“We created this beautiful dream, but we imposed a nightmare on somebody else.”

One could debate details, historical and current, back and forth. Since my days as a young Zionist and, later, as a member of Jews for a Just Peace, I have often done so. I used to believe that if people knew the facts, they would open to the truth. That, too, was naïve. This issue is far too charged with emotion. As the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle has pointed out, the accumulated mutual pain in the Middle East is so acute, “a significant part of the population finds itself forced to act it out in an endless cycle of perpetration and retribution.”

Dr. Gabor Maté, Beautiful Dream of Israel has Become a Nightmare

The quote in the title is a statement made by Dr. Gabor Maté. It comes from a talk that is part of a longer interview by Russell Brand. The beautiful dream is that of Zionism. The man speaking is Dr. Maté, a Jew and an infant survivor of the Holocaust. Many in his family died in Nazi death camps. Early on, he spent time in Israel and Palestine, and so he saw the conflict firsthand. After an idealistic youth, he became disillusioned about Zionism, although not disillusioned about humanity.

Besides speaking on a personal level, he is also an expert on trauma and addiction. He has a compassionate attitude about how humans get trapped in harmful patterns, but he also has an uncompromising moral position. Unresolved trauma can be dangerous, particularly at the level of a large population. In the interview, he said: “I can understand the warmth that Jews have for Israel; I used to be in that same camp. I can understand, after the horrors of the Nazi genocide, how we desperately want some protection. I can understand all that. But none of that excuses what we are doing… There are no two sides…in terms of power and control and its pretty straightforward. There was a land with a people living there and other people wanted it, they took it over, and they continue to take it over, and they continue to discriminate against, oppress and dispose that other people.”

The early Zionists had a slogan, “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Dr. Maté mentions this and points that all of the Jews knew the land was not without a people. Many Jews, he says, knew this and so argued against Zionism. His conclusion is that it inevitably was a “colonial project” involving the imperial powers at the time. He goes so far as to call it “ethnic cleansing” that he says is continuing. He asserts this is undeniable to anyone like him who has studied the history and who was there to see what actually happened. There is one thing he doesn’t mention, though. Maybe some of the Zionists took that slogan seriously and literally. The fact of the matter is many Israelis have not treated Palestinians as if they were people. In nearly every case of human oppression throughout history, the victims are portrayed as animals and brutes or as non-animals, or as simply not existing and not mattering — unheard and unseen.

Rhetoric is powerful, particularly beautiful dreams that become enmeshed in shared identities. They can feel empowering even, but they can also lull us asleep and we might find ourselves in nightmares. “Don’t be afraid to be disillusioned”, Dr. Maté says to his son. “It’s better to be disillusioned than to be illusioned. And don’t be afraid to be disidentified. Don’t identify with something outside of yourself to the extent that you become uncritical and blind.” Later on in his talk with his son, he emphasizes that ignorance is not an excuse. “So that the question for a lot of people these days is not what do you know — because it’s true, if all you do is you read the mainstream media, you’re not going to find out very much — but what you could find out if you wanted to. So, don’t be afraid to be disillusioned.”

In watching another video on the Some More News Youtube channel, someone going by Beretta249 left a comment. It’s a good example of how someone becomes disillusioned with Zionism or else how someone loses sympathy with those wielding it as a dangerous and deadly weapon. This person stated that, “For me this “conflict” got uncomplicated when I saw the IDF firing artillery, like modern 150mm guns, into Gaza. That isn’t precision. That isn’t proportional. That’s firing artillery into a city. That’s random slaughter. Like firing a shotgun into a fishtank” (Uncomplicating The “Complicated” Palestine/Israel Conflict – SOME MORE NEWS). The worst part is this random mass violence mostly kills children, the most innocent of innocent.

The jerry-rigged rockets used by Palestinians are cheaply designed, unprofessionally built, lacking in any guidance system, highly ineffective, and rarely kill anyone. Comparing those Palestinian rockets to the near carpet-bombing the Israelis do is like comparing firecrackers to bazookas. When those committing mass atrocity and crimes against humanity invoke, “The Holocaust!”, one’s only response is to shake one’s head in sadness and despair. Anyone with a soul and a beating heart can’t help but become disillusioned. Such trauma-induced psychosis strains one’s capacity for compassion and understanding, but we have to try to heal these wounds if the cycle of violence and victimization is ever to stop.

Some further quotes from that video:

187 Trauma and Israel (with Dr. Gabor Maté)
from Under The Skin with Russell Brand

Gabor Maté
from Promised Land Museum

* * *

Here is another interview with his son, the journalist Aaron Maté, where Dr. Gabor Maté discusses the related topic of antisemitism:

“From the beginning, there were Jews who said: Yeah okay we need a state, maybe. And we have a right to seek protection. But the reality is that, in Palestine specifically, there’s already another people. And there’s no way to create a Jewish state in Palestine without doing violence to the local population. And so, from that perspective, Zionism becomes a colonial project. It can only be achieved at the expense of the local population and only by cooperating with the leading imperial imperial power of the time which is Britain which which controls Palestine after the First World War.

“And so, within the Zionist movement, there’s this debate, right. There’s this giant slogan, “A land without a people for people without a land”, intimating that Palestine was an empty land. But the Zionists knew right from the beginning that there was no land without a people. And both Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion, in almost identical words, said that when the Arabs fight against us it’s not terrorism; it’s nationalism. They’re fighting for their own land just as we would in their situation. So they were clear about this.

“Then you get the horrors of the Second World War and the worst and the most horrific imaginable expression of antisemitism and racism in history. And now you have the identification of the Jewish state with Jewish survival and the fight against antisemitism. So that. when a lot of the Eastern European Jews who emigrated to Palestine then came up against the Arabs the local Arabs who (for previously valid reasons as Ben Gurion and Jabotinsky pointed out) opposed to take over their land, they just saw them as another bunch of antisemites.

“So there’s been this confusion right from the beginning. Now it’s become much stronger in recent years as more and more people are in the world have woken up to the reality of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine that took place in 1948 and has really been taking place ever since. And so now the uh the charge of antisemitism is being raised against just about any critic of Israeli policy. So it no longer matters that whether somebody actually is making a legitimate criticism or whether somebody’s coming from an antisemitism place. The two are confused quite deliberately, I think, by propagandists who who serve the interests of Israeli policy. And that means a lot of the mainstream Jewish leadership in North America. […]

“When you identify with something, whether for economic or emotional or political or any combination of reasons, and you make yourself the same as that, then when that’s criticized you’re going to feel criticized. And so what I’m saying to people is: Don’t be afraid to be disillusioned. It’s better to be disillusioned than to be illusioned. And don’t be afraid to be disidentified. Don’t identify with something outside of yourself to the extent that you become uncritical and blind.

“I read a book by Albert Speer who was Hitler’s architect and armaments minister, I think. He spent 40 years in jail as a war criminal in Spandau after the war. And, in his biography, he talks about that everybody is always asking me or my generation what we knew about what was going on; the crimes, the antisemitic and anti-people anti-human crimes of the Nazi regime. And he said, the real question is not what we knew but what we could have known had we wanted to find out. And he gives a couple of examples which are more detailed now where he had very strong clues that something horrible was happening in the east (i.e., the death camps), but he never pursued the clues. He didn’t want to find out. He didn’t actually know. I believe he didn’t know, but he could have known. He didn’t want to know.

“Now that’s the same dilemma for all of us The difference being that these days you can read the Israeli histories of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In fact, there’s a book called the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by the Israeli historian Illam Pape who had to leave Israel. H lives in Britain now. He came under such hostility. You can read the articles of Gideon Levy in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, that details it almost daily, the horrors of the occupation. You can go online and see any number of Israeli soldiers talk about what they had to do and how they are ashamed of what they did in the occupied territories. So that the question for a lot of people these days is not what do you know — because it’s true, if all you do is you read the mainstream media, you’re not going to find out very much — but what you could find out if you wanted to. So, don’t be afraid to be disillusioned.”

Gabor Mate on anti-Semitism and Zionism
by Phil Ebersole

“He said he has gone through three disillusionments in his lifetime—with Hungarian Communism, with American exceptionalism and with Zionism. Disillusionment is painful, he said, but it is better to be free of illusion than a slave to it.”

Gabor Mate on the misuse of anti-Semitism and why fewer Jews identify with Israel, an interview for The Gray Zone.

America in denial: Gabor Mate on the psychology of Russiagate, an interview for The Gray Zone.  With transcript.

* * *

“We may not be responsible for the world that created our minds, but we can take responsibility for the mind with which we create our world.”

Beautiful Dream of Israel has Become a Nightmare
by Dr. Gabor Maté

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?

There is no understanding Gaza out of context — Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians — and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood.

The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

Israel wants peace? Perhaps, but as the veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has pointed out, it does not want a just peace. Occupation and creeping annexation, an inhumane blockade, the destruction of olive groves, the arbitrary imprisonment of thousands, torture, daily humiliation of civilians, house demolitions: these are not policies compatible with any desire for a just peace. In Tel Aviv Gideon Levy now moves around with a bodyguard, the price of speaking the truth. […]

My heart tells me that “never again” is not a tribal slogan, that the murder of my grandparents in Auschwitz does not justify the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians, that justice, truth, peace are not tribal prerogatives. That Israel’s “right to defend itself,” unarguable in principle, does not validate mass killing.

Addiction is a Response to Childhood Suffering: In Depth with Gabor Maté

John Lavitt: Given the history of such patterns of institutionalized evil, does evil actually exist? Isn’t such evil beyond being just about childhood trauma? Having survived the Nazi genocide, aren’t you sometimes worried that it could happen again?

Gabor Maté: If you mean can it happen again, it has happened again. We have seen massacres of human beings all over the world. We have seen it in Rwanda, we have seen the Americans slaughter half a million Iraqis, we have seen Israelis slaughter Palestinian children, we have seen American soldiers wiping out men, women and children in Vietnam and get away with it, and we see the horrors perpetrated by the Islamic state in the Middle East right now. While nothing on the industrial scale of Auschwitz has happened since then, in terms of human violence, cruelty and a complete willingness to make other people suffer, that has continued ever since. 

So am I worried that something like Auschwitz will happen again? I don’t think history repeats itself in that way. But it doesn’t have to take Auschwitz. You don’t need Auschwitz for humans to be deliberately and viciously cruel to one another. We see that all the time. Now, does evil exist? Yes, evil exists. Evil not as a kind of abstract force or as an embodied devil, but as the expressions of human pain that finds some release in creating pain in others, and that’s unconscious. The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says evil does not have an absolute existence, but has a relative existence rooted in the human unconscious. If you look at people who are willing to perpetrate such things, you look usually at traumatized people.

John Lavitt: […] As a Jewish man who lost family in the Holocaust, how do you reconcile your love of your family’s tradition with such a state of affairs? Isn’t Israel similar to the survivors of trauma that you write about? How can Israel return to what you define as a lost dream?

Gabor Maté: John, I thought this was going to be an interview about addiction. Why are we talking about the Middle East?

John Lavitt: Gabor, my interviews are focused on addiction, but they are not just about addiction. I examine as much of the history and writings of the subjects that I interview, and I try to find the most engaging and powerful questions based on my findings. This root of this question is not because I have a flag to wave in terms of an agenda. Rather, when I read the article, it affected me deeply, particularly the part about wanting to ask your friend, “Can we not be sad together?” That truly moved me as a Jewish man also conflicted by the actions of Israel, thus giving rise to the question. 

Gabor Maté: Okay, I got it, John, thank you for answering my question. In relation to what you asked, you can’t return to dreams. Dreams are not real by definition. The idea that you could somehow beautifully and cleanly create a refuge for European Jews by taking away the land from the local inhabitants was never more than a dream. It could never have been done. The only way you can ever take land away from the people that live on it is to kill them or to expel them and oppress them. That’s reality. 

People were willing to do that because they thought the European Jews had suffered so much that that suffering gave them the motivation and the right to make others suffer. Right now, we are dealing with the impact of that decision, and the way it’s going, we’ll continue to deal with it for decades to come. For me, it’s not a question of returning to a dream but a question of waking up from a dream. We have to wake up from the dream that it was ever possible to find a beautiful solution to the European Jewish problem by creating suffering for people in the Middle East. We have to wake up from that dream. It was never possible. 

Not only was it never possible, the people that did it knew it was not possible. Privately, they talked about it. Publicly, they pretended otherwise. And I’m talking about going back a hundred years or more. They knew there was another people there. They knew that there was no land without a people. In terms of what that means in the present, we’re not talking about expelling Israelis, we’re not talking about any particular solution here, but if you want to find a solution, let’s wake up from the dream and certainly let’s wake up from the dream that many Jews have that you can continue to keep doing this and somehow it’s going to turn out okay. It’s not going to turn out okay. We are creating intense suffering for other, and we are going to create intense suffering for ourselves. 

* * *

From a different interview, Dr. Gabor Maté talked of Jordan Peterson’s “suppressed rage”. We were reminded of that because of his focus on trauma. Peterson obviously has unresolved issues that get projected onto others and get expressed in dark views of humanity.

Peterson makes verbal threats, writes of violent fantasies, praises bullying, claims slavery is the natural state, pushes fear-mongering, and preaches conspiracy theories. The latter is seen with his ranting about “cultural Marxism” which originated in Nazi Germany as an antisemitic conspiracy theory called Jewish Marxism or Jewish Bolshevism.

This is what is so sad about Peterson constantly warning about Nazism and portraying the left as Nazis. He is a crypto-Nazi that, because of unresolved trauma, is playing out trauma in his political visions and reactionary demagoguery. This pattern among reactionaries is sadly all too common.

Maybe unsurprisingly, Peterson gives unquestioning support to Israel. He equates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. And he regularly retweets Ben Shapiro who supports war crimes against Palestinians, going so far as advocating that Gaza be carpet bombed.

Peterson believes that peacefully protesting for Palestinian freedom is antisemitic oppression. Apparently, to his mind, Apartheid is freedom and the only freedom Palestinians deserve is to submit to being ruled over by those more powerful. As George Orwell put it, “Slavery is freedom.”

This is what makes Dr. Maté different in talking from experience. Peterson, as an ideologue, only knows these issues from secondhand sources and so they become fodder for his demagogic rhetoric. But to Dr. Maté, the Holocaust and Israeli Apartheid are personally real in his experience.

24 thoughts on ““We created this beautiful dream, but we imposed a nightmare on somebody else.”

  1. I always found it peculiar why Americans look at this issue through the lens of WW2 and its horrors, and not through an objectively moral standpoint, the historical injustice levied against groups of people does not justify their grandchildren inflicting the same type of wound upon another nation thus perpetuating the cycle of trauma and revenge.
    Theoretically, the solution to the middle east is peace, which sounds simple enough! Surely we can have enough time to plan the details and the nitty-gritty of everything and have a big PR event at the white house with a speech from near the helicopters and the press going wild. So thought those before us as they were going to peace summits and patiently humouring and pandering to both sides.

    This seems to me like when the early settlers came to the new world and ousted the indigenous with overwhelming strength, in history do we stand with the side who wins or the victim? The side with guns or the side with arrows..

    • I’m with you. I can understand tribalism, as part of a deeper impulse within human nature. But it’s harder for me to appreciate the demands of ethno-nationalism, a largely modern invention. It’s simply another invented tradition that has deep roots in reactionary nostalgia and endlessly justifies the right-wing worldview of hierarchical authoritarianism.

      My incomprehension is partly because I’m an American mutt. All of my ancestral culture has been obliterated through so many generations of assimilation. Even being American doesn’t feel all that important, other than an accident of where I was born. Certainly, I don’t feel like I own this land simply because 4 centuries of my ancestors lived here.

      The Zionist claim of Israel is plain bizarre. Even the ancient Jews had stolen the land. Now modern Jews steal it again and that is called freedom, really? The Holocaust doesn’t really explain anything. Many populations have experienced as bad or worse. Genocides are dime a dozen. Throughout history, millions killed here and millions killed there, ad infinitum. The US recently killed millions of innocent people in the supposed War on Terror.

      Yet to a certain mind, the Holocaust explains everything. There is someone I highly respect and we agree on almost everything, except on Israel. He is a Jew and, when I challenged him on Palestinian oppression, his only response was to state, “Holocaust!” Just that single word, as if it alone justifies everything all Jews have done since and will ever do. But to my perspective, all prejudice and oppression is the same, no matter who does it and who it’s done to.

      I guess that is what makes me WEIRD. One of the attributes of WEIRD culture and psychology is that everything is treated equally. This is a highly unusual trait among cultures. Middle class Americans are the main WEIRD population that has been studied. When asked, these WEIRD people state they wouldn’t lie or cheat to benefit a family member or close friend. But when people in most other populations are asked the same question, they tend to respond the opposite way.

      For whatever reason, I simply feel resistant to placing my personal ties above universal claims of morality. I’m more in line with Thomas Paine in identifying as a citizen of the world. In a sense, I’m psychologically homeless or rather the whole planet is my home, a shared home. The idea of land as a possession makes no sense to me, and it makes even less sense as a collective possession.

      • Since Bernie’s campaign losses I went for more right-wing propaganda that expresses cynicism toward anything related to “the left” or progress. I think this stands in for serious thought when it’s mostly another form of chewing over grievances often suffered in the entertainment industry.

        I have my own Rousseauist flights where I put off the industrious and sturdy work of gathering data with wild forays into literature. This lends itself to fascistic politics as much as any fight for free institutions. I think Lasch observed a similar turn in his study of regional and upper-class literature of the early 20th century (“Moral and Intellectual Rehabilitation of the Ruling Class”, and “Cultural Fragmentation”).

        Without placing my scrawlings at his level I also think the urge to castigate him as a partisan of the right is unearned and that anyone seeking to put a more modern stamp on the best parts of the egalitarian and liberal traditions will find value in his method as expressed in essays from the period before he became an influencer for Jimmy Carter.

        His approach to historical systems and their effect on culture puts in context the decisions of policymakers and artistic pioneers, far more productively than the more pessimistic view I used to embrace that tends to see human deeds as blind throws in fate’s game.

  2. I secretly hoped you wouldn’t post my comment since my perspective on the matter is still immature.
    If I am to elaborate my thought process, conquest is the way land is gained and lost throughout human history, in that regard Israel won the land fair and square via war (with early help from the British) regardless of their historical claims to the land, perhaps the historical claims paint a narrative that reinforces the right to their land in the collective Israeli psyche, which is their right.
    My point of contention is the apartheid-style state and general disregard for Palestinian lives, why they operate that way is a mine field I don’t feel ready to cross.

    • Your original comment was fine. You are free to think out loud, without having to have everything figured out. As for your second comment here, that is a difficult topic you bring up and a view I’d push back against because it’s a dangerous path to go down. This is not a complex issue of morality. It’s about as straightforward as morality comes. If it’s right of conquest where might makes right, then that further justifies Palestinians using violence. Yet Israelis and its defenders justify their own violence based on Palestinian violence, even though Israeli violence is many time far worse, deadly, and oppressive.

      Does this mean that, in order to gain what is their right by might, the Palestinians just need to become even more violent by obtaining nuclear weapons or biological weapons? Their only failing so far is to not have been violent enough to gain effective victories. It’s a recipe for endless violence because every act of violence potentially will gain some victory. In that worldview, the only reason to not quit my job and live off of robbing and killing people, is simply that I might bet caught and get punished. But otherwise, there is no moral stance that can impose on anyone any moral standard, except threat of violence. It would be a world of an eye for an eye. Everyone seeking to get what they think they deserve or simply deserving whatever they can take. It would equally apply to the downtrodden, of course.

      Afghanis, Vietnamese, etc have maintained their autonomy or kept aspiring colonizers on their toes by fighting back. Islamic terrorists have also held their own in the War on Terror, as Osama bin Laden planned it in pulling Western powers into unwinnable conflicts that would slowly drain their resources. The Palestinians don’t have to win but simply to keep the global audience from perceiving Israelis as the winners. To the same extent, if that were true, the only thing that made the Holocaust wrong was that the Nazis lost. But if the Nazis had won, then the Holocaust would’ve been morally justified, according to this logic.

      Victories in wars are often arbitrary in events playing out in unpredictable ways and with uncontrollable outcomes. That would make morality the realm of the Trickster archetype, not the purview of a righteous monotheistc God, much less natural law or whatever rationalization an oppressor prefers or finds convenient. Nazi Germany wasn’t inevitably going to lose WWII. Nor were the Shawnee inevitably going to lose to the US when they fought back. On the opposite side, the Viet Cong weren’t inevitably going to drive out the Americans, as the Viet Nimh did the French. And, much earlier, the American colonists would’ve lost the fight for independence if not for the intervention of the French Empire.

      That goes to the point that it isn’t really about social Darwinian superiority. If the Israelis had to win by their own wealth and power, they would’ve never gained Israel in the first place and never would’ve been able to hold it. According to might makes right, the Israelis are a small, weak, and undeserving population. Their entire national power has been dependent on the the might (the wealth and weapons) of the British and US governments. Accordingly, maybe Israel belongs to me and my people, since my tax money paid for it. Those fucking losers better hand over my property that I paid for. And if they refuse to give me what is mine, I’ll kill them all to prove my point by taking what is mine by force.

      My making such comments sounds psychopathic, doesn’t it? The reason it sounds that way is because I was purposely expressing the psychopathic mentality of might makes right. When stated bluntly, it sounds morally deprave because it is morally depraved. Israelis are fools if they think that might will always be on their side, in their alliance to the most powerful and violent geopolitical superpowers. Already public opinion is turning against Zionism in the West, at least in the US. The strongest support comes from evangelicals who only support Israel because they’re looking forward to the End Times when Israel will be obliterated and all Jews will go to hell. Great allies to have. It doesn’t bode well for Israelis in the long run. They might regret having gone down the path of settler colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid.

      Admittedly, I find such a view morally appalling and for obvious reasons and the morality of the situation is unquestionable. That would mean Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Pinochet, were all morally right in their mass killings because, unlike Hitler, they were able to effectively use violent oppression to hold onto power. All violence, oppression, land theft, etc is perfectly fine as long as you win and keep on winning, by any means necessary and at any cost. That is a dark and demented worldview. It’s not a matter of Palestinians holding the high ground so much as it’s clear the Israelis don’t. It’s looking at people as humans, not as reified abstract identities of ideological realism created by indoctrination and enforced by social control.

    • I have an uncompromising moral attitude when it comes to violent, oppressive, and bigoted authoritarianisn. And that is even more true when it involves such things as colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid. To my mind, those are things not to be tolerated in the slightest. It’s right up their with indigenous reservations, Jim Crow laws, sundown towns, vigilante lynchings, etc — the kinds of things that directly inspired Hitler and the Nazis.

      I also take it personal because, if in a different way than Mate or Chomsky, it is personal to me. As I said, my ancestry is mired in this kind of thing going back centuries of colonial imperialism, military expansionism, and all that goes with it. I’m the direct beneficiary of such vast and horrific moral wrongdoing. And it’s no merely in the past, as I continue to benefit from all sorts of privileges.

      Plus, the whole national autonomy is utter bull shit for another reason. We aren’t living in nation-states but strange deep state networks of old imperial structures, neocolonial territories, inverted totalitarianism, military-industrial complex, and global plutocracy. Israel was the last colony established by the British Empire and then Israel became one of the key client states of the American Empire. Israel has never been an independent country.

      This is where the personal comes in. Israeli citizens get more money from the US government than do US citizens. We Americans have paid for Israel. It’s simply an extension of the American Empire. I have a right and an obligation to speak about how my own tax money is spent, particularly in a country that is part of the American Empire to which I’m a subject. That is even more true as my ancestry included those who were part of the British Empire.

      My family, community, and country is the product of 4 centuries of colonial imperialism. This has given my people a good life, but it’s come at immense cost to others. Germany gave Israelis reparations and that was a good thing. Now Israel should give Palestinians reparations, just as the US should give reparations to Native Americans, African Americans, Afghans, Iraqis, etc, Why? Because it would be wrong to not do the most minimal thing possible to pay for the harm.

      I might even go so far as to give large tracts of US territory back to native nations. It was their land and, besides, all the US has done with it is to give natural resources away as socialism for the rich. We the American people haven’t benefited from the plutocratic corruption. It’s sort of like the oil curse. If not for all those natural resources to be stolen, we might be able to actually have a democracy in the US. Besides, the US is too large to be anything other than an empire and maybe it’s time for imperialism to end.

      You suggest the Israelis deserve their land simply because it was stolen fair and square. Or rather it was given to them by the British Empire that stole it fair and square in dismantling the Ottoman Empire. Is that really the kind of world you want to live in? If there is a WWIII and the Chinese won, would you gladly and obediently go to a Chinese re-education camp without fighting back because the Chinese must be morally justified and superior for having won? Would you allow your loved ones and neighbors be killed because as part of an inferior population you have no right to protest or demand anything, not rights or freedom or autonomy?

      Why do you expect the Palestinians to accept what you would not accept if you were in the same position? By that logic, Jews should not have fought against Nazis until after the Nazis lost. They should ‘ve submissively gone to the gas chambers to the last person because they should’ve assumed the Nazis were morally right until proven wrong by losing the war. But you might argue the Nazis did lose the war. Sure. And maybe Israelis will eventually lose to Palestinians or someone else. Once Israelis lose, can we go back to gassing them because might makes right?

      • Occupation of the land was fair in terms of how the mechanics the world works, power beats weakness, the subsequent actions of the Israeli state is what makes the action of conquest retrospectively immoral; if the state created was just and treated everybody equally then the action would’ve been viewed more as an act of liberation from the feudalism of the Ottoman empire. Of course that wasn’t possible because the trauma of the holocaust reinforced the jewish identity and drew thick lines around it to isolate it from everything else, even from the arabs who welcomed jewish refugees with open arms, so hostility was the default mode zionism operated under and set the stage for the racist apartheid state.

        Trauma begets trauma and it is very disheartening to watch unfold, my ideal scenario is for people to stop following the footsteps of their forefathers blindly, and open their minds and hearts to each other. The average Israeli today is living a better life than the average American, and faces no discrimination in his country, he has not experienced the strife and suffering of his ancestors, whereas modern Palestinians are living in conditions closer to what the jewish ancestors faced, if the holocaust victims are to be resurrected today aren’t they to empathize more with the Palestinians than the Israelis? Dr Gabor Maté makes my point.

        • As far as that goes, the Nazi gas chambers were ‘fair’ in terms of how the mechanics of the world works. Genocide was not exactly a new invention at the time. It was immoral then and it is immoral now. Mate makes the point that Zionism was a colonial project and ethnic cleansing right from the start. And he argues that the atrocity, including ethnic cleansing, continues into the present.

          If you look at some of the material I added, Mate makes clear that many Israeli leaders understood it was a war crime from the beginning. They intentionally started a war of aggression for the purpose of stealing land, at least that is the conclusion he came to in studying the history and in having been there early on. No one honestly thought it was open land. They knew they’d have to kill people and that those people would defend their land, as anyone would do in the same situation.

          Indeed, Mate would agree with your point that the Holocaust victims would likely empathize more with the Palestinians. In fact, he is one of those Holocaust victims and it’s motivated his study of trauma, addiction, and other psychiatric issues. It’s because his life was shaped by the Holocaust, from infancy, that Mate has such overwhelming compassion of the Palestinians and such biting criticism of Zionists.

          That comes from being a disillusioned Zionist who, as a medical observer in Palestine during the First Intifada, saw with his own eyes the death and suffering caused by it. He had been in Israel and Palestine many times from a young age. And he was raised in Zionism as an idealistic vision. He talks about how it had a different meaning when in Europe than what it came to mean in the context of colonialism, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid. But, along with other disillusionments, he is grateful for awakening from that false dream.

    • If you want to understand this post and my responses here, then go back to look at some of my previous writings on related topics. At any given moment, a particular people or government or country might be in power. But give it a generation or a century and someone else might’ve gained the upper hand by winning a war, because of demographic shifts, as result of economic upheaval, etc. The world is an unpredictable place and social orders are always precarious. Even ignoring moral principle, there are practical reasons to not be authoritarian douche bags.

      WWI was a great example of the bad consequences of those pushing might makes right just because they could. The victors enforced harsh penalties on Germany and that set the stage for the reactionary backlash of the rise of Hitler. The German people felt shamed and so they sought recourse in even greater violence in order to use might to prove they were right. Another sad result was more long term, in the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire that was done not to give local autonomy but to ensure geopolitical control by the West. This set the stage for all of the following century’s conflicts, including that of the Palestinians and Israelis.

      This was on top of the Western powers promoting theocracy and religious terrorism. Even the Israeli government targeted secular leaders in Palestine in order to promote Hamas because they cynically thought that would increase their power. As the US fought al-Qaeda that was largely their own creation, Israel has been forced to fight the very Hamas they pushed into power. If might makes right, might is always shifting. Look at all of the European empires and nations that existed in previous centuries that are now gone. The past few generations since WWI may have seemed relatively peaceful, but it’s likely to end soon and abruptly. This moment of our lives is a blink of an eye in the historical scheme of things.

      If you think that you deserve other people’s land, resources and wealth simply because you are the subject of a powerful empire, you or your children or your grandchildren might be in for a rude awakening. The American Empire is extremely unstable and surprisingly weak, showing the problems of many empires when on their last legs. The whole thing could collapse tomorrow. Now imagine if some of the oppressed people who were harmed by US policies are on the winning side, and imagine if they decide to treat us in the way the US government treated them, we will be utterly fucked.

      What goes around comes around. And if the US goes down, Israel will go down. That is if the US doesn’t first sacrifice Israel for some petty machinations on the geopolitical stage. Israel should be careful what enemies it makes now. One day, the bill will come due and the moral accounting could be harsh. Anyone who isn’t completely ignorant and naive can see this coming. The Golden Rule is not only a moral principle but a practical guideline. Treat people as you want to be treated because one day they may be in a position to treat you as you once treated them. This is common sense, even if one lacks a lick of moral character.

      That is the problem with living in a traumatized and reactionary society ruled by authoritarians, social dominators, and demagogues exhibiting the Dark Tetrad. It does not bode well for the future. But the wisdom I speak of is treated as insanity because the inmates are running the asylum. From a moral perspective, we must not forget that the moral arc does bend, if slowly. In the long run, justice does often make itself felt. Don’t assume the oppressed and victimized will always be oppressed and victimized. History is filled with shifting winds of fortune. Britain and northern Europe were cultural and economic backwaters for most of civilization, until quite recently. The West’s moment in the sun might be briefer than expected.

      My moral impulse, as you know, is egalitarianism. I just fucking don’t back down from that. If I found myself in a war against fascists, found myself persecuted by authoritarians, found myself in an apartheid state, I’d gladly kill the equivalent of Nazis without giving it a second thought. That is the long history of the moral arc of the Western world since the Axial Age. The prophets of that era articulated the new egalitarian vision and this erupted as various anti-authoritarian struggles, sometimes pacifist and sometimes violent. It eventually resulted in the peasant revolts all across Europe that presaged the Protestant Reformation and English Civil War, the latter of which was a dress rehearsal for the American, French, and Haitian revolutions.

      The struggle for a better world has been a long time coming. It’s not only about what happens in our life but, more importantly, what world we help to create that will be inherited by the following generations. If we commit evil against others, it might not be us that pays the price but the sins of the father and the mother will get passed down. The price will be paid. The buck will stop somewhere. We might as well be the generation that finally takes responsibility for doing the right thing. Instead of seeing how far we can push authoritarianism until it once again breaks out in mass violence, we could always choose a different path as society. Just because the Israeli’s are capable, for the time being, of violently oppressing the Palestinians, it doesn’t mean they should or that such actions are wise.

      We Are All Egalitarians, and Always Have Been

    • Here is another take on it. We get trapped in all kinds of ideological realism. And this falls under the is/ought fallacy. Things have always been a certain way or perceived as have always have been. So, it must or should always continue to be. Or else that it’s simply inevitable or acceptable because it has historical precedence. Part of the problem with this is that it so often involves reactionary nostalgia, invented traditions, and historical revisionism. Basically, we project the present onto the past in order to justify the present.

      That is the whole issue of might makes right. And so there is the old rationalization that any old enough crime, guilt, or evil is simply a norm that must be accepted. But this is often done by portraying events in living memory as if they were ancient history. So, it gets claimed that any violent oppression done with the self-proclaimed rationalizations of legitimacy is fair and square. As long as your side is the winner, land theft and settler colonialism is fair and square, genocide and ethnic cleansing is fair and square, apartheid and Jim Crow is fair and square. Et cetera.

      What is worse with ideological realism is how it falsely portrays human nature itself. The same kinds of arguments made by Zionists were also made by Nazis, Southern slaveholders, Indian killers, and untold numbers of others committing crimes against humanity. Slavery is a great example because for a long time it was assumed as the natural state of humanity. Yet the reality is most societies were not based on slavery or not in the form it became. What gets called ‘slavery’ in many tribal societies was really something entirely different, as identities and roles were less absolute and more easily changed.

      That is even more clear in looking back in history. There is no evidence of slavery in the early-to-mid Bronze Age. Only in the last period prior to collapse did the Bronze Age civilizations create slave systems, as they became brutally authoritarian and rigidly hierarchical with written laws, standing armies, etc; like never before seen. That appears to have been an entirely new authoritarianism that simply did not exist for the first couple hundred millennia. What we take as normal may have only been invented about 3 millennia ago.

      Genocide is similarly problematic. That kind of mass violence also seems rare prior to the ending of the Bronze Age. For example, that was the era when there is the earliest recording of not only standing armies and long distant warfare but also the taking of large numbers of prisoners of war who were mass tortured and mass executed. Yet we now take such genocidal tendencies as almost normal. The Zionists rationalize their own genocidal behavior based on the claim they have the right to do so because some other population committed genocide against them. This mentality posits there are only two options, to be the victim or be the victimizer.

      We’ve lost the capacity to imagine a world where all of the powerful systems weren’t built on genocide, ethnic cleansing, settler colonialism, land theft, resource exploitation, slavery, apartheid, and a thousand other forms of authoritarian oppression, violent brutality, and crimes against humanity. This goes hand in hand with our having lost the ability to imagine anything other than nation-states and ethno-nationalism, as if they’ve always been dominant; and lost the ability to imagine anything other than hyper-individualism, social Darwinism, and capitalist realism.

      We can look to the long record of history and the vast literature of anthropology. We can find endless examples that demonstrate entirely other ways of living and relating. In fact, these supposed alternative cultures, social orders, and lifestyles are actually the human norm. But we WEIRD moderns have become so disconnected from our own human nature. The ruling ideological realism has become a nightmare we don’t know how to wake up from, even if we recognized we were asleep.

      It’s not really about whether Israelis deserve to have their own nation-state. Or whether Palestinians don’t deserve the same. My critique is to challenge the entire diseased and demented mentality underlying the conflict. We’ve invented abstractions that, in being reified, have become more real than reality itself. We can’t even see many of the people around us as being like us or sometimes see them as people at all. Identity labels and stereotypes have replaced living relationships. Legal boundaries on maps have replaced the living experience of a place.

      • I feed a few birds who come to my yard, sometimes they fight amongst each other, why are humans different? We supposedly have a higher consciousness that transcends the reptilian brain, and we can do great things collectively, but somehow we let our reptilian brains take control of us and use our superior intelligence in service of lesser goals, and we rationalize it with beautifully written words even when all of it is trash disguised in the robes of civility, that way we become worse than animals.
        I cannot imagine a world where might doesn’t make right, I only believe that God eventually corrects our course on the long run, or settles it on judgement day.

        • I entirely get what you are saying. I’d be lying to deny that some part of me resonates with that. I’m of very mixed views and I honestly have no good answers. I can’t even claim moral righteousness. The main point is that I actually don’t see myself as innocent or superior, and that is precisely why I think I have a right and an obligation to state judgment. Only we the guilty can fully recognize what it means to be guilty.

          We are part of this oppressive system, but there is also more to us than that. Human nature goes deep. And precisely from a more ‘religious’ perspective can we gain vantage point from higher ground. I speak truth to power, not because it’s a practical solution to overwhelming evil but because I have no choice to do otherwise. I feel morally compelled to speak truth to power. That is all I feel capable of doing, as inadequate as it may be.

          It’s what probably would get me killed, imprisoned, or sent to the concentration camps if some new equivalent of Nazis came to power. This blog would probably be used as evidence against me, in demonstrating my dangerous thoughts. As I’ve done some political activism, I’m sure there is already a FBI or DHS file on me. I’ve made peace with the fact that I would not survive long in an authoritarian regime. My only hope would be to escape or become a freedom fighter.

  3. Let me make this a separate comment. There is several points I’d make. The most basic point is that these are socially constructed identities. In some ways, identifying as Jewish (or any other vast religio-cultural identity) is not all that different than from identifying as WASP, white, American, Western, etc. These are such vast identities that are ultimately abstractions that often disconnect us from the people around us. We end up having more sympathy for people we don’t know and never will know, even causing us to feel separate from the people we actually do know who are our neighbors and coworkers.

    All of those millions of strangers who share one of these socially constructed identities are somehow part of my people. So, I will oppress, persecute, and even kill other strangers who hold to a different abstraction. Or else support the conflict between strangers in a foreign land that I’ve never seen. It’s fucking batshit crazy! Yet it’s at the heart of the modern condition. Something like the Palestine-Israeli conflict becomes a source of what I call symbolic conflation, a way of talking around and obscuring real issues using the Burkean wardrobe of moral imagination.

    This becomes more clear by comparing to the past. The idea of distinct ethno-nationalist identities is only a few centuries old. And it fully took hold just this past century. Until the world war era, most Europeans and Americans still primarily identified with family, community, local church congregation, and region. During the French Revolution, people identified with their province to such a degree that, even though they technically spoke the same language, they couldn’t understand each other because there wasn’t yet a national standardization of language. When Italy was established as a country, most newly invented ‘Italians’ didn’t even speak Italian.

    This was a carryover from feudalism when people mostly identified with their parish and, in early feudalism, even the Church operated far more decentralized with more local autonomy of the clergy. Such lack of larger identities continued into the modern era. Diversity of identities was the norm in American society, for example, until early 20th century forced assimilation (English only laws, public schools targeting the destruction of private ethnic schools, etc). Such diversity had long been the norm for many societies going back to Axial and post-Axial Age empires (Alexandrian, Roman, etc).

    But the ancient Jews are a particularly interesting example, as there originally was no clear way of delineating between Jew and not Jew; at least not until the 1st century invention of Rabbinic Judaism which was as new as Christianity, and no more related to ancient Judaism than Christianity. Shaye J. D. Cohen, Jewish professor of Hebrew, wrote that, “How, then, did you know a Jew in antiquity when you saw one? The answer is that you did not.” In the ancient world, to be Israeli simply meant someone who lived in Israel. So, an ancient non-Jew who lived there was an Israeli and an ancient Jew who did not live there was not an Israeli. It was concretely identified by a specific community of people and at the time Israel was a relatively small population. There was nothing abstract about it.

    Another scholar, the philologist and biblist Thomas Römer, explains how Israel formed: “Its origins do not lie, as the book of Joshua claims, in the military conquest of a territory by a population invading from somewhere else; rather “Israel” resulted from a slow process that took place gradually within the framework of the global upheavals of the Late Bronze Age— that is, it had its origin in indigenous populations. The opposition we find in the Bible between “Israelites” and “Canaanites” was in no way based on an existing ethnic difference, but is a much later theoretical construction in the service of a segregationist ideology.”

    The Old Testament claims that the Israelites developed out of various tribes that had genocidally wiped out the indigenous population, but the evidence points to the Israelis as likely having originated in the region. Still, it’s strange that modern Jews claim Israel as protection from genocide based on having stolen it millennia ago through genocide, even if that story isn’t true. It’s a rather demented ethno-nationalist identity and ideology, and that is in the context of many ethno-nationalist identities having unsavory origins.

    It’s hard for us moderns to see the ancient world in the way people experienced it in the ancient world. That is because we tend to project our modern ideas and identities back onto the ancient world and so read into ancient texts what we expect to find. Social identities back then were much more vague, permeable, shifting, and blurred. Plus, cultural overlap and syncretism were common. There were hybrid labels of the divine such as Yahweh-Zeus. Also, many Gentiles attended synagogue, performed Jewish rituals, and celebrated Jewish holidays. At the same time, many Jews were involved in pagan religions like the mystery schools.

    Judaism wasn’t yet clearly an ethnic identity, as we now understand it. Cohen explained that, “In the Roman diaspora, certainly after 70 C.E., there is no evidence for obsession with genealogical purity and hardly any evidence for public archives and archival records.” That was the norm in ancient Europe, until Christians took over the Roman Empire and committed mass destruction and oppression. The Catholic Church began enforcing a larger identity that built on the formerly loose and diverse identity of being a Roman citizen. But as I mentioned, even being Christian at that time was still more locally defined, including the incorporation of pagan deities as saints and pagan myths, rituals, and holy days into Christian worship.

    This is why Celtic Christianity was so distinct. The Protestant Reformation simply exacerbated the diversity that continued to exist. That was the beginning of making religion more nationalistic. Yet regional divisions remained powerful. In Britain, there was the diversity of Scottish and Scots-Irish in the North, the indigenous Welsh in the West, the Germanic ancestry in the East, the Scandinavian ancestry in the Midlands, and the Romanized Germanic culture of the Norman-dominated South. When we speak of the history of England, we are interpreting the past in a way those who lived it would not have interpreted it.

    Here is one last point, but very important. Social constructions are abstractions, either beginning as such or developing into that. That appears to be one of the cognitive tools humans gained with the emergence of linguistic recursion that allows embedding within complex thoughts. It’s probably this recursion that helps us to loop ideas upon ideas so as to powerfully reify abstractions. The abstraction of Jewishness was formulated over millennia and there was strong motivation to do so with real world persecution. But the odd part is that Jews have so mixed with other populations that it’s possible most modern Jews have a minority of ancestry that goes back to ancient Jews.

    It’s similar to how a large number of African-Americans are mostly of European descent — so, why aren’t they European-Americans? One in twenty African Americans have zero detectable genetics of recent African ancestry, possibly with their family having originated from other dark-skinned populations in Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, etc. How is it that some vague concept of blackness can define the identity of both a recent African immigrant to the US and a possibly non-African dark-skinned US citizen whose ancestry has been here for centuries? Yet, like Jews, it has been prejudice and persecution that has helped to so powerfully reify these abstract labels.

    Such labels, one could argue, are the master’s tools. How are we to build a different and better world with the tools used to construct an oppressive social order and defend injustice? It’s maybe not accident that a traumatized population takes on such an identity that disconnects them from concrete relationships and then becomes victimizers who traumatize others. It is an endless victimization cycle and yet so often the victimizers, as having been victims, feel righteous in their actions. Or if not righteous, then they rationalize it as necessary self-defense, even when it involves outright aggression, going so far as genocide and ethnic cleansing.

    Of course, I speak as one standing at the center of the storm, here in the American Empire. My own ancestors participated in slavery, Indian Wars, genocide, land theft, American Civil War (both sides), etc. And as a white male American, I’ve inherited so many benefits and privileges from that long history of violent oppression. So, I’m not innocent. But that is why I feel I have a right to speak on such matters, even to judge others. It’s the guilty who can best identify the guilty. And, indeed, I accept my guilt, even if it’s collective guilt. We really are responsible for what our ancestors did, if only in the sense that we are able to respond in undoing the harm and not repeating the wrongs, which requires us first to become aware and then accept our role.

    My own understanding was early on shaped by Derrick Jensen, a figure some people dislike, but his works are some of the best on the subject of victimization and trauma. If more people read Mate and Jensen, the world would be a better place. We live in a society built on trauma that is unresolved, transgenerational, and vast. We are drowning in trauma. That is largely what makes our society so reactionary. It was Jensen that really drove home for me how the victimization cycle works at such a large scale and how it continues in a silencing and gaslighting that makes everything feel impossible. We are a deranged people. We are soul sick.

    To criticize Israel is not to pick on one particular group. They only stand out as they are the single most obvious example and irrefutable evidence of what has gone wrong. It’s for damn sure not antisemitism, even as antisemitism is real and dangerous. Yet the bigotry and oppression against thousands of other populations, including Palestinians, is also real and dangerous. To privilege Israelis because of the Holocaust is one of the saddest rationalizations of the victimization cycle I’ve ever come across. Yet I understand what pulls so many people into this reactionary mindset. It’s really no different than seen in so many countries.

    As readers of this blog would know, my thoughts here are part of a continuing discussion. I’ve long thought about the relationship between: the reactionary, right-wing demagoguery, pseudo-populism, folk religiosity, social conservatism, high conscientiousness, low openness, purity, xenophobia, bigotry, othering, authoritarianism, standing armies, permanent rigid hierarchies, vast inequalities, inegalitarianism, anti-democracy, Latin liberty (vs Germanic freedom), monotheism, moralizing gods, Axial Age idealism, abstract thought, ideological realism, essentialism, WEIRD culture/bias, linguistic recursion, written laws/codes/commandments, mass literacy, narratizing mindset, metaphoric and metonymic framing, symbolic conflation, hyper-individualism, ego theory of mind (vs bundle theory of mind: bicameralism, animism, etc), mind-body (heaven/earth) dualism, Cartesian/Platonic anxiety, repressed collectivism, the Dark Tetrad (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, sadism), addiction, repetition-compulsion, transgenerational trauma, victimization cycle, etc.

    Out of that mess of topics, I could pull out the thread of monotheism. As mentioned, until 1st century Rabbinic Judaism became dominant, which took some centuries, there was never a singular Judaism, much less a singular Jewish people. Even in the written text, it’s obvious that monotheism wasn’t the original versions. Yahweh was one tribal god among many tribes, each with their own set of gods. Then the Yahwists defeated the other tribes and enforced conformity or tried to. But all the complaints by the priestly class indicate that most Israelis continued to practice their polytheism or, if one prefers, henotheism.

    This continuing legacy was probably why it was so easy for Jews to mix it up with other cultures and religions without any clear distinction. Jewishness as a separate identity wasn’t all that important until some empires attempted to create a monolithic Jewish identity for purposes of social control as part of the state apparatus of laws, rights, privileges, taxes, etc. Other ancient populations were similar and also had mixed histories. Even in Christianity, monotheism had a hard time taking hold, as indicated by pagan gods simply being made into saints. Even the Buddha became a Catholic saint. Zionism, even if it was a beautiful dream to those escaping the Holocaust, is nonetheless an invented mythology that has nothing to do with the ancient world. Such reactionary nostalgia and invented traditions, though, inevitably courts authoritarianism — always has and always will.

    New Religion of the Late Axial Age

    Ancient Social Identity: The Case of Jews

    Who were the Phoenicians?

    Ancient Complexity

    Racism, Proto-Racism, and Social Constructs

    Social Construction & Ideological Abstraction


    Derrick Jensen put it more bluntly in his book, “The Culture of Make Believe.”

    “From the perspective of those who are entitled, the problems begin when those they despise do not go along with—and have the power and wherewithal to not go along with—the perceived entitlement…

    “Several times I have commented that hatred felt long and deeply enough no longer feels like hatred, but more like tradition, economics, religion, what have you. It is when those traditions are challenged, when the entitlement is threatened, when the masks of religion, economics, and so on are pulled away that hate transforms from its more seemingly sophisticated, “normal,” chronic state—where those exploited are looked down upon, or despised—to a more acute and obvious manifestation. Hate becomes more perceptible when it is no longer normalized.

    “Another way to say all of this is that if the rhetoric of superiority works to maintain the entitlement, hatred and direct physical force remains underground. But when that rhetoric begins to fail, force and hatred waits in the wings, ready to explode.”


    Israeli experts have calculated in detail exactly how many calories, literally, Gazans need to survive. And if you look at the sanctions that they impose, they’re grotesque. I mean, even John Kerry condemned them bitterly. They’re sadistic. Just enough calories to survive. And, of course, it is partly metaphoric, because it means just enough material coming in through the tunnels so that they don’t totally die. Israel restricts medicines, but you have to allow a little trickle in. When I was there right before the November 2012 assault, [I] visited the Khan Younis hospital, and the director showed us that there’s—they don’t even have simple medicines, but they have something. And the same is true with all aspects of it. Keep them on a diet, literally. And the reason is—very simple, and they pretty much said it: “If they die, it’s not going to look good for Israel. We may claim that we’re not the occupying power, but the rest of the world doesn’t agree. Even the United States doesn’t agree. We are the occupying power. And if we kill off the population under occupation, [it’s] not going to look good.” It’s not the 19th century, when, as the U.S. expanded over what’s its national territory, it pretty much exterminated the indigenous population. Well, by 19th century’s imperial standards, that was unproblematic. This is a little different today. You can’t exterminate the population in the territories that you occupy. That’s the dovish position, Weissglas. The hawkish position is Eiland, which you quoted: Let’s just kill them off. [“You cannot win against an effective guerrilla organization when on the one hand, you are fighting them, and on the other hand, you continue to supply them with water and food and gas and electricity. Israel should have declared a war against the de facto state of Gaza, and if there is misery and starvation in Gaza, it might lead the other side to make such hard decisions.”]


    As such the plight of the Palestinians bears many resemblances to the plight of indigenous cultures across the globe, and what they’re resisting, at the end of the day, is the attempted annihilation of their culture and the termination of their way of life (if not their lives). In other words: genocide. Fittingly Israel’s most unwavering support comes from nations likewise built on the theft of land from – and the wholesale slaughter of – indigenous populations: the US, Australia, Canada, followed closely by the expansionist post-imperial states, most notably the UK (which waged its own genocidal campaigns on ‘its’ home soil against the Scots, the Welsh, the Irish as well as the English peasantry) […]

    The indigenous struggle, I’m thinking, should not be seen as referring only to tribes on the frontiers of civilisation, but as something ongoing in the living situations of the poor and disenfranchised who make up the lower ranks of the civilised. At base is some element of control over your own life, which grants a certain sense of security. This might come from growing or gathering your own food or it might come from a reasonably steady job in a factory (it might have to come that way if you’ve been shunted off the land through enclosure or other means). But the powers-that-be hate this kind of independence: they want you insecure, they want you dependent – on them and the ‘services’ they provide (at such a reasonable cost) – that way they’ve got you where they want you: working your fingers to the bone to satisfy their insane fantasies of wealth, notoriety and domination*.

    That’s why the phrase ‘we’re all Palestinians now’ makes sense to me.


    I have mixed feelings about branding Israel as a classical European colonial state. While this comparison is apt and instructive in many valuable ways, I have found that it is often wielded as a blunt instrument that obscures critical details and undermines productive discussions about Zionist history and Palestinian liberation. Nevertheless, I have to admit that the Israeli Right’s racist treatment of Palestinians and its expansionist commitment to settling Jews on Palestinian land are so classically colonialist (in both conception and execution) that to avoid describing them as such would be nothing short of disingenuous and harmful to healthy dialogue. […]

    With the ample help of Lieberman and other anti-Arab politicians, Israel has consistently pushed the Palestinians (within Israel and in the Occupied Territories) to the breaking point. Yet to Lieberman, even simple acts of dissent—including civil disobedience and even free speech—are tantamount to sedition and terrorism. He views Palestinian resistance as the cause of racism, not its inevitable effect. The implication is that only by acquiescing to the irrational and inhumane demands of the Israeli state can Palestinians demonstrate that they deserve to be treated as human beings. Only by admitting they are unequal will Palestinians be included in Israel’s proud democracy.
    This is a classic case of blaming the victim. The tone and tenor of Lieberman’s comments about the recent poll results are strikingly reminiscent of numerous public statements made by white American politicians and commentators about Native Americans during the height of Indian Removal (i.e., ethnic cleansing). […]

    Herring, Cass, Greeley and their ilk argued that the total subjugation and enculturation of the First Nations were the only ways to ensure the safety and survival of American citizens, especially the settlers who served as the vanguard of American territorial expansion. If whites harbored contempt for the Indians or molested them in any way, this was seen as an inevitable result of (and appropriate response to) the Indians’ own pathological degeneracy and barbarism. The tortured and racist logic that underlies Lieberman’s foreign policy is more than reminiscent of these justifications for Indian Removal.

    To be clear, Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and the United States’ treatment of Native Americans are not perfect parallels. Nevertheless, at the very least, this comparison is instructive to the extent that it helps to illustrate an important point: Historical injustices and atrocities that are now almost universally acknowledged as such were, at one time, easily and widely excused through rhetorical manipulations that both appealed to and reinforced the status quo‘s chauvinistic disdain for its victims. I can only hope that, one day, the same clarity will prevail in Israel/Palestine.


    Engel: Why do you so few people resist, unlike in the 1960s or 1930s?

    Jensen: If your experience is that your water comes from the tap and that your food comes from the grocery store, then you are going to defend to the death the system that brings those to you because your life depends on them; if your experience is that your water comes from a river and that your food comes from a land base then you will defend those to the death because your life depends on them. So part of the problem is that we have become so dependent upon this system that is killing and exploiting us, it has become almost impossible for us to imagine living outside of it and it’s very difficult physically for us to live outside of it. Also, one of the smartest things the Nazis did, according to Sigmund Bauman’s “In Modernity and the Holocaust,” was to make it seem in the Jews’s rational best interests not to resist: “do you want an ID card or do you want to resist and possibly get killed? Do you want to live in the ghetto or do you want to resist and get killed? Do you want to get on this cattle car or do you want to resist and get killed? Do you want to take a shower or do you want to resist and get killed? Every step of the way it was in their so-called “rational best interest.” We see the same thing happening today. People will keep suffering all these indignities because if you resist there is the theater of terror to keep you silently, submissively in line. Put you in your place, where you belong.

    Engel: The Germans were the height of civilization and the Israelis are the height of civilization as defined by art, science, literature etc. I don’t think it is an accident that both Nazism and Zionism came out of the same place, at the same time from the same culture and region. They are civilized, you know, but this is what civilization does. Ernst Mayer at the end of “They Thought They Were Free,” wrote of the many similarities between Germans and Jews. Even before Nazism the Germans were considered, and considered themselves, “pariahs” by the rest of Europe. They weren’t put in ghettos, like the Jews, but Wiemar was no picnic. The WWI treaty, despite Wilson, was a French and English attempt to humiliate them.

    Jensen: Well part of it is that. If you get traumatized once you can get PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder. Well, Judith Herman came up with another definition which is what happens if you are raped, or beaten, or suffer in another way not just once, but repeatedly for years in captivity, or are raised in captivity, as prisoners are, or victims of domestic violence or Palestinians today, or Jews once were in Europe. Such experiences cause what she would call “complex post traumatic stress disorder,” in which the world around you is deemed a terrifying place because it was so scary for so long. If your life is going along okay and then suddenly you are beaten on one particular street, you’ll avoid that street because of bad associations, but it might not affect your entire being. But if every street is dangerous, if every circumstance is traumatic, you can come to see the world as tremendously scary. The best way not to be scared is to control what is around you and frankly the best way to control what is around you is to kill it. But you can also come to believe that mutual relationships are not possible, they can’t exist, that all relationships are based on power.

    • Below is an excerpt from an article I came across that fits in with the above thoughts. The modern nation-state and broad ethno-nationalism is extremely unusual according to the human norm evidenced in history, anthropology, and archaeology. And one could argue that, to some extent, the violent authoritarianism is built into this way of social order because there is no way to maintain such vast governing systems, no way to enforce such abstract identities without force and the threat of force.

      Ancient societies, even when large empires, tended to mostly operate in decentralized and diverse ways by necessity of limited communication and transportation. Standardizing a culture and social system across hundreds of millions of people on an entire continent would’ve simply been impossible. You can still see that old system that has survived to some extent in places like Spain where there are ethnic populations maintain semi-autonomous self-governance.

      The older systems of power were also messier. There wasn’t a single center of power but competing influential groups: governing bodies, aristocrats, monarchs, clergy, etc. And these typically weren’t clearly demarcated, as they overlapped in complex ways. Territorial boundaries were often much more vague, undetermined, or shifting; sometimes with territory shared by multiple power structures, hierarchies, and authorities.

      Power tended to be less absolute and more constrained. Communities, kinship networks, and crony elites could wield more influence at the local level. Some of this would’ve looked like corruption to the modern Western mind. I watched a video about living in Ghana by two Americans explaining some differences that were hard for them to deal with and one major one was corruption and how it related to a bartering system where everything is negotiated. But what occurred to me was that it wasn’t really corruption for it was simply the personal way of relating within a traditional society.

      Countries like the US and Israel are extremely and bizarrely WEIRD. But this WEIRDness has become so normalized over the past century that those of us indoctrinated and enculturated in it don’t realize how abnormal we are. So, we also can’t recognize the dysfunctions, such as a certain kind of stifling authoritarianism of rigid hierarchies, bureaucracies, legalism, etc (all of which describes systems like Jim Crow and apartheid). The WEIRD mindset demands absolute social control, based on greater systematization and standardization. That could be part of the clash between the more traditional Palestinians, the Semites having never left, and the Westernized Israelis, the Semites having spent a couple of millennia in Europe.

      Because of this, the WEIRDest of the WEIRD have a hard time seeing our own authoritarianism for what it is. This is tied into how authoritarianism, as the shadow of Enlightenment idealism and liberalism, is inevitably tied into hyper-individualism. And strangely, hyper-individualism has a long history within nationalism. Americans oppressing various minorities, the Nazis oppressing the Jews, the Israelis oppressing the Palestinians, etc — all of them held up individualism as a core value and saw it as an expression of patriotic national character. This hyper-individualism overlaps with social Darwinism and eugenics-style thinking that keeps returning like a weed.

      This is why authoritarianism persists, why genocides keep happening even when we say Never Again, why the victims endlessly become victimizers. We are trapped within a repetition-compulsion that repeats over the centuries. And we always have ways of rationalizing violent oppression, such as pretending it’s ancient history even when its still within living memory, even when the original victims are still alive. Or we tell ourselves comforting stories about how it’s always been this way. But the fact of the matter is, no, it hasn’t always been this way. Ethno-nationalist authoritarianism is not the inherent nature of the human species, no matter what claims we make of ideological realism.

      Ethno-nationalism remains a lie. We use at as a just-so story, but in reality we act like empires. The US and Israel are not nation-states. Rather, they are part of a new kind of imperialism, although entirely alien to the old imperial systems. Israel, for all intents and purposes, is a combination of a client state and something akin to a banana republic or puppet dictatorship. If Israel ever attempted to act independently and contrary to its puppet master’s wishes, it would be destroyed in an instant or be left unprotected from all the enemies its leadership has created. Then again, the US isn’t really independent either, as it’s controlled by an international deep state and plutocracy. Inverted totalitarianism complicates everything because the real sources and sites of power are obscured.

      In this context, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not fundamentally about two separate populations, even if ignoring the fact that they’re both Semites with shared origins in the same land. It is a proxy conflict that is actually about geopolitical machinations and maneuverings. Basically, the entire Israeli population are mercenaries for the new world empire. They are allowed to continue their genocide, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid; they are allowed to continue sucking on the teat of the ‘Anglo-American’ or ‘Western’ (or rather global) Empire as long as they do the bidding of those holding the real power. The supposed public debate in the corporate media is simply propaganda and spectacle for distraction from the hidden agenda.

      This is the dark and scary truth most of us are afraid to face. We are part of a truly evil system and, by refusing to acknowledge it, we are even more complicit in it. And the more complicit we become, the harder it is to acknowledge (this is similar to what Mark Twain said: “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled”; and that is particularly true when the fooling has involved collective and public shame from an evil system one has personally benefited from). But the real motivating force, as Mate would likely agree, is the collective and transgenerational trauma. If you really want to understand trauma, then you have to read some of Derrick Jensen’s early works and you will suddenly understand what kind of world we live in. This has everything to do with why we claim to be individuals and states while acting like neither individuals nor states. Our words don’t match the reality of our behavior and actions.

      Anyway, from the below article I excerpted, I’ll pull out one section relevant to this post: “Only sixty years ago, the challenges that colonized peoples faced in their struggle for freedom were exacerbated by the fact that, since they were not states themselves, they had almost no international legal rights against the states they sought to defy. Most importantly, they were not allowed to use force against their occupiers; if they did so, both domestic and international law considered them to be criminals rather than combatants. This applied regardless of the legitimacy of their cause, or of their ability to organize themselves into a complex network of national liberation movements.”

      That is what the Palestinians face. They are culturally and historically a unique people that has an established claim to the land they live on. The land was stolen from them within living memory and this theft continues. Many of the people who were the victims are still alive. And the family members of those killed are still alive. This isn’t a distant, much less ancient, act of violence but is ongoing. Every year, the Israelis keep on stealing land and killing innocent Palestinians, disproportionately children. Israel is one of the most recent nation-states to be created, as it was the last colony established by the British Empire. The country is only about 70 years old. My parents are older than that and they are still actively involved in their community.

      I’m reminded of an anecdote Derrick Jensen gave in one of the early books I’d recommend. He was talking about a community of Native Americans on the West Coast, probably California. These natives were never put on a reservation and remained in the area their ancestors once claimed as territory. Most white Americans like to pretend this is ancient history. Yet when Jensen visited this place, the Indian Wars and genocide were still in living memory. The last of the Indian Wars happened in the 1930s when my grandparents were young adults. Heck, to offer some other context, when my parents were kids there were still survivors of the American Civil War, including those born into slavery. We moderns have such short memories because our collective amnesia is how we hide the collective shame and collective trauma.

      Anyway, in the town Jensen talked about, some of the native individuals were renting property from the very people whose grandparents had killed their grandparents and stole their land. Imagine someone killed your grandparents and stole everything from them, and then asked you to pay to use it. That is exactly what is happening as we speak on stolen Palestinian lands. Would you accept that if someone did that to your family? Of course not. So, why the double standards? This is morally horrific and yet we take it as so normalized that we have become numb to the suffering in front of our faces. This is why it took so long for the BLM movement to take off because our collective trauma wouldn’t allow us to see it, until it was impossible to look away because the videos of pure evil were plastered all over social media.

      Let’s return to the issue of the Israelis and their own experience of oppression, also within living memory. Germany gave Israelis reparations in the 1950s. And four decades later, in the 1990s, Israelis were still demanding the return of property and wealth stolen during WWII. Pressure was also placed on companies to offer compensation to Jews (and their families) who were used as slave labor. As late as 2009, the Germans and Israelis had ongoing negotiations about this issue. And this involved not only actions from so much earlier in time but, like the Palestinians, were done to the Jews prior to their having founded a nation-state. The crimes against humanity was prior to Israel existing. Do Palestinians have to wait to found their own nation-state before they too can get justice? If so, that is absolutely fucked up.

      If Jews deserve to be seek justice more than a half century later after the fact, why can’t Palestinians seek justice for what has been done to them continuously during the same period and is continuously being done in the present? The reparations for Holocaust, compensations for slave labor, and return of what was stolen wasn’t dependent on their being citizens of an autonomous state. It was given to individuals who were victimized, no matter their nationality or lack of nationality. Here is what can’t be denied. To not treat Palestinians as having equal rights in the present is motivated by pure bigotry, whether intentional bigotry or ignorant bigotry. Period.

      We either treat all humans equally or else we prove ourselves morally depraved and moral failures, prove ourselves worthless scum. There are only two options, egalitarianism or authoritarianism, what is right and what is wrong. This is a black-and-white issue, and so it is a clear test of our moral character as individuals and as a society. We better hope that one day we and are loved ones aren’t treated in the way we’ve treated others. The payback will be sweet to our potential enemies who once were our victims, and we won’t be able to morally or rationally argue that we don’t deserve what we will get or that our children and grandchildren will receive — the latter being a sad form of externalized costs by externalizing the payment of our sins onto the following generations.

      Israelis better pray that a righteous God does not exist and does not intervene in human affairs. Because if such a deity is real, their fate as individuals and as state will be horrendous. And that is a damning judgment for a country founded on the claim that a righteous God gave them divine claim to the land they stole, based on ancient story of genocide. That is not a propitious way for a people to begin statehood. Dark beginnings often have dark endings. But as far as that goes, we Americans are in the same boat in having a country founded on genocide and worse. That is what makes it hard for us to judge Israelis because implicitly it’s a judgment of ourselves. It requires immense moral courage to bring this trauma and shame to light.

      I’m willing to make that judgment, even as the shadow of complicity and guilt falls upon my own head. Justice is more important to me than almost anything else. Sure, if I could magically have egalitarianism and freedom without justice, I’d gladly take it. But the reality is that there can never be egalitarianism and freedom without justice. Pretending otherwise is a convenient lie. If we don’t take responsibility, the bad will lead to worse. Our refusal of justice will likely be one of the contributing factors that will lead to WWIII and will once again kill many innocents, likely more genocides. Will our children and grandchildren learn from our mistakes or will the next generation of victims become victimizers once again? Who will break the victimization cycle?

      Here is the link and excerpt to the abovementioned article:


      One better story—itself incomplete, but still an improvement—goes like this. Until the nineteenth century, the international order was made up of a patchwork of polities. Although a distinction is often made between the European continent and the rest of the world, recent research has reminded us that European polities also remained remarkably heterogeneous until the nineteenth century. While some of these were sovereign states, others included composite formations such as the Holy Roman Empire and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, within which sovereignty was divided in very complex ways.

      Indeed much of what we take for granted as the normal way of organizing the international system is of comparatively recent vintage. Sovereign statehood only became the default within Europe in the nineteenth century, with entities like the Holy Roman Empire gradually giving way to sovereign states like Germany. While often overlooked in this regard, Latin America also transitioned into a system of sovereign states during that period as a result of its successive anti-colonial revolutions. This system then became the default of the international order through decolonization in the 1950s through the 1970s, when independent sovereign states replaced empires worldwide. Throughout this transition various alternatives were considered, including—up until the 1950s—forms of federations and confederations that have since been largely forgotten. Over the past several decades, the state has not only triumphed as the only legitimate unit of the international system, but it has also rewired our collective imagination into the belief that this has been the normal way of doing things since 1648.

      As late as 1800, Europe east of the French border looked nothing like its contemporary iteration. As historian Peter H. Wilson describes in his recent book Heart of Europe (2020), the Holy Roman Empire, long snubbed by historians of the nation-state, had been in existence for a thousand years at that point; at its peak it had occupied a third of continental Europe. It would hold on for six more years, until its dissolution under the strain of Napoleonic invasions and its temporary replacement with the French-dominated Confederation of the Rhine (1806–1813) and then the German Confederation (1815–1866).

      The latter mirrored the Holy Roman Empire in many ways; it hardly looked like a nation-state at all. Much of its territory still overlapped—in so-called “pre-modern” fashion—with the territory of the Habsburg monarchy, another composite state that began its centralization process earlier than the Holy Roman Empire but did not look much like a nation-state either until the late nineteenth century. It solidified into the Austrian empire (1804–1867) and then the Austro-Hungarian empire (1867–1918), but the 1867 power-sharing deal granted Hungary considerable autonomy and essentially allowed it to run its own mini-empire. Meanwhile, to the south, what we think of as modern-day Italy was still a patchwork of kingdoms (Sardinia, the Two Siciles, Lombardy-Venetia under the Austrian Crown), Duchies (including Parma, Modena, and Tuscany), and Papal States, while territory further east was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. The map of Europe did not begin to look more like a collection of nation-states until the middle of the nineteenth century: Belgium and Greece appeared in 1830, while Italian and German unification were completed in 1871. […]

      Could it have been different? Counterfactuals are a dangerous game in historical thinking. But what is clear is that a mere seventy years ago, what we now consider to be the self-evident way of organizing political communities was still just one of the options available to our collective imagination.

      This different story of how the modern international order came to be clearly has serious consequences for how we think about the past. It has equally serious consequences for how we think about the present.

      First, it forces us to rethink the sources of international stability. The conventional narrative associates international order with the existence of a system of sovereign states, but the alternative story suggests that the post-1648 period was characterized by the resilience of a diversity of polities. In the case of the European continent, the most obvious such polity was the vast Holy Roman Empire, which continued to experiment with complex arrangements of layered sovereignty until its collapse in 1806. The comparative stability of the post-1648 period may therefore have had more to do with the continued diversity of polities on the continent than with the putative emergence of a homogenous system of sovereign states. Some scholars have looked beyond Europe’s borders and already noted such patterns of stability through diverse forms of political organization in other regions of global empire-building, such as Andrew Phillips and J. C. Sharman in their study of the Indian Ocean, International Order in Diversity (2015). This period thus suggests that an international system in which power is shared among different kinds of actors might in fact be relatively stable.

      Second, taking the alternative story seriously forces us to rethink how we talk about the influence of non-state actors in the present. To take just one example, even the most powerful contemporary multinational corporations—Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, and the rest—are drastically more limited in their formal powers than were the famous mercantile companies who were central actors in the international order until the mid-nineteenth century. The two largest, the British and the Dutch East India Companies, founded in 1600 and 1602 respectively, amassed spectacular amounts of power over their two-hundred-year existence, becoming the primary engine of European imperial expansion. While these companies started off as merchant enterprises seeking to get in on Asia’s lucrative trading network, they gradually turned into much more ambitious endeavors and grew from their original outposts in India and Indonesia into full-on polities of their own. They were, as various scholars now argue, “company-states”—hybrid public-private actors that were legally entitled to rule over subjects, mint money, and wage wars. From this perspective, contemporary non-state actors are still relatively weak compared to states, who still monopolize far more formal power than all other actors in the international system.

      This is not to say that the growing power of multinational corporations is not cause for concern; it certainly is. The point is that in our effort to limit the harmful impact of these corporations, we should be careful not to suggest that the culprit is an unprecedented weakening of the state and thus that the solution is to expand state power. A more accurate form of historical perspective provides an impetus to discuss the opportunities that may lie in exploring alternative governance arrangements, both domestically and internationally.

      Third, the myth of Westphalia tends to obliterate any historical evidence that does not make the states-system sound like a nearly 400-year-old historical inevitability. States certainly were important after 1648, but so were a host of other actors, from mercantile companies to semi-sovereign polities and all sorts of empires more or less formally structured. This system only truly began to unravel in the nineteenth century, with many of its features persisting well into the twentieth. Viewed through this lens, the so-called “Westphalian order” begins to look much more like an anomaly than the status quo.

      To think about how decentering the state might matter, consider one historical example. Only sixty years ago, the challenges that colonized peoples faced in their struggle for freedom were exacerbated by the fact that, since they were not states themselves, they had almost no international legal rights against the states they sought to defy. Most importantly, they were not allowed to use force against their occupiers; if they did so, both domestic and international law considered them to be criminals rather than combatants. This applied regardless of the legitimacy of their cause, or of their ability to organize themselves into a complex network of national liberation movements. While in the majority of cases, they eventually managed to achieve freedom and found a place at the global diplomatic table through the formation of their own independent states, they would have found a much less obstructed path to freedom if early on they had enjoyed a baseline of rights in their capacity as collective actors.

  4. I think the reason so many see things through the lens of World War Two is that this was a time that we – we Americans and our allies – believed we were fighting absolute evil, and therefore we were freed from all moral limits. We ceased to care about rules of war (such as they were), civilian casualties, anything at all provided it contributed to victory. As long as we see things through that lens, everything is justified, all is permitted.

    • That is true. It’s important to keep in mind what the world was like at the time. That world war was brutal. Also, not only antisemitism but racism and ethnocentrism were the norms. It was common for the Allies and Axis to portray their enemies as animals and brutes. A habit of bigotry that went back to WWI and the prior century of European conflicts. It really wasn’t until after the world war era that the pan-European and pan-Western whiteness took hold, such that Jews (and Latinxs) have become largely assimilated. The point is Europeans could be so brutal for the simple reason that dehumanization was the norm.

      Jews got caught up in the middle of it, but other populations like the Roma/Romani were decimated as well. Even as the Holocaust was horrific, there have been many other populations throughout history that have fared worse. Some Native American tribes, for example, were literally genocided into non-existence with every last person killed. Or, in other cases, the culture was entirely destroyed like the soul of a people being ripped out. For all the high death count, many Jews survived and they are a large population and their culture survived as well.

      The Holocaust was a major event. But killing a few million here and a few million there has become the norm for states/empires like the US. Over the past century or so, the US may have directly and indirectly killed more innocent people than Jews died in the Holocaust. But no one in mainstream society apparently gives a fuck. The Holocaust has made a useful narrative, as a way of distracting ourselves with the deaths happening in the present. That is how we can be so dismissive of the Palestinian plight. In our trauma, we’ve become desensitized, numb, and apathetic. That seems to be one point that Mate is making. I revised this post to add more info and quotes to emphasize the harshly damning critique he offers, if with such a calm voice and kind-hearted approach.

    • I wanted to quote one of your other posts on this topic. As I said in a comment to that post, your conclusion was on target. I agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote. So, let me share your concluding commentary:

      “I wish I could see any path to Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs being able to live together and enjoy equal rights.

      “I write this with no feeling of self-righteousness. I think the suffering and loss of innocent life as a result of American policy is much greater than the pain and death caused by Israeli policy.

      “My fear is that the world will turn against us Americans, because of the many crimes committed in our name, just as it has turned against Israel, and we will suffer the fate that seems to be in store for that country.”


  5. The point about not finding out what you don’t want to know is so insightful. I grew up with a vague, ‘oh, it’s complicated’ attitude. The minute I looked into it at all the obvious asymmetry involved blew me away.

    • I wasn’t raised with any knowledge of such things, not even anything about it being complicated. I don’t recall issues like this ever getting discussed in my public education, much less discussed by my parents. The first couple of decades of my life was pretty much total ignorance, followed by a couple decades of slowly decreasing ignorance, but I’m still working on it.

      Anyway, I’m so glad you liked that part. That so powerfully resonates for me. There is so much I haven’t known and still don’t know. The state of ignorance haunts my mind. I don’t like to be ignorant, but the nature of ignorance is that it comes with a state of unawareness that to some degree can be willful. The world can be so fucking depressing that it’s sort of understandable why people don’t want to know.

      Still, there is something so fascinating about the human mind that we humans are capable of not knowing things even when they are easy to know. Sometimes, we even simultaneously know and don’t know so much in becoming dissociated and splintered within our own minds. That was an understanding driven home for me by Derrick Jensen who helped wake me up in my 20s.

      I developed a theory that I call symbolic conflation. It was a result of my trying to understand how symbolic issues obscure real issues, how ideological realism replaces actual reality. It’s one way of thinking about the schizoid modern mind. Anyway, some of the below posts are about what is known and not known, including the grey area of implicit and unconscious knowledge. By the way, I’m a big fan of calling ignorance ignorance, including in myself.

      The Stories We Know

      A Compelling Story

      Looking the Other way: Willful Ignorance and Intentional Blindness

      Nazi Germans Knew

      Sincere Bullshit

      On Truth and Bullshit

      Black Feminism and Epistemology of Ignorance

      Racism Without Racists: Victimization & Silence

      Why Are Blacks Concentrated in Inner Cities?

      A Divide in Justice, a Divide in the Mind

      Conceptual Blindness

      The Case of the Missing Concepts

    • Your post on the topic is simple but to the point. The claims of complexity and demands for more information is really about mystification and anti-information. That is an interesting perspective, and it would apply to many topics. I wanted to quote your conclusion here:

      “As Michael Brooks explained so well, the situation is not very complex at all. The reality of the asymmetry between Israel and Palestine is so blunt that it’s laughable (and rather sick) to pretend otherwise. One side is an ethnostate doing settler-colonialism with advanced military hardware, backed by the most powerful states on Earth, and just attacked Al Aqsa during Ramadan. The other is an occupied people, with the right to armed resistance, using glorified fireworks which have a kill rate well below 1%.

      “What in the history of the region justifies the time white phosphorus was used? Eh? Grow up. I don’t know the history going back centuries. I can’t list the top ten exports or name all the political factions. I don’t need to know all that to see things that are blindingly obvious. That most of the people harping on complexity don’t know that stuff either, but simply don’t want their comfortable fence-sitting disturbed. That attacking places of worship is wrong. That if any of us lived in Gaza, we wouldn’t want to accept the abuse.

      “It’s impossible to make a reasonable argument that Israel is acting in a way we would ever accept if it was done to us. People are hesitant to even try, which is why they resort to hand-wringing about complexity instead. There’s nothing behind it. There’s no knowledge hiding there, only deliberate ignorance. Don’t let this foolish trap blind your moral clarity.”


  6. Here are some comments from the still living 95 year old Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski:

    SW: “Yes, yes. And the organization that I belonged was Zionism but in a different way because, let’s say, we had the Hashomer, Shomer Hatzair, Shomer Alumie, Shomer Hadati, Mizrahi, and this is all their, their dreams where already, how, if we will have our county, how we will be running it.”

    Interviewer: “That’s what you were focusing on?”

    SW: “Yes. And we focused, focused on that the only way to win the county is to fight for it. Not to, with money, to buy the piece of land and another piece of land, which is Keren Kayemet, you know about those days. They were buying off land. We did not believe in that. Our doctrine was Jabotinsky’s – that we will have to fight for our land.”

    Interviewer: “Don’t buy it. Fight for it to take it?”

    SW: “Yes. Yeah.”


    SW: “We think that our religion is the, you know, the prime and this is the truth. But I will never say this. This is what I came to and that’s what I believe. And if we would have respect, look at here what is going on in our own country in Israel. Religion is doing, really creating a chaos. It’s really a shameful thing, you know, sometimes even to talk about it. And I still cannot understand.”

    Click to access WarshawskiSoniaTranscript.pdf

  7. I came across a couple of posts from the same blog that touch upon the Palestinian situation and shifting attitudes, from the perspective of Jewish Israelis, particularly among the younger generations:


    “The question that is raised here is why would a young Israeli move to Germany or Austria? For their grandparents who experienced the atrocities of the Nazis first hand, the very idea is abhorrent. Not only did those countries give rise to Nazism, the people who lived there wholesale turned their backs on the Jewish community as they were being obliterated. One grandfather puts it starkly: “The people were bad. They were always bad. They are bad still.”

    “The documentaries follow three families, two of whom have had members who have already moved to Austria and one whose granddaughter (who is one of the directors of the film, although that isn’t made clear initially) is contemplating a move to Germany. For some, the reason is purely financial; they are seeking better economic opportunities than they were able to find in Israel. One, Dan Peled, has issues with Israel politically. He is disturbed by their turn to the hard right and specifically with their policies regarding Palestinians. He regards Israel as “an apartheid state.”

    “Mostly, the movie is about conversations – some inter-generational with grandparents and their grandchildren, others are between the grandchildren as we get an interesting view of Israel that we in the States aren’t used to getting. Some of the grandchildren (who, I remind you, grew up in Israel) lament the “culture of victimhood” that they see Israel has become. They feel that this culture, which relies on the concept that Jews are hated everywhere except in Israel has kept Israel from growing as a nation and made it impossible for them to move on.”


    “Can a victim become an oppressor? Is there a difference between the Jewish holocaust and the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe)? Is it possible to forgive systematic oppression?

    “Psychoanalyst turned filmmaker Ofra Bloch was born in Jerusalem and lives currently in New York City with her husband, a Holocaust survivor. She had been raised to hate the Germans for inflicting the Holocaust on her people; she had also been raised to hate the Palestinians who, it was drilled into her, would bring about the next Holocaust.

    “She began to become aware that the Israelis had moved at some point from the oppressed to oppressors. Fascinated by this turn, she decided to talk to Germans, Israelis and Palestinians to get their opinions on the Holocaust and the nakba, the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes that they’d lived in for generations.

    “The results are fascinating. It’s not a question anyone wants to tackle; suggesting that the Israelis are being oppressive is often met with accusations of antisemitism. Palestinian activist Samah Jabr puts it like this; “Whenever Palestinians have the conversation with Israelis about the conditions in Palestine, the Holocaust is inevitably brought up.” She also refers to the kind of professional victimhood that she and other Palestinians believe that Israel has adopted.”

  8. For all the conflict between the Semitic Israelis and Semitic Palestinians, who gets forgotten are the Semitic Samaritans who have been around for 3,000 years. They are barely surviving, but they argue that they descend from the original Israeli tribes and are the true defenders of the Torah and ancient Israelite law. Jews, of course, disagree. There is an old grudge between these two populations.

    The Samaritans have long struggled because, when the other monotheistic religious adherents (specifically Jews and Muslims) gained power, there was always uncertainty about their position. Many Jews didn’t perceive them as fellow Jews, Sons of Israel, or Semites. Muslims often perceived them as Jews or Pagans. They maybe had the best treatment initially under the rule of Christian crusaders who saw them through the lens of the New Testament, but that didn’t last long.

    The Samaritans aren’t Jews, although they are related. According to Samaritan tradition, the Jews were a splinter group that separated from ancient Israeli religion and culture, whereas the ancient Samaritans supposedly remained unchanged. The Samaritans only follow the Torah and refuse all books that were added after the Babylonian exile. What makes them interesting is that they might have a continuous living tradition within the Holy Land.

    Unlike the Jews, they never left. In the first century, Rabbinic Judaism was as new of a religion as was Christianity, although not all Jews are Rabbinic, if most are. Ancient Israel was different from both. And interestingly, to be Israeli simply meant to live in Israel, to live under Israeli law, and to follow Israeli customs. Even the Jewish identity was vague in the ancient world. The Samaritans claim to be closer to ancient Israeli tradition, but Jews claim the same thing. Samaritans, arguably, have a stronger claim in having a continuous lineage in the same land.

    Yet, in interviews, most Samaritans don’t take a side in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. There are two main populations in the area, one in Palestine and the other in Israel. Many Samaritans have dual citizenship in both Palestine and Israel. They are yet another population that can claim the Holy Land as their religious, cultural, and ancestral homeland. But because they are so small in numbers, they’ve tried to stay out of the conflict. A single mass killing or bombing could doom them.

    Could you imagine if every person in the world with some claim on a particular land returned to it and claimed it? The result would be total chaos and total war. In Ireland, one can only gain citizenship if one is a few generations from an ancestor who lived in Ireland. But Jews are claiming land that their ancestors haven’t lived in for 50+ generations. My ancestors come from England, Scotland, Alsace-Lorraine (Germany/France), Austria, etc. Can I and all of my extended family return to claim our ancestral rights of occupation?

    The sad part is the ancestral argument is the same that the Nazis used to kill Jews. The Nazis sought to get rid of all those who weren’t ancestrally German and to reclaim all land that once was part of the German tribal territories. It’s the exact same kind of logic as Zionism. Billions of people in the world could, by the same logic, seize land as their own. Over the past few millennia, there has been a massive number of expulsions like the Jews experienced in diaspora. Does each of those thousands of expulsions throughout history justify legitimate claims?

    That would be insanity!

    New Religion of the Late Axial Age

    Ancient Social Identity: The Case of Jews

    Ancient Complexity

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