Israels & Palestinians on the Crisis in Gaza– Where Do We Go From Here?


I try to avoid politics in this blog, but this is a land where our very existence is considered a matter of opinion.

As I wrote yesterday, I am ensconced in a discussion about the crisis in Gaza over at Global Voices Online. I wanted to move the discussion over here because I respect your opinions and want to hear what you have to say. (I also respect the opinions of the commenters and my fellow authors at GVO, but I suspect that the opinions expressed here and there will differ.)

Wafa Sultan on Secularism

Lee Cornfield of the Tidbits Nuggets and Brainbabies blog sent me a video of Arab American psychologist Wafa Sultan being interviewed on Al Jazeera television. I was most struck by her ideas regarding secular humanism. I’ve excerpted the conversation below (starting at 3:13 in the video).


Sultan: “I am not a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew. I am a secular human being. I do not believe in the supernatural, but I respect others’ rights to believe in it.”

Host: “Are you a heretic?”

Sultan: “You can say whatever you like. I am a secular human being who does not believe in the supernatural.”

Host: “If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you since you have blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran.

Sultan: “These are personal matters that do not concern you. Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don’t throw them at me. You are free to worship who[m]ever you want, but other people’s beliefs are not your concern. Whether they believe that the Messiah is god, son of Mary, or that Satan is god, son of Mary. Let people have their beliefs.”

Israel and Palestine: Solving the Conflict Secularly

I find Sultan’s discussion of secular humanism really appealing. Not in the sense that the secular is pitted against the religious, but because I believe that approaching the Israeli Palestinian conflict from the perspective of religion taints it and plunges it deep into an historical quagmire from which we will never escape.

Am I saying that the Israeli Palestinian dilemma can only be solved from a secular perspective? Yes. Must the people engaging in discussion be secular? No, but they must approach the conflict from a modern, practical, and future oriented perspective that takes us to where we want to be– on both sides of the conflict– rather than relying on the dysfunctional relations of the past.

Our Lenses to the Crisis

Personally, I despise the idea of collective punishment. As a former 8th grade teacher– to give you the smallest of microcosms as an example– I can tell you that nothing will make people angrier.

On Global Voices, I find myself striving to write balanced articles accurately portraying the opinions of the English language Israeli blogosphere, but when it comes to the comments section, things seem to get a little out of control. As seems natural on the internet, we assume the worst of each other and take each word, every chosen syntax, to be in defiance of our right of peoplehood. A simple clarifying question or request for more information is interpreted as condescension, unwittingly so.

My core belief in this whole situation is in human beings’ right to a high quality of life first and foremost, including their right and ability to control their own resources and provide for themselves.

Somewhere down the line we all choose sides based on existing alliances and our understanding of how the world works. When it comes down to it, I also believe in the rights of people to exist within national boundaries and borders that will protect them. It is necessary for both Israel and Palestine’s existence to be able to defend themselves against their enemies.

Leaving the World Blind

But wait, if we have the right to defend ourselves against our enemies and both of us have enemies that we perceive as active and violent, then we are necessarily lead into military conflict against each other. In the land of an eye for an eye (you know what I’m going to say), this leaves us all blind.

A number of commenters on Global Voices stated their belief that Israel was more of an aggressor than Palestine based on the fatality statistics. One user, Sarfaraz, urges us to: “Consider the death toll comparison on both sides before reaching to a conclusion [sic],” citing B’Tselem’s study of violence on both sides. He says, “The Palestinian actions are nothing but symbolic in comparison to massacres perpetuated by Israelis.”

But this is where we get sidetracked and thrown into the issue of whose bullying is most “effective.” The number of casualties as a measurement of success is a complete perversion of the human issue at hand. You cannot claim, as Lee says in her response, to both care about humanitarianism and also to use death rates as measurements of right and wrong. The two issues are necessarily bifurcated. They will never intersect.

Jews as Futurists: Where Do We Go From Here?

As Jews and Israelis, our Zionism pushes us to be futurists and think about what comes next and how to plan for it. For me, although I recognize why others are attached to historical ideas about land possession and occupation and see why they hold value, I don’t find them as getting us anywhere. I don’t see them as providing any answers.

I completely understand that it is offensive for me to say “1948, let’s move on,” when for a Palestinian his whole existence and identity as a person in conflict source from that time. Rather than devaluing that, I want to raise the issue higher and say, okay, so where do we go from here?

What can we do this year, next year, in the next five years that will move Israel and Palestine to a healthy, non-violent, two-state solution? We don’t have to like each other, but we do have to coexist without violence for both of our sanities.

Statehood x Two

In November, Olmert and Abbas, on symbolic behalf of the people of Israel and Palestine, agreed to actively and aggressively pursue a two-state solution with the goal of establishing Palestinian statehood by 2008.

Can the establishment of a state change opinions on both sides? What needs to happen for peace to occur?


I leave you with the thoughts of one of my heroes, Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize:

“No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and is concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature.”

Photo by The



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12 Responses to Israels & Palestinians on the Crisis in Gaza– Where Do We Go From Here?

  1. Shai says:

    First, I like the way you respond to their comments. I prefer dialog to yelling, and you always take the high road. Kol hakavod.

    Next, good luck – my opinion is that unfortunately only one side envisions a future with both sides living side by side. Let me clarify that – only one side has the political will to achieve this compromise – the Palestinian side does not recognize any inherent right to this land other than their own. Lots of Jews feel that way, too, to look at some blogs.

    My own opinion is that your approach, Maya, is the right one because it has the best potential to achieve peace, yet recognize that those who can’t foresee any way to make compromise are blinding themselves to solutions. They use the conflict as a means to prove their bona fides to others and themselves. The conflict is between them an themselves, as much as it is between us and the Palestinians.

    The conflict is too useful to them to allow it to dissipate. No compromise is good enough, because they are not interested in solutions that would work for both sides – remember, only the Palestinian side to them is righteous, and they seeing themselves thus, choose to identify with them. Any criticism of the Palestinians is one of themselves, and they respond in kind with deep, irrational invective. There’s something in their protests that is brutish and animal-like, for all the fancy words they put in defense of their stance. It’s like a compulsion, or a transference of identity, to a cause that the whole of themselves becomes identified with. I just can’t find a way to explain teh extremes and one-sidedness of their comments otherwise. I suppose I can be wrong on this, but I don’t have a better explanation.

    The Dalai Llama’s quote is pollyanish. Actually, there do exist people who would rather destroy someone else’s dream, even if that means their own dream will never be actualized, because the imagined pain of a successful thriving Israel is far greater than any pleasure they’d get in having responsibility for themselves and their own country. The DL’s approach is BF Skinners – it’s optimistic – all we have to do is realize we’re all the same inside, and educate each other to get along. Too bad it’s just not true. Rather, we need to cultivate a personal motivation to compromise – it’s not something we learn, but something we choose.

    In my opinion, tHe only realistic solution is to return all areas outside the fence to the Jordanians “occupation”, and all areas in Gaza to the Egyptian “occupation” (the latter is already happening de facto). We already have a peace agreement with those countries, and culturally Palestinians aren’t more different from Egyptian and Jordanian Arabs than Mississipians are from Idahoans, so what’s the problem? That the Egyptians and Jordanians don’t want it? WHat, Israel wants it more? Is obligated more? Nonsense. They can govern themselves in federation with those countries much better than they can on their own apparently, their national narratives are compatible, and I frankly agree with those who feel that it’s better for us all if they were there and we are here for a few generations – until we have the ability to look at each other as neighbors and not enemies. Maybe then at some point in the future, a Palestinian state will arise from that. In my opinon, those who prevent such solutions are not really interested in peace more than they are in undermining Israel.

    One last point, which I got from R. Jonathan Sacks’ “Rebuilding Society”. THis is with reference to the interview you mentioned. He said there’s a difference between toleration and tolerance. The first is when you disagree with someone, but you allow each other to live in a society where people disagree. For example, cartoon parodies. It may not need to be illegal, but my community may frown on it, while yours smiles on it. Imagine though a society where nobody had the right to be a cartoon parody producer, because it was considered offensive. Such a society has tolerance, but only for the views of those most easily offended. This is what occurs with “political correctness”, and the Mohammed cartoons. Such socieities encourage groups to maintain a certain “touchiness” and sensitivity to their groups special victim-ness, rather than granting everyone rights based on their individualness, not their groupness or hyphen-ness.

    Because as countries and socieities we no longer share common values, because these vlaues have been undermined by moral relativism and multi-culturalism (hyphenism), the only venue for deciding values is politics – and politics we must recall is a blunt tool – it is a tool of government enforcement, adn to the degree we use this tool, government undermines individual choice. This is why to me it’s puzzling that anarchists are often supportive of these group sensitivities. Anyway, they cause a situation where we find ourselves changing the law to accommodate a lower common denominator, rather than a freedom that permits all up to a place where it harms others.

    I suggest reading the book for a better understanding as I’ve paired it down to a minimum, but the point I’m making is in response to yours on the role of religion. It’s not about religion per se anymore. It’s about who can yell the lowdest. So, instead of the rational discussions that take place in an atmosphere of _toleration_, the sort you tried to encourage, Maya, only single “correct” discussions can take place in an atmosphere of _tolerance_. Israel has become the victim of this – “correct” points of view in a morally relativist society don’t allow Israel to be interpreted as protecting its citizens. Moral relativism has completely undermined the justifications Israel uses to exist and defend itself. The fix is in – she’s a criminal state, born in sin, and her citizens are deserving of death. If you don’t toe that party line, you’re not invited to the debate in a lot of places. Oxford is just the most recent example of that.

    It looks to me like we’re in for the fight of our lives for many years to come, Maya. Sorry.

  2. Self-Defense is Justified says:

    Gandhi’s advice to the Jews:

    ““Hitler,” Gandhi solemnly affirmed, “killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs. I believe in hara-kiri. I do not believe in its militaristic connotations, but it is a heroic method.”

    “You think,” I said, “that the Jews should have committed collective suicide?”

    “Yes,” Gandhi agreed,” that would have been heroism. It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to the evils of Hitler’s violence, especially in 1938, before the war. As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.””

    This is bad advice, everyone should agree. Israel should not commit collective suicide by refusing to respond to Palestinian aggression. Those who tell Israel it cannot defend itself, or that it should not (like the UN Human Rights Counsel controlled by Israel’s enemies) are wrong, and the Jewish people would be foolish to let them dictate the means by which we can defend ourselves.

  3. POLAR WIND says:

    The terrorist Hamas government admits that it will not end terrorism until “the entire siege on the Strip is lifted and until the liberation of Palestine – all of Palestine.”

    It is hard for many of us to comprehend, but these terrorists want Israel gone, and all Jews out of the Middle East. This is not just a terrorist group, but rather a government that is supported by the majority of Palestinians.

    These people understand force. You cannot bargain with them. You can negotiate their surrender once they are defeated, but that is not possible now. Israel is in a fight for its life, and it better win. The consequences of being weak now will be disastrous.

    Stay strong.

  4. Lee says:

    Hi Maya,

    First of all, I’m glad you too found the videoclip of the interview inspiring, and
    I liked your example of inferring from a microcosm.
    You’re right that things get out of hand in the Global Voices, which is monitored, to boot! I don’t agree however, that “this seems natural on the internet.” I assumed it would have the opposite effect. Maybe people use writing as a venting mechanism, whereas I find it helps me think clearly. Still, I would have expected more people to come out of the woodwork, and voice their very individual take on the issues.

  5. Ron Wegsman says:

    The problem is not religion. Many of the most hawkish Israelis are secular, and I suspect that this is the same on the Palesitnian side as well. (Before the rise of Hamas, the most violent terrorists were Communists and other secular ideologues.) And a religious argument can be made for compromise — in fact must, if it is to get wide support. The “Land of Israel” movement is actually quite untraditional if you look at Jewish history. (Again I am focusing on the Israeli side because I am familiar with it; I do not know the insides of Palestinian society.)

    • Carrie says:

      This arlicte went ahead and made my day.

    • Adorable!!!… Ollie is sooooo Cute!.. I love that last photo!! .. Sad that you could not go!.. Hope you are getting better….SOOOON!. Big hug!..The card is Lovely.. Cute image.. And I love the blue color!!….Great Coloring Job.. And I suddenly remembered the Spellbinder die that you have used… I HAVE bought it almost 1,5 year ago… But it is gone… I havent seen it since…( :o( )…. But … I might have forgotten it at the lunch place… or it is in my stash …. somewhere!! :o)

  6. Brandeis picks 5 ‘big-idea’ finalists

    A contest for the next big idea in Judaism is down to five finalists.

    Brandeis University made the choices for its Charles R. Bronfman Visiting Chair in Jewish Communal Innovation competition.

    Applicants were asked to come up with an innovation in Judaism and develop it with proposals for changing the way Jews think about themselves and their community. The winner will receive a visiting professorship at Brandeis and two years to develop the idea into a book that Brandeis will publish.

    The finalists are Jerusalem Post editorial page editor and columnist Saul Singer; Harvard doctoral candidate Yehuda Kurtzer; author Anita Diamant; Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the founder of the Jewish Values Network; and Ariel Beery, the publisher of PresenTense magazine.

    They were selected from 231 applicants, including 49 rabbis and from such countries as Israel, Italy, India, Australia and Sweden.

    The five will present their proposals Feb. 24 at a symposium for members of the Brandeis community and Boston-area Jewish leaders.

    CONGRATS TO ALL THE 5 FINALISTS, especially Ariel Beery!

  7. thenewjew says:

    Thanks, ARB.

    As I said to Shai already, I’m sorry not to be updating, but I just can’t do it until I am feeling better. Rest assured I in no way feel good about not being able to post the last two weeks.

    Thanks for your understanding.


  8. thenewjew says:

    Dear Ron,

    Thanks for the suggestions for reorientation of thinking regarding secular and religious ideas. I will certainly check it out.


  9. thenewjew says:

    Dear Self Defense is Justified,

    Thanks for your quote. Do you have a source?


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