Israel / Palestine

It is hard to be a nice guy when you live in a bad neighborhood

I have written a lot about Israel and Palestine, probably so much that I have bored many of my readers who appear to be more interested in what I have to say about technology than my views about the Middle East. However, this is my blog, and I write as much for myself as I write for others.

Like so many others, I struggle to make sense out of the situation in the Middle East. In some ways, it is not possible, because it does not make sense. There are two peoples who claim what is, in reality, one land. Both have legitimate claims in my opinion but neither the Israeli Jews or the Palestinian Arabs recognize this. In their heart of hearts, they just want the other side to disappear. But that will not happen. Politicians on both sides exploit the situation for political gain.

Israel grows stronger and Palestine weaker
If the conflict between Israel and Palestine continues, it will not end well for either side. Israel will find itself potentially more and more isolated from Europe and even the USA, although I suspect its ties with India, China and even Africa will increase. Most concerning is the brutal way Israel treats Palestinians in Palestine that will effect the way Israelis view themselves. As a Jew with a very strong connection to Israel, I find much of Israel’s behavior in Palestine in conflict with my Jewish Values. But I also understand, and I hope to help you understand.

The Palestinians are finding themselves with less and less support. It is not that the world is becoming more pro-Israel. In fact, the opposite is true. But the conflict between Israel and Palestine is becoming less important. World events are pushing this story to the back page.  Israel is in a position to extract a terrible price from Palestine. Israel controls all their natural resources. They can turn off the electricity and water not to mention the cell phones and internet.

A Jewish State in the Middle East is not acceptable to Middle Eastern Countries
Many of you, I imagine, think that if Israel behaved differently with respect to Palestine there would somehow be peace. I wish this would be true, but it is not. Even if the majority of the Palestinians would accept Israel’s right to exist (and they do not), the rest of the Arab world would not. No, the more than 300 million Arabic speakers along with countries like Iran, will never accept a Jewish Nation in the Middle East. For thousands of years, Jews were tolerated in Muslim lands but were second class citizens at best. But the idea of a Jewish state is not acceptable to them. And the more that Israel is successful, the less able they are to come to terms with it. I do not believe that the hatred that Middle Eastern Countries have for Israel would change if Israel treated Palestine differently. Interestingly, a growing concern amongst Arab countries about Iran may have more of a positive effect on Arab/Israeli relations that anything that Israel could do in Palestine.

The Middle East: A bad neighborhood
It must be clear to you that violence and intolerance plays a fundamental role in how middle eastern countries deal with conflict. Just look at Syria and Iraq if you want two current examples. The middle east is a very violent place with tribal and ethnic conflicts. The most well know of this is the Sunni/Shia schism. Here in the USA, we watch conflicts as those in Syria and see that there are no “good guys.” The side in power terrorizes the other side, but if the relationship changes, the other side behaves pretty much in the same way.

The more Palestinians engage in acts of terror and violence the more they will be identified with the Muslim Terrorist. Please do not take me wrong. I do not consider most Palestinian acts of violence many which are just self defense, the same as Islamic Terrorist. But that does not mean that others will not conflate the two. Frankly, I think that most Palestinians have more in common with Israelis than they do with ISIS or the Taliban. One would just have to go to Ramallah to understand that. I doubt that Palestinian women would like to to be covered head to toe in black with only their eyes showing.
Meet Netanyahu’s best friend: Mahmoud Abbas
If Palestine had a leader that could get Palestinians to adopt a non-violent approach, I doubt that Netanyahu would survive in office. Both these men depend on the other to stay in office. If things became more violent, Netanyahu might not survive but his replacement could make the Palestinians long for these good old days.

Is there something to learn from the Mexican immigrants in the USA?
The situation between the USA and Mexico is not analogous, but there are some important things to consider. The Mexican’s in the USA want to be Americans even if they are proud of their Mexican heritage. In many parts of the USA, they are treated badly but they do not display hostility to the white majority. I can’t imagine what would happen if they began to attack white Americans.

Israel the world’s largest gated community
Jews have at least an equal claim on the land that is now Israel and Palestine. I won’t go into the history, but you can read my other posts on this if you like. Of course, the ideal solution would have been for one country in which Jews and Arabs lived in harmony, and that will not be. While Israelis love Israel, with the exception of the food, Israelis hate living in the middle east. So much, that many of them imagine that they are living somewhere else. I often joke that Israelis think that Israel is located somewhere in Southern California. But, of course, there are daily reminders that they are not. So Israel is building walls not only figuratively but in reality. There are three types of walls. The first is the separation wall which the Palestinians refer to as the Apartheid Wall. The second is the anti-missile defense systems along with other defensive weapons. And finally there is the “Apathy wall,” a psychological defense that enables Israelis to no longer feel empathy towards the lives of Palestinians. When I speak of Israelis, I should say that I do not include the settler movement. Many of its members seek to push the Palestinians out and incorporate what is now the West Bank into Greater Israel.

Where has my empathy gone?
I have not lost my empathy for the Palestinians. Over the years, I have thought a lot about what could be done to change the situation. I have reached out to Palestinians hoping to understand their perspective. I have donated money to organizations that I believed could have a positive impact in Palestine. However, I have to confess that I am moving as they say “more to the right.”

I am very frustrated at how the Palestinian people have handled the situation. CNN is showing a very powerful documentary on the 60s, a decade that played such an important role in my life. Last night I watched the episode on the civil right movement. As a participant in that movement, I remember the events very well. I can only wish that the Palestinians would find a leader like Martin Luther King just as I wish that Israel would find a leader like JFK. Palestinians must learn from the American Civil Rights Movement. They must understand that non-violent protests can be very effective. They must resist violence even when violence is done to them. I know this is easy to say from the comfort of my home in Sonoma, but I do personally remember the days of being beaten by the police and taken to jail, although I will not claim to have personally suffered that much. I also recall with pride the role that Jewish people played in the early days of the civil-rights movement.

No more Mr. Nice Guy
I am not trying to blame anyone. I am just trying to look at reality. Israel is getting stronger, and Palestine is getting weaker. Resisting Israel with force will not end well for Palestine. The more Palestinians denounce violence, the stronger they will become. Palestinians should ask themselves how well have their leaders served them over the years.

I will not justify Israel’s settlements on the West Bank or what I call the slicing and dicing of Palestine by creating the walls and roads which connect the Settlements to Israel and each other.

What I would like the Palestinians to consider is, how would they be treated if Netanyahu behaved as other Arab leaders like Assad. Be careful about what you wish for.

The future of Palestine is in learning to live side by side with Israel and Israelis.
Fair or not fair, as long as they do not accept Israel and engage in violence, they will not achieve their dream of their own nation. Events in the rest of the Middle East are weakening the Palestinian’s position. They are also hardening the Israelis. If ISIS continues to gain strength in Iraq and Syria, I will not be surprised if Israel builds walls all around the country and also a wall along the border with Jordan. These walls will truly create a Palestinian prison on the West Bank just like Gaza is a prison with a beach.

What we need is leadership both in Israel and Palestine that starts with the premise that both peoples are here to stay and must learn to live side by side. Sadly, I don’t see that happening.
If I have to choose
If push comes to shove, I will be on Israel’s side. The future of the Jewish People is at stake. Israel is an extremely small country. The Jewish population is just over six million people. Over half the population are descendants from Jews that were expelled from Arab countries after the creation of the State of Israel. Israel has no choice but to survive. I just hope that its survival will not come at the cost of Jewish Values.

Surely, there will be those of you that will read this blog post and say that I am attacking the Palestinians and giving a pass to the Israelis. That is not how I feel. There will be those of you that think I am unfair to Israel. To the extent that I get criticism from both sides, I will feel that I may have accomplished my goal.


Happy 4th of July but don’t forget our history

It was not always a very pretty picture.


14 thoughts on “It is hard to be a nice guy when you live in a bad neighborhood

  1. Avram,

    Thanks for the interesting blog as always and this is clearly a subject which you care deeply about.

    I personally think the only way Israel will prevail and the fighting will end is if Israel can hold the line until the oil wealth is exhausted in most of the Arab lands and pray and hope that the technology, education, ethics and culture of the west spreads into Arab lands.

    It’s been proven that the more educated a country becomes the less religious it becomes. The less religious the Arabs become the more tolerant they will become of Jews. In addition nothing of any real significance or value is actually manufactured in Arab lands (as a general rule) and therefore when the oil wealth runs out… Actually the more likely scenario is that technological innovation and environmental concerns will remove the need for oil as a base resource… When this occurs the Arab lands will struggle to maintain the old order and something better could take it’s place.

    Anyway rambling on, my message is that the conflict will end… But I believe it will fizzle out by about mid 21st cent because of education, western and global cultural progress, oil issues and the eventually toning down and insignificance of the main Arab religion.

    The Jewish state will have to stay strong and hold the line, but if they can do that things will get better. hope this cheers you up!


  2. Thank you for this post. You have provided great clarity for me on a very confusing topic. Happy Fourth!

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. I find myself very sad at the despair and resignation of your blog post. Unfortunately I tend to agree with you and it looks like a third intifada is starting. I’m quite sure it will “end” the same way as the first two.

    You are very right the Middle East is a bad neighborhood and I suspect the Arab areas will have to go through a lengthy process of conflict and ethnic cleansing of areas before some overall stability emerges. This is tragic. I don’t know that I’ll live to see a real peace break out anywhere there.

    I do think that the United States will always be interested in Israel to some extent, but yes as the Arab conflict grows that news will crowd out any Israel-Palestinian visibility. Also I’m sure United States policy will focus on containing the “Arab fire”, not that it will be able to do so.

    Perhaps as Americans we are overoptimistic that problems can always be solved quickly. This does seem to be one problem that will take more generations to conquer.


  4. Why is it we continue to do the same things over and over expecting a different outcome, understanding this is the definition of insanity. Peaceful co-habitation is challenging often with those we love dearly, sharing a plot of land with those we loath is untenable I have compassion for both sides and appreciate the help from you Avram in better understanding a corner of the world that is unfamiliar. Thank you


  5. Avram, I am far from bored in reading your posts about the Middle East. It is a subject very close to your heart and a subject of which I have only opinions and limited first hand knowledge. So I generally don’t comment on it. For me the keyword that symbolizes the Middle East is: tragedy. It is a region emblematic of the expression “man’s inhumanity to man” – certainly not the only one in the world today. I consider myself a “humanist” and a non-religious person. I am also fundamentally a pragmatist.

    At the risk of sounding like an idiot, it seems to me that the stronger and more knowledgeable/educated/richer have a greater opportunity for insight and effective action. As the saying goes, you don’t catch flies with vinegar. It appears to me that Israel can ONLY survive in the long run, if it becomes an active agent to reduce socio-economic inequality in its region. It must create in Palestine, a “blooming desert” for all. This is in my view, the only successful direction to pursue – reducing (eliminating is the ultimate goal) a focus on sectarian/fundamentalist/militarist/religious politics and relentlessly pursuing the objective of providing a good quality of life for all in the region. It would be the most spectacular success on the planet to date – and a goal worthy of worldwide support.


  6. Avram – I appreciate your writing & perspective. Can you elaborate on this viewpoint: “The future of the Jewish People is at stake. Israel is an extremely small country. The Jewish population is just over six million people.” In my life, thankfully mostly spent in upper class scenarios of the USA, the Jewish population is really thriving here, such that I don’t see the fate of the Jewish People as unilaterally hinging on an unthreatened Israel. Not saying Israelis deserve to be threatened, mind you, more that an ascending diaspora is as important if not more so in the long run. But maybe you meant something else/specific re the term Jewish People ie Israeli inhabitants?


    • Danny, thanks for your thoughtful comments and for reading my blog. I did mean “The Jewish People” and not just Israelis. As you know, there are just about 14 million Jews in the world. This represents less than 0.2% of the world’s population. In 1940, there were about 17 million Jews in the world and that represented about 0.8% of the world population. Approximately 80% of Jews live in the USA with a bit more in Israel and a bit less in the USA. The next largest Jewish population is in France which is about 400,000. This number is in large decline as Jews are leaving France for Israel and the USA (if they can get visas) because of the anti semtism in France. About 50% of the USA Jews marry non Jews. About half the mixed families raise there children as Jews. But mixed marriages are very much taking place in non religious families. The orthodox in the USA have a growing population and will probably survive in the USA for some time. But we will see the slow decline of the USA Jewish Population and certain the population that identifies as Jewish. I would guess that 70 t0 80% of the World Jews will be living in Israel or identified as Israeli’s. If Israel were not to survive, a large number of the Jews living in Israel would probably come to the USA (assuming they would be let in and we would not see a repeat of what happened in the 40s) and would either stay in highly religious communities or be assimilated. Without a Jewish Israel, assimilation will happen even faster.


  7. I am an American who has no “side” to choose. That said, I am curious about what kind of actions Israel could take to ever get you to not support its actions? For instance the current dustup has resulted in over 700 dead Palestinians but only a few dozen dead Israelis. At what type of Palestinian body count (if any) is unacceptable and should result in Israel stopping bbing?


    • Somehow I don’t think you are a disinterested observer or you would not have phrased your question like that. But I will try my best to answer your question. There are many things that the Israeli government does that I do not support. I am against the occupation of the West Bank although there would have to be security guarantees before I would really support a withdrawn. In general, I am against the settlements but it is hard to lump them all as just one thing. Some areas that are called Settlements are now really just suburbs of Jerusalem and would stay with Israel in any agreement. I think that there are many things that Israel does in the West Bank that I do not agree with including the slicing of dicing with highways and walls. I personally contribute to some palestinian charities and have worked to bring peace.

      I think that Hamas is a criminal and terrorist organization of the worse kind. I believe that Israel has no option but to stop them and I believe they try there best to prevent civilian death but there is no way to really prevent them but I do not believe they target them. Some soldiers might act against the policy and values of the state. That is true for every war sadly. But Hamas has a policy of targeting civilians in Israel and using their own civilians as shields.

      To answer your question, I would not support Israel’s action in Gaza if I believed they were actually going after civilian as an objective.

      So since you claim to be disinterested, my question to you would be, what would Hamas have to do before you condemned them?

      I am sorry that we do not have more dead Israelis to make you feel that the fight is fair.

      Now how do you feel about Syria and Iraq?


  8. “Somehehow I don’t think you are a disinterested observer ”

    I am an American, Israel amd Palestine’s issues do not affect me directly.

    “To answer your question, I would not support Israel’s action in Gaza if I believed they were actually going after civilian as an objective.”

    Heres the dodge to me. First, anyone who pays attention knows you basically cannot crush a native insurgency against an occupying power without getting rid of the population. Vietnam is the most heavily bombed place on earth. Was the US able to crush the VC? Nope. So I tale it theres no amount of Dead Palestinians that would get you to oppose the current path? Thats theimplication of your answer.

    End of day if Israel continues present actions it will end up a total basketcase. You can say you support peace but until you accept that Israel will never destroy Hamas without total ethnic cleansing OR a real settlement, you are in fantasyland.

    FWIW there has been a huge drop in Hamas attacks on Israel when there were real negotiations. But following the current path is madness. And nobody believes Israel is serious about peace until all settlements cease. The israeli gov is pushing Bedouins out if the negev desert who have been there for generations so fanatics from Brooklyn can build gated communities.

    Honestly Diaspora Jews should stop defending this stuff. I want to see peace, I have made Israeli and Palestinian friends and the pain is obvious on both sides. One suggestion: old guys like bibi need to step aside. Let a new generation try and solve it.

    “So since you claim to be disinterested, my question to you would be, what would Hamas have to do before you condemned them?”

    I condemn them. Happy? Obviously I have seen the news when they do ugly things. Its not about condemning, question is how to fix it.

    “Now how do you feel about Syria and Iraq?”

    I feel that invading Iraq was a war crime and Bush Jr., Cheney, Rumsfeld etc should go to the Hague for trial. And Obama the same for Syria. The secular arab dictators were evil but what has been unleashed is and was uglier.


    • Ok, so it is not that you are disinterested but that you don’t have “a dog in the fight” as they say. I think you have not read my blog post about the Israeli/Palestine situation. I believe that Israel is living in a fantasy. They think they are located in Southern California and not the middle east. And during good times, that feel pretty much the case. But as I have written, Gaza is just 40 miles from Tel Aviv. However, I do believe there are actions that could be taken that could change the situation and I plan to write about my ideas very soon. I don’t think it is Bibi’s age that is an issue but perhaps. The leadership on both sides is pretty pathetic. What do you think of Abbas? Or the Hamas leadership?
      Diaspora Jews should defend Israel’s right to exists which does not mean they have to defend everything that Israel does. But believe me, they only reason there are not thousand or even millions of dead Israelis is because Hamas does not have the capability. They would blow up Israel in a heart beat if they could even if it killed millions of Palestinians.
      You say there was drop in Hamas attacks where there were negotiations. Maybe but that was probably because they were busy building terror tunnel system.

      I too believe that we should focus on fixing things. As I said, I will write about my ideas. Perhaps you can do the same.


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