I was recently asked by some students from a Christian private school in Lexington to answer some questions on the Arab-Israeli conflict. I post them here, just in case any readers have suggestions to make in the future when I deal with these issues.
What do you think is the root cause of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
On one level, it’s a conflict between two different people for the same territory. But there are plenty of such conflicts that have been resolved, including ones where the damages in lives destroyed and uprooted have been far more terrible than what the Palestinians refer to as the Naqba. In India and Pakistan the division created tens of millions of refugees and over a million people were slaughtered by both sides. In Cyprus, tens of thousands were uprooted to divide the island in two. so the issue is not what happened, but why this conflict, more than any other, is so impossible to solve.
Here, I think the only viable explanation is to understand the blow to Arab/Muslim honor at the creation of a free and independent state run by non-Muslims in Dar-al-Islam. (For a larger discussion of this, see here.) As the Athenians explained to the Melians: “It’s not so terrible to be conquered by those who should rule (like the Spartans, or in this case the Christians), but it is unbearable to be defeated by those who should be subject (like the Melians or, in this case, the Jews).”
If you don’t know about the Muslim principles of Dar-al-Islam (the realm of submission where Muslims rule) and Dar-al-Harb (the land of the sword, with which Muslims are at war), you can’t possibly understand either the permanent hostility of the Arabs to Israel (including their refusal to recognize her), or the willingness of the Arabs to keep the Palestinians suffering in refugee camps so that they can be used as a weapon against Israel.
By Muslim standards, the very existence of Israel is a theological blasphemy and an unbearable affront to their honor. That’s what the Naqba is about. If it were about the terrible suffering of the Palestinians who had to flee as a result of the war (which is what the “pro-“Palestinian would have us believe), then the Arabs and Palestinian leaders would have done something to make their lives better (including using a tiny fraction of the trillions of petrodollars Arab countries have taken in in the last half-century). Instead they confined them to permanent refugee camps (no cement floors allowed, they had to live in tents and the mud for years).
It’s striking that during the Oslo peace process, when the Palestinian authority had control of both refugee camps and territory, they didn’t take one refugee family out of those camps. Indeed, the problem of Oslo was not too many Israeli settlements, but of too few Palestinian settlements. The PA did not behave as if they wanted a state, but as if they wanted to destroy the Israeli state.
What solutions would you offer to solve this problem?
I think that it’s important for the entire world community — and especially representative of the progressive left — to say to the Muslims, “Time to grow up and learn to live with your neighbors and take care of your own people. The Israelis haven’t done anything to you that you haven’t done to others, indeed that you haven’t done to your own people. If you want to live in a peaceful global society, it’s time to put aside vendettas and the need to regain your honor by spilling blood.”
Israel is the test of Islam’s readiness to join the world community as honorable partners, and not as belligerents whose borders are bloody almost everywhere in the world where Muslim countries border other countries, Muslim or not. Until the Palestinians are ready to have a win-win relationship with Israel, there will be no peace. And until the Arab world stops using Israel as its excuse for not liberalizing, Arabs will continue to lose.
The most obvious place to start is with the teaching of hatred in the Palestinian media and schools and mosques. The kind of thing that Palestinian children are taught about Israelis and Jews is as bad as the Nazis taught German youth. (In fact, no priest or minister, even at the height of Nazi frenzy called for the extermination of the Jews, something that happens regularly from the pulpit of the mosques, then broadcast on PA TV).
The other critical thing to address is the Palestinian inability to self-criticize, to take any responsibility for what they’ve done. Ask any Palestinian or pro-Palestinian what the Palestinians have done wrong and you’ll get a blank look. It’s all Israel’s fault. In order for positive-sum relations to work, both sides have to take responsibility. As for the israelis, and the Western Jews, there’s almost no limit to how self-critical they’ll get. Indeed, many have a kind of masochistic omnipotence complex where it’s all “our” fault, and if only we could be better (say sorry more, make more concessions) we can fix anything.
My point is not that Israel hasn’t done things they shouldn’t have, that they have nothing to apologize for. It’s that they are not only ready to, but have done so to such an extent that they take responsibility for things they haven’t done (like Ilan Pappe’s student inventing a massacre at Tantura). When one side takes too much responsibility and the other takes none, it’s a lose-lose — only the haters win.
Why do you think it cannot be solved?
It can’t be solved because — and here you have to listen to what the Palestinians and Arabs say in Arabic to each other, not what they say in English — it’s not “land for peace” (win-win), it’s a struggle on the Israelis part for existence. At the moment (and this is the big lesson of the Oslo peace process), Israeli concessions register among Palestinian leaders as signs of weakness and elicit not concessions from them (eg Arafat’s “no” to everything at Camp David), but violence (eg the second Intifada, or Hamas’ shelling israeli civilians the moment Israel left the Gaza strip in 2005). For an analysis of two competing paradigms about the conflict, see here.
For this to happen, Muslim society has to rise above the kind of violent honor-shame dynamic that now dominates the arab world. if Arab fathers and brothers will kill their daughters and sisters for shaming their families, imagine what they’d like to do to the Israelis for shaming their religion and culture.
Why haven’t your suggestions been implemented?
Because people instinctively side with the underdog, even when he’s not an underdog (Palestinians are only the tip of the iceberg of the Arab hostility to Israel. The very notion of Intifada means “shaking off” the way a large beast (camel, horse, cow) shudders its hide to shake off an insect, suggests that the Palestinians think that they are the large beast (Arab nation) shaking off tiny Israel. But we in the west have been sold on the idea this is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that Israel is the big mean Goliath who should be nicer to the poor Palestinian David. If you misread the problem, you misread the solution.
And behind much of the liberal sympathy for the Palestinians lie both cowardice and a(n) unconscious racism. Well-intentioned liberals and progressives who side with the “underdog” secretly don’t feel that the Arab world will ever change, and they’re afraid that if they ask them to, it will produce further violence.
Part of the fault here lies with our news media who, for fear of appearing Islamophobic, don’t tell us what’s going on. Here’s a representative example:
William Orme, correspondent for the New York Times, came to Israel in November of 2000, to explore the Israeli claim that Palestinian “incitement” drove much of the violence of the Second Intifada. In his article, “A Parallel Mideast Battle: Is It News or Incitement?”, he tackled the case of Sheikh Halabiya who, on Palestinian TV, called for killing Jews everywhere:
The Jews are the Jews. Whether Labor or Likud the Jews are Jews. They must be butchered and must be killed… It is forbidden to have mercy in your hearts for the Jews in any place and in any land. Make war on them any place that you find yourself. Any place that you meet them, kill them.”
When it came to the case of Halabiya, Orme wrote:
Israelis cite as one egregious example a televised sermon that defended the killing of the two soldiers [at Ramallah on October 12, 2000]. “Whether Likud or Labor, Jews are Jews,” proclaimed Sheik Ahmad Abu Halabaya in a live broadcast from a Gaza City mosque the day after the killings.
Given that Orme was specifically writing about the issue of incitement, this lapse seems inexplicable. Indeed, the omission was still more troubling given the global context. After all, Orme wrote only six years after a the media had played such terrible roles in the Rwanda genocide – both local (Hutu) media inciting to genocide and Western media failing to inform the world. And the Israelis had reminded him specifically of this.
Add to this the historical context: Only half a century earlier, the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini had enthusiastically joined Hitler during the Holocaust (Muslim troops were at the Warsaw Ghetto); and to this day, Palestinian leaders continue to regret not being able to “finish the job” Hitler started. So why would Orme, at the top of the journalistic profession, working for the paper that prints “all the news that’s fit to print” misinform his readership so strikingly on the content of the speech and its implications for motivations all around – both Palestinian resort to violence and Israeli response to that violence.
So we in the West don’t even know about this stuff, and assume that if the Palestinians so hate the Israelis, then the Israelis must have done terrible stuff to them to make them hate them so. But compare what Israel did in four months to the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas) in 2008/9 — 1300 dead, mostly fighters — with what Syria did in two weeks of bombardment to the Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama in 1982 — 20,000 civilians dead, or the civil war that the PLO waged in Lebanon with other Arab factions that killed over 150,000 civilians in seven years (1975-82).
Even if you accept every claim the Palestinians make about what Israel has done to them, it doesn’t hold a candle to what the Palestinians have done to their fellow Arabs and what their fellow Arabs have done to them.
Why aren’t current solutions working?
Because they’re based on liberal cognitive egocentrism. We project our values onto the Palestinians, assuming that they want their own country and freedom, not that they want vengeance and to destroy Israel. So we come up with positive-sum solutions (land for peace), and they say no, always finding some excuse to complain about (Israeli settlement, not enough land, sacred right of the return of refugees). If Arafat had said yes to Camp David (summer 2000), the Palestinians would have a state already, but he and his buddies, a fortiori Hamas, had done nothing to build a real state, only prepared to assault israel with a teaching of hate and expending all their capital on building bombing factories rather than schools.
So as a result, they assault Israel with suicide bombers, Israel responds by shutting down traffic between the territories and Israel, heavy checkpoints, and the Palestinians are far more miserable today than they were in 1986, before the first intifada, when the West Bank was one of the ten fastest growing economies in the world!
What do you think of foreign or outside involvement concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in general?
I think it’s hopelessly misguided, based on fantasies that not only don’t work, they backfire (like Oslo).
Do you think outside involvement helps or hurts?
Like negotiations, outside help can only work when the two sides want to make peace. Until then, anything outsiders do that doesn’t build up a culture of positive-sum on both sides (not very hard in Israel which is a major positive-sum culture and hence so successful in the modern world of learning, university research, medicine, judicial thought, democratic institutions, social work, economic growth, education, etc.) will not contribute.
Right now the Arab world wants the west to be “even-handed” ie less supportive of Israel, not because they’re working towards a peaceful solution, but because they think they can get the West to force Israel into a weakened position so they can wage a successful war. Outside efforts to force Israeli concessions on the mistaken notion that those concessions (back to the 1949 borders) will satisfy the Palestinians, are deadly fantasies, not just for Israel, but for the West (which is also the target of Hamas and other Islamist hatred). And of course, in every scenario, the Palestinian people lose because every success of their own leaders means more oppression for them.
In particular, U..S. involvement?
Same as previous question. The Walt-Mearsheimer thesis is particularly destructive of the chance for a real peace. They essentially want us to sacrifice Israel so we can “make friends” with the Arab nations (who have oil and pack diplomatic punch at the UN). The result of following their advice will merely convince the Arab world that we are weak because we sacrifice our friends to appease our enemies. In the world of honor-shame cultures, that’s a sign of cowardice, and elicits contempt, not admiration.
Note, i’m not saying the arabs have to be our enemies. Just that, if we want them to respect us, we should not give in to their intimidation. We need to stand up for our progressive principles of freedom of speech and human rights (like women’s rights in the Arab world), rather than accept their excuses that because of Israel, they can’t stop oppressing their own people (starting with the Palestinian refugees).
Gaza, Israel, and Palestine
for prayer is powerful
If the first casualty of war is truth, then what is the cost of a crusade against terror? Perhaps it’s the knowledge that in order to eradicate evil, we must begin to emulate the evildoer. And if you label your enemy “evil” long enough, you justify even the most immoral act as noble.
— Jeff Stetson
No offense, but i think this is a mistaken if admirable sentiment. The whole point of maturity is to know when to use force (as rarely as possible) and when not to (as often as possible). The idea that if you use force you’re necessarily on a slippery slope to becoming like your enemies, is foolish.
We are not the ones addicted to violence here — neither Americans, nor Israelis like war — the Palestinians and, more broadly, the Arabs, on the other hand, are addicted to violence (eg Hamas incapacity to stop bombing israeli civilians even when it means catastrophe for their own people). If you want to preach morality about violence, we Westerners are the least serious offenders. That’s how we’re able to have societies that tolerate free speech. Try calling for peace with Israel in Gaza and see how long you live.
As someone put it, “if tomorrow the arabs lay down their weapons, there’d be peace; if the israelis put down their weapons, there’d be no israel.”
You may dismiss all this as the rantings of a jewish islamophobe; you may believe (a leap of faith here, the evidence is against you), that the palestinians — especially their dominant alpha male leadership — are just like you and me and want to leave in peace, and love, and mutual respect. but if you’re wrong, the consequences of siding with the violent haters in some mistaken notion that the underdog is always right no matter how badly they behave, of feeding their sense of outrage, will be to destroy the very things you cherish most.
“he who is merciful to the cruel will end up being cruel to the merciful.” this process has been happening for a long time among people who think they are progressives.