Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors


How Many Israels: Empathy As A Path To Peace

posted by Brad Hirschfield

It’s taken me a few days to figure out why The Two Israels, Nicholas Kristof’s piece in this past Sunday’s New York Times is so disturbing.
It’s not because he focuses so much critical attention on the Jewish settlers in Hebron, where I once lived. And it’s not because I am totally convinced that he is wrong in his observations. I think it’s that his approach to the entire issue actually helps continue the conflict by adding one more voice to all those on both sides of this issue who see only the righteousness of their own position. And because of that, more people will die and all people will lose.
The sadness for me in his piece, which includes many ideas with which I agree, is that Kristof writes with such clarity and certainty about issues that lend themselves to neither. It’s about more than style though, when smug moral superiority obscures the fact that the members of B’tzelem are every bit as ideologically lopsided as the settlers about whom he writes. So ironically, pieces like this make me more, not less sympathetic to the settlers, even though with all my heart I see no practical and ethical way that Israel can or should rule over Hebron.
The most dangerous thing, whether in religion or politics, is confusing the position with which we most identify, with the one that is necessarily the most proper, decent, or wise. I, and most Israelis for that matter, may largely agree with Mr. Kristof as a matter of policy, but his polarizing approach is nothing more than preaching to the choir which already shares his views, and that won’t help anyone. Instead of the two Israels he sees, Mr. Kristof needs to see a single country trying to integrate many needs and claims, and ask not which one should be chosen, but how to best integrate as much from all as possible.
Since he wrote about Hebron, let’s start there. The debate about Hebron among Jewish Israelis at least, usually splits along a line that divides those who think Israel should leave while shedding no tears over that eventuality, and those who would shed tears about leaving while insisting that Israeli sovereignty over the city must continue. Neither side sees any wisdom in the other’s approach, so each remains equally dug in and nothing really changes. But it need not be so.
My own simple test for Hebron is as follows. If you think that Israel should leave, figure out how to shed tears over three things: One, forcing people to leave their homes, which is always painful no matter how they got there (if you are too angry at the parents who brought them, imagine the kids who have no politics and simply experience Hebron as home). Two, walking away from a place, according to the narrative shared by Jews for three thousand years, the oldest place in which a Jew owned property in the Holy Land (think of the keys to homes in Jaffa which Palestinians wear around their necks). Three, ask yourself how safe it will be for Jews to visit after the army pulls out.
If you think Israel should stay, consider the following. Who really pays the cost of the ongoing settlement in Hebron? Is it your safety or that of your son on guard duty that is risked because of the politics you preach? Under what circumstances would you consider withdrawal? Because if there are none, then haven’t you turned your attachment to one small area into a false idol which undermines a bunch of other religious principles? Why, if you think it is so important to stay in Hebron, are you not there, helping to create a Jewish majority in the city which would avoid the choice between Jewish sovereignty and commitment to democracy?
Asking these questions of ourselves may not solve the challenge of Hebron. In fact, they may solve nothing at all. But if we were able to regularly ask those questions which made us more aware of the thoughts and experience of those with whom we disagree, we might find ourselves more able to bridge the gaps between us – whether in the Middle East or in the middle of our homes.



  • Malachi Hamavet

    You have successfully described utopia, otherwise known as nowhere.
    While the suggestions you propose for cultivating self-awareness on both sides of the secular/religious, left/right divide are sound, both extremes are so firmly entrenched in their own rightness that this is impractical. How do we get everyone to sit down and listen to each other? I have no idea, but that’s where it has to start.

  • Anonymous

    Is there any hope for Hebron? Or Jerusalem? It’s hard to see how either side ever puts themselves in the other’s shoes and begins to understand where the other is coming from.

  • Jordan Hirsch

    While in the main I agree with your take, I would suggest that you are asking of B’Tzelem something that no advocacy group in the world would accept. It is their job to be lopsided, they are there to focus on a single issue. The irresponsibility comes in the wholesale acceptance by a journalist of their position as the only possible correct one.

  • Giora Katz

    I read both pieces, especially the quote: “when smug moral superiority obscures the fact that the members of B’tzelem are every bit as ideologically lopsided as the settlers about whom he writes . So ironically, pieces like this make me more, not less sympathetic to the settlers”
    Maybe you have a point that Bezelem should show more empathy toward the settlers yet Hebron is an extreme case where shades of grey fade fast.
    OK there are two sides to the story and Hebron (especially before its name got tarnished) holds a sentimental value to a part of the Jewish population. And yes it is likely that after a future Israeli pullout from Hebron for a long period of time Jews won’t be allowed there in any form other than Shishlik. Yet I question weather it is justified to make a moral equivalent between the person shooting the gun to the one providing a camera to the target? You go a long way to show each story has more than one side yet I wonder if sometimes the claim of one side is so flimsy that he simply deserve much less sympathy and need to be told to get over himself.
    I can totally see myself sympathizing with a settler from Efrat or the former Gush Katif but Hebron is a different story. I think there are lines one crosses which render him unworthy of sympathy.
    Here is a somewhat related question I see appropriate to the above topic and I take the liberty to borrow from the great professor Leibowitz:
    Is Hebron’s situation now a result of cruel stupidity or stupid cruelty?
    ??? ??? ?????? ?????? ?? ?????? ???????

  • Unpaid Intern

    The fault, dear Bradley, is not in the New York Times but in our selves. Is your issue really with Kristof, or with the “Jewish Israelis” whom you correctly divide into two un-empathetic (and hence unsympathetic) camps? Kristof cites not only the “oppressor” side of Israeli rule over Hebron, but also the many ways in which Israelis as a people (volunteers, etc.) as well as acting as a polity (courts in particular) have responded to the human costs among the Palestinian population. Your post suggests that there ARE “two Israels” in this respect — that the two sides you describe, and that he describes, are indeed failing to ask themselves the most important questions and to say to each other the most important thing that one can say in any debate or dIalogue: “You have a point.” Which I think is what Kristof was trying to say — there are two different sides in Israel. And if he thinks the people who pass out video cameras are morally superior to those who pass out automatic weapons, well, that’s his opinion.

  • Jordan Hirsch

    In describing the two sides, Kristof mentioned both the more activist role as well as the policy role of those concerned with the trampled rights of the Palestinians one one side, but on the settler side, only brought up the idea that restrictions were in response to Palestinian violence. True and trustworthy is all this, but it does not discuss the need to recognize the fundamental claims of both sides. To do that, Kristof would have had to engage the settlers in the legitimate sources for what some might call their illegitimate behavior. While Kristof is certainly entitled to his opinion, it is certainly also true that he does the argument a disservice when he builds his case on such a shaky platform. Even if you disagree with the whole settler enterprise, to gloss over the real and heartfelt attachment to the land and to the holy sites of Jewish tradition felt by those whose behavior you condemn will bring us no closer to opeing real dialogue on this issue. Kristof, at least in this article, approaches the settler case one dimensionally, dooming his argument to failure.

  • Rick Abrams

    While it is helpful to focus on the individual trees, we all know that such narrow attention can cause us to lose sight of the forest, or in the case of the Jewish People, or a constellation of forests.
    Nicolas Kristol tells that due to Israeli red tape, an Arab woman’s baby died. That focus is probative of nothing. At most it might be illustrative of a larger problem. The example tells us nothing about Hebron, but a lot about the Mr. Kristol. Rather than present analysis, he shovels emotionalism. We can wallow forever in the minutae and learn nothing.
    At the other extreme, is a gigantic view that ignores Jews and Arabs and instead looks at what some call Cultural Archetypes or Cultural Abstractions. They are fundamental ways of approaching the world which determine one’s action.
    I suggest that much of the Arab world and to extent many Muslims suffer from a Grandiose Sense of Impotence. I have not noticed this feature in the DSM-IV and that may explain the West’s failure to ecognize the Cultural Archetype of the Arab world’s Grandiose Sense of Impotence. People who have this Archetype tend to reaction to life’s problem with violence and hatred. Like paranoids in the West who project their grandiose sense of persecution outward onto others, Arabs projects their sense of inner shame onto others. The prime target has to be Israel. The world’s most successful nation is a daily reminder to the Arabs of their overwhemling incompetence to acheive anything … except violence.
    As we have seen over the decades and as we are reminded in Gaza today, when Jews are removed from the equation, the Arabs murder each other and still blame the Jews.
    On the other hand, people like Kristol scribe too much power to the Jews. The underlying psychological mechanism is a desire to keep control of one’s destiny in a dangerous world. As long as people like Kristol et alia can blame Israel, then the solution is within their (our) control. What we do with that belief will determine the fate of Israel.
    We cannot, however, alter the Arab psyche. We have to realize that as a group, the Palestinians act like lunatics who wildly and irrationally strike out in violence at everyone around them. Their unifying passion is the destruction of Israel in their vain attempt to kill their own Grandiose Sense of Impotence.
    I suggest that we can gain more perspective by looking at the larger forces which motivate populations than pretending that the existence of barriers and checkpoints. There is, however, a large psychological phenomenon set forth by Lord Actin, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute Power tends to corrupt absolutely.” Please note that he used the word “tends” and not “does.” Israel has to be ever mindful of this aspect.

  • Marian Neudel

    What is happening in the Middle East, and exemplarily in Hebron, results from BOTH sides feeling ultimately powerless. The Arabs feel powerless because they presume that Israel, quite aside from its own remarkably efficient armed forces, has the only remaining superpower in the world behind it. The Israelis, and Zionists all over the world, feel powerless because they know that even the most effective military in the world cannot hold off the armed hostility of all the surrounding nations forever, and that the United States cannot be relied on to support Israel when Americans depend so utterly on Arab oil. So neither side is interested in the moral effects of “absolute power,” since neither side feels absolutely powerful, or even relatively powerful.
    But each side has to ACT powerful–that is the essence of international politics, and is known on the streets of Chicago as “woofing.” Those who have been caught on the streets of Chicago between opposing gangs know all too well what danger mutual “woofing” can wreak.

  • Ruvain

    Dear Marian Neudel,
    I am suggesting a theory which does not recognize the concept of moral equivalency. I am proposing that we step way back from small examples, such as Hebron, and take a larger view. Over time and over geography, Arabs appear to have a Grandiose Sense of Impotence which results in their projecting their inner shame onto others and in violently and irrationally striking out at others.
    The world in general and the US State Dept in particular has supported this psycho-sociopathology in the Arab world because it served their purposes. Allowing the Arab masses to misdirect all their woes onto Jews helped to stabilize the oil producing countries. Due to its myopia, it never occurred to the State Dept that it was creating international terrorism.
    Now the world has to contend with a worldwide terrorist movement based upon the shame that results from an Grandiose Sense of Impotence. People who envision themselves as having the ability to build a better life for themselves and their loved ones do not turn themselves into suicide bombers.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!
Thank you for visiting Windows and Doors. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Truths You Can Use Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 1:28:03pm Aug. 02, 2012 | read full post »

Apple's "Jew or Not Jew" App -- Should It Be Legal?
An Apple application that let users guess which French politicians or celebrities are Jewish was pulled from France's App Store. but its American equivalent is still available. French activist groups said the "Jew or Not Jew?" app violated bans on compiling information on people's religion and rev

posted 1:18:48am Sep. 18, 2011 | read full post »

Is God A Christian?
R. Kirby Godsey’s new book, Is God A Christian?, challenges what the author describes as the commonly held belief among many religious people that the God in whom they believe is “one of them”.  People, Mr. Kirby observes, too often confuse God’s religious identity with their own, leading t

posted 11:59:56am Sep. 12, 2011 | read full post »

Remembering 9/11 - Part One
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 brings up many emotions and presents some very real challenges, among them how to remember the past without being imprisoned by it.  This video, filmed at St. Paul's, the church closest to the World Trade Center site, is a wonderful example of rising to that challen

posted 2:40:58pm Sep. 08, 2011 | read full post »

Gilad Shalit, Still A Prisoner After 1,900 Days
Below is a copy of the Statement I got from the White House, and while I appreciate the words, I can't help but also ask, "Is this the best we can do?"  United States Mission to the United Nations Office of Press and Public Diplomacy 799 United Nations Plaza New York, NY 10017 (212) 41

posted 9:04:17am Sep. 08, 2011 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.