The holy land

           For years, it has been fashionable to see Israel as a big bully picking on the poor, defenseless Palestinians.  This line of reasoning has the Israelis brutalizing civilians for the fun of it, while the Palestinians just want life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

            I understand this mindset.  Those pictures are awfully dramatic, and no one likes to see dead children.  Including Israelis, I might add, who have been dropping leaflets in advance so civilians will know where they are going to bomb.  I think it is ridiculous to discuss a proportionate response.  If the Canadian government supported the bombing of the U.S. and the Canadian people were hiding the bombers in their midst, no one in the U.S. would be all that concerned about a proportionate response.  Israel is not just picking on the weak for the hell of it; the Israelis are legitimately threatened.

            Of course, there are people on the other side of the fence in whose eyes Israel can do no wrong.  This line of reasoning has the uber-civilized Israelis patiently tolerating the savages in their midst who irrationally lob bombs over the border.

            I understand this mindset.  As an American Jew, I get awfully nervous about criticizing the Israelis.  People may say the Holocaust has nothing to do with this, but it does.  The bare fact is that – in living memory – a government mobilized to effect worldwide Jewish extermination, and most other nations did not want to take in the fleeing Jews.  To Jews, Israel is insurance that the next time (and it is a question of when, not if) there will be someplace to go.  The Israelis are on the front lines, protecting a refuge I may need someday, and so I find it hard to criticize.

            But, the fact remains that the Palestinians are being blockaded.  They cannot get the goods they need.  On the other hand, Israel is trying to keep them from getting arms.  On the other hand, the pullout left the Palestinians stranded.  On the other hand, Israel has stopped occupying Gaza as requested.  On the other hand, they did so unilaterally.  On the other hand, the Palestinians would not negotiate.  On the other hand, Israel was occupying their land.  On the other hand, the Gaza Strip was being used to attack Israel.  On the other hand, Israel was formed on land containing Palestinians.

            And so on.  It goes on forever because (and I know people hate to admit it) both sides are right and both sides are wrong.  This is not a war about a few missile attacks.  It is a war about class.  The Palestinians are poor.  Very, very poor.  Contrary to popular opinion, this is not solely because of Israel.  These were the poorest of the Arab world, and they got left behind to form a nation that would conveniently stick in Israel’s side.  They make excellent propaganda tools, and it is disgusting how people love to cloak their animosity towards Israel in sympathy for the Palestinians.  Make no mistake: Israel is surrounded by wealthy Arab countries that use the poorest people – the Palestinians – to do the dirty work of fighting Israel and making it look bad.

            My heart breaks for the Palestinians.  It really does.  But the answer is not for Israel to sit back and allow itself to be attacked.  There are too many people who would love to see it destroyed.  Don’t bother trying to tell me that feelings towards Israel have nothing to do with feelings towards Jews.  That’s as much hogwash as trying to say that the animosity Israelis feel for Palestinians is free of bigotry.  And I think it is safe to say Israelis on the whole bear not much love towards the Palestinians.

            There are no two groups it is easier to hate than Arabs and Jews, which makes it mighty convenient that they are duking it out over a crappy piece of arid land.  No matter which side a person picks, those stereotypes and prejudices play a part.  Until we acknowledge the ethnic prejudices and economic facts driving this problem, no progress can be made.

            And the Palestinians will keep dying.


Feel free to comment with what I am sure will be strong opinions.  But if people start getting nasty, I will close comments.  It was very hard to write this, and the reason I haven’t been posting much is because I needed to figure out how to say this.  Disagree with me and one another, but do it respectfully.

36 responses to “The holy land

  1. The only strong opinion I have to express is that I agree with you. I am disturbed by what I sometimes come across… a complete lack of perspective and an unwillingness to even consider “the other side.”

    I also think, that as a Jew, you have a perspective that I cannot–because I’m not Jewish. In what may not seem a related idea, it was one thing that struck me about the election of Barack Obama. There were so many African-Americans I saw interviewed who never thought they would see the day a black person was elected as the President. I had never considered that. I always assumed it would happen one day… but I’m not African-American and I can emphathize to a degree, but just that–to a degree.

    I’m glad you spoke up about this. I think you have a POV that needs to be heard.

  2. It is heartwrenching. I think this post was very well written. The thought that you might need Israel for refuge someday is deeply troubling.

  3. both sides are right and both sides are wrong.

    this is exactly it.

    sister, i know this wasn’t an easy post to write. but we have to be able to talk about it. we have to be able to question our own country’s position. it’s exactly what you said. and while we all hash it out while sipping our coffees families are going through utter, terrifying hell.

  4. “Don’t bother trying to tell me that feelings towards Israel have nothing to do with feelings towards Jews.”

    Well. You know my history. My past experiences. Which I will be the first to admit most likely color my view here or make it unable to see clearly the Israeli side of things. BUT, that is nowhere near an overwhelming influence on why I feel the way I do.

    Maybe it’s partly because the militant, uber self righteous American Jews and Israelis that I have met far outnumber those who remained level headed and could see both sides.

    Maybe it’s partly because even while looking at all the facts I find much more fault lies with Israel’s aggression.

    Maybe it’s partly because I think it is quite honestly foolish for Israel to BE so aggressive when they are surrounded by a billion Arabs who want to wipe them from the face of the Earth. Not that they should sit back and take whatever comes their way but I don’t think that a few rockets sent over the border which has seen minimal damage/casualties deserves the response they gave.

    Did you catch The Daily Show the other night? Jon Stewart said it well:

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg (D), New York: Let me just phrase it for you — something that’ll bring it home. If you’re in your apartment and an emotionally disturbed person is banging on the door screaming, “I am going to come through this door and kill you” — do you want us to respond with one police officer, which is proportional, or with all the resources at our command?

    Jon: I guess it depends if I forced that guy to live in my hallway and make him go through checkpoints every time he has to take a shit.

    There are other points I could make but honestly I’m so drained with discussing this whole thing. Dunno if you saw my Facebook recently but it’s been crazy for the past week. I almost lost a very dear friend to me b/c we could just not see eye to eye on this situation and have finally agreed to disagree lest we allow it to affect our kinship for one another.

    I feel the same way about you…..although one day we’ll talk about it face to face over coffee or tea and delve more into the folds if we so wish.

  5. I know that it is hard to write posts like these but sometimes one just has to write what you feel. In any war or conflict there are always underlying factors driving the process its just sad that common civilians on both sides end up paying the price.

  6. I read a fiction book, recently, that had quite a bit of factual historical information about the conflict, albeit slanted from an author’s perspective. Exile, by Richard North Patterson (

    Between my own previous knowledge of Israel and Palestine and what I have learned more recently, I walked away from the book with a sense that it is hard to blame either side for a conflict that has it’s roots way back with Abraham and Sarah and Hagar.

    And from the perspective of a religious person, with beliefs in biblical prophesy that are still to come, I do not take sides. The heartbreak on both sides in historied and deep. I have no hate for either group, yet I do hate that people have to continue to die, on both sides.

  7. Right and wrong on both sides – absolutely. Also a long and very messy history that is dragged along by both nations every time something happens – and that history means that yes, responses by both parties are often out of proportion (sometimes wildly) and yes negotiations are never simple or amicable and, important to remember, YES neither side trusts outside parties to be fair and biased and so are not willing to hand the mess over entirely to the international community.

    Further, in my understanding those Arab nations who are so loud about Palestinian rights have in the past often had no interest in accepting them into their own lands, providing border land for them or even giving solid humanitarian aid. Instead they provide endless rhetoric and just enough ammunition to keep the whole thing on the boil.

    All of which comes down to say that I am terribly discouraged about the entire thing and have no hope it can be resolved peacefully. NOT helping that a fundamentalist Christian acquaintance was gleefully saying that this was definitely the End of the World and a Sign of the Times and that Jesus would be back any moment to sort us all out. No, it’s just lots of people being hurt and dying because of some terribly, terribly difficult history and that’s heart breaking.

  8. I have opinions about that conflict and it seems to be, as you said, mostly about class – and, secondarily, ancient land battles based on Biblical prophecy.


  9. I also wanted to add that I’m glad you wrote about this. I know it was difficult for you.

  10. It does seem like an impossible situation. I try not to be a pessimist, but that conflict makes it difficult to believe a real, workable solution exists.

  11. The entire situation is so overwhelmingly awful that I find it hard to form a coherent opinion about it.

    I think “both sides are right, and both sides are wrong” just about sums it up perfectly, though.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you. As a Canadian Jew, I have been so afraid to voice my views for the exact reasons you state here.

    I am 100% aligned with what you have written; the difference is that I am not able to express myself without getting emotional – possibly due to the fact that I lived in Israel for a year, and I took so many important experiences back to Canada with me.

    If you don’t mind, I may direct a few people here when I find myself tongue-tied and tired.

  13. On the other hand…on the other hand….

    “NO! There IS NO OTHER HAND!!!”
    -Tevye, Fiddler on the Roof

  14. I think your ability to try looking at both sides of the issue while expressing your own feelings with clarity and relative calm is so commendable. So many people froth at the mouth. The best thing I’ve seen on the heated emotions that this subject brings up was an Ampersand cartoon…dated October, called Moral Superiority. On the subject of the holocaust and Israel as the safety net…I grew up with that–we have h. survivors in our family–and I’m over it. I’m not living my life in fear. Fear just chokes out all the good of now. Not to mention that if, for any reason, you need to run away, Israel can only exist because it gets a ton of money from the U.S. So either the U.S. continues to support Israel, in which case there is no scenario that would make sense of having to run away as a Jew, or else Israel will be broke, without supplies, and surrounded by enemies. Not your ideal run-away-to spot. A long time ago, I decided that I wasn’t going to be a Jew for Oy, but a Jew for Joy. That phrase originates, as far as I know, with Rabbi Elyse Goldstein. It’s a good one. I’m not bringing up my kids with an identity of fear.

  15. Emily,
    I agree with you but there’s something about your first sentence that stops me a bit short. I don’t think “fashionable” is necessarily the right or appropriate word. I know that a lot of people have been frustrated by gov’t (US and Canadian) support of Israel even at times when Israel should perhaps be questioned a little more sternly for its actions. Most of the nay-saying I hear is usually spoken as a backlash against sanctioned gov’t action here in the West vis-a-vis Gaza.

    On another matter, I sent kgirl over here. You should go check out her blog. She doesn’t post as much as she once did but I do think you two would hit it off.

  16. Excellent, thoughtful and, most importantly, SANE post Emily – thanks.

  17. I love this post because it acknowleges that there are 2 sides, 2 valid sides, and it’s just a shitty situation. Well written.

  18. This was fantastic. I am embarrassed to admit that this is something I am just now starting to learn about, so I’m not in the best position to offer my (admittedly uninformed) opinion. I will say that I’ve heard/read/seen people get worked up to the point that their arguments are ineffective, and this post was NOT like that at all. I really appreciate your even tone and ability to state your opinion rationally and with clarity.

    And yes! Meeting for real would be great!

  19. This is fascinating. Just the other day I was in a conversation about the Israel/Palestinian situation and found myself repeating contradiction after contradiction. After reading your post I’ve realized that my fumblings were due to not believing either side is wrong or right. This situation is horrific and affects the entire Middle Eastern region and the rest of the world. Whether we like it or not the Western world also holds blame for these deaths.

    Thanks for helping me put words to the conflict in my head.

  20. It’s a horrific situation all around, but I’ll admit I lay a lot of responsiblity at the Israeli government’s feet for what seems to be a completely disproportionate response on too many occasions.

    And I will respectfully disagree with beliefs that my feelings for the government’s actions are based on my feelings for people of the Jewish faith. Perhaps that’s because I don’t see why the Jewish faith should be hated –or feared, and I think that’s the problem many people have with Arabs who are Muslim– or its followers.

  21. Emily-
    Thank you so much for your thoughts on this subject. Thank you for writing this, for having the courage to write it and also the emotional need, as it were, to write it. I appreciate hearing your viewpoint, as always, and I think you are spot on in your analysis.

  22. Well said, Emily. Israel is getting a bad rap.

    That said, it bugs me that both sides have more than their quota of fanatics – the “all or nothing” crowd motivated by something they call religion. These folks are a major obstacle to a settlement, if in fact a settlement is possible. I’d like to hope it is.

    I finally wrote on topic myself, recently, the frustration finally bubbling over onto the page.

  23. There is no universal wrong or right “side” in this issue, and I think you did a commendable job in showing that. Thank you for taking the time to really get this out respectfully and thoughtfully; it was wonderful to read.

  24. Thank you for this post. It’s strange. I try to talk about Israel with my parents & my mom walks out of the room & my dad’s face turns red. They cannot say anything bad about it. But somehow it’s ok for them to say things they don’t like about the US….

    There is So. Much. Baggage. In this issue.

    It’s so true that both sides are wrong and both sides are right. It’s just so unfortunate that there’s so so much baggage from the past for them to get through to even get near the stuff in the present.

  25. I used to think that I had an opinion on this, but I the more facts I get the more confused I get. I do think that the conflict won’t be solved through conflict; it’ll require development. I do rather optimistically think that as people have opportunity for peace and prosperity, they tend to choose that over war. People who feel like they have fewer options tend to be less hesitant about violence and the prospect of death.

  26. I am really proud of you for writing this and I am right there with you.

    right there.

  27. Excellent post, one of the most open-minded I’ve seen on this topic (and I’ve been reading the Jewish World Review lately and that’s like professors and stuff so well done). And you did it all without using the phrase ‘anti-Semitism,’ which I’ve been getting tired of hearing every time someone suggests that the killing should stop. There’s definitely racism at work in the world but it’s NOT a get out of jail free card. I completely agree with every single point you made except maybe the last one, that the answer lies in acknowledging the ethnic prejudices. You may be right but there seem to be a fair number of people involved who do nothing but dwell on the ethnic prejudices and it hasn’t helped much so far.

  28. Israel has every right to defend itself against terrorists–and like all terrorists, these radical instigators are using innocent people–their VERY OWN people–as human shields and victims to incite more hatred against the Israelis. But I agree that these issues are very complex with many missteps coming from both sides.

  29. thank you for this… very thought provoking. I feel like I don’t know enough about this, but your post and the responses were interesting. A while back (before the latest craziness) i was learning some about it, and the thing that strikes me the most is that we forced out the palestinians so that the jews could have Israel. and obviously that has not gone particularly well.

  30. This is such a tough one. I sympathize with both groups’ motivations. But one group uses terror and one doesn’t. Plus, the history of the Jews (plus my personal connection to Judaism) makes me root for Israel. And a fast ending to the violence.

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