from the “can’t” to the “can” camp.

Next blog on Israel:

The Role of Empathy and Truth in Influencing Probable Outcomes

Physics and Peace

One way to get back to basics is to return to what we consider the core elements, in physics, the elementary particles, that found the science. However, more recent developments in physics have shifted attention away from the basic elements and the laws governing them, such as the Newtonian laws of motion, to the framing constraints and limitations. In physics, attention in Constructor Theory has shifted from those laws of motion to the laws of thermodynamics which determine the limits to the laws of motion. That is, they establish the impossibility of perpetual motion.  Fundamental laws are not the elemental determinants; the limits on the behaviour of those elements are. The primary focus is what is possible and what is not possible.

One enormous advantage of this gestalt switch is that altogether different spheres of study come into view – such as information theory or the understanding of the mind and even the physics of life. Further, in the search for guidelines for consistently reconciling different patterns of forces rather than focusing on the forces themselves, worlds that were once considered irreconcilable – quantum mechanics versus relativity theory ­– suddenly fall within the same frame. For the issue is no longer their reconciliation but the limitations under which each of them operates.

When I taught at the Hebrew University philosophy department as a Lady Davis Visiting Professor in 1977-1978, a colleague there, Igal Kvart, just published his book A Theory of Counterfactuals which he subsequently extended to an analysis of causes wherein causes were transformed from mechanical pushes to influences and knowing was turned into a probabilistic enterprise based on objective probability. Theoretical physicist Chiara Marletto at Wolfson College in Oxford has used this focus on counterfactuals and possibilities into redefining physics as the science of can and can’t. In other words, instead of beginning with norms and key elements to determine preferences, you begin with constraints to reveal what is possible and impossible to focus on probabilistic outcomes of different degrees. Instead of asking how do we get from here to there – say a state that is both Jewish and democratic – you begin by determining the constraints and limitations to combining the various key elements. The goal – to determine what transformations are possible and the probabilities one might reasonably attach to each.

As Marletto has stated, the science of can and can’t operates at an even deeper level than relativity or quantum theory to elucidate deeper principles at work to bring out different laws of motion and change at work. It permits unarticulated possibilities to come to the forefront. New pathways can then be perceived. In physics, according to the Heisenberg Principle, you cannot measure both stasis and change, position and velocity. A perfect measurer of stability and transformation is not feasible. So instead of concentrating on what is happening and the implied consequences – as I did in my opening to this series of blogs – the focus shifts from what has happened and what is happening to what can happen. What are the options? What are the possibilities of each? Which are demonstrably impossible? Are there new regularities that we can identify at the level of political interactions in conflict situations?

The intention is to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through such a revised shift in perspective in which counterfactuals and theories of possibilities focus on rational choice or agency, on the one hand, and media and mental or ideological representation on the other hand. (Cf. Boris Kment, “Counterfactuals and Causal Reasoning”). To prepare the ground, I begin with an analysis of the concept of peace.

A key element is assessing the conflict is justice. Everyone claims to obey the guiding principle that, “Justice, justice, that thou shalt pursue.” At the same time, the goal is said to be “peace.” But both justice and peace reveal themselves as very different terms occupying competing realms. Humanitarians try to achieve both, as when the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life at Brandeis University organized, “Black Lives Matter Under a New Presidency: What Lies Ahead?” Justice is about egality and distribution. Peace is about reconciliation from places of inequality. The two concepts travel from different starting points and in opposite directions. They are also equivocal terms. I will have to deal with both concepts, but I begin with the analysis of “peace” first and four very different meanings assigned to the concept:

  1. Peace as simply the absence or cessation of violence with no implications for the future.
  2. Peace as having a limited time horizon, the current expectation of the cease-fire ending the recent Gaza War.
  3. Peace as permanently ending the violence between two sworn enemies.
  4. Peace as an eternal state in which, “There ain’t gonna be war no more.”

If we are operating in parallel to particle physics, we must choose how to characterize peace first. Is it simply the bare absence of violence? This is the position of the 138 members of the US Congress who called on Biden to insist on a ceasefire and “to boldly lead and take decisive action to end the violence.” Peace meant the absence of open and violent conflict even if the peace, that cessation of bombing and lobbying missiles, meant not allowing the conflict to precede to a point at which peace might result and betting on the slim possibility, perhaps impossibility, that Israel and Hamas could eventually actually make peace.

Or is peace the second option, something extracted from the battlefield in a very concrete context but with no pretext of any significant sustainability? Peace then is not only the termination of a battle, but a state with a probable guaranteed limited time period? Or is peace the permanent end of belligerency between two enemies. Or, finally, is peace a depiction of some utopian era in which the lion can lie down beside the lamb? There are biblical commentators who take these different positions. They are also reflected in different current political postures.

In Hebrew biblical commentary, Ibn Ezra took the first position, the same as that of the 138 American legislators. Peace simply means avoiding bloodshed. There is no time dimension. It is enough that the launching of missiles and the bombing have both stopped.

The second position is well represented by those who still cling to the Oslo Accords as a peace agreement, even though the agreements arrived at never tackled the core issues. It is best represented in current terms by Israeli negotiators who participated for years in peace negotiations and cling to the idea that eventually the two-state solution will emerge because no other possibility is viewed as realistic. In the case of the conflict with Hamas, where even a two-state solution is not on the horizon, a five-year long-term ceasefire is the goal, shunting aside all other issues – prisoner exchanges, repatriation of soldiers’ bodies, economic arrangements, political conditions. The aim is to buy enough time to rebuild Gaza once again. This doctrine of war did not entail defeating the enemy but only compelling the enemy to stop fighting for a limited number of years based on deterrence. War fought on the basis of such a doctrine does not destroy the enemy’s capacity to wage war in the foreseeable future.

The third position, not peace as the (temporary) cessation of violence nor peace as a longer-term absence of violence in the hope that the interim period can be used to end the violence, but peace as an intended product of war can be associated with the mediaeval biblical commentator, Rabbi Chizkuni. It means that war is not viewed as the polar opposite to peace but as the means by which peace is achieved by, for example, conquering territory as rapidly as possible while simultaneously totally neutralizing the threat.

The problem is that, although the war is truly brought to an end, unless the military victory is also translated into a diplomatic one, the potential for violence just undergoes a metamorphosis and Israel becomes burdened with the long-term weight of administering the territory it conquered, a process that eats away at the very fabric of Israeli society. The conquest of the West Bank and of southern Lebanon both instantiated this general rule. Unfortunately, as one military strategist commented, “Israel’s accumulated experience in times of war shows a disturbing pattern that has become a ritual: a serious gap always emerges between the achievements of the military and the failure of national public diplomacy.”

In the third option, peace is not simply a cessation of violence. Neither is peace the establishment of no war for a limited period. Peace, such as that which the allies achieved after WWII, entails an overwhelming, clear and unequivocal victory such that the enemy cannot rise again to fight another day. The armed forces of one side must rapidly and simultaneously neutralize the enemy’s capabilities. And then, the victor must subdue the enemy without fighting or coercion. (Cf. Sun Tzu)

The fourth utopian view of peace is held by a number of right-wing ideologues as well as Islamicists, including Hamas, and ultra-orthodox, evangelical Christians. For the latter, “A heavenly portal, a spherical opening of light, will soon offer divine protection to the Jews protected from demonic interference by the angels who will then be free to come and go between heaven and earth and deliver perfection.”

If we subject these four alternatives to the logic of “can” and “can’t,” there is easily a consensus that, by definition, the fourth option is not an earthly possibility. But neither is the third in the present context where the international community, especially the Arab and Muslim societies, will not accept the vanquishing of the Palestinians by the Israelis. On the other side, for now, America will not allow Israel to be vanquished. But with a longer time horizon, groups like Hamas hope that this situation will change; when that day comes, Israel will be eliminated from the Middle East. However, given present projections, neither vanquishing the Jews nor the Palestinians seems possible.

Clearly the first choice is possible but is seen as a needed but not a desired outcome. There is a general consensus that the absence of violence is simply a minimal first step, but one in itself unlikely to result in “real” peace. The analysis, therefore, leaves only the second option in the “can” category. So Egypt is active in building upon the temporary ceasefire a longer term solution that will extend well beyond five years. Following its success in arranging the ceasefire, Egypt accepted the leadership in forging a diplomatic agreement for far more than just five years. The goal is peace and stability between the warring parties.

To accomplish that, agreements have to be arrived at for security for both sides and for policies to be laid down which will allow both sides to thrive. The dilemma is that such a prospect seems impossible when the major goal of one side (Hamas) is the elimination of the other. Hamas seems unwilling even to introduce confidence building measures, such as the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and the return of two Israeli civilians held hostage. This presumably would be in exchange for Palestinian prisoners or extending the fishing zone or some other quid pro quo.  The more Israel gives, the greater the possibility that Hamas will agree to limitations on its import of missiles that could induce Israel to lift its blockade.

However, none of these moves change the fundamentals. The most important mission of Hamas is the elimination of Israel even if the pragmatic elements in the Hamas camp are willing to enter into agreements that will strengthen its position. That is why the goal of America, Egypt and Israel has emerged to focus on vanquishing and sideling Hamas by diplomatic means to restore the “can” to this option.

This is what diplomacy is about, translating a ceasefire with an estimated time horizon into longer term arrangements which foster peaceful dialogue rather than a resort to violence between the contending parties. That entails establishing communication channels and the input of other parties, such as Qatar and the UAE, to reinforce such efforts.

If utopia and militarily vanquishing one side or the other are ruled out as possibilities and mere cessation of violence is viewed as not real peace, then the focus is on only one possibility, a diplomatic agreement between the parties. But is that possible if one of the parties is represented by a political movement that regards the other as fundamentally illegitimate and if the other party rejects Hamas as a legitimate negotiating partner because of the latter’s position? Diplomacy “can” lead to peace, but, given the leading parties in the conflict at the present time, that would seem to be impossible. Hence the effort to resurrect both Fatah as the leader of the Palestinian cause and, along with that resurrection, the two-state solution.

For the one-state solution is either a utopian unrealistic option or the result of one side vanquishing the other. Thus, although Oslo can be pronounced dead, its resurrection in some form may be necessary if “can” is to be the ruling framework. Hence, Jordan’s King Abdullah’s willingness to put “all its diplomatic relations and capabilities” both in service to the Palestinian cause and the absence of any alternative except advancing “a two-state solution to achieve just and comprehensive peace”. That means strengthening the Palestinian Authority at the expense of Hamas.

Then other possibilities emerge – such as creating joint industrial zones in the Erez and Karni crossings. To do that, Israel requires guarantees from Egypt and the US that international investment will be used, not for the purchase of arms, but to rebuild infrastructure. To explore these realms of the possible, three other conceptions must be introduced and analyzed – justice, empathy and truth.

The analysis from the perspective of “can” to be continued.

The Latest Gaza War – Back to Basics

Peter Beinart wrote two important pieces in Jewish Currents, one last summer that claimed, “The painful truth is that the project to which liberal Zionists like myself have devoted ourselves for decades—a state for Palestinians separated from a state for Jews—has failed.” Early this month he published a second essay on the right of return for Palestinian refugees in which he proclaimed: “If Palestinians have no right to return to their homeland, neither do we.” While I have written sporadic criticisms of the one-state option and a sustained detailed and comprehensive criticism of his opting for the right of return of Palestinian refugees, unlike Peter, I have not revisited my basic presumptions.

Perhaps it is because I, unlike Peter, began as an anti-Zionist and only came to liberal Zionism later in my life. But the present situation needs, indeed demands, revisiting basics, even though I found Peter’s laudable effort to be both empirically and logically very flawed. The recent Gaza 2021 war has made that fundamental re-evaluation even more imperative and urgent.

A major reason is the huge chasm between what the IDF accomplished in the latest Gaza war and the more important larger failures. When, after prayers finished in the al-Aqsa Mosque and the largest proportion of the worshippers left peacefully, a relatively small group of protesters (in the hundreds) began taunting police, waving banned Palestinian flags and some throwing stones and other even more lethal missives which the police claimed were Molotov cocktails. The police dispersed the “rioters” with batons, rubber bullets and stun grenades. It was this dispersal that was carried in the media, not the provocations.

Why? First, the media coverage was intended to reveal that those who police the al-Asqa plaza are brutal thugs. Secondly, as Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas top official in Qatar, proudly pronounced, though Hamas “concluded eleven long and painful days of war and absorbed enormous damage,” Hamas had the following more important successes worth the sacrifice:

  • The rocket attack took Israel by surprise.
  • Hamas demonstrated it could send its rockets into the population heartland of Israel.
  • Hamas demonstrated that it could surmount the blockade and import long-range rockets.
  • Heavy rocket barrages launched toward multiple locations almost simultaneously almost overwhelmed Israel’s Iron Dome antimissile defense system.
  • Hamas demonstrated that Israel could no longer dominate the Palestinians with impunity.
  • By standing up to the militarily far more powerful Israelis, according to Hamas, Palestinians proved to the whole world that Jerusalem belonged to them.
  • Though a bare majority of Palestinians already strongly believed that the Al-Asqsa Mosque was under threat by Israelis, this perception was heightened, broadened and dramatized, reinforcing a trend that went back to 1921. (Cf. Yisrael Medad “The Roots of the ‘Al Aqsa is in Danger’ Myth: Alfred Mond and a Speech Distorted,” 21 May 2021.)
  • Hamas not only ensured that Palestinians could wallow in their victimhood, but used the collapsing high-rise buildings in Gaza to remind the world of the collapsing New York towers in 2001, but not the radical Islamicist threat that produced that result.
  • Upset the delicate balance of Jewish-Arab relations within Israel.
  • Reversed the effort to erase the identity of Israeli Arabs as Palestinian and reinforced the idea of a shared identity.
  • Hamas has for a period made its own people forget how inept and corrupt its rule in Gaza has been.
  • Hamas emerged in a position to proclaim itself as the undisputed leader of the Palestinian cause.

These were visual and ideological victories, not military gains on the ground. The accomplishments were media ones on the assumption that the media dimension of modern warfare is far more important than actual military victories. Those unequivocally went to the IDF which:

  • Demolished hundreds of millions of dollars of military infrastructure
  • Proved that the Hamas effort to launch an attack by sea, using miniature submarines, was a total failure
  • Destroyed numerous anti-tank missile crews
  • Intercepted Hamas spy and strike drones
  • Most importantly, blew up miles of underground intra-Gaza tunnels and bunkers in the “Metro” as well as cross-border terror tunnels
  • Tricked the Palestinians into emerging from the tunnels only to be met by bombs rather than a land invasion
  • Targeted and killed numerous Hamas military leaders (Israel claimed that at least 100 high-ranking military leaders from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were assassinated during the conflict.)
  • Proved, thereby, the effectiveness of Israeli intelligence
  • Used much greater precision targeting for bombing buildings and infrastructure
  • Minimized the collateral damage compared to the 2014 war; only 248 were killed, not over 1,400, and only 66 were “children,” noting that some of them were teenage child soldiers and an estimated 25% of the deaths were the result of Hamas rockets falling short and landing in Gaza, not Israel
  • Avoided a ground war in which there would have been many more casualties, both Palestinian and Israeli
  • Prevented Hezbollah from joining the war effort from the north.

However, military shmilitary victory! First, Operation Guardian of the Walls only restored “quiet and security to Israel” for perhaps five years; it did not remove the threat. Further, was acquiring a few years without any measurable violence even relevant when Hamas won the media war? As Honest Reporting noted, “In the past two weeks, we’ve seen an unrelenting onslaught of media bias against Israel waged by Canadian news providers, the likes of which we have never seen before. In the backdrop of recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas terrorists, our [Canadian] media singled out Israel for opprobrium, perpetuated outright falsehoods, and resorted to grotesque moral equivalences.”

Did it matter if the war was not won but merely set the stage for another war within ten years? As Abu Marsouk said, the war will only end when Jews end their occupation of Arab land and leave Palestine. “There will be no compromises allowing Israel to continue existing or the Jews to remain in the land.” This is a declaration of absolute jihad. The Jews are illegitimate occupiers of Arab land, the last expression of European colonialism, and there can be no compromise with colonizers.

Further, the majority of Palestinians believe that Israel’s true goal is to occupy the entire land of Palestine and ethnically cleanse enough Palestinians to ensure they maintain a clear and unthreatened majority. Jews even intend to rebuild their temple on the ruins of the al-Asqa Mosque. Thus, Hamas won an enormous ideological as well as media victory. In the media victory, they were brave victims of an overpowering military force. In the ideological war, they were in the position of David out to totally destroy the threat of Goliath.

  • Hamas declared victory because it survived the behemoth.
  • Hamas declared victory because the international community overwhelmingly identified and supported the Palestinians.
  • Hamas declared victory because it emerged as the pro tem true leader of Palestinian self-determination.

How did Israelis respond to the end of the war? There was a sigh of relef. There were no demonstrations declaring victory. There were some demonstrations of Jewish and Palestinian Israelis who pledged to continue to work to create a nation where all its citizens would have equal rights and there would be no inter-ethnic violence. Israelis, for a short time elated in emerging from the fog of the pandemic, were by and large depressed at the idea that the war had not accomplished anything permanent nor resolved the threat from Hamas. Israel’s readiness to agree to a cease-fire was perceived by Hamas as weakness. 72% of Israelis opposed the ceasefire. Hamas leaders have already threatened to open the next round of fighting. As Deputy Chief of Hamas, Musa Abu Marzouk, boasted, this “was not the final war with Israel. There will be more.” War will end when we negotiate the exodus of the usurping Jews from Palestine. Justice will reign and Palestinians will get what is justly theirs. The sacrifices will be painful. Victory will demand patience. But in the end, the Jews will leave.

The surprise is that, in spite of Hamas clear and unequivocal statements about its intent to exterminate Israel and expel the Jews from all of Palestine, the conversation in America, Israel’s key international supporter, has shifted. More specifically, Black Lives Matter (BLM) has moved the centre of gravity around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Cf. “’From Ferguson to Palestine’: How Black Lives Matter changed the U.S. debate on the Mideast,” Sean Sullivan and Cleve R. Wootson Jr., Washington Post, 22.05.2021.) Note the following:

  • The BLM organizer who compared her clashes with police to those faced by Palestinians: “A ceasefire ends the bombardment — not the violence.”
  • Melina Abdullah, co-founder of the Los Angeles chapter of BLM: “Being in solidarity with the Palestinian people is something that’s been part of our work as Black Lives Matter for almost as long as we’ve been an organization.”
  • Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), a former BLM organizer, on the House floor stated that the Palestinians have endured “military occupation, policing, and apartheid” and “our own government is funding a brutal and militarized disposition towards our very existence — from Ferguson to Palestine.”
  • The language of “apartheid Israel” has now become mainstream, reinforced, of course, by reports of B’Tselem, Yesh Din and Human Rights Watch;
  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY): “As a Black man in America, I understand on a personal level what it means to live in a society designed to perpetuate violence against people who look like me…My experience of systemic injustice, including being beaten by police at 11 years old, informs my view of what’s happening right now in Israel and Palestine.”
  • The official BLM organization called for “Palestinian liberation.” 
  • BLM pressed the Democratic Party to dramatically alter its approach to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  • BLM has shifted the debate “from a tangled dispute over ancient, often-confusing claims to the far more familiar turf of police brutality and racial conflict.”
  • As Arielle Angel, the editor of Jewish Dissent, has written, “The Black Lives Matter movement can claim credit for helping masses of people understand the mechanisms of structural racism and oppression, and for consistently linking the Black struggle to the Palestinian one.” 
  • In Toronto Canada, Jews from If Not Now and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), alongside Palestinians and other allies, celebrated a shabat in Christie Pits Park immediately after the ceasefire and petitioned Justin Trudeau to stop arms sales to Israel.
  • Instead of a conflict between two peoples over the same territory, the conflict is now seen as one in which, Palestinians have long been evicted, terrorized and treated like second-class citizens.

More significant than the growing split within the Democratic Party in the US between the progressives and traditional liberals has been a parallel split within the Jewish community in the diaspora, particularly the American diaspora. Rabbi Amni Hirsch in an impassioned sermon identified and wept over the growing chasm in the Jewish community and within liberal Zionism. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) openly supports the BDS movement. I have already written about Peter Beinart, editor of Jewish Currents, shifting from support for a two-state solution to advocating a one-state solution and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. For a growing number of American Jews on the progressive left, Israel is now viewed as a brutal racist ethnocratic nationalist state founded on continuing Jewish supremacy.

“I don’t feel alone anymore. Though the years since 2014 have seen the growth of a small but committed Jewish anti-occupation movement, the last week and a half has brought an even larger circle of the community to a place of reckoning. We’ve seen Jewish politicians, celebrities, rabbinical students and others speak up loudly for Palestine. We’ve seen a powerful display of solidarity from Jewish Google employees, asking their company to sever ties with the IDF. At Jewish Currents, the left-wing magazine where I am now editor-in-chief, we asked for questions from readers struggling to understand the recent violence. We’ve been deluged.” Arielle Angel, “Jewish Americans are at a turning point with Israel,” The Guardian, 22 May 2021.

The above suggests an enormous paradigm shift underway in America, within the Jewish diaspora community, within Israel and in Israel-Palestinian relations. Those changes disrupt all of our basic assumptions and pressure us to undertake a fundamental re-examination.