Why not?

July 7, 2014 • 8:59 am

From Facebook via Israellycool comes a picture that, with the caption below, brings tears to my eyes:
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The taller man is Rabbi Yakov Nagen (his Facebook page is here), and the other man is his friend Ibrahim, a Palestinian. I’m no fan of religion, as it’s divisive and wrong, but if those divisions can be breached with a hug, that is a good thing.

Israellycool provides a translation of Nagen’s words:


The families of the boys – a return call

A short time after they found the bodies of the three boys, my friend Ibrahim from East Jerusalem called me to express his deep sorrow over the killings, and to convey that his heart is with the boys’ families.

I never imagined that a few days later, I would have to call him to express my deep sorrow for the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir from East Jerusalem, and to convey that my heart is with the boy’s family.

May their memories be a blessing.


And shortly before I got the picture above, Malgorzata sent me the latest picture of Hili and Cyrus, who are now becoming friends. It was taken by Andrzej, who captioned it, “This is a picture I was dreaming about: galloping together.”


The parallel, though unintended, is clear. If Andrzej’s dream can come true, why not the other?

There is more hope here, herehere, and here. By the way, although I appreciate the sentiments of the Rabbi Levanon in the last link (see below) I disagree strongly about his advocacy of the death penalty—for anyone:

Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, one of the leading rabbis of the settlements in Judea and Samaria, has called for the imposition of the death penalty on the murderers of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, the Arab youth who was burnt alive last week.

Speaking to Walla news website, Levanon said Jewish law is not merciful when dealing with “such a cruel murder,” regardless of whether the victim was Jewish or not.

That same article reports other rabbis decrying the murder of Abu Khdeir. I was surprised to learn that Israel does indeed have a death penalty for things like treason and genocide, but in fact only one person has ever been “civilly” executed by the State of Israel: Adolf Eichmann. (One Israeli soldier was executed in 1948 by firing squad for treason.)


48 thoughts on “Why not?

  1. Just goes to show that, no matter which way the scales tip, there is good as well as bad on both sides. Now if only we could discover a way for the good on both sides to outweigh the bad, that would be the end of it.

  2. I understand totally why you say religion is “divisive”, however I do disagree with the notion that religion is “wrong”. It brings people into community, gives people comfort and in some people even a morale code which in most cases is beneficial for society. By the way I’m an agnostic. Very much enjoyed reading your post.

    1. If religion is divisive, it cannot bring people into community. The comfort it gives is a false one based on lies and childish fantasy. And the moral codes of religions are as horrifically outdated as that of Hammurabi; religious people with sane moral codes get them from secular society and the Enlightenment, not religion.


      1. Well I need mean a community with multiple religions, I mean’t the community around a specific religion. Also I obviously wasn’t referring to the backwards nature of religious morales which translate into homophobia and such, I believe that some people may not (sadly) have a morale code when it comes to criminal activity if it wasn’t for their religious beliefs. Some people maybe incapable of gaining a morale compass if there weren’t supposed consequences after their death.
        And on the subject of the comfort it brings being a “childish fantasy” (as you put it) I think it’s it gives people peace of mind I don’t see the harm in it. As someone who’s agnostic I don’t personally believe in organised religion. But if it brings some people solace then good for them. I’m all for secularism, but you can’t force it down people’s throats, or mock people for their beliefs unless their beliefs cause them to commit acts war or terror.

        1. Could you explain a bit about why you feel it is improper to mock religious beliefs?

          You seem to be saying that you personally have whatever it is that enables one to make do just fine without the crutch of religious beliefs, but that some people don’t. Do you think that those other people are inherently incapable of getting by without religious belief, or do you think they could do just fine without it, like you do, if they had happened to be raised without religious belief?

        2. If you need an authoritarian set of codes to be moral, you might just be a sociopath. Indeed, sociopaths use such codes to ensure their success in society….those of us without such pathologies do not need these codes. We know things are wrong because we have evolved a conscience and mirror neurons. We also understand, through science, how others (even non humans) suffer and experience joy. We also are lucky to enjoy the benefits of the Enlightenment that has allowed us to question dogmatic beliefs and pursue reason. Lastly, we’ve enjoyed the benefits of breaking down our tribalism (tribalism often required of religion’s us vs them) to understand and empathize with those different from us.

          None of these things require religion – indeed they are often stifled by it.

          1. To expand on points made by Diana and Ben, using your example of homosexuality – the bible clearly states that homosexual sex is wrong (God thinks it is an abomination) and the big three monotheistic religions all took the bible at its word for many, many years. It was secular society that eventually began to convince people that it is not wrong. You seem to agree that it is not wrong. That is a perfect example of how religious morality can be harmful. And how the “good religious people” actually get their “goodness” from secular values, not from religion. There are many other examples. And it’s “moral,” not “morale.”

  3. I suppose that many religious people who are not of the rabid hating kind, will say that these various murders have nothing to do with ‘religion’ but are the products of society or cultures. But I would however say that if you don’t need religion to do bad things, neither do you need it to do good things, like the two fellows showing humanity towards each other. If that tolerance is just down to interpretation of religious texts, where other interpret a message of hate, how so much more absurd!

    What still puzzles me is how they can sweep under the carpet the idea that each will think the other is going to hell for not believing the ‘right’ thing?! If only they could realize how stupid it is, the idea that it doesn’t matter if you are good, you will still be punished by god for wrong belief.

    My own view, is that execution is just another form of state sanctioned murder. Either killing is ‘wrong’ or it is not.

    Besides, do these religionists not have some saying that, “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.” – ?

    1. “do these religionists not have some saying ” – duh! of course – that is the bloody christians. I expect the other two lots will have a different lot of sayings to pick & choose from!

    2. “…each will think the other is going to hell for not believing the ‘right’ thing?!”

      The Jewish guy probably doesn’t think anyone is going to hell. As for the Palestinian guy (I’m assuming he is Muslim), I’ll share this anecdote:

      When I was freshman in college, I had a friend who was basically a non-religious Muslim. He was also an incredibly talented musician (could pick up any instrument and play like a virtuoso after 20 minutes of practice). During the following year, he became deeply religious (I’m convinced it had a lot to do with “not getting the girl”) and gave up music saying it was “ungodly” (such a waste). Anyway, we asked him if he thought that we (his friends) were good people, but would still be going to hell for not being good Muslims. He said, “Well, I don’t think you’re going to hell…but there are different levels of heaven…”

      As an aside, I think variations on “not getting the girl” have a lot to do with religious fanaticism. Sexually frustrated adolescents can be dangerous. Even more so when the grow into sexually frustrated adults.

      1. That is interesting – but I assumed that religious Jews think they are special so are the sole inhabitants of an afterlife – but I know the idea of an afterlife is not obvious from some early biblical writings – can anyone tell me what they DO think happens after death? The ‘standard’ view…?

  4. Shalom to Rabbi Nagon and his friend, Ibrahim, and to Hili and Cyrus. Peace is the answer, not hatred, hostility, and killing.

    1. I get the feeling Hili would have been in favour of a two state solution – or maybe a single cats only state?! The parallel may or may not have some validity. I think they (the countries not the animals!) should be one state which is absolutly secular without religious interference. Otherwise they will destroy each other…

      1. This is a beautiful ideal. The reality though looks like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, former Jugoslavia and so many other multinational and multireligious states in the history. Switzerland is one shining exception – but how to transplant Switzerland to other continents when even Belgium, a European country, cannot really emulate the Swiss example?

        1. Switzerland isn’t the only model. Germany is reunified, the Troubles are over in Ireland, and Europe as an whole is increasingly unified.

          I just wish I knew how to apply those models to the Middle East. So long as Islam and especially Sharia remains central, I don’t see a solution.


          1. I would be a bit hesitant to describe Europe as a whole as increasingly unified.

            There’s a lot of severe EU-skepticism ( as the recent election showed ) and the ol’ ghost of right-wing nationalism lingers on.

            1. Yes, I was about to mention that. However, Germany and France seem to be the unifying forces in Europe at the moment. They seem to work together well, they have their financial houses in order and appear to be taking the EU lead. Nationalism is a nasty thing. It has a tendendency to get away from leaders who attempt to use it for their own ends and it often gets in the way of relations between countries and the sharing of ideas throughout the world. At its worst, it leads to war and destruction.

              1. I thoroughly agree. Nationalism as a practical tool is fine to a certain extent, but as an ideology it is every bit as prone to fundamentalism/extremism as any religion out there.

          2. And although the heat has been turned down on The Troubles, I don’t think it as been turned off, and there is still some Trouble simmering under the lid. Let’s hope it doesn’t boil over.
            (How’s that for an extended metaphor?)

        2. The Swiss built the power to keep their independence by fighting in a lot of other peoples’ wars. Plus mountains. Geographically, Israel/Palestine’s a lot more like Belgium, but maybe the IDF… no, I guess not.

  5. Just had a crazy thought about the evolution of threat assessment in social groups. If we evolved from a common ancestor with chimps, who are known to stage raids on neighboring bands of chimps, who are then forced to defend and/or retaliate, it seems a reasonable hypothesis is that this kind of behavior is very old. It’s basically war. It was probably well-advanced 6 or 7 million years ago. But we are not chimps. As far as I can tell, chimps reflect little or not at all on the consequences of their actions. It’s advanced mammalian behavior, but it’s not thoughtful behavior. Humans can do the latter, so we aren’t bound to our evolutionary heritage in that respect. We can consciously adopt a peaceful yet watchful stance as a species. We could do that if we come to believe it’s in our best interest. So why don’t we? Instead of reflecting on possible outcomes, we rationalize our ancient flight or fight impulses emanating from ancient parts of our brains. I’m sure there are books about this!

    1. One of the worst rationalizations is to claim that a god orders us to slaughter each other, of course.

      1. Thank you for posting the link to the description of the book. It seems like it will be a fascinating read, speaking to a multitude of issues, not just those raised in krzysztof1’s comment. So thanks, I can’t wait to read it.

      2. Wikipedia:”Like Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2012), which makes the case that violence has been decreasing in human society over time, Demonic Males makes the case that human males are genetically predisposed to violence, but that our species also has the intellectual capacity to override this flaw if we recognize that it is in our survival interest to do so.”

        Looks kinda like what I said! Guess I better get the books so I can read stuff I agree with… 😉

    2. Our common ancestor with Chimps is also a common ancestor with Bonobos, who do not stage raids on neighboring bands (they have orgies with them). If Bonobos could overcome their history, we could, too.

      Franz De Waal went off the rails a little bit with his latest book (about how New Atheists are bad, bad, bad), but this one is great. Based on your comment, I think you would really like it.


  6. What a beautiful and inspiring photo!
    For those who brought up Switzerland:

    It helps that the major ethnic groups of Switzerland see themselves as Swiss first, and German/French/Italian second, at least to my understanding. Hence, the Swiss French don’t conspire with the French in France to bolster their position in Switzerland at the expense of the other ethnic groups.

    It may also help that the main ethnic groups, outside the largest cities anyway, are largely isolated from each other by rivers, hills, and mountain ranges. Their unique style of government, low corruption levels, and their prosperity may also explain why Switzerland works so well.

  7. Yesterday: The murder of those four children made me wonder if peace would ever be possible.

    Today: This picture gives me hope.

  8. There will always be humane people.

    Pinker notwithstanding, there will IMO also always be the power-mad and violence-prone. (And, as Diana notes, the psychopaths.) Adaptive strategies die hard.

    1. It may be relevant to inform that from January 2014 until 12 June (the day three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped) some 200 rockets from Gaza fell on Israel. Additional 250 fell between the day of kidnapping and the day before Israel decided to stop this rain of iron on its civilian population. High school students were forced to take their matriculation exam under fire. Some schools have been closed. One million people were constantly forced to seek shelter (and they have 15 seconds (fifteen seconds) from the moment they hear alarm to the explosion. I will not repeat what was written so many times about the small number of Israelis killed by those rockets. But there are quite enough of those that were maimed. To those who would like to talk about “homemade rockets” (almost like a hommade jam) I suggest to look at pictures of Israeli children without legs or arms, or blinded for life by those “harmless” rockets.

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