Risking Peace: A Thought Experiment

As I write this on November 19, 2012, Israel’s ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’ is proceeding apace in Gaza. Over 1,000 airstrikes, some more precise than others, have been launched against Hamas, most in and around the Gaza City, which is one of the densest urban areas in the world. Israeli drones patrol the skies above Gaza City, hunting for targets of opportunity, and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have activated 75,000 reservists for possible future deployment. At the same time – and this is not well-known – the IDF is continuing to allow ground shipments of food, fuel, and medical supplies into Gaza, and a couple dozen Palestinians have been permitted to cross into Israel for hospitalization. As of today, roughly 95 Palestinians have been killed and 700 wounded. Hamas claims that all those killed in Gaza were civilians. Israel counters that two-thirds of those were paramilitary fighters.

For its part, Hamas has countered with ‘Operation Stones of Baked Clay,’ and along with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has launched over 700 rockets into Israel since last week, including several that reached as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 40 Israeli civilians have been injured and three killed.

Israel claims that these recent events were predicated by a heavy volume of rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel during the past two years. It is in fact true that over 600 rockets were fired into Israel in 2011 and over 700 during the first ten months of 2012. It is not clear how many of these were launched by Hamas or by the PIJ, but from the Israeli point of view, it makes little or no difference. The rocket attacks originate in Gaza and Hamas governs Gaza. These are not precision munitions, and the vast majority fall do no damage or even fail to detonate. Still, the very fact that they are fired indiscriminately into civilian areas makes them a tool of terrorism by any definition of the term. And as many observers have noted, no sovereign nation would permit a steady barrage of missiles to fall on its territory without taking measures to make it stop. If south Florida or Brownsville, Texas, were being subjected to daily rocket attacks from Cuba or Mexico, for instance, one can be sure that the US Air Force would undertake to staunch the barrage. According to Israelis, this is no different.

But of course everything about the Israeli-Palestinian situation is different. As longtime Palestinian moderate Hanan Ashwari said this weekend on CNN, the biggest difference is that the United States doesn’t occupy Cuba or Mexico. It doesn’t blockade their ports or occupy their territory, and it doesn’t permit (and protect) American “settlers” who claim a biblical right to take up residence on their land. So, while the analogy of defending national sovereignty is partly valid, it is not wholly so. Context matters, and the context in Palestine is different than that in the United States, or practically anywhere else.

Here is a big part of the context in Palestine (click to zoom):

The land available to the Palestinians has been slowly shrinking since the settler movement was inaugurated in earnest following the 1967 war. It’s true that in 2005 Israel forcibly closed 21 settlements in Gaza and repatriated settlers, but the same has not been true on the West Bank. Moreover, the loss of contiguity between the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 war has never been addressed, meaning that the Palestinians are dependent upon Israel to move about even in lands they nominally control.

None of this excuses terrorizing residents of southern Israel with rockets. Nor does it excuse the vicious anti-Semitism of much of the propaganda that emanates from Hamas, or the corruption that has characterized two generations of Palestinian “leadership,” or the resort to suicide bombings on Israeli buses or in Jewish schools and restaurants. But neither do the rocket attacks justify perpetuating the occupation and oppression of the Palestinians, or the elevation of Avigdor Lieberman (who has compared Arabs to “worms”) to the post of Foreign Minister, or the routine murders of Palestinians by settlers.

All of these things, on both sides, feed the logic of permanent war and ensure that the cycle of death and hatred will go on and on. Jewish grievance gives rise to Palestinian grievance which creates Jewish grievance which gives birth to Palestinian grievance, and meanwhile the two communities descend further into their respective disfigurements. The Palestinians become more and more entranced by the death cult at the heart of the Hamas movement. Israelis become more and more comfortable with fascism at home and oppression abroad. And religious extremists in both societies flourish.

What is needed, it seems to me, is an event that will break both the logic of war and the cycle of death/hatred. A gesture so different, so unexpected, and from so unlikely a source that it will shock and reinvigorate the dessicated moral imaginations of people on both sides. Only the strong can offer such a gesture, in my view, which is why it must come from Israel. One might wish that the Palestinians could raise up a Ghandi or a Martin Luther King, Jr., but that is not likely to happen for a variety of historical and cultural reasons, but mainly because the Palestinians are quite literally powerless. Ghandi was able to marshal the embedded power of nearly a billion Indians on whom the exhausted British Empire depended as a market for manufactured goods. King was able to leverage the founding mythology of the United States and the lingering Christian sensibility of the American people to make his case for an end to Jim Crow. The Palestinians have no such leverage, no such power. The gesture must come from Israel, backed by the United States, who together have power sufficient to give a breakthrough gesture a reasonable chance at success.

So, what I would hope for is this: Benjamin Netanyahu announces tomorrow that there will be no ground invasion of Gaza this time. Instead, he declares that

  • Jewish settlements on the West Bank will be halted immediately
  • Those settlements will be disbanded over the next two years, their settlers repatriated, and the land turned over the Palestinian Authority.
  • Israel will sponsor a motion in the United Nations recognizing the sovereign and independent State of Palestine, with Ramallah as its capital.
  • Israel will establish its permanent capital in Tel Aviv and turn over the the City of Jerusalem to the United Nations to be administered as an international protectorate with full, unhindered access to citizens of both Palestine and Israel.
  • What the Palestinians call the “right of return” cannot be literally fulfilled, but will instead be negotiated economically. How that will happen will be subject to those negotiations, but it may include a lump sum payment to Palestinian families who can trace their roots to what is now Israel, or it could include a commitment by the government of Israel to shift some percentage of its foreign trade with other countries to the new Palestinian state.

Only Netanyahu could pull this off. Like Nixon going to China and concluding the SALT treaty with the Soviet Union, only Netanyahu – head of the Likud Party; former Israeli commando; brother of Yonatan Netanyahu, a hero of the raid on Entebbe; American educated; a once-before Prime Minister; long-time scourge of Hamas – has the credibility to sue for peace at this scale and, more importantly, persuade his fellow Israelis that it is the right thing to do now.

I can just hear my Israeli friend Amotz Plessner roaring with disapproval, indicting me (in his endearing, passionate way) as hopelessly naive and dangerously reckless. But I truly believe that such a gesture as I’ve sketched above might have a chance to break the spell that lingers over the region, or at least remove the sting from much of the anti-Israeli propaganda that fuels Arab (and Iranian) hatred. Israel, for its part, would have made a gesture so large, so sweeping, that it could never again be accused of merely talking about peace while actually pursuing expansion and permanent occupation. Are there risks to Israel? Of course, and they need not be enumerated here. I’m sure readers will be happy to ruminate on them in the comments section, below.

My question is: Are the obvious risks of such a gesture greater than the risks of not making the gesture at all, of doubling down on the same cycle of death/hatred that has gotten us to where we are, teetering on the brink of World War III? In the long run, demography and the momentum of history are not on Israel’s side. If the Arab Spring has shown us anything it is that the formerly stable dictatorships – in Egypt yesterday, Jordan and Syria today, perhaps Saudi Arabia tomorrow – on which Israel relied for the maintenance of an uneasy peace are no longer stable and cannot ensure a sustainable balance of power in the region. A state of permanent war and occupation may be possible today, but can anyone imagine that in 50 years Israel will exist at all under current conditions? Or that, even if it should somehow manage to survive, it will be even remotely democratic?

My pal Amotz would say – probably will say – that all this is very easy for me to suggest sitting in my safe little office on the East coast of the United States. He’s right, of course. It is easy for me to suggest that Israel assume the risks of a gesture this large, but I return to my earlier question: Do those risks outweigh the long-term risks of NOT changing the dynamic? If we continue down the path we’re on, isn’t Masada the only likely outcome?

Do I think it will happen? Look, I’m no fool. No, of course I don’t think it will happen. But it could. As a Christian, I reject historical determinism. There is no iron law of history, no necessary descent into total war. Peace can be made. Peace must be made.

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  • Mark Gordon

    Comments on this thread have been reopened, but I am going to moderate very closely. Read the piece and comment on the gesture I’ve suggested, but do it with charity and thoughtfulness or your comment will not make it through.

  • Brian Martin

    And any historian of the middle east is very likely to tell you that in Arabic Culture your proposal would be seen as a sign of weakness, and ultimately embolden the enemies of Israel. The Palestinian people are victims not only of the Israeli’s but even more so of the cynical manipulation of their own so-called often self-appointed “leaders” as well as the Governments of the countries surrounding Israel. When those leaders keep Palestinian refugees in camps, while fomenting rage toward Israel, they create conditions where, especially with the economic remuneration given to the families of suicide bombers in return for their “courageous act”, there is little incentive to do anything other than strike at Israel.

  • Christine C Davidson

    Thank you Mark! If there is ever to be peace is a powerful statement but the alternative is inconceivable. Netanyahu is the man to do it! Lots to think about.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Per your argument: Cuba and Mexico are not regularly calling for the destruction of the “state” of the United States of America. The difference is not just the rockets it is the unending rhetoric of hate behind them on the Palestinian side. N.B. pointing this persistent fact out is not the same as defending every tactic Israel ends up using. But it does indicate the ultimate reason why the situation is so intractable.

  • http://gravatar.com/tjkozinski Thaddeus

    Some states just need a scapegoat to justify themselves. If that’s the case, peace is the enemy for them.

  • Thales


    Your suggestions deserve thought, but this one gave me pause:
    Israel will establish its permanent capital in Tel Aviv and turn over the the City of Jerusalem to the United Nations to be administered as an international protectorate with full, unhindered access to citizens of both Palestine and Israel.

    To a religion that finds its basis and foundation largely in geography, I wonder whether this is too much to ask. It’d be much more untenable to Jews to ask this than it would be to ask Catholics to turn over the Vatican to the UN — it’s probably something akin to asking Muslims to turn over Mecca to the UN. I could see the Jewish people agreeing to allow access to all, with the UN as an observer or something, but not to turn it over entirely to the UN.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tkozinski Thaddeus Kozinski

    “They stole my land,

    burnt my olive trees,

    destroyed my house,

    took my water,

    bombed my country,

    imprisoned my father,

    killed my mother,

    took my job,

    starved us all,

    humiliated us all,

    But I am to blame: I shot a rocket back.

    So they stole more of my land,

    burnt my olive trees,

    destroyed my house,

    took my water,

    bombed my country….”

  • Julia Smucker

    Amazing. This is more concrete than anything I could have come up with, but it perfectly illustrates what I’ve always said about the cycle of violence, which will keep perpetuating itself as long as either party gives their enemies an excuse to demonize them. It’s true, as Thaddeus suggests, that certain factions on both sides want just such an excuse “to justify themselves.” Any response-in-kind, returning evil for evil, plays right into their hands. A gesture of peace, on the other hand, is the surest way – indeed the only way – to defeat those (on both sides) who make themselves the enemies of peace: it would undermine their entire modus operandi, their whole basis for self-justification. Or to paraphrase Solomon and St. Paul, such a gesture would heap burning coals upon such people’s heads.

  • tjkozinski

    Last one:

    Days earlier, Israel assassinated Ahmed Jabari. He led Hamas’ Qassam Brigades. He was also important politically. A previous article said killing him had a purpose.

    Peace was at hand. A draft truce agreement was consummated. It included ways to establish ceasefires in future flare-ups.

    Israel abhors peace and stability. It depends on conflict and violence. Jabari was murdered to assure what was planned.

  • http://povcrystal.blogspot.com/ crystal

    Other situations kind of similar – England in Northern Ireland …. Belfast’s ‘peace walls’ treble after ceasefires … and the Cuban missile crisis.

    Maybe I’m too cynical, but I don’t think there would be peace if Israel made those concessions, or at least not for long. Given the Arab Spring, Israel would be perhaps in even more danger than before, as with the new leadership in Egypt now affecting the current problem in Gaza, and they would have less land as a buffer. But that’s not to say I can think of anything better myself.

  • Jordan

    I find Mark’s comparison of his peace plan for Israel and Palestine with Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement curious. Jim Crow was, and in a veiled and arguably attenuated sense still is, deeply ingrained in the American South. I must state that I have lived in the Northeast almost all my life, and do not have any innate cultural knowledge of the South. Even so, Dr. Martin Luther King and the civil rights’ movement achieved the seemingly insurmountable task of legal desegregation. Is this monumental triumph similar to the triumph which would take place under Mark’s plan?

    I am not convinced that the latter triumph is even possible. First, despite the acrimonious and violent hatred of white southerners towards African-Americans which has scarred the American South for centuries, the two peoples share common folkways. Each ethnicity often speaks a distinctive but inter-related American English dialect, each shares a similar cuisine, and each has long practiced musical syncretism. Most certainly, African American musical traditions have greatly enriched not only other Americans but indeed the entire world.

    It is true that Israelis and Palestinians share commonalities as well: colloquial Arabic and modern Hebrew are linguistically quite similar, certain cultural markers such as cuisine are often shared, and the extremely close geographical proximity of the two groups renders complete interpersonal division impossible. And yet, there exists and probably will never exist a person such as Dr. Martin Luther King to mend the rift between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims. Dr. Martin Luther King’s use of Christian imagery served as an ideological and theological lingua franca between black and white Americans. The almost complete divide between Jewish and Muslim religious and ideological identities greatly complicates the pacification of these two warring peoples.

    • Jordan

      Jordan [November 19, 2012 8:11 pm]: And yet, there exists and probably will never exist a person such as Dr. Martin Luther King to mend the rift between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims.

      should read

      “And yet, there probably will never exist a person such as Dr. Martin Luther King to mend the rift between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims.”

      It is possible, however, that a peacemaker or peacemakers will arise from Israel or Palestine, only to be crushed under the incessant violence.

    • Julia Smucker

      My assessment would be almost the opposite: I tend to think that the people who hate each other the most are the ones who have the most in common. I find anti-Semitism to be a curious distinction, especially when the subject of the sentiment is Arab: I know the term refers specifically to being anti-Jew, but the Arabs are also a Semitic people (Hebrew and Arabic are both classified as Semitic languages, with similar morphological structures). And clearly the Abrahamic and monotheistic link between Judaism and Islam brings them a lot closer to each other than to, say, Hinduism.

  • Brian Martin

    Mark, It seems that some comments may have offended you, if mine was one, I sincerely am sorry. I join you in your prayer for peace and my heart cries at the suffering of the innocents. My fear is that Israel making any concessions will be seen as a sign of weakness. The surrounding countries have long encouraged the Palestinian uprising, and made monetary payments to the families of Suicide Bombers, but keep the refugees in squalid refugee camps. They seem to have little concern for the Palestinian people other than as a tool to keep jabbing at Israel.
    As far as a shared religious background, Muslims and Jews share religious roots, and much of the evil attributed to Islam is actually cultural and tribal stuff rather than religious thought

  • Pinky

    Has any effort or show of good faith on Israel’s part been met with anything but more bloodshed?

    • tjkozinski

      Has any effort or show of good faith on the Palestinians’ part been met with anything but more bloodshed?

    • Julia Smucker

      This exchange perfectly demonstrates the futility of the cycle of violence. Appealing to one party’s violence to justify another party’s violence will only leave us arguing in circles.

      These circular justifications usually rely on caricatures that highlight the worst in the other side – but even if the caricatures are true, my point stands: to justify a violent response by appealing to the violent behavior of one’s enemy is to hand them the exact same self-justification. To those for whom peace is the enemy, an offer of peace is the worst thing that can be done to them.

      • Pinky

        Julia – I know it wasn’t intended this way, but this feels like a sucker punch. I made a comment, someone else made an opposite comment, and you lump us together.

        And maybe it’d be fair to lump us together, but for the life of me, I can’t think of what Kozinksi is talking about. Arafat recognized the right of Israel to exist – that’s the only act of good faith I can think of on the part of the Palestinians. Part of the problem may be organization – there hasn’t typically been *a* Palestine able to follow through on its stated intentions. But that’s only a reason for the ongoing problem, not a solution to it. Israel has tried everything on the continuum from outright war to unilateral concessions, and they’ve always been met by the same response.

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    Mark — Speaking as one who has a daughter currently studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and who is, therefore, monitoring the current conflict very closely, I find your ideas to be imminently intelligent–and fair–within the recent historical context of the region. We can only hope and pray that the leaders on all sides of this ongoing struggle can find in their hearts and minds the wisdom and the prudence to enact compromises much like those you have proposed, and to bring an end to this futile, pointless and wicked bloodshed.

    • Mark Gordon


  • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

    I want to tell you folks about an experience I had with Israelis last summer.

    I went on vacation to a little town called Kashol in mountainous Himmachal Pradesh and found, to my surprise, that it was PACKED with young Israelis, the overwhelming majority of who had just served in the Israeli Defence Forces. The Indians of Kashol told me that these young Israelis had been coming to that remote but very beautiful village for years, right after being demobolized from the IDF.

    After a short period of sitting next to some of them and observing their almost frantically raucous behaviours–extremely lascivious, extremely ganja-abusive–I began to have conversations with them, and the chats gradually turned to discussions of the treatment of Palestinians that they had been commanded to mete out during their period of service. To my incredible surprise, the overwhelming majority of these young ex-servicemen and women heartily disapproved of their own government’s policies regarding the Palestinians. They firmly agreed that the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their homeland was destructive of Israeli democracy, and that it DID, indeed, constitute war crimes. They were sickened by what they had been ordered to do, and I had the impression that their frantic over-indulgence in promiscuous sex and drug use was a reaction against what they had seen and done.

    I was even more surprised, however, by WHOM THEY BLAMED for the policies they had been forced to implement: they blamed America! And they insisted that the impetus for what their government was doing to the Palestinians came from American policy-makers and from American Jewish pressure on both governments. They were very surprised when I informed them that most Jewish voters in America were Democrats, not Republicans, and that most American Jews would vote for Obama, and that it was only a very small minority of American Jews who were avid supporters of AIPAC. “Then where does American support for what our government does come from?” they asked. I told them about American Protestant Fundamentalists who formed the “base” of support for the Republican Party in the American South, and who believed that the Israelis would be instrumental in “bringing Jesus back”–but would then all go to Hell.

    I also suggested to them that, based on all I had read and heard previously, and was now hearing from them, I though that a “two-state solution” was no longer feasible because too many settlers would have to be removed from the West Bank, and that the only possible peace would derive from a non-violent, Gandhian struggle by Palestinians for full and equal rights in a pluralist and secular Israel. The youngsters told me not to mention that in the presence of the minute group of Orthodox who also vacationed in the village, but who lived totally separated from their compatriots, in a compound on the outskirts of Kashol. For those people, I was told, Jewish theocracy was what Israel was all about. When I suggested that all that was needed for a Palestinian struggle for civil rights was the right kind of leadership–something the Palestinians had never heretofore produced–the young veterans assured me that that, too, would be futile. “Why?” I asked. “Because,” they said, “our people–those people [indicating the bearded, yarmulka-wearing kibbutzers on Kashol’s outskirts]–would kill such leaders!”

    What is obvious to me from such discussions–and from everything I’ve read and heard–is that Americans are complicit in keeping the Israelis and the Palestinians at each others’ throats, mostly by our support for the Israeli war machine in which the kids I met had been forced to serve, but also by our meddling in the affairs of Arab nations such as Egypt, Libya and Syria. It is long past time for the West to withdraw entirely from these countries, and leave them to devise their own resolutions of their ancient enmities. When the British insisted they could not withdraw from Northern Ireland because the different factions would soon massacre each other, the great psychiatrist Ericson, who had written a book about Northern Ireland, opined that hiding behind the skirts of the occupying British Army had afforded the Irish people an opportunity and an excuse for never “growing up” and resolving their own differences in a mature, adult fashion. If Western support for the various parties were to dry up, perhaps the Israelis and the Arabs would be FORCED to come together, in a peace settlement–or, perhaps, they’d all kill each other, but, in any case, we’d no longer be complicit in such killing, as we are now:


    • Mark Gordon

      Now that is a thoughtful and very valuable comment. Thanks, digbydolben.

    • http://rrrrodak.blogspot.com/ Rodak

      “It is long past time for the West to withdraw entirely from these countries, and leave them to devise their own resolutions of their ancient enmities.”

      Oh, yes. Oh, yes, exactly right.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs

      Apropos digby’s thrust and others : It is hard to reconcile conceptually all the high dudgeon in this comment field (which is also apparently so white- hot that it disappeared and re-appeared on its own) with the actual history of a tiny country re-created after 6 million were killed while world mostly averted its eyes. Also, hard to reconcile with the simple fact that it was aggressed upon right from the start, which aggressors were cheered on by the very people construed as the victims by wobbly moral thinkers like Kozinski here. But since this is a blog about Catholicism, it might behoove us to draw some insights from that angle. Those in this country of reactionary Catholic mien, like Kozinski again, are deeply unappreciative of the Enlightenment foundations of this country, and hanker for various “returns to religion” scenarios. The very scenarios that world history has shown again and again leads to more aggression. That the Catholic Church has had a complex and varying relationship with any sort of Enlightenment thought is surely relevant. But no in the only obvious ways. The ways it might be relevant vis-a-vis Catholic Palestinians is similar to how a similar situation is relevant in Syria in relation to the Orthodox and the influence that has exerted on Putin and the Russian State (via the Russian Orthodox church’s prelates) in bolstering Russian support for a depraved regime. By such a more informed religious analysis, the Israelis can hardly be enemies of “peace’, as partisans -of- theocracy like Kozinski are wont to portray it. Put simply, it is hard to be a state that believes in enlightened pluralism, at least an ideal, amidst a maelstrom of fanatics of all sorts and degrees.

      Lastly, where this relates to digby’s comment is simply in the utterly separate nature of those of the “military war machine” complex. This is a phenomenon that has existed in advanced countries rich enough to have such developed machines. They have a life of their own, and they are very destructive. The point is that many, many people can see this destructiveness REGARDLESS of their ultimate political view. That these machines in all sorts of countries — including Israel of course!– are forces of devolution and atavism is not really hard to see. And surely those who were caught in the maw of these machines, as digby’s comment reveals, are very unsuprisingly the ones who get it the most. Yet the collateral point is that such is different from the religious and historical facts. The machine qua machine is almost autonomous and self-perpetuating. Therefore, as I see it, the real enemies of well-being are those who are hot for war all the time anyways, and thus serve of obscure the otherwise very obvious destructive nature of these machines. They are the real reason that that obvious nature is somehow occluded. May I end this reflection, by noting that when I excoriated the views of George Weigel in these pages for just that way of thinking, I could basically find no one amongst these same folks commenting here, to condemn him personally for such nastiness. Somehow, even here, his Catholicism made him someone folks here wanted to defend (by way of the “don’t judge his soul” meme) . I think this shows, simply, the substratum nature of the religious structure. For if one can’t judge for being a partisan of such war machines qua machines it would seem to be pointless and circular to be commenting at all. It also shows, as no surprise to me, and as son of an Holocaust survivor, that as Twain famously wrote “everyone hates the Jews”. That’s the simple explanation. So much for Vatican II. My answer: Never Again!

      • http://gravatar.com/digbydolben digbydolben

        No one “hates Jews” so much as Jews who are repulsed by their co-religionists’ occasional barbarism and their betrayal of an enormously great cultural and intellectual past, in favour of what George Steiner (labeled by the Zionist fanatics a “self-hating Jew”) calls “blood-soaked land.” Better for them and better for you and me (also a part-Jew) that they had gone somewhere else, and not become involved in the racist geo-politics of colonialism and colonialism’s aftermath. Ever read Proust, Peter? Now THERE was a “conflicted Jew”–one who adored the moral greatness sometimes evinced by his ancestors at the same time as he decried their sqaualid belittlement of beauty and art, as well as their hatred of the religious and aesthetic cultures in which they had become implanted. I’m too old to care whether I’m called a “self-hating Jew” by folks who I know are ready to kill innocent Arab children, and so should you be.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs


          On the scales of potentially conflictual ethos-es, only the labyrinthine ethos of Catholicism trumps that of Judaism. Perhaps that is why Jews and Catholics end up together often. People who understand extremems of subtlety. Anyways, because you have the latter, I will avert my eyes from this area of your mindset, in what is often a rather intelligent and sensitive soul (yours). Chalking up the Jews’ right to be in those Sacred Lands to colonialism merely is a cosmic absurdity, especially in people who are so interested in the Bible and Sacred Tradition as inseparable, which those bothering to comment here must be assumed to be. I am afraid this absurdist take has skewed your aesthic judgemnt as well. You have badly mistaken the stylistic genesis and mien of your own views on these matters (though perhaps not content) , they are much more akin to Noam Chomsky’s careening and ahistorical political harangues than the intensity of Proust.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    I am somewhat skeptical of the power of grand gestures such as you propose Mark. This is a personal prejudice based on the fact that as a young man I was prone to such grand gestures (albeit on a much smaller scale). They never seemed to accomplish what I hoped. For me, I came to realize that my grand gestures usually failed because they are predicated on being grand “game changes”: that after I made it everything would be completely different. And when it wasn’t, things had a tendency to go back to the way they were before. To quote Dorothy Day quoting Dostoevsky:

    “Love in reality is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labour and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science.”

    Now this is perhaps an unfair stance for judging your proposal, which is predicated on the assumption that all the players would being willing to sacrifice the “labor and fortitude” necessary for its success. But I cannot help but wonder if the real basis for a long-lasting peace is in those tiny, marginalized organizations that work on the individual level, bringing together Palestinians and Israelis to know one another. The women in Israel who smuggle Palestinian women and children through checkpoints so they can spend a day at the beach. The summer camps that try to bring Palestinian and Israeli children together. The inter-cultural theater and arts groups. All in all they are part of a very slow process, and are often dismissed as futile since the killing continues all around them.

    A state based solution might bring peace, at least if peace is defined as the absence of violence. But it will not bring real peace. Look at the example of the American civil war. Union military might ended secession and slavery, but it did not change the underlying dynamic. The result was Jim Crow and the continued oppression and marginalization of blacks. The Civil Rights movement end the legal structures of Jim Crow, but its more lasting (albeit partial) success was to change hearts and minds. Racism, on an individual level, was never the same again. I am not denying that it doesn’t exist—only a year ago one of my students had a beer thrown at him and was called a “nigger”—but the response to this and other incidents shows that something fundamental has changed (or is in the process of changing—pernicious structural issues still exist).

    So my question is this: what must be done not only to bring peace, but to achieve reconciliation?

    • Mark Gordon

      Doesn’t reconciliation require, at a minimum, the cessation of hostilities?

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        “Doesn’t reconciliation require, at a minimum, the cessation of hostilities?”

        Of course it does. There’s that, and there’s also the reality that the “one-soul-at-a-time” paradigm just doesn’t translate to saving lives, whether we’re talking about war, abortion, or a legitimate effort to wipe out hunger and starvation. “One-soul-at-a-time” refers to the few that are chosen, not to the many that are called. The cooperation of the latter must be achieved politically.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          “doesn’t translate to savings lives, whether we are talking about war, abortion….”

          Really? For all my problems with the crisis pregnancy clinics, I would say that working retail they have saved many thousands of lives: perhaps a drop in the bucket on the million or more abortions every year, but certainly more than much of the political bloviating has accomplished.

        • Thales

          the reality that the “one-soul-at-a-time” paradigm just doesn’t translate to saving lives,
          Just wanted to chime in because of how completely and utterly false this is. Human interaction and showing love to your neighbor in a direct way most definitely saves lives, which is blindingly obvious to anyone who is personally engaged in charitable endeavors, whether it is by giving counseling and hope to the depressed suicidal, or food and shelter at the local homeless shelter, or compassion to the woman at the crisis pregnancy center. Of course it’s always a both-and approach: for peace and virtue in our society, we should have people engaging their neighbor in charitable acts AND peace-and-virtue-promoting laws and policies, but to say that only the laws and policies are important and having people actually engage in charitable acts directly with their neighbor don’t save lives is entirely incorrect.

    • Julia Smucker

      I think what you’re talking about, David, is the difference between a real solution and a quick fix. Your final question is a good one, and I don’t have a concrete answer to it except to say that reconciliation is hard work – but necessary. There are no quick fixes, which is exactly why we need to follow the example of leaders like Ghandi, King, Day, and for that matter Jesus, in demonstrating a commitment to nonviolence for the long haul. A ceasefire is not the end of the process, but as Mark points out, it is a necessary beginning.

    • Mark Gordon

      I don’t think we should sneeze at a political solution. The end of Jim Crow in the United States was the result of a series of laws, spurred by what was happening in the streets of Selma, Montgomery, and Birmingham. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were only precursors to the still-ongoing process of reconciliation in the South, it’s true, but without them we would be roughly 50 years behind in that process. Leaders who wield the power of states and movements can make the peace that becomes the sun and soil of reconciliation.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Mark, I am not sneezing at a political solution: the current cease fire under negotiation is such a political solution. But the very difficulty of achieving something so limited makes we wonder whether grand gestures are possible. This may seem perverse, but without trust and reconciliation, I don’t think you can build a lasting political solution. Your proposed solution seems fair to many (most?) outside observers, but if the players themselves do not see it that way, then it won’t happen. And a perception of fairness must be built in reconciliation. I don’t recall the timetable in South Africa, but it seems to me that the Truth and Reconciliation commission worked in parallel (if not before) the changes in political structure and made the new political structure possible. The failure of the civil rights movement, to some extent, is precisely that the final solution was legal/political, and the harder step of reconciliation was avoided.

      • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

        I disagree, David. I think that the laws put into effect as a result of the Civil Rights movement have brought the races together in ways that they never had been prior to the political solution. The result of that has been quite a great large degree of “reconciliation” and the changing of hearts and minds. I’m old enough to remember, as a small example, when a black woman–no matter how talented–was considered “beautiful” by Caucasians only to the extent that she had Caucasian features; Lena Horne was considered beautiful; Sarah Vaughn perhaps not so much. Today, most Caucasians are able to appreciate Black beauty on its own terms. I can remember the moment when I first realized that Diana Ross was a gorgeous woman. I’ve never turned back. (The same kind of mechanism has worked for such things as intelligence.) Appreciation of beauty may be a superficial example of the kind of change that has come about, but it is one that has reached a broad segment of society. When people are forced to act in certain ways that are fundamentally good, most of them will conform to that necessity and even learn positive things from it–which changes their hearts and minds.

  • http://eclecticmeanderings.blogspot.com/ Hank


    First some additional Background.

    From the US Convention on Genocide.

    n the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

    (a) Killing members of the group;.

    Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 9 December 1948
    This is also repeated the US Criminal Code Chapter 50A, title 18

    From The Hamas Charter.

    Opening Prayer.

    Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it” (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory).


    Article 13

    Article Thirteen: Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Abusing any part of Palestine is abuse directed against part of religion. Nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its religion. Its members have been fed on that. For the sake of hoisting the banner of Allah over their homeland they fight. “Allah will be prominent, but most people do not know.”

    Now and then the call goes out for the convening of an international conference to look for ways of solving the (Palestinian) question. Some accept, others reject the idea, for this or other reason, with one stipulation or more for consent to convening the conference and participating in it. Knowing the parties constituting the conference, their past and present attitudes towards Moslem problems, the Islamic Resistance Movement does not consider these conferences capable of realising the demands, restoring the rights or doing justice to the oppressed. These conferences are only ways of setting the infidels in the land of the Moslems as arbitraters. When did the infidels do justice to the believers?

    “But the Jews will not be pleased with thee, neither the Christians, until thou follow their religion; say, The direction of Allah is the true direction. And verily if thou follow their desires, after the knowledge which hath been given thee, thou shalt find no patron or protector against Allah.” (The Cow – verse 120).

    There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors. The Palestinian people know better than to consent to having their future, rights and fate toyed with. As in said in the honourable Hadith:

    “The people of Syria are Allah’s lash in His land. He wreaks His vengeance through them against whomsoever He wishes among His slaves It is unthinkable that those who are double-faced among them should prosper over the faithful. They will certainly die out of grief and desperation.”

    Hamas Charter.

    Read the whole document, it is clear statement of intent for a program to destroy in “whole or part” a national group (Isreali’s) and religious group (Jews) in whole part by killing them..

    The Hezbollah and PLO have similar wording in their charters.

    In other words Hamas is a criminal organization engaged in a crime against humanity.

    While it is certain that some and possible many Palestinians do not support this criminal action it is the stated goal of the leadership of all three major Palestinian organizations and there is a least an armed minority that would take action against any leadership that was betraying this goal.

    1.) Quite simply, your proposal may accomplish many worth while things, but it will NEVER promote peace. A “Grand Gesture” that would bring peace has to come from the Palestinians rejecting the fundamental goals of their leading organizations. The Israeli’s are sick of war. They would probably accept much or most of your proposal after they have an assurance that there is no more threat.

    2.) If Hamas is conducting military action with the ultimate goal of genocide, this gives Israel self defense rights under
    Article 51 of the UN Charter, which may very under circumstances, and the UN’s Responsibility to Protect norms. which were specifily set up to prevent genocides, as well as just war doctrine.

    3.) Very important to the Church is that it’s organizations and officials (clergy and lay) do not enter into any agreement with Hamas that would meet the leal defination of joining a conspiresy to commit genocide. In a desir to help people in distress, if great care is not exercised this could happen. Given the Israeli’s ability with LAWFARE the church could end up a dependent in a criminal or civil court.

    Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

  • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com digbydolben

    As usual with apologists for Zionist brutality toward Palestinians en masse, Hank ignores what the Israeli State ACTUALLY DOES to incite violent responses from ordinary Palestinians, and to justify any feelings they may have developed that Hamas and Hezbollah are actually correct in taking “non-negotiable” positions. He refuses even to credit the testimony of ISRAELI SOLDIERS that their government does everything it possibly can to bolster the bloody-minded intractableness of Hamas.
    As for me, I think that the only way out of this geo-political trap that threatens to drag the whole world into Armageddon (by way of Iran) is a policy of ABANDONMENT, by the Palestinian leadership, of the so-called “two-state solution,” as outlined HERE .
    Unlike Hank , I am rather certain that a substantial plurality of ordinary Palestinians are being held in a sort of hostage state by bloodthirsty zealots, particularly in the Gaza, and would like nothing better than a negotiated truce leading to peace. To assume that the majority of the Palestinians unconditionally support the phrases of the Hamas charter that Hank cites here is nothing short of the condescending and racist colonialist mentality evinced by Mitt Romney in his campaign for the Presidency; it makes of the Palestinians some sort of barbaric sub-species who do not care for their children.

    • http://eclecticmeanderings.blogspot.com/ Hank


      I did not say any thing in favor of Isreal. After all both sides in a conflict can be wrong.

      I noted that some and even most Palestinians would disagree with Hamas.

      Burt Hamas is in charge of Gaza, they have guns, and they do not brook oppostion.

      I noted that the structure of the conflict can only be resoved with a start from the Palestinian side which is not going to happen any time soon.

      That is the structure of the conflict no matter who is right or wrong.

  • http://rrrrodak.blogspot.com/ Rodak

    @ digbydolben
    Oh, please. The Catholic Church by refusing to allow me to share its communion effectively designates me as some kind of sub-species not worthy of salvation and destined for hellfire and eternal torment. I don’t know that one brand of bigotry is any prettier than another.

    • Mark Gordon

      Oh, please back at you. You are perfectly free to share the Eucharist in the Church, but first you have to come into communion with her. The meal is served at table, inside, where every family eats, and everyone is welcome, but first you have to have the humility to walk in the front door. But no, you want it all your way. You want to pretend there is unity, and insist that the Church join you in that pretense, even though you persist in disunion and disagree with or even disparage what the Church teaches about Eucharist. You quite literally want your cake, and to eat it, too.

      In making this hysterical (and tired) charge that because YOU refuse to come into communion with her, the Church considers you “some kind of sub-species not worthy of salvation and destined for hellfire and eternal torment,” all you accomplish is to demonstrate how little interest you have in what the Church really teaches. I find that astonishing for someone who hangs around a Catholic blog as much as you do.

      In case you have any lingering interest in doing anything other than posing as a victim of “bigotry,” I suggest you begin with Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism. Compare what the Council Fathers wrote with your ridiculous language, above:

      “The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. …it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ’s body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.”

      “Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.”

      “The brethren divided from us also use many liturgical actions of the Christian religion. These most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation.”

      “It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Again, I do not want to get between two interlocutors here (Rodak and Mark) who are already doing such a fine job being prickly with each other. But I do want to note the great, and perhaps cosmic serendipity of recent Vatican news, so apropos the exact contours of their discussion. For it was just announced the other day that the Vatican has taken the remarkable step of becoming a “Founding Observer” of a rather controversial new organization dedicated to the advancement of the study of religious freedom. The controversy is that this Institute has been founded and will be run by the Saudi state. To those who chose not to participate it surely seemed odd that a country and kingdom that has precisely zero religious freedom and where people are put to death even for being of a different state. But as proof of the great absurdity of the human mind, this is no roadblock to founding an Institute to study it. The Catholic church’s own history would seem to suggest that they understand a thing or two about that contradiction, and thus find trouble participating. But Ockham’s Razor suggests a simpler, more homespun reason. It is about why the “plain girl” likes sitting next to the “really ugly girl’—-she looks prettier thereby.

        • Peter Paul Fuchs

          erratum: “put to death for even being of a different religion.” [not state].

      • Rodak

        Uh-huh. I just wish that I had saved and could share with you some of the things that have been said to me by Catholics in discussions where I have advocated universal open communion as the only possible means of reuniting Christianity in the face of the very real threat of Islam. Those remarks have given rise to the admittedly bitter attitude expressed above. And they were made on some prominent Catholic blogs, without being contradicted for the most part. Four years ago I was seriously considering conversion. Now, that is out of the question.

        • Mark Gordon

          That would be the wrong reason for “conversion” in any case, but such remarks by Catholics are no surprise. When one is reconciled to the Church, one says something like “I believe and hold to be true all that the Catholic Church proposes.” One does not say, “I believe that all Catholics are sinless, selfless exemplars of Christian love.”

  • Orson

    With all due respect, the “peace” ideas contained in this article are childish at best and suicidal in reality. I know you’re “modernist” catholics so you probably weren’t taught concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong; yet I’m sure you were taught moral relativism.
    First you should learn your history. The idea that the Jewish state came into existence after world war II because of the holocaust is a fabrication. The idea of an “occupation” is a fabrication.
    For anyone with their brain right side up there is no moral equivalence and the truth is easy to find.
    I believe you people mean well but the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

    • Mark Gordon

      I know you’re “modernist” catholics so you probably weren’t taught concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong; yet I’m sure you were taught moral relativism.

      You know nothing, Orson, and every single sentence of your comment demonstrates that, from the accusation that I am a “modernist” to your stunning assertion that there is no Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Your moral relativism is on full, florid display here: One standard of morality for Israel, another for the rest of the world. Unless you can defend and document your assertions (that is, not just drop them into a combox and slink away), don’t bother commenting again.

      • http://rrrrodak.blogspot.com/ Rodak

        @ Mark — What would be the “wrong reason for conversion?” I didn’t state my reason for considering conversion.

        • Mark Gordon

          I may have misread your comment. I thought you were saying that you considered conversion to Catholicism as a way of uniting against the “threat” of Islam. But now I see that I conflated two very different statements. Sorry. I’ve actually known one or two people who’ve taken that point of view: reconstituting “Christendom” by joining the Catholic Church in order to present a united Christian front against Islam. That, I think, is the wrong reason for conversion, and I’ve counseled people against it.