There are a couple of videos embedded in this post from an Israeli media outlet which will somewhat aggressively (and Israeli-ish) begin to automatically play when this page is loaded – I could not find a way to prevent that. I apologize for the sudden unexplained noises this may bring into your life.
If you live outside the USA and find some of the video content embedded in this post blocked you may want to checkout Hola.
This post is a collection of thoughts and reflections, some of which I’ve recently vocalized (people asking me, having lived in Israel for most of my life, about what is happening in Israel). It does not contain an integrated thesis that would clarify the Israel-Palestinian Conflict (IPC). It probably contains more questions than answers.
The following words represent my views (with some references). I offer them as reflections, not as truths.
For better context of me and my views you may want to visit my past writings on Israel.
During my visit to Portugal war erupted in Israel (once again). It is interesting seeing it in a different perspective, somewhat through the eyes of others, mostly European eyes.
This post was born while visiting Pietro at his new house in the Portuguese countryside. I don’t remember how the subject came up but it did. Pietro spoke of a video he recently saw which shaped his current view.
The General’s Son
This is the video:
I enjoyed watching it. I felt he is offering information in an authentic way. It connected to a deeper and recurring theme of disillusionment in my life. However, I don’t trust his conclusions (I rarely trust conclusions that result in clear finger-pointing and invoke activism).
I think that to be able to relate to the Israel-Palestinian conflict in a meaningful way the context needs to be expanded.
Hatred & Weapons
The Israel-Palestinian Conflict is by no means the only such conflict in the world, and yet I don’t know of another conflict that is quite like it.
The comparison to Apartheid, while appealing, I believe, is limited. The IPC is flamed by mutual doubt and hatred. I remember that the dominant voice in Israeli society in the early 90’s was about seeking-peace. Today the dominant voice is hopelessness as told by the story “there is no-one to speak to on the other side”. Though I am confident that on both sides there are voices of reason and even peace … the dominant and doable voices on both sides are of increased (and increasing) enmity, distrust and hatred.
Add to that weapons. Israel has an advanced, modern and adaptive army. The militants on the Palestinian side are heavily armed, enough to inflict damage on civilians and to force the Israeli army to engage but not enough to face it.
Hamas (and other militants) have had very little effective opportunity to put their weapons to use against Israel. They have however been able to put it to very good use against their own people where democracy is shaped and powered by ak47-wielding-men. An Israeli general was recently interviewed for the Al Jazeera Arab network and said that Gaza is indeed an occupied territory but Hamas, not by Israel.
When I left Israel to live in Romania my father said to me, not for the first time “You do know that everybody hates the Jews”. On the face of it, it is an obviously false statement. But a recent encounter in Romania made it possible for me to see it in a different light.
I was at a DIY hardware store in Cluj together with Andreea, Mihaela and Andrei. Andrei is Mihaela’s son and was at the time 3 or 4 years old. At one point he slipped on the smooth concrete floor, fell back and hit his head. He wasn’t injured but he was hurting. Mihaela took him in her arms and asked him if there is anything she can do to help him. He replied “no, this is going to hurt forever”. It was of course a childish response but it was also inspiring. I think children are more naturally present (as in the present moment) than adults. Andrei is a very present being … and so for him the pain was a complete and enveloping experience … from his point of view it really was going to last forever.
My father’s parents are Holocaust survivors. That makes my father, what is referred to in Israel as a “2nd generation Holocaust survivor”. I cannot imagine what something like the Holocaust did to my grandparents. I cannot imagine what it did to my father. I can say that I made it a point to stay away from the subject when it was explored both in my family and in schools. I felt (and still feel) that the subject of the Holocaust was used to indoctrinate and instill fear and separation in Israeli society (see below for why). It could have been (and still can be) used to do some valuable reflecting and expanding consciousness … but it isn’t.
“Everyone hates the Jews” is a result of an intense experience (the Holocaust) that was burned deep into the consciousness of those who experienced it and the generation that came after them and continues to be upheld by a subtle process of fear-based brainwashing.
The Jewish State
One of the things that came up in the conversation with Pietro (that started this post) was the topic of demographics in Israel. Pietro being a thorough academic mathematician got back to me with a link to an interesting book on the subject: Jewish Demographic Policies. Specifically he pointed me to chapter 10 which opens with:
“The State of Israel was founded to provide a definitive answer to the bimillenarian problem of the Jewish People’s lack of sovereignty. Israel’s territory significantly though not completely overlaps with the ancestral land. Israel is the only country in the world where Jews constitute a majority; in most countries of the world, Jews constitute small minorities among the total population.”
Israel is de-facto a Jewish country. It is a very poor foundation for a country (I have personally suffered for testing its tolerances) but it is all there is. Shortly after Israel was founded there was a debate about writing and enacting a constitution but that was delayed and to this day there is no constitution. Having a debate about it is pointless (like the IPC conflict) because when your startinit (g point is a “Jewish State” you can’t get very far.
Is a “Jewish State” necessary? The Jews that suffered from pogroms in Europe and later founded the Zionist movement thought so. The UN thought following the Holocaust. Israelis think so. There is evidence that the past is still present. The author of the above mentioned book claims that many nations think so too:
“In the experience of many nations the actual entity of the majority/minority ratio plays a critical role in determining the essence of society, its adherence to rules of democracy and the allocation of rights and decisional power to those who belong to different segments of society.”
But it isn’t working. Israeli society is stressed from within due to tensions between secular and religious “Jewish” citizens and a liberal/conservative tension that crosses religious camps. This is foundational and comes before: any tensions that may arise in relation to Arabs (Palestinians?) who live within undisputed borders of Israel; any tensions that may arise in relation to Arabs who live in the Palestinian territories; any tensions that may arise in relation to most of its neighboring countries.
What are the odds of integrating non-Jews into “The Jewish State” when the Jews themselves can’t get it together?
This recent article (in Hebrew) tells a story of a reserve soldier who just returned from a month of military service in Gaza. He wants to marry his fiancée who, as it happens, converted to Judaism (wasn’t born into it). He can’t because his last name is Cohen – which according to Orthodox Judaism makes him a descendant of priests which may not be married to converts. Israel is, after all, a Jewish State … where family status is still subject to Jewish religious practices.
I believe Israel’s (lack of) identity as a state is more of a threat to it than Hamas and their rockets. It is eating at it from the inside. Fighting Hamas (or, for that matter, any other war) serves as a diversion, it gives Israeli society a fleeting sense of unity.
Qatar seems to be a key player in the area. A small, rich, extremist country with ties to almost all extremist expression in the Middle East … and apparently ties in many other places. Some information that I have been gathering with a sense of awe and wonder:
- Islamic law is one of the sources of legislation.
- It is ruled by a Monarchy that has been ruling it for … almost 200 years … “There is no independent legislature, and political parties are forbidden.”
- 15% of its 1.8 million population are citizens … the rest … foreign workers.
- It’s one of the richest countries in the world due to exploitation of natural gas reserves.
- FC Barcelona (soccer club) is funded by Qatar (and was pressured into replacing its charity-supporting-uniforms to ones that promote Qatar).
- Al Jazeera is funded by Qatar and recently gained access to American society by acquiring Al Gore’s Current TV.
- Qatar funded the Muslim Brotherhood = the previous version (democractically elected – unaffected by funding?) of the government of Egypt. In return (retaliation?) the current version of Egypt (that of former general current Presidentel-Sisi) has jailed (in a farce trial) 3 AlJazeera journalists.
- Qatar is on the shortlist of being the largest USA weapons consumer for 2014
- Qatar has “purchased” (some call it corruption … but lets not mince words) the FIFA rights to the 2022 World Cup.
… oh … and Qatar funds Hamas and seems to call most of the shots!!!
for the record: I’ve encountered some very impressive journalism from Al Jazeera USA … I have no idea what goes on in their Pan-Arab network.
I tend to agree with Miko Peled (“The General’s Son”) that the cultures of Israeli’s and Palestinians are probably more similar than they are different. However I believe there ARE differences, they may be subtle ones … but they have far reaching implications.
The Middle-East is inevitably a part of a global community and so within it there are many seeds of other cultures. Such seeds can come from things like education (inhabitants of the Middle-East that get their education in other countries) … Israel itself is one such seed.
I have a feeling that Israelis like to think of themselves as “Western” or even “American” in their “way of life”. I, like Miko Peled, think they are more “Middle Eastern” or “Arabic” than “American”. However the fact that they think of themselves as “Western/American” is a key difference.
In striving for a lifestyle that is informed by what they perceive to be “Western/American” Israelis, in fact do bring a more western mentality into the middle-east. That mentality (with its pros and cons) radiates from it … not only into Jewish Israelis but also into Arab culture. For example, Arab youth who have been educated in Israel have been inevitably exposed (consciously and unconsciously) to ideas they may not have encountered (or encountered differently, or later or …) in other Arab societies.
In that view Israel brings into the Middle-East an evolutionary presence (which is a mixed bag of constructive and destructive stories) … and evolutionary forces create friction and friction can lead to violence.
Though the dominating view of the the IPC is territorial, I believe that can be misleading. It is a conflict with a few more core dimensions. Culture, I believe, is one of the core pillars.
A more pertinent war in Gaza is not the one between Israel and Hamas (that’s the more obvious war – and is more of a facade). It is within Palestinian culture. The current Palestinian Authority were, 30 years ago, the PLO – a world renowned terrorist organization. Over the last ~30 years they have (naturally) evolved – like it or not, they have become more “Israel-ized”. Now they are dealing with a more modern day terrorist organization (Hamas … and it seems that the group called ISIS that is wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria is already challenging Hamas for the “lead terrorist organization” position in Gaza).
For example, though the Palestinian Authority may have only a rudimentary concept of democracy they do try, even if through pretending, to live with it. Hamas does not – it practices a more AK47-ish form of democracy. That is a cultural internal conflict within Palestinian society. Of course it is affected by the IPC and by oil-interests (and MTV!) … but it is also affected by ideas that have infiltrated Palestinian society through Israel.
As I write these words I came across this article:
“Former president Jimmy Carter called on the West to recognize the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas as a legitimate “political actor” that represents the bulk of the Palestinian population.”
That is probably a done deal (at least Hamas being de-terrorized, though I am not sure about them representing the bulk of Palestinian population). Much like the PLO became the Palestinian Authority so will Hamas evolve into a (relatively) more civil body.
They will probably not do this out of a sense of a higher calling but rather to preserve their own lives: future violence by Hamas against Israel is inevitable, as is Israeli retaliation – retaliation that may include targeted assassinations – “legitimate” recognition would provide Hamas leaders some protection. Regardless of how/why they gravitate in that direction, they will eventually find themselves having real responsibilities and issues to deal with … and the terrorist view will persist though change hands to another organization (Al Qaeda and/or ISIS seem poised to step in).
A similar conflict is, in my mind, also very apparent within Israel. I sense a similar social/intellectual primitiveness in Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel as I do in Muslim (regardless of “militancy”) societies. There is a growing split and tension between secular and orthodox societies in Israel.
It seems (to me) that in Israel the various Orthodox political parties (yes that is a category in Israeli politics) are losing their hold (they used to be inevitable partners in establishing government coalitions in breaking the balance between left and right) and government is becoming more secular … but that is not yet an established pattern and can still swing back to a more primitive balance.
There are aspects of this conflict which are not going to be resolved. This is a meeting between old and new. Some of “the new” ideas are not good and are not going to survive. Some of “the old” ideas have lost their relevancy and need to leave this world … to die.
A similar cultural tension also exists in some European countries/cities. There may sometimes be conditions for beautiful and inspiring merging of cultures. Others may deteriorate into civil tensions and conflict (sometimes in very subtle ways: the rise of right-wing extremists in Europe in response to cultural tensions with is a setback for all of society, not just the parts directly targeted by hate).
In Israel it is out-right war.
I came across these words from a 27-year-old Palestinian mother of 5:
“In the two hours before the truce collapsed, Gazans had emerged from hiding in an effort to restart their lives. In Gaza City, fishermen immediately put to sea, cautiously keeping close to the shore, after nearly four weeks without working.
Streets filled quickly. Samira Attar, 27, a housewife sitting in a donkey cart with her husband, five children and three mattresses, said she was heading back to her house in Atattraa, northern Gaza. She had been staying with relatives.
“I am going back to my house for the first time for 17 days. I hope this ceasefire will hold for the whole 72 hours and longer, God willing. We don’t need more bloodshed, or more devastation. I’d like to see Israel to be defeated and broken but the circumstances were very difficult,” Attar said.”
This young woman (a mother, not a Hamas militant) is trying to bring together ideas that don’t seem to go well together: breaking Israel and doing so comfortably. She is, of course, free to explore how to bring those two ideas together. One of them can be to support Hamas. That has consequences.
That woman embodies an evolutionary process of exploration. Maybe one day a Palestinian military strike against Israel will work and Israel will break (though I don’t expect it will be comfortable for the breakers)? Maybe one day a Palestinian military strike against Israel may come close enough to “breaking” to cause a complete obliteration of Gaza (this time only about one-third of the population have become refugees)? Maybe one day she will realize that a peaceful process of reconciliation is preferable and become a peace activist and deliver an inescapable truth into the heart of both societies? Right now she is choosing what I consider to be a primitive and illogical solution.
I believe that if one was to interview the mothers of Israeli soldiers, that most would prefer impossible peace talks to sending their sons to war (and due to the dominant Israeli story of “there is no one to talk to” and “everybody hates us” end up sending their sons to war anyway).
I believe women can be a good indicator for viewing and valuing societies. How are women treated? Are they abused? Are they equals? Can they vote? Can they vote as they want to? Do they participate in leadership? Can they expose their face in public? Can they drive? Can they be beaten if they misbehave?
Israeli society has come a long way (and has a long way to go) when it comes to women (that statement does not include Orthodox Jewish communities, but there too I suspect there is some inevitable progress). An Israeli documentary TV series (I think from the 90’s) about sexuality in Israeli society described Israel’s past as one in which women were primarily walking wombs for producing soldiers. Today an Israeli former president is in Jail for sexual abuse. He grew up in a time where abusive behavior towards women was more acceptable (an almost unavoidable side-effect when a predominantly male military is a key part of national identity).
How likely is a Hamas militant (who is able to execute on whim) to be sentenced and jailed for sexual abuse? How likely is a Palestinian Authority official to be sentenced and jailed for sexual abuse? Probably more than the Hamas militant and less than an Israeli official … stages of evolution.
The Middle East
The whole region is unstable.
Syria and Iraq are undermined by a new and rising rebel group of religious militants (ISIS) and deteriorating back towards clan-based social organization.
Jordan is performing a delicate balance act keeping its borders open to refugees from the above mentioned countries and at the same time closed to the ISIS militants (the problem with ISIS is that they are an ideology more than a physical reality and borders can’t stop ideologies).
Iran and Israel find themselves with oddly shared interests to halt the progress of ISIS … while Iran funds Hizballah which is actively engaged in Syria which created the kind of instability ISIS thrives on … while Israel contemplates attacking Iran to bring to a stop its nuclear aspirations
Qatar funds both Hamas and Hizballah (and who knows, maybe ISIS too) and is hated by other Middle Eastern Arab countries … so much so that I’ve encountered an opinion piece in Israeli media that spoke of a unique opportunity for peace with Saudi Arabia.
Do the tensions between Russia (and its rapidly decaying concepts of freedom) and the USA/EU have a role in all this?
The entire region is flammable … and many factions are just looking for somebody to light an irrelevant match (“an atrocity of the Israeli army against Gaza” may do the trick) to ignite a fire that will escalate so quickly that the current war in Gaza will quickly be forgotten.
Justice: Colonialism & Conquest & Taking
How was it at all possible for the UN to decide to “award the Jewish people with the state of Israel”? Where does that “right” come from? How is it that one group of people can decide to take lands from another group of people and give it to yet another?
It is possible because the story we all inhabit of “country” or “state” is an incomplete if not outright flawed story. There too we are all on an evolutionary path trying to figure out a way to be civilized. Our history is riddled with different strategies that humans have devised to self-organize and the best we’ve come so far is what we have … quite a diversity.
And what we have is founded on some abusive if no inhumane stories such as colonialism and conquest both of which are founded on the story of controlling, manipulating and taking by force. Most of the world as we know it was in one way or another shaped by these stories. It is a story that has been and continues to both manifest & evolve AND to be challenged.
The entire conflicted Middle-East is a result of those stories come to life. Israel is no exception.
There is no justice in this story. There is an evolutionary process that comes with tensions and frictions between old and new, between more evolved and less evolved, between that which wants to evolve and that which resists evolution.
The entire “who was here first” debate about the IPC is pointless – history cannot be undone. It is misleading and offers a false promise. As demonstrated so well by Miko Peled, a strategic achievement of Israel is that a two-state solution has been made obsolete (through vast and dispersed settlement of disputed territories). There is no way to detach the West Bank from Israel. There is no way to detach the Golan Height from Israel. It was already painful and conflicting for Israeli society to give back the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt … and that was a long time ago.
As things currently stand, any resolution that does not lead to integration will result in tensions that are bound to escalate and regress the situation.
Integration can come through leaps in consciousness and efficient actions or through a long, painful, unfair and unjust struggle.
Consider this: Egypt, even though it shares a border (and to a large extent a culture) with Gaza, has never and does not want to have anything to do with it? Why is that?
Dancing and Singing
One thing that painfully stood out for me during the recent conflict … was singing and dancing … which appeared on both sides of the conflict.
When the three Israel teenagers were kidnapped there were celebrations in Gaza, sweets were handed out in the streets (I could not trace the reference article that spoke and pictures this).
During the conflict this video was published in Israeli media where you can see soldiers on a break from fighting in Gaza dancing and singing:
I can understand soldiers coming out of Gaza and looking for emotional release. But what would happen if instead there was reflection on the consequences of their actions – even if justified – they left behind suffering people and devastation. How can a human celebrate causing such suffering to another human being? My answer: ignorance, brainwashing, group-think … and the like. Maybe reflecting on such questions may weaken military resolve … and maybe that resolve needs to be tested? If nothing else … then there may be a strengthening of human bonds … strengthening of compassion.
Another video shows a group of young Israelis (with an Israeli celebrity musician) in Poland who decided to respond an anti-Israeli protest with joyous Israeli spirit – once again dancing and singing.
What does that communicate to the anti-Israeli protesters (who are probably already misinformed)? It communicates carelessness and callousness. It does nothing to create a better understanding, a deeper conversation, connection, engagement. It sows seeds of separation and hatred.
… and I wonder … were seeds such as these sown in the years that led up to the Holocaust?
I think that most Israelis would want nothing to do with Gaza. They would not want civilian presence there (which there was until they were withdrawn some years ago), they would not want military presence there … there’s nothing there to be had. Why would Israel want to occupy Gaza?
Like Miko and his famous-general-father, many Israeli military officers feel obliged and just in serving their country (that was the one question Miko forgot to answer at the end of his presentation). They are not looking for a fight. Their tone, when interviewed resonates with sober practicalities and consideration, very often for the safety of both their soldiers and the Palestinian population (such as can be had in a battlefield).
The tone of Hamas officers is hateful, simple minded, one track rhetoric … primitive. If they are not as primitive-thinking as they sound, if they are instead intelligent strategists, then who is their rhetoric aimed at? If they are aiming their words at Israelis then what they are doing is fueling the belief that “there is no one to talk to”. If they are aiming their words at their people, Palestinians, then they must believe they are speaking to a primitive people who will be swept by their empty rhetoric. Maybe the primary audience is the western world as it watches this conflict feeling confused, angry and helpless?
It is very likely that Israeli soldiers are brainwashed into living in an incomplete story that justifies their existence and actions. But that is true of any other military or any other nationally oriented view. We all like to believe that we are justified and good (and it helps to have another which is wrong and evil). That same limited view informs both the Israelis and Palestinians … and probably anyone else who has an opinion on this conflict.
The accumulated pain on both sides makes peace talks irrelevant. Before there can be peace talks there need to be talks … real talks … connecting … expression of grievances … finding shared experiences (surely there has been enough suffering to share that) … connecting … without pretending that this can lead to any predictable results.
This process probably needs to happen both within Israeli and Palestinian societies simultaneously if not before it can happen between them. There is a cleansing, evolving and healing that need to take place within both societies before they can come together.
Restorative talks, not peace talks.
The Fertile Crescent
The most conflicted areas in the Middle East seem to align with what is called The Fertile Crescent.
It was an area that enjoyed abundant year long agriculture … an abundance that gave birth to excess which gave birth to … civilization (or at least a noe-worthy part of it). Spare sacks of wheat could be traded, were stored in religious buildings (where there was always someone to watch over it … the birth of banks) … were represented as coins … which were easier o carry around (and steal … hence policing) … though difficult to trade with further away … etc. etc.
In more and growing circles it is becoming evident that the practices of agriculture (plowing, planting in straight lines, mono-cultures, etc.) that formed the basis of this civilization are flawed and destructive (you may want to look up desertification). Alternative methods of agriculture are still very young and unproven … but a good look at this region today should remove any doubts that something at the core of this story was wrong … it is not only an ecologically desolate place but also socially desolate. Some of the most extremes forms of primitive human violence are resurfacing … not in Gaza, not in Europe or the USA or any other western country where Muslims may be a minority … but rather where Muslim extremists can feel at home and flourish.
There are things in this world which cannot and will not be integrated, reconciled or resolved. Some things can only kill or die. You most probably SHOULD NOT WATCH this video:
What does it mean to be “Pro Israeli” or “Pro Palestinian”. Try to look beyond Israelis and Palestinians. Ask yourself what are the social/intellectual values you would want to uphold in your society … don’t pick sides … pick values.