Last time we wrote about “Why almost everything everyone says about Israel/Palestine is wrong.” We were hardly surprised when we heard from people who didn’t agree with us.
So the question is, How should we think about these various dissents?
Let’s start this way. We’ve all had the experience of going to a doctor and discovering that they mis-diagnosed what was wrong or else offered a treatment that didn’t work (or that was even detrimental). It’s happened to me many times. When I had my first mammogram, they found certain “spots.” A world-famous breast surgeon wanted to cut them out. “You’ll feel better,” she said. Well, I don’t know any woman who’s going to “feel better” about having a lump taken out of her breast unless there’s a damned good reason for it. What happened? Someone who was really good at diagnosing breast cancer looked at my pictures and said, “Nah, this is very unlikely to be breast cancer, and it would be slow growing even if it were. Let’s keep taking images and see how things go.” Things were fine.
How do mistakes like this happen? Incompetence? Usually not. In our personal experience, these things have happened to us at the hands of skilled, knowledgeable, and experienced doctors. Incompetence was not the issue there.
In an odd way, competence itself was the problem. The doctors knew their stuff, but they were too confident. They didn’t look far enough, deeply enough, widely enough. They didn’t query their assumptions. As they say, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Well, this is what we see too much of in talk about the Gaza situation, and about the Israeli/Palestinian situation as a whole. Partisans want what they want no matter what. “This is MINE!” they say, regardless of the cost or the realities of the situation.
Watchers from the sidelines are blinded by their pre-conceptions or by whatever political fads they’re fans of. “Colonization!” is the watchword of the day for many, after which their tunnel vision is locked in. “Never again,” say others, after which they’re sure there’s no need for further thought.
If only this were the best way to make the best judgments of complex situations!!
Yes, clarity is indeed the best way to be decisive. Just ask all those doctors who saw hysterectomies as the solution to a seemingly endless list of their patients’ problems, and non-problems as well.
And that’s what’s been going on with so many people’s response to the Gaza situation and to my previous post here.
I’ve heard a lot of comments saying, “Stop the bombing!” I get it. How could anyone object to stopping the bombing of anyone and anything anywhere! Right after Oct. 7, Tom Friedman in the NYTimes warned Israel about even starting the bombing: it’s just what Hamas wants, he said.
I get it. Anyone who isn’t heartsick at the massacre of any innocents has no heart.
But here’s the problem I have. Can I trust the calls for action by people whose motives and ultimate goals I don’t know? This is particularly true in this situation, where any position may be taken by people with hugely different goals.
“From the river, to the sea...” This phrase has been used by both Israelis and Palestinians. In all cases, it was used initially and primarily as a statement claiming this land, from the river to the sea, belongs to “us, not you.” Have some people used it merely to proclaim that Palestinians should have justice and sovereignty? Sure. But if you look at the initial intent, it’s one side telling the other to get out or be taken out.
You can read this in the founding documents of both the PLO and the Likud party.
So if someone now, today, says, “Stop the bombing,” behind that call may be a person hoping for the elimination of Israel and people hoping Israel will survive and thrive.
So when people call for this or that, I want to know: What do you want? A vague hope for peace at some point in the future? Or, as far as many supporters of the Palestinians are concerned, do you want for the Israelis to stop the bombing so Hamas can thrive?
It’s not hard to see many of the initial responses to the attack by Hamas on Oct. 7 as a position groomed to minimize concern for deaths of innocents caused by Hamas. After all, the statement by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and originally co-signed by 33 other Harvard student organizations shows no concern for the murder, rape, and torture of 1200 Israelis on Oct. 7. Except to say, in their words, “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”
Not one mention of the death and suffering on Oct. 7 except to say, “It’s your fault.”
In countless studies of oppression and genocide, from the persecution of the Jews in the Middle Ages, to the slave culture in the United States, to the Armenian genocide, to the Holocaust, and on and on, the finger was always pointed at the victim and how they deserved their fate and they even brought it on.
That’s why we need to ask, What do you want?
If all you’ve talked about is support for the Palestinians, and not even mentioned the suffering of the Israelis, then it’s not impossible that you support a one-state solution, governed by the Palestinians, with the Jews pushed out, as happened in almost all Arab countries currently.
People who don’t care what happens to the Jews are right in line with this. Shortly after the First Zionist Congress, the semi-official Vatican periodical (edited by the Jesuits) Civiltà Cattolicagave its biblical-theological judgement on political Zionism:
1827 years have passed since the prediction of Jesus of Nazareth was fulfilled...that [after the destruction of Jerusalem] the Jews would be led away to be slaves among all the nations and that they would remain in the dispersion [diaspora, galut] until the end of the world." The Jews should not be permitted to return to Palestine with sovereignty: "According to the Sacred Scriptures, the Jewish people must always live dispersed and vagabondo [vagrant, wandering] among the other nations, so that they may render witness to Christ not only by the Scriptures...but by their very existence.
In other words, let the Jews wander homeless and enslaved. It’s worth it, they asserted! Now it must be said that this kind of thinking, from the end of the 19th century, has long since been repudiated and reversed by the Jesuits and the Roman Catholic Church, to their great credit.
You can see why calls for this or that—stop the bombing, continue with the attempt to eliminate Hamas—MUST be qualified by an understanding of where the person is coming from. Otherwise it’s hard to know how to take what they’re saying. Why should I respect a statement about stopping the bombing if it should happen to come from someone who is quite content with the thought of the elimination of Jews from the Holy Land?
And this thinking I would apply to statements from people on both sides.
The other note I heard from people in response to my last post was, OK, fine, this is a tragedy caused by people who can’t find a communality of interests, who don’t believe that unless there’s justice for everyone there’s justice for no one. But what can we do? Us. Now.
There are really two questions here.
What can I do as a private citizen? The answer to this is, not much. But what you can do is actually highly significant. Two things: 1) contribute to relief organizations that are focused on helping people in need and 2) see if you can figure out a way to support a solution that makes everyone better off, not one that helps one at the cost of hurting the other.
The other question is, What can be done by people who are in a position to do things?
Well, there’s a wonderful New York Times piece that addresses just this: What is the path to peace? Here you’ll find ten approaches to solutions. Ten!
But note. Unless a solution is comprehensive and worked through by the Israelis and Palestinians together, it will just lead to more problems later.
Remember the fundamental rule of power dynamics which we talk about in our latest book: if A makes a move that disempowers B, B will do everything it can to re-empower itself, and this attempt at re-empowering itself will disempower A, and so the power struggle goes on, endlessly, thriving on this dynamic. All those slogans are just posturing in the midst of a dynamic that thrives mostly on its own momentum and can continue forever. Until both parties, together, put an end to it themselves.
NOTE: the cover picture is of my daughter Rachel and her best friend at the time, living in what was for them a perfect world.