358 Comments

Excellent piece that goes a lot more deeper than the usual starting point of Israel's formation as a nation in 1948. And an important one too - the 3 misconceptions you tackle above are being peddled to the world daily.

Glad that you stuck with the facts and backed your views with points that can be easily researched further (if us readers decide to).

I see some disagreement in the comments but most aren't able to provide the same degree of specificity as you did.

Instead, their replies usually come in the form of emotional or politicized anecdotes (there are some reasonable replies but unfortunately, they are just a handful) without properly addressing your points. Some reasonable responses seem to be able to only provide links without owning and presenting the knowledge in them.

Thanks for the work put into researching this essay and writing with such clarity.

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"The truth is that if Israel were to put down its arms there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms there would be no more war." For all the billions of words that have poured out of the mouths of pundits down the years, I have yet to hear a single one that in any way diminishes the baleful truth of these words of Benjamin Netanyahu in 2006.

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Hi Gurwinder

I’m a Jewish journalist who has written about Israel/Palestine for a decade, and has gone from being a centrist Zionist to an anti-Zionist in that time as I replaced a historically false narrative- one I believe your essay above largely resonates with- with a narrative based more on the research of Israeli historians, recently declassified Israeli government archives, and the work of both Israeli and Palestinian legal scholars and human rights activists- as well as histories of Palestine which significantly contradict much of what you’ve written. I’m not going to try to debate you here, but if you’d like a reading list from me which I think would upend much of what you’ve written, let me know. I don’t agree with many of your beliefs but I read you because I find you to be a good thinker and an honest writer, and I benefit from it. This essay, though, is mired in what I think are historical errors and some significant confusion. Reach out if you’re interested.

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Thank you. It is totally legitimate for people to be critical of Israel (as I see people are mostly respectfully doing here) but so often the conversation descends into outright anti semitism. As a Jew this stuff is scary.

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This is typically cogent, Gurwinder. Thank you.

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"Now that Israel is retaliating ..."

I think "retaliating" isn't correct. Israelis have realized that they must, in self defense, eliminate Hamas. Hamas is dedicated to eliminating "infidels" who, by their very existence, stand in the way of an Islamic state -- not just in Palestine, but everywhere.

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This is a helpful summary.

I am a Jew and I know our people's history. I am very much tied to a Jewish homeland as the only means to ensure our survival as a people. And the survival of the Jewish people is a core value of mine.

We have given the world a great deal and the world has taken a great deal from us in blood and terror. No more and never again.

I agree by the way with every criticism of the Israeli government in this essay. I loathe Netanyahu. His priority has been to stay out of jail, because he abused his office. That priority has in turn led to a number of very stupid policies.

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Oct 25, 2023Liked by Gurwinder

Thank you, Gurwinder. I live in a majority Muslim country on the other side of the world from all of this where people tend to have a completely irrational view of the conflict - i.e., based only on religious partisanship. The longer I live and the more I learn about what's happening and what has happened I am more and more convinced that Israel, while far from being wholly innocent, are fighting for their own historical right to survival, and peace.

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Thank you for this. It helps put some things in perspective.

I don’t believe Israel should not have its own state and think Hamas needs to be burned to the ground but I do think Israeli holds a great deal of accountability for what is happening there now.

I recall back in the 90s watching a documentary about Palestinians who were being forcefully removed from their homes to support Israeli expansion - not at all purchased land but land taken by force. I recall Palestinian families pointing out their beautiful homes they once owned but from which they had been unceremoniously ejected so an Israeli family could have them.

I also watched footage, in the early 2000s showing IDF soldiers mercilessly beating an unarmed Palestinian boy who was defenceless against them. The boy would have been about 15 years old. The soldiers filmed themselves laughing as they repeatedly hit the boy in the head with the butts of their rifles.

In yet another video, Israeli citizens filmed themselves sitting on lawn chairs overlooking the Gaza Strip watching bombs drop on Palestinian homes and cheering as if they were watching a fireworks display. That is grotesque.

I have beautiful Jewish friends and I don’t have any feelings of hatred toward the Jewish race however I do know from my own direct experience, that the ultra Zionist Jews can be very hateful people who think the rest of us as little more than animals.

In the 90s I lived in an ultra Zionist neighbourhood and it was the first time in my life that I fully understood what it meant to be hated based on my race not on anything I had done.

I understand Israel has the right to defend itself but it doesn’t have the right to commit war crimes or genocide.

I also think they bear some responsibility for Hamas. As does the US.

Right now Israel is committing war crimes. It is cutting off water and food and as far as I can determine from people on the ground there at the moment who I understand to be credible people (of course I’m not there so I am happy to be proven wrong) Israel is deliberately telling people to go in a direction to avoid being bombed and then bombing the places they where they told them they would be safe. They have also bombed the only exit into Egypt. That’s revolting to me.

The annexation of land that blocks Palestinian access to basic resources is not ok either and a sure fire way in my book to radicalise people. When you have nothing to lose what is left but to die fighting.

You can support Israel’s right to have their own state but I will never understand how anyone can condone what is happening to the Palestinian civilians.

I soundly condemn Hamas equally because they had to know by attacking the Israelis they were going to bring the wrath of Israeli army raining down upon innocent people.

But I also think Israel is using as much propaganda as Hamas.

Some of the footage they’ve used to show dead Israeli babies is actually footage of Palestinian children from some time ago - at least according to sources I have known to be trustful.

Everyone I know who has been to Palestine has come back with stories of the beautiful hospitality they encountered and the kindness and generosity of the people they met. I have great difficulty agreeing with anyone who thinks all Palestinians are radical extremists who need to be exterminated from the earth (and no, I’m not saying you have said this here).

I don’t think anything is black and white and I definitely don’t have answers to how to resolve this.

All I know is I can’t sit by and say nothing as innocent people die. My humanity won’t allow it. I don’t care what side they are on.

For anyone whose interested in expanding their understanding of what is happening now Moneycircus on substack is an intelligent source of information. At least I have found them to be.

There’s my two cents for what it’s worth, which isn’t much at all. Let the pile on begin.

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Oct 25, 2023·edited Oct 25, 2023

I applaud you for getting out of the echo chamber to understand the history.

The next step is to retreat from your bias on war, your goal of stopping it, and your ideals around "civilians" not being killed.

Those are moral positions that in many cases are not held by either the Jews or the Muslims (that you use Jews and Arabs also shows a bias on avoiding diving in to the Jewish faith versus Muslim faith issue).

The Jewish faith treats all non-Jews as Gentiles. Jews are not evangelistic (as Christians are) nor do they have a goal of making anyone else Jewish). Gentiles are not required to follow Jewish law. Jews have no moral objective based on their faith to convert anyone to the Jewish faith. Jews observance of their faith is certainly from the most Orthodox extreme to those who are just "Culturally Jews" by heritage.

Muslim on the other hand are by the Koran expansionist (in the early days mostly through militancy) with the goal of making the world into one Caliphate and in the strictest sense, under sharia law. Muslims go from the most radical who view they are called to Jihad to make the world Muslim (males go to heaven and get 70 virgins. Unclear what females get. Gays are just killed as morally corrupt.) There are also Muslims who are just cultural Muslim by heritage and don't really ascribe to the literal details in the Koran.

The Jews have a very "western" world view (i.e. endorse Capitalism) including their democratic government. The state of Israel is LGBTQ friendly, abortion friendly, etc.

Muslims don't in general align with any of the West's moral values.

There is also the issue of Jerusalem and the Temple mount. There is no dispute (something you are unclear on) any longer that it was the site of the Jewish Temple. The Muslim scholars agreed until Israel came into existence. Then they realized that position was not helpful to them controlling the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple mount.

Why do I point this out? Its time that Westerners stop assessing the situation with a Western moral perspective. Especially in assessing the morality of HAMAS or the Palestinians and certainly the larger Muslim world.

At this point, I don't believe there will ever be peace between Western culture (The Judeo-Christian view) and Muslim culture (even for cultural Muslims). The Islamohobia concept is a red herring. Acknowledging the elephant in the room that our cultures are incompatible is not Islamophobia its avoiding insanity.

I'm Danish. The Danes are very open to all. They have let many Muslims immigrate to Denmark. They are no longer letting them. Why, because Muslims don't want to integrate into the Danish culture. They create an island with their own culture.

Bottom line, next step is for you not to evaluate the situation with western moral glasses on.

The West will never be at "peace" with the Muslim world. Israel is an island of western culture in the middle of the Muslim world. Israel has control of Jerusalem. They have restrained themselves and left control of the Temple mount to the Waqf which has controlled it for centuries.

You either support maintaining that island including Israel goals of controlling of the West Bank and Jerusalem and ultimately rebuilding the Temple on the Temple mount or you do not. The Muslim world doesn't want Israel to exist especial in control of the Temple mount. They certainly would never support rebuilding of the Temple.

The not trying to judge either side position is meaningless. Your judgements are inconsequential to the situation. The only question is when you acknowledge that in general Muslim values are incompatible with the Western values. That simple.

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One of the most sane and balanced analyses I have encountered in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The agenda of hatred and violence must be destroyed at all costs. Thank you Gurwinder for doing this.

"Israel’s excesses are Hamas’s norms. It’s the only liberal democracy in a sea of autocracies, and unlike all of them it’s willing to openly criticize itself and set high humanitarian standards even if it can’t always meet them. In short, it’s not perfect, but it’s also not the villain it’s been portrayed as.

Ultimately Israel can only be a better neighbor to the Palestinians when Hamas and its allies are gone. Tragically, that requires violence. Israel should know that the world is watching, and will hold it to account for any excesses. At the same time, it is doing what must be done, and so, for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, I give it my cautious and conditional support."

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Valiant start. Reading:

Jerusalem - Simon Sebag Montefiore

The History of the Jews - Simon Schama

And look into the Mizrahi Jewish History.

All accurate, balanced. The reality is, there are no books with “Palestinian” history -- as you said before, there was never a Palestinian state and the Arabs never looked at creating one until Jews started moving back home. In addition, there was never not a Jewish presence in the area. Even as expelled and diminished the population has been at points in history, it’s never been without Jews since the the time of the canaanites.

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“I didn’t want to comment on Israel and Palestine, because it’s a topic I don’t feel I understand well enough.” Shoulda stopped there and trusted your first instinct. The problem with hubris is that the cost is tallied in human lives. Killing civilians is evil. Full stop. When you justify the genocide taking place before the world’s eyes, you become complicit. I subscribed to you because I liked your writing but maybe you should read some of your own pieces and apply them here. There are plenty of human rights organizations, independent, principled journalists, and trusted, educated scholars who have studied this issue for decades who would take you to task for what you have written. Maybe just check out Jewish Voice for Peace, Chris Hedges, Ilan Pappe, Norm Finkelstein, Democracy Now, and Caitlin Johnstone, many of whom are here on Substack. Don’t contribute unless you know what you are doing. The cost to humanity is too high. Use your gifts for peace, not for fueling genocide.

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"Around 700,000 Arabs fled Israel in what some call the Nakba (catastrophe)"

What a glaring omission. Who is the perpetrator? How were they made to leave? Honestly, I stopped reading after that.

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Just wanted to add that one of the things that surprised me most when I visited Israel was the diversity of the population. Jewish Israeli's are afraid of Hamas, obviously. But I think it's worth mentioning that Palestinian Israelis are afraid as well.

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Thank you for this very balanced pieced. Im thankful for having become a paid subscriber. As usual your work is insightful and a pleasure to read. I’m also comforted that the comments section did not devolve into hateful attacks, and is mostly civil even when in disagreement. May we all see an end to this conflict soon and a solution that is just and promotes growth and peace in the region.

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