Sam Harris on the Israel/Palestine conflict

July 28, 2014 • 6:03 am

If there are two hot-button topics in the liberal atheist community, they would be Sam Harris and Israel. For reasons I have yet to fathom, Sam evokes an extraordinary amount of rancor among atheists. I’m not sure why, but sometimes I think that some Harris-haters resent his goal of making them think about hard questions. (Really, is it that hateful to ask people to think about whether torture or ethnic profiling might be justified?). Too, he and the late Christopher Hitchens were the biggest atheist critics of Islam, and for reasons that are not as obscure (a double standard applied to non-Westerners), liberals tend to give Muslims a pass that they wouldn’t give to, say, Catholics or Jews.

I don’t always agree with Sam—I take issue with his stand on guns and on the existence of objective morality, for instance—but he’s always thoughtful, eloquent, and amiable. He doesn’t condescend to or sneer at anyone, and you can hardly call him strident. His book The End of Faith is the founding document of New Atheism, closely followed by Letter to a Christian Nation. Even if you disagree with everything he’s written since then (and I much admire his small books Lying and Free Will), you must admit that he brought nonbelief back to the table as a viable (and publicly discussed) option.

Nevertheless, his latest piece, “Why don’t I criticize Israel?” (available on his site as both a 15-minute talk and a written transcript) will surely provoke outrage.  I thought long and hard about deciding whether to even mention it, because though it will surely produce comments, they are not necessarily the kind of comments I like to hear. But in the end I thought it was useful to inspire discussion, in the hope (perhaps vain hope) that discussion might be enlightening. Several readers, who emailed me about this piece, thought so, too—or maybe they just want to see fireworks! So I urge you to go to his site and either listen to or read Sam’s take.

If you comment, I expect civility, and I expect you to know your facts. Do not, for instance, call Israel an “apartheid state,” for that is not only grossly untrue, but denigrates the real apartheid that South Africa experienced. (Arab citizens of Israel are not segregated or denied voting rights, for instance, as were South African blacks. They have precisely the same rights as non-Arab citizens, except they do not have to serve in the Israeli Army, though they can volunteer to do so.) I also expect readers to have either listened to or read Sam’s whole piece, and to discuss the views in that piece. This is not a place to simply rant about Israel and/or Palestine.  Address Sam’s contentions, or other people’s. There is plenty there to fuel a discussion.

And what I’d really like to hear is whether readers have a workable solution to the conflict.  After long pondering, I don’t think there is any. Three times the Palestinians have been offered a peace deal, and three times they’ve either turned it down or ignored it. One or another of those deals included the two-state solution, the demolishing of  the vast majority of settlements on the West Bank (with the retention of a few settlements compensated by giving Palestine Israeli land), the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine (in one rejected deal), and so on.  It is now clear that Palestine will sanction only a solution that will destroy Israel—by insisting on the “right of return” that would flood Israel with Palestinians and turn it into an Arab state. If your “solution” involves getting rid of Israel, say so explicitly.

My take, which you’ll know if you’re a regular, is that the sworn intention of Palestine as a nation is to destroy Israel as a nation.This is no secret, nor is it a matter of dispute. If you doubt it, I strongly urge you to read the Hamas Charter, which is precisely as Sam has characterized it: it not only mandates the destruction of Israel, but refers to the old forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which anti-Semites formulated as a tool for destroying Jews. Here are three excerpts from that charter:

For Zionist scheming has no end, and after Palestine they will covet expansion from the Nile to the Euphrates. Only when they have completed digesting the area on which they will have laid their hand, they will look forward to more expansion, etc. Their scheme has been laid out in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and their present [conduct] is the best proof of what is said there.

. . . This is the Charter of the Islamic Resistance (Hamas) which will reveal its face, unveil its identity, state its position, clarify its purpose, discuss its hopes, call for support to its cause and reinforcement, and for joining its ranks. For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails. Thus we shall perceive them approaching in the horizon, and this will be known before long: “Allah has decreed: Lo! I very shall conquer, I and my messenger, lo! Allah is strong, almighty.”

. . .  The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said:The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree (cited by Bukhari and Muslim).

It amazes me that people prefer to ignore this, or pretend it isn’t there.  Do you think that Hamas isn’t serious about their own charter? And remember that the Palestinian Authority is now allied with Hamas.

The main disagreement I have with Sam is, perhaps, a semantic one. He first says this:

I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state. I think it is obscene, irrational and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion.

But then says this:

Though I just said that I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state, the justification for such a state is rather easy to find. We need look no further than the fact that the rest of the world has shown itself eager to murder the Jews at almost every opportunity. So, if there were going to be a state organized around protecting members of a single religion, it certainly should be a Jewish state. Now, friends of Israel might consider this a rather tepid defense, but it’s the strongest one I’ve got. I think the idea of a religious state is ultimately untenable.

I agree with Sam that a state based on religion itself is hard to justify. But although Israel is a “Jewish” state, it is a culturally Jewish state, although it encompasses Jews from atheists to Orthodox (about 50% of the “Jews” in Israel consider themselves “secular,” and between 15% and 37% see themselves as atheists). The country is, then, much less religious than the U.S. and any Muslim nation. The Israeli constitution guarantees religious freedom for all, including nonbelievers. It is not a theocracy in the sense that Iran, or even Saudi Arabia, is. This confusion, I think, explains the ambiguity in Sam’s piece.  The “justification” was not to establish a religious state, but to give people of Jewish “culture” a refuge from the pogroms that occurred throughout Europe and the Middle East. (Although I’m an atheist, I would have been rounded up and sent to the camps during the Holocaust.) What I am saying is that I think Israel has a right to exist in more or less its present form (without, of course, the war), and that a solution that makes it an Arab state is untenable and unjustifiable.

I won’t go on, except to say that Sam points out the moral disparity between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and I largely agree with him. One excerpt:

So, it seems to me, that you have to side with Israel here. You have one side which if it really could accomplish its aims would simply live peacefully with its neighbors, and you have another side which is seeking to implement a seventh century theocracy in the Holy Land. There’s no peace to be found between those incompatible ideas.  That doesn’t mean you can’t condemn specific actions on the part of the Israelis. And, of course, acknowledging the moral disparity between Israel and her enemies doesn’t give us any solution to the problem of Israel’s existence in the Middle East. [Note: I was not suggesting that Israel’s actions are above criticism or that their recent incursion into Gaza was necessarily justified. Nor was I saying that the status quo, wherein the Palestinians remain stateless, should be maintained. By “siding with Israel,” I am simply recognizing that they are not the primary aggressors in this conflict. They are, rather, responding to aggression—and at a terrible cost.]

Sam’s final statement is quite eloquent, and addresses the aims you’ve already seen in the Hamas charter. The extreme exponents of Islam, as seen in Hamas and even more radical groups, want nothing more than the imposition of their faith on the entire world, and the total extirpation of the Jews. That is why you can see in the Arab media, even in state-sponsored newspapers and television shows, caricatures and hatred of Jews as vile as you could have seen in Der Stürmer in Nazi Germany. For some reason liberal supporters of Palestine ignore the kind of bigotry they’d attack vociferously if it came from America (or Israel), or allude to it only briefly before they go on to demonize Israel (which of course does not publish state-sponsored ethnic hatred). That is why you hear from the Arab world, as Sam notes, both denial of the Nazi Holocaust as well as a call for a new Holocaust. How can one side with people like that?

Sam’s final words:

What do groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda and even Hamas want? They want to impose their religious views on the rest of humanity. They want stifle every freedom that decent, educated, secular people care about. This is not a trivial difference. And yet judging from the level of condemnation that Israel now receives, you would think the difference ran the other way.

This kind of confusion puts all of us in danger. This is the great story of our time. For the rest of our lives, and the lives of our children, we are going to be confronted by people who don’t want to live peacefully in a secular, pluralistic world, because they are desperate to get to Paradise, and they are willing to destroy the very possibility of human happiness along the way. The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.

If you think that groups like Hamas will be satisfied with a peace that gives them their own state but leaves the state of Israel still in existence, you’re fooling yourself. Palestinians have rejected that several times. And if you think that such groups will be happy even if they wipe out Israel, and then will have no further quarrel with the West, then you’re also fooling yourself.  Finally, if you think that all the anti-Western and anti-Israeli rage from Arabs is inspired by Western oppression and has nothing to do with the tenets of Islam, you’re fooling yourself most of all.

364 thoughts on “Sam Harris on the Israel/Palestine conflict

  1. I have become a little depressed over the last few weeks of the sheer naivete displayed by a lot of liberal Westerners fomenting on social media sites as if they genuinely believed that Israel had embarked on child-killing as a military policy; and as if Israel can be regarded as the guilty party simply because they have superior defences as well as superior weaponry.

    I’m glad that Harris has spoken out on this in his usual clear and reasonable way. I too, disagree with one point he makes, but I really don’t see how that makes any difference to the overall value of his article / podcast. I don’t listen to or read people because they are going to tell me exactly what I think. I listen because I might learn something new or might be made to think about something in a way I hadn’t before.

    Also, sub.

    1. There’s no such thing as ‘culturally Islamic’. Unlike with Jewishness, if you want to give up Islam you just do it. But, unlike with Israel, in an Islamic state should you give up your religion you must also give up your residency.

        1. A cultural Muslim, to be more precise, has been immersed in the Islamic cultural tradition, although they may not subscribe to the religion (albeit covertly). Of course, this state of non-adherence is not formally recognized within the Islamic religious community for obvious reasons. This very denial of diversity is part of the problem to begin with.

  2. Though I grew up in a left-wing family and environment (where basically the Israelis where the bad guys and the Palestinians the victims), I shifted my views as I grew up, and now I’d say I agree with you and Harris. There’s only one thing that for Harris is a given and for me is still a disputed point. He says that Istrael is engaged in a “defensive war”, but wouldn’t a Palestinian say that they are the ones defending themselves from Israel, that has basically stolen their land and deported their people? I don’t agree with this view, but I wonder how rightful it was the expansion of the Istrael state.

    1. This could indeed be a legitimate point. I think if you read Harris’s article carefully though, you should focus in on his claim at the outset that unethical behavior needs to be viewed in proportion. Like comparing a kid who steals a candy bar to a mass murderer, comparing the illegitimate actions of Israel to a stated agenda to annihilate a race of people simply isn’t in the same ballpark.

      We need a world leader to step up and call this out for what it is, a religiously motivated ideology to, as Harris says, incorporate a seventh century theocracy. I don’t see any significant player on the world stage with the chutzpah to do this though. The Western world, as well as the U.N. are too interested in political correctness and viewing all religions as being on equal footing.

      1. This will never happen, a world leader blaming religion for the problems of the world caused by religion.
        So disappointed to hear Hillary Clinton say her favorite book of all time was The Bible.
        As Bill Maher said of her, “Can’t she lead on SOMETHING?”.

  3. It is a false parallel to talk about Israel as contrasted to Palestinians. Actions attributable to Israel are not the same as actions attributable to a group of people who identify culturally or nationally, such as people who are called or call themselves Palestinians.

    When Sam Harris writes or speaks about Palestinians and attributes the actions of Hamas to Palestinians as a group, it is not the same as attributing certain actions to the country of Israel. He doesn’t write or speak this way about Israelis, attributing actions of their government to Israelis as a national group.

    All I am asking is that such false parallels be avoided.

    1. I agree. Consistently stick to the Hamas term and avoid the obvious accusations of straw manning it.

      Or call it as it is. Islam vs Judaism.

    2. I disagree. The point is that Palestinians have chosen Hamas to represent them. Unless you think that Palestinians haven’t read and understood the Hamas charter, I don’t know how you can arrive at that conclusion.

      1. Yeah, but as Sam also points out he doesn’t mean all Palestinians so he kind of walks into that one fully aware that the term Palestinian will be a point of contention for some.

        If only there were a word for Hamasists.

        1. Why would that be a point of contention. Although I didn’t support Bush, as an American I take responsibility for the actions of the US under his presidency and I did what I could to ensure we didn’t make the same mistakes again. Has this happened in Palestine with Hamas?

          1. Other than not voting for Hamas how do you reckon Palestinians should take responsibility for actions and opinions they do not endorse or support?

            And exactly how have you taken responsibility for the policies and actions of the Bush administration?

              1. Of course and my assumption is that some Palestinians do although we’d all like to see more.

                To place responsibility on those seeking to change the situation for the better is foolish and, more importantly, wrong. It makes them damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

                If I really thought Paul S. were to blame for the policies of the Bush administration then it would mean I didn’t distinguish between nationalities and opinions.

                A nation isn’t a person and the generalization may be practical, but for all I know you and me may have more in common than many of my fellow Danes and I.

                That’s why I think Sam should’ve been more precise ( or maybe even have had the audacity to coin a new term ) when talking about Palestinians. And to boot he’d take away one point of contention and maybe force those whose sympathies lies solely with Palestine to distance themselves from Hamas.

                Be as precise as possible and call a spade a spade to avoid being caught up in the emotional complaints that surrounds this conflict….that and the memory zapper from MiB would do wonders, I think.

            1. My taking responsibility is in recognizing that there is an issue, that we as Americans behaved badly, to not only accept that what the government that is supposed to represent me did was wrong, but to make sure that anyone who made apologies for our actions understood why we were wrong.
              An attempt to segregate myself from those who approved of our actions doesn’t help the problem.
              You can accomplish a lot with a vote and a voice.

              1. But you do segregate yourself from them by voting for other alternatives and by expressing a difference of opinion.

                Just like Palestinians voting for other parties than Hamas.

                I don’t expect anyone to start opposing political parties with anything other than their vote.

              2. But, as noted earlier, there’s a lot more to political advocacy than just voting. So I’m hoping you didn’t mean that “anything other than voting” literally.

              3. No, I actually mean it literally.

                It is the minimum and maximum requirement for people in a democracy, imo. Whatever you choose to oppose more pro-actively is a personal matter.

                In the case of Hamas I reckon that active opposition might be a bit more risky than with your average political adversary.

                Whether you want to potentially risk your life or not in order to oppose an authority is not something I’ll be the judge of.

                I feel the same about war. No one should feel morally obliged to fight a war if they don’t wish to.

              4. Last comment at the risk of roolz violation #8.
                “But you do segregate yourself from them by voting for other alternatives and by expressing a difference of opinion.”
                I think you’re being a bit disingenuous. I may not have the most coherent writing style, but I was fairly certain that I meant Palestine in general has elected Hamas to represent them, would have been clear.
                E.g. When I condemn US drone strikes I don’t lead off with, “The US, except for the people who condemn drone strikes………” So why would you expect Sam Harris to separate Palestine into Hamasians and non-Hamasians for the purpose of this discussion?

              5. But would you actually physically take responsibility for those actions other than expressing your discontent and work towards them never being repeated?

                In other words, would you be willing to go to jail ( or worse ) in order for those actions to be justifiably accounted for?

                If I were to take your responsibility for the actions of your country as literally as you apparently do for Palestinians I would have to endorse the imprisonment of every single American. ( And if we dig a bit deeper probably for every single citizen of any country ever in existence ).

                Hamas does not equal Palestine just like the Tea Party doesn’t equal USA.

                Just like republicans and democrats a term for members of Hamas and their supporters other than Palestinian would be cool….

                Any suggestions?

              6. I don’t understand your point, Jesper. If citizens never did anything more than vote then there wouldn’t even be elections because somebody needs to be active enough to run for office. When there are injustices in society I expect the citizenry to do more then just go to the polls. I expect them to advocate for candidates, spread their opinions, demonstrate and march from time to time, and make their voices heard. Voting is the minimum I expect from a citizen. I’m not sure what the maximum might be, but it is a whole lot more than the minimum.

              7. I don’t think we’re in danger of running short on people striving for power anytime soon and I don’t think we’ll ever end up in a situation like that.

                My point is that I cannot as a moral principle expect anyone to do anything more than casting their vote ( provided they’re able to safely do ) because all circumstances are different.

                Now I’d like to think that I’d have the guts and balls to actively oppose Hamas if I were a Palestinian living today, but depending on the circumstances I can easily imagine scenarios where the costs could compromise that view.

                To be a bit provocative and crude one might as well ask why all slaves don’t just stop working for their “owners”. After all that would completely defeat the purpose of them being slaves.

                Violence is hard to oppose and I don’t expect anyone to put themselves or their family and friends in harms way as a principle.

                That is something they’ll have to decide for themselves and I fully grant anyone to have their own reasons for not choosing to do so.

                Just because I have nothing left to lose, it doesn’t make it so for the next (wo)man.

              8. Then you can’t expect them to cast a vote, either. After all, they might have their fingers cut off.

                Your position seems to me to absolve the citizenry of any country for responsibility for the nature of their governance. That is a profoundly depressing perspective, IMO. I much prefer to think that people can influence their fates. (And, no, I’m don’t want to wander into a “free will” conversation!)

              9. I don’t think it absolves the ability for nations to own up to their responsibility.

                It does however remove the notion that you will be held accountable for the actions of other citizens of the world regardless of nationality.

                Not to go Godwin, but had we treated every German as a Nazi post ww2, I doubt there’d be peace today.

              10. It’s difficult to see how “a vote and a voice” in Gaza can have any effect on anything that Hamas do. Hamas murdered the opposition party; don’t appear to be having any more elections; and made “collaborating with the enemy” a capital offence, punishable by crucifixion. Decisions of guilt or innocence by kangaroo court of course.
                So not many people prepared to stand up and suggest that Hamas may be getting it wrong. So perhaps “a vote and a voice” may only work in secular democracies.
                And with Hamas in control of Gaza, it’s difficult to see how any change can be effected except by external forces.

              11. Jesper’s analogies are misleading. Sam Harris is NOT suggesting that every Palestinian take full responsibility for every action of their government. No one here is saying that either. You would not put Palestinians who do not support Hamas in jail for war crimes and you would certainly not target them for death from above.

                However, all Palestinians do face the consequences of allowing Hamas to get Gaza into the terrible state it currently is in. Just as the point was already made that all Americans face the consequences (although far less severe) of our many recent international missteps. Just as every Russian will pay a harsh penalty for the aggression of their current government. Etc.

                It is certainly not easy standing up to Hamas, but Palestinians have had less destructive alternatives many times and individuals do have plenty of opportunities to do what they can to shift the balance, even if it’s as little as talking to friends and neighbors. Or you could sit idly by while your government leads you into a suicidal war.

              12. I already mentioned that Sam didn’t mean all Palestinians earlier, so I fail to see the misleading part.

                What is the core of the problem regarding this conflict in your opinion?

              13. You have repeatedly used the example of punishing individuals for the crimes of the nation. You just did it again when you mentioned treating every German as a Nazi (war criminal) a few posts above this one. No one, not Sam Harris, not even GBJames are suggesting that Israel do this.

                ALL Germans (and all Japanese) paid a huge price for their actions before and during WW2, even those who opposed the aggression, let alone those who looked the other way. Many died or lost loved ones, almost all faced huge economic hardship and several years of terrible conditions. Some were wrongly imprisoned and otherwise punished.

                The situation facing the Gazans is no different. Israel is not intentionally targeting civilians and will not (as a policy) imprison those who weren’t directly involved in war crimes. Sadly, many relatively innocent Gazans (not unlike the Germans and Japanese) will be caught in the crossfire or will face economic hardship and terrible times because of their misguided leadership.

              14. I’ve used them as examples to why the term Palestinian isn’t precise enough imo and to why the generalization is in danger of targeting innocent people, but of course my apologies to anyone that feels I’ve accused them of adhering to opinions they do not.

                And I haven’t at any point accused Israel of targeting civilians or of wanting to prosecute every single Palestinian. I did however question whether that was the opinion of Paul S. based on his posts, but alas that was the last of it.

                What do you mean by relatively innocent, btw?

              15. Sorry GB, that was not my intention. You had the misfortune of owning the post previous to Jesper’s and thus appeared to be the victim of his latest confused analogy.

              16. Jesper, there is no confusion about the terms Palestinian or Hamas. If Sam Harris, or anyone else here, has accidentally used the wrong term in one or two places, it would be reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt, rather than make wild assumptions. You are looking to introduce a semantic wrinkle that just isn’t there.

                Further, Paul S. at no point wrote anything that could possibly be confused for him thinking that ALL Palestinians should be prosecuted for Hamas’ misdeeds.

                “Relatively innocent” means exactly what you should think it means. More innocent than others (i.e. Hamas members and those who actively supported them), yet not completely innocent (e.g. those who didn’t fight for a peaceful government and solution).

              17. My point is that Sam’s use isn’t accidental ( he even explains it and of course it’s without malice intentions ) and that he knowingly walks into obvious accusations of straw-manning it because of the emotional complaints surrounding this conflict. He might as well try to preemptive those accusations by avoiding the general term Palestinian. I even suggested an attempt at coining a new term for pro-Hamas Palestinians. Semantics or not it might bring about some new perspective….who knows?

                Regarding Paul S. I was trying to figure out how to make sense of holding Palestine in general as responsible for Hamas’ actions without that being directed at innocent Palestinians. And to illustrate that opposing Hamas is not necessarily comparable to opposing Republicans. ( Notice I didn’t just write Americans there. That would be nonsensical. )

                Is purely it semantics to differentiate between groups of people if there’s actual differences?

                “Relatively innocent” means exactly what you should think it means. More innocent than others (i.e. Hamas members and those who actively supported them), yet not completely innocent (e.g. those who didn’t fight for a peaceful government and solution).

                So if you don’t actively oppose Hamas ( other than not voting for them ) then you’re by definition guilty of not doing enough?

                Or does not voting for Hamas or other violent solutions also count as fighting for a peaceful government?

                I’m genuinely curious.

              18. Please point out a single instance where the term Palestinian was used that is genuinely confusing. Semantics is useful, but not when you’re trying to use it to imply people think what they clearly don’t think (which you continue to do with Harris and Paul S, …).

                You cannot come up with a new term (Hamasist, etc.) because there is no clear line where you can put the 100% “guilty” on one side and 100% “innocent” on the other. Your attempt to blame all Republicans (and only Republicans, apparently) for America’s recent missteps shows how impossible this task is.

                There is no great puzzle to Paul S. opinion, although we could quibble over the nuances. I feel roughly the same. I was not in Abu Ghraib, I was not in the meeting that decided to falsify evidence, I did not vote to put Bush in office, etc. But I still accept some responsibility for what we’ve done; there are very, very few Americans who can say their hands are completely clean and that they did everything they could to prevent our mistakes.

              19. “So if you don’t actively oppose Hamas ( other than not voting for them ) then you’re by definition guilty of not doing enough?

                Or does not voting for Hamas or other violent solutions also count as fighting for a peaceful government?”

                Again you are trying to draw clear lines that don’t exist. There is no “enough” that makes a Palestinian completely guilt free. If there were that “enough” certainly wouldn’t be “well, I didn’t vote for Hamas.”

                If you raise your kids to despise Israelis, to put faith before reason, to live in the past rather than valuing the future, etc. then you are part of the problem and at least somewhat complicit in whatever happens whether or not you voted for Fatah or Hamas.

                Does that warrant a death sentence? Does that mean you shouldn’t feel sympathy for the terrible situation they are in? Of course not.

              20. “Please point out a single instance where the term Palestinian was used that is genuinely confusing. Semantics is useful, but not when you’re trying to use it to imply people think what they clearly don’t think (which you continue to do with Harris and Paul S, …).”

                Again, Sedan, try not to read my posts as accusations of what people think. I haven’t accused anyone of thinking anything although I did slip in one “apparently” to Paul S. Again my apologies if he feels accused of thinking things he doesn’t.

                From Sam’s piece: “[Note: Yes, I know that not every Palestinian supports Hamas, but enough do to have brought them to power. Hamas is not a fringe group.]

                He knows Palestinian is a generalization, but still use it as a proxy for Hamas and supporters of Hamas.

                That’s an obvious way of walking into accusations of straw-manning it simply because Hamas is not Palestine.

                I asked you earlier about what you think the core of the conflict is rooted in. Care to jump in on that?

                “You cannot come up with a new term (Hamasist, etc.) because there is no clear line where you can put the 100% “guilty” on one side and 100% “innocent” on the other. Your attempt to blame all Republicans (and only Republicans, apparently) for America’s recent missteps shows how impossible this task is.”

                Speaking of implying, what attempt at blaming Republicans for all American missteps?

                And again, my point is that we differentiate between Democrat and Republican for a reason.

                Sam’s piece ( as I understood it ) wasn’t about Palestine as a country vs Israel as a country.

                It was in particular about Hamas/supporters vs Israel.

                He hints at the very end at what I think he really wanted to say, with this line: “The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.”

                Again, I’ll ask you in the interest of progressing the conversation a bit: What do you think is at the core of this conflict?

              21. I did not use the word “accusation”, but there is no doubt that you implied and assumed such opinions when there was not a shred of evidence for them and you continue to do so with your assault (albeit timid) on Sam Harris.

                He does not use Palestinians as a proxy for Hamas, he uses it in the everyday common way that all reasonable people (without an agenda) would use it. Palestinians built the tunnels, Palestinians refuse to accept the state of Israel, … Just as we would say Americans invaded Iraq, Americans ignored the Rwandan genocide, etc. We don’t say Republicans invaded Iraq or Democrats ignored Rwanda, etc. This has been explained to you before.

                “Speaking of implying, what attempt at blaming Republicans for all American missteps?”

                You are trying so hard to assign blame only to a limited set of people. If you want to say that only “Hamas” is responsible for all the evil that has been done in Gaza then by going out of your way to identify “Republicans” as you did, makes the clear implication that they were responsible for the Iraq war and we should not blame “Americans”. Hamas != Palestinians just as Republicans != Americans.

                You are wrong about Hamas just as you are about Republicans and you have not given us any possible reason why it makes sense to differentiate Republicans from Democrats (unless you want to assign blame to a single party, which is absurd).

                “He hints at the very end at what I think he really wanted to say”

                I honestly think you missed the entire point of the last few paragraphs. He is not hinting at anything, he is not being subtle.

                “What do you think is at the core of this conflict?”

                Since you seem permanently confused by this one tiny aspect of the issue I don’t see what good would come from broadening the discussion.

              22. “I did not use the word “accusation”, but there is no doubt that you implied and assumed such opinions when there was not a shred of evidence for them and you continue to do so with your assault (albeit timid) on Sam Harris.”

                Try reading my posts from the beginning and maybe open yourself up to the possibility that you’re jumping to conclusions about the points I’m trying to make. Why do you consider it an assault at Sam to disagree with his use of the word Palestinian?

                “He does not use Palestinians as a proxy for Hamas, he uses it in the everyday common way that all reasonable people (without an agenda) would use it. Palestinians built the tunnels, Palestinians refuse to accept the state of Israel, … Just as we would say Americans invaded Iraq, Americans ignored the Rwandan genocide, etc. We don’t say Republicans invaded Iraq or Democrats ignored Rwanda, etc. This has been explained to you before.”

                In my view he blurres the lines between Palestinian and Hamas and it weakens his ( spot on, imo ) final point. It gives the opponent an opportunity to latch on to the straw-manning argument and provides flare that distracts from the, somewhat inconvenient, insinuation that the vast majority of Palestinians regardless of political affiliation may very well share some nasty views of Jews compareable to that of Hamas.

                So yes, I think he beats around the bush and only briefly adresses what I perceive to the problem. Religion.

                I simply don’t share his view that there’s a moral reason to prefer Israel vs Palestine.

                It’s just fucking ( pardon my french ) common sense that you cannot endorse the foundation of a country that has a doctrine that prescribes the destruction if your own.

                No need to go off on a moral tangent that we’re obliged to support Israel. We’re not.

                We’re not morally obliged to do anything as a principle, but of course that doesn’t exempt us from the ability to feel a common sense of responsibility for what goes on around us.

                In this case my support for Israel is not based on their moral superiority, but is simply a consequence of the situation as it is.

                “You are trying so hard to assign blame only to a limited set of people. If you want to say that only “Hamas” is responsible for all the evil that has been done in Gaza then by going out of your way to identify “Republicans” as you did, makes the clear implication that they were responsible for the Iraq war and we should not blame “Americans”. Hamas != Palestinians just as Republicans != Americans.

                You are wrong about Hamas just as you are about Republicans and you have not given us any possible reason why it makes sense to differentiate Republicans from Democrats (unless you want to assign blame to a single party, which is absurd).”

                Read it again, Sedan. I haven’t in the slightest implied that Republicans are the sole responsible part in American politics and I haven’t at any point implied that Hamas is the sole perpetrator of blind Jew hatred in Palestine.

                You’re jumping to conclusions.

                “I honestly think you missed the entire point of the last few paragraphs. He is not hinting at anything, he is not being subtle.”

                I guess subtlety is a matter of taste. In my opinion he was being subtle until the last few paragraphs.

                “Since you seem permanently confused by this one tiny aspect of the issue I don’t see what good would come from broadening the discussion.”

                I hope my apparent confusion is starting to make sense to you, but I have absolutely nothing better to do today so feel free to ask further questions about my view on the matter.

                Who knows, we might even learn something.

              23. I’ve read ALL your posts and there is no other way to interpret your opinions and assumptions.

                You continue to reiterate the tired position that there is a clear line between Hamas and Palestinian. There isn’t. Try rewriting Sam Harris’ piece without any “blurred lines” and it will be both unreadable, unenlightening and probably just plain wrong.

                If you can find someone else to explain to me what you could possibly mean by differentiating “Republicans” and “Americans” that is all relevant to this discussion then please do so. Because you are not making a coherent argument to support your case (nor that for so clearly identifying “Hamas” instead of Palestinian).

                The way you’re waffling on this it sounds like your definitions are just going to be tautologies. You don’t want to blame only Hamas, but you also don’t want to blame all Palestinians. You are going to have to define a new term (unique to you) which puts the blame on all the people (Hamas and others) who are to blame, but certainly not ALL Palestinians. That’s not productive, IMO.

              24. “I’ve read ALL your posts and there is no other way to interpret your opinions and assumptions.”

                Well, I’ll partly take responsibility for that, but I honestly think you’ve misread it.

                But blame gaming is boring so let’s just agree to disagree on that one.

                “You continue to reiterate the tired position that there is a clear line between Hamas and Palestinian. There isn’t. Try rewriting Sam Harris’ piece without any “blurred lines” and it will be both unreadable, unenlightening and probably just plain wrong.”

                You don’t see it as a possible source of confusion not to distinguish between Hamas/supporters and other Palestinians while at the same time noting that there’s a possible difference?

                You and Harris appears to disagree on the disposition that there’s no difference, btw.

                “If you can find someone else to explain to me what you could possibly mean by differentiating “Republicans” and “Americans” that is all relevant to this discussion then please do so. Because you are not making a coherent argument to support your case (nor that for so clearly identifying “Hamas” instead of Palestinian).”

                Because it’s a war, Sedan.

                If you want to win it it is very advisable to seek out people who are willing to work against your enemy.

                A Palestinian working against Hamas can be worth pretty damn much and it is stupid to open yourself up to generalizing away possible support for your cause.

                That’s what I mean by some Palestinians being damned if they do, damned if they don’t.

                But we have to accpet that not every man or woamn is a soldier. That is too simplified an outlook on the situation.

                “The way you’re waffling on this it sounds like your definitions are just going to be tautologies. You don’t want to blame only Hamas, but you also don’t want to blame all Palestinians. You are going to have to define a new term (unique to you) which puts the blame on all the people (Hamas and others) who are to blame, but certainly not ALL Palestinians. That’s not productive, IMO.”

                Why is it considered waffling not to blame only Hamas, but in the process avoiding blaming innocent Palestinians?

              25. “You don’t see it as a possible source of confusion not to distinguish between Hamas/supporters and other Palestinians while at the same time noting that there’s a possible difference?”

                There IS no difference, not in the absolute sense that you’re looking for. I don’t think Harris would disagree with me on that, not if he’s being honest, which he usually is.

                Are you drawing a line in the sand and putting all Hamas/supporters on one side and “other” Palestinians on the other? What are you going to do then? There is no point to that exercise.

                “If you want to win it it is very advisable to seek out people who are willing to work against your enemy.”

                Surely. It’s also advisable in war to lie, cheat and do whatever it takes to achieve your goal.

                However, I don’t see the role of Sam Harris (or Richard Dawkins or Jerry Coyne) to be warriors who will obfuscate, lie or simply distort the truth to achieve victory. Their role is to be honest and forthright, to call bullshit on everyone else where necessary. So no, I wouldn’t expect Sam Harris to imply that some complicit Palestinians are innocent just to coddle their support.

                “Why is it considered waffling not to blame only Hamas, but in the process avoiding blaming innocent Palestinians?”

                Once again, because you are attempting to create a distinction that doesn’t exist. Useful if you’re fighting a war, but not if you want to have an honest conversation.

                No doubt there are many members and supporters of Hamas who are relatively decent people. Likewise there are those who don’t support Hamas who are far more guilty of furthering this ongoing tragedy. Yet you’ve already prejudged them by the group they happen to belong to, rather than their individual actions. Just as you’ve done with Republicans in America.

              26. I don’t have much to add to this last post of yours, Sedan, but allow me one question: Are you trying to distinguish between different Hamas members or are you trying to potentially excuse membership of Hamas?

              27. Your question makes no sense in this context.

                If you think I am absolving any member of Hamas from all responsibility for what is happening in Gaza then you have clearly not been following the thread.

                I’m merely highlighting the absurdity of your attempt to so finely categorize everyone in this conflict and insisting that others (namely Harris) follow your rules.

                Please fill in the blanks:

                ALL Hamas/supporters are _____.

                ALL other Palestinians are _____.

              28. Sure I’ll try to fill in the blanks for you.

                ALL Hamas/supporters are members of Hamas/supporters.

                ALL other Palestinians are not.

                But what does that say about other Palestinians and this conflict?

                Absolutely nothing.

                Did that make it clear why it makes sense to further differentiate between people in this mess and not just stick to a broad label that includes all sorts of opinions?

                Hamas has a charter that describes their ideology and goals, but the rest of Palestine and Palestinians are not defined by this, not yet at least.

                Palestinian is a generalization ( which Sam recognizes ) that potentially includes many differences of opinions about this conflict, some of them reasonable some of them not, but yet uses it as a proxy for Hamas.

                Now I know it’s a tall order to coin new phrases or terms, but less would do it. And if I’m being a bit cheeky I might add that you just did it in your question….you know, differentiated between Hamas/supporters and other Palestinians.

                I wonder how hard that was.

                If Sam’s point is that the vast majority of Palestinians are on par with Hamas regarding hatred of Jews regardless of political affiliation, then I think he beats around the bush until the last few paragraphs.

                If his point also is that many Muslims regardless of nationality have some very nasty opinions of Jews and everyone not-Muslim, then again I think he barely touched upon it until the final paragraphs.

                There’s no need to make a moral case for Israel or for Palestine. Morality doesn’t dictate reality.

                As for your American vs Republican beef, imagine how much sense reports on American elections would make if it was considered an absurdity to differentiate between parties.

                That you reckon it’s an absurdity to try to differentiate between Palestinians in this conflict is of course your own choice, but why is it a problem for you that others do?

              29. Just to add.

                I’m left wondering if his piece is meant as a criticism of Palestine and Palestinians in general or if he is aiming at Hamas/supporters regardless of nationality.

                And exactly what morality has to do with it.

              30. Jesper, this is my last post to you on this topic because you are clearly not following the thread and you are now just repeating my own words back to me as if they are a revelation.

                “Sure I’ll try to fill in the blanks for you….”

                As I already said you could not define or differentiate those terms except in the form of a tautology. Thank you for illustrating that so clearly.

                “Did that make it clear why it makes sense to further differentiate between people in this mess and not just stick to a broad label that includes all sorts of opinions?”

                Absolutely not, because there is no one term that could possibly accomplish your goal. There is no term that Harris could have used that would satisfy you, and you seem to finally agree that it is not Hamas.

                “Hamas has a charter that describes their ideology and goals, but the rest of Palestine and Palestinians are not defined by this, not yet at least.”

                And some Hamas members/supporters do not fully embrace or act on those principles. Likewise, other Palestinians believe some or all of those principles. You’ve gotten nowhere with this line.

                “Now I know it’s a tall order to coin new phrases or terms, but less would do it. And if I’m being a bit cheeky I might add that you just did it in your question….you know, differentiated between Hamas/supporters and other Palestinians.

                I wonder how hard that was.”

                Didn’t we just cover that? That exercise accomplished nothing! It’s “cheeky” to suggest otherwise. If Harris had subbed in “Hamas/supporters” (which was your phrase and your definition, btw) for Palestinians it would have completely changed the meaning and made it non-sensical and pointless.

                “If Sam’s point is that the vast majority of Palestinians are on par with Hamas regarding hatred of Jews regardless of political affiliation,”

                That is not his point, so no worries there.

                “If his point also is that many Muslims regardless of nationality have some very nasty opinions of Jews and everyone not-Muslim, then again I think he barely touched upon it until the final paragraphs.”

                Feel free to criticize his style if you wish, but I think that the technique or rhetorical device he used here (which is far from novel) is very effective to get people to think critically and internalize/empathize with others.

                “As for your American vs Republican beef, imagine how much sense reports on American elections would make if it was considered an absurdity to differentiate between parties.”

                Yes it would be absurd to not mention the political parties names when you are referring to those POLITICAL PARTIES. Nobody has ever suggested we say “Americans won 28 seats in the senate and Americans won 24 seats in the senate”. When talking about Hamas, the party, the administration, the officials, etc. it is quite proper to use that term.

                What you have suggested is that the actions of a nation/region only be referred to by the ruling party of that region. E.g. Republicans invaded Iraq. That is the absurdity.

                “That you reckon it’s an absurdity to try to differentiate between Palestinians in this conflict is of course your own choice, but why is it a problem for you that others do?”

                Certainly you can differentiate specific actions tied to specific people, but as evidenced by your inability to fill in the blanks you are unable to do anything useful with the generalization. You’ll only end up with “Hamas bad. Other Palestinians good. Ugh.” Which is simplistic and just wrong.

              31. “Jesper, this is my last post to you on this topic because you are clearly not following the thread and you are now just repeating my own words back to me as if they are a revelation.”

                That’s fine, Sedan. We don’t appear to be getting anywhere anyway.

                I’ll simply add that I think Sam makes a generalization in lack of a better term and this leaves me wondering what his final point is and who it’s aimed at?

                Is it a general critique of Palestine/Islam, an attempt at persuading adherents of morality codes to support Israel or is it just Sam outlining his moral reasons for his opinions.

                To be honest I think he could’ve skipped the first half of the article and instead focused on what his very final sentence implies.

                But of course that’s a matter of taste.

      2. The argument that “the Palestinians” have chosen Hamas, not only ignores that not all Palestinians chose Hamas, but that many did so for reasons that have nothing to do with the Charter or Israel: they were voting against the corruption, authoritarianism, and inefficiency of the PA. Lumping all the Palestinians together like this is no different than blaming all Americans when our government does something wrong: the average Palestinian has no more effect on what Hamas decides to do than I have on what Obama decides to do.

        I support Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. That doesn’t mean everything Israel does is justified or wise. In general, if you see blame only on one side in this conflict (whichever side you choose) you are, imo, part of the problem, not the solution. There is blame enough to go around.

        1. This argument has been addressed in detail in other replies, I suggest you read those first.

          However, if those who voted for Hamas prefer what has happened in Gaza over the last few weeks (and years, actually) to the corruption of the PA, then congratulations, I guess.

      3. Even if Palestinians would like now to chamge their leadership through a vote, it wouldn’t be permitted by Hamas which has complete possession of the place through a policy of constraint and terror. Once voted in, that’s the end of their democracy.

  4. Every square inch of remotely attractive real estate on this planet has been a blood soaked killing fields at some time in the past.

    I’d like to think, as you say, that the present state of Israel is more a culturally Jewish state than a religiously inspired one, but I’m pretty sure, at the time of the Balfour Declaration (2 November 1917), had another piece of real estate been mandated for a Jewish homeland, there would have been overwhelming resistance to the idea for exactly religious reasons.

    But this is now, there is no turning back, and anyone hypocritical enough to suggest that the Israelis cede Israel to the Palestinians is living somewhere that used to belong to someone else and was taken by force from them.

    We are all occupiers of conquered territories and it’s about time we faced that reality and learned to stop attaching significance to dirt.

    1. Don’t you think that there might have been historical reasons, not purely religious? This was the only place on Earth where Jews had an independent state, this was a place they tried to return again and again but were chased away (or murdered), this was a place kept in memory generation after generation (“Next year in Jerusalem”). And, BTW, wherever Jews would build a refuge for themselves – be it Madagascar or Alaska – they would be accused of getting somebody else’s land. Unfortunately, Moon is not accesible and they had to be somewhere.

      1. Although many Jews had moved to Israel once the state was founded, Jewish people have lived, in abundance, in the territory now called Israel for millennia.

      2. I don’t disagree with you, I just think disentangling the religious from the historical reasons is not a straight forward thing.

        You are undoubtedly correct that no matter where the Jews settled they would have disgruntled neighbors, but I think you would have to agree that the Jews would have had to have searched far and wide to find neighbors that hate them more than the current ones.

        My own ancestors came to Canada and the US in the 1920s and never did I hear any of them express a desire to go back and reoccupy their former Polish homeland, from which many were expelled by force.

        I’m sure you know how many times real estate in that part of the world has changed hands in the last several hundred years.

        Any anyway, had the Jews settled the moon they would have been in for a nasty surprise: Iron Sky

        1. I think there’s a key difference between the Poles being driven from Poland and the proposition that maybe the Jewish people should find somewhere else to go. We’ll put aside the difficulties of how 15 million people would effectively move to another country for the moment. The difference here is that during the two World Wars, we had specific countries that could be targeted along with their leaders who desired to overrun other territories.

          We do have that scenario with Hamas as the represent the Palestinians, but conceding to any of their demands will encourage other militant Islamist groups around the world. Hitler, for example, enjoyed no such organized backing by numerous factions willing to carry out his ideology. There’s no reason to believe that if Hamas gained control of Israel, they wouldn’t still want to eliminate the Jews from wherever it is they fled too. If it were the United States, a war is inevitable, especially given our propensity to enter conflicts.

          Add to that the increased focus that other terrorist groups would gain from a victory like this and I think there’s a high likelihood that such a conflict could amount to WWIII.

      3. “[W]herever Jews would build a refuge for themselves – be it Madagascar or Alaska – they would be accused of getting somebody else’s land.”

        The Jews would be getting someone else’s land. At least we can recognize that fact. No need to romanticize conquest, regardless of the extent to which one may feel it is justified by the persecution of Jews, by some nationalistic notions (religious or secular), or the extent to which one may prefer the more secular nature of the Israeli state.

        The Jewish people have a right for a homeland in the same way Polish people have a right to one ( and it’s never god-given or inherently self-evident), with the difference being that displacement of Palestinians is current and the displacement of whoever the Poles displaced is forgotten.

        I think steve is making a good point.

      4. Israel also was no paradise. When zionism first started, the entire area was desert with patches of swampland filled with malarial mosquitos. Jews who moved there, from the 1800s on, bought bits of land from Arab sheiks who didn’t sell of their best parts. Trees were planted to hold moisture in desert soil and to soak up moisture and dry out the swamps (as a way to control malaria). Many Jews dies, but idealism and Jewish donations kept them coming. As more Jews moved in, more land was reclaimed, and the area began to flourish, more Arabs moved in, too. Productiveity and success draw people. But not because the land was inherently attactive to begin with. It had been run down over centuries of conflict.

    2. In particular, the US and Canada are textbook examples of nations formed by ethnic cleansing of Native Americans and First Nations by European settlers. It would appear from reading the screeds of Israel bashers on other blogs that the statute of limitations has run out on the natives of North America and they are out of luck.

      1. Well, to be fair the First Nations people were pretty good at ethnic cleansing of each other long before the Europeans arrived. In college, I remember having to read the early literature from the first white explorers here in North America, many of whom lived with and traveled with First Nations tribes. The cold-blooded savagery with which one native tribe would wipe out the men, women, and children of neighboring tribes is at least on par with the savagery that the Europeans practiced on those same native tribes. Of course, the tu quoque justification is no justification at all, but it’s worth remembering that almost no race of men can claim a moral high ground. The savage playing field is pretty much level and no strip of land has ever gone uncontested. Someone’s blood has run through it all at some point.

        1. As a parent of a card carrying member of the Citizen Band Potawatomi tribe I urge you to not lump all Native American tribes together. They have as distinct cultures as Austria and Turkey.

      2. The fact that European settlers displaced native Americans centuries ago doesnt make landgrabbing moral or justified in contemporary standards.

    3. It is funny, because not long *before* Balfour declaration, there was such a suggestion.

      I was raised a fierce debate of course, but yet the Jewish congress chose to check that land before deciding – so you can’t say that this was a “overwhelming resistance to the idea”.

      Now, another point that could be made, is that many of the first Zionist were actually very secular, if not atheists.
      That’s include the Visionary of the Jewish State, and the father of modern political Zionism – Theodor Herzl.
      The first Israeli PM was atheist (David Ben-Gurion). Both were atheists.

  5. I agree with Sam 100% here. I get how his answer appears, as he says, paradoxical because I thought similar over Christmas when I saw a video that was created by Israeli soldiers that talked about why they had a right to live in Israel based on the bible and as a non-believer, I see this as very faulty justification.

    However, I too, like Sam can justify why the state exists for other reasons that he mentions and it is a democracy, not a theocracy so Israel itself is not a problem for me even though my justifications for its existence may differ from others’. I’d like to point out though, that even if I thought that Israel shouldn’t have been set up as a state, it has been and we should be looking at how to handle the existing situation because demolishing it isn’t an option.

    Everything else Sam says, I’ve said as well – especially that Palestine spent money building tunnels into Israel to attack Israelis while Israel spent money creating technologies and shelters to protect their citizens. Even now, during the Hamas initiated cease fire, there have been several rockets sent into Israel. It is horrible when Palestinians get hurt or killed but Israel attempts to limit causalities while Hamas uses its citizens as human shields. In a very real way, it is Hamas that injures and kills its own people by it’s unflinching resolve to destroy Israel at any cost.

    There is an app you can download that alerts you every time a rocket is fired into Israel. It was created for Israelis to alert them, but it is interesting to download and watch how many attacks occur.

      1. It is called RedAlert with no space and it had what looks like a radio tower on it. I saw this one in the Android play store but it was in Hebrew. There was another in English though but with a different icon. I think the ios one is in English and looks as described. Yes, I do seemlessly move between operating systems 🙂

    1. I, too, am in substantial agreement with Sam Harris. I think his statement is the single most incisive analysis of this conflict based on morality that I have yet encountered.

      1. I would agree with you there. Sam, as always it seems, has a way of carving out the colored nuances of a situation when everyone else can only see it in black and white terms. For a long time I’ve often thought that 1) Israel shouldn’t have been created, but that 2) It was, and 3) It is by far the best hope of pulling that region out of the 7th century that has ever existed. Its success, despite its obstacles, shows that ideology does matter… its not just the land one is forced to tend to that determines a people’s fate.

        I had found myself losing sight of that recently, and I’m happy Sam pulled me back to a more reasoned, and nuanced way of thinking, by making it ok to see the conflict as the cluster that it truly is.

  6. Sam’s presentation on the situation was so clear and well thought out that I shared it with others, too. The one aspect I’d most like to correct has to do with history. In 1975, I took a college course on, and using a textbook named something like “The History of Zionism and Israel, from the late 1800s.”
    The idea that zionism and Israel suddenly erupted into being because of the Holocaust is a propgandistic undermining. So is the idea that Israel exists and exactly where it is placed purely because of the bible.

    Right now, both the Arabs in Gaza and the mixed population in Israel are essentially held hostage by Hamas, and it’s been this way since Hamas took over Gaza.

    Hamas’ ratings, low as they were just before the current war, only briefly rose, a couple weeks ago. As the Arab saying goes, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Now, its popularity is low, rock bottom, and the people of Gaza would prefer Israel, with its open hospitals, schools, and chances for a better life.

    The solution is harsh: Do whatever it takes to disarm Hamas. That is the only way this will stop. A huge number of deaths will be incurred, thanks to Hamas’ human shields, IEDs in people’s homes, and other illegal tactics, but it will be less in the long run than letting the standoff continue forever.

    1. George Eliot’s novel, Daniel Deronda (1876) is partly about Zionism. That would suggest it was a very topical issue in the late 19th century.

  7. Mr. Harris has got it right. Israel is far and away the more ethical actor in this tragedy. Even in this current conflict Hamas has rejected multiple opportunities to end the fighting, and made the conflict as dangerous as possible for its own people.

    Israel should stop building illegal settlements, but building a house doesn’t compare to a suicide bombing, or barrages of indiscriminate rockets.

    1. The settlements are not illegal, just political fodder for propagandists. There is a succinct video on this by Danny Ayalon, who has a YouTube channel under his name. A few of his other videos similarly explain historical context of other aspects, if you’re interested.

  8. The following link points to the fact that the tunnels from Gaza into Israel were built by exploiting child labour: It turns out that around 160 children died in the process. Moreover, Western human rights groups that knew about this merely “raised concerns.”

    1. This number does not relate to the construction of tunnels into Israel but to the many hundreds of tunnels from Gaza to Egypt, which, besides being used to traffic weapons and components for weapons, were the main thing that kept Gaza alive under the blockade.

      The very well written report that the article under your link is based on also illustrates what the blockade really means for the citizens of Gaza, and what absurd results it created. In fact many observers, including the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry, claim that the blockade has very much strengthened Hamas, not just in an abstract political sense but financially and economically, since the huge tunnel industry is entirely controlled and heavily taxed by Hamas, creating revenues in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars for the organization.

      This, of course, does not mean that I make excuses for or downplay the seriousness of the particularly vile crime of child labor, especially in dangerous surroundings.

  9. I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Max Blumenthal’s “Goliath”, partly because of Citizen Radio, which I’ve been listening to for over a year, and Democracy Now, which I’ve been watching for almost a year.

    (Arab citizens of Israel are not segregated or denied voting rights, for instance, as were South African blacks. They have precisely the same rights as non-Arab citizens, except they do not have to serve in the Israeli Army, though they can volunteer to do so.)

    Very many would disagree. They might have it in writing, but in practice? I did a google search for “Does Israel deny Arabs voting rights?”. Some of the hits I got include:

    +927 – Who gets to vote in Israel’s democracy?
    The Jerusalem Fund – Political Discrimination Against Arab Citizens of Israel
    The Guardian – Israeli poll finds majority would be in favour of ‘apartheid’ policies

    Are these biased sources? Sure. Democracy Now and Citizen Radio are, too. But then so is the entirety of US mainstream media. Even CNN is more pro-Israel than a lot of people give them credit for, and I can prove it. Compare CNN’s coverage of the conflict to Democracy Now’s coverage. If you still think CNN is anti-Israel, there’s no hope for you.

    I guess I should probably note my bias, then. My family is heavily Jewish. My dad is a Conservative Jewish Hazan. And despite this post, I am indeed, at least for now, pro-Israel. I went on Birthright in 2012 and, aside from the Yad Vashem day (I hate funerals for the same reason… I like to avoid depressing shit, thanks… my anxiety is bad enough as it is), I had a marvelous time and would like to visit Israel again. In fact, currently, as I post this, my parents are in Israel.

    But see… when I hear about crap like this and this and this… and oh hey! Did you know that Hamas actually had nothing whatsoever to do with the kidnapping and death of those three Jewish teens, and Israeli police knew this from the beginning? And since that incident is part of the justification for this current attack on Gaza, that’s looking pretty terrible…

    On top of that, Harris brings up the human shields thing… a thing which may actually be a myth.

    And then there’s this, at The Nation:
    Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza—Debunked


    Sure. That’s great. And everyone who’s completely pro-Israel are just Islamophobic and self-hating Muslims!

    See? Two can play at that game.

    I’m at a point where I have no fucking clue what I think about all this any more. Because actually, you’re right. Hamas has no interest in peace with Israel. Hamas is anti-Jewish to their core. They want nothing less than to fulfill Hitler’s dreams. They want to wipe Judaism off the face of the earth. Further, Islam itself isn’t so hot on Jews, either. Mohammed (or however you spell it) was notoriously anti-Jewish, and he made sure it was in his Quran and Hadiths.

    But with Hamas, there are those who would argue that Hamas wouldn’t even have any power if not for Israel’s treatment of Gaza and the blockade in the first place. I believe it was one of the founding Zionists who said that anti-semitism (sic: anti-Jewish bigotry… technically, Arabs are Semites, as well) would be the Zionist’s best friend.

    I absolutely blame the US for anti-US sentiment the world over. We have never had any right to play world police, especially since we’re fucking terrible at it. Perhaps the US’s best talent is creating anti-US radicals around the world. I’m starting to wonder if Israel’s picking that up from us.

    1. I do not think Max Blumenthal and his ilk are self-hating Jews. They like themselves well enough. They just hate Israel.

    2. You sound a bit preoccupied with the subject. I was once this way with Climate change…read every damn thing I could get my hands on, become infuriated, but then let it go. I am mostly vegetarian, bike to work everyday, recycle everything, grow as many veggies as I can, and do other people’s landscaping for free in my spare time to make earth nicer, and I raise shelter cats despite my allergies.

      You can do things in your own life that can make a difference. You need not necessarily worry about problems that are immensely complex and realistically out of our hands. Work slowly and dedicatedly towards solutions the take sense to you. One of the best ways is to be a history teacher; then you might get an advantage of having more people think about hard problems and get paid for it.

      1. Kevin:

        You’re espousing Candide’s wisdom “Cultivate your own garden”, in both Voltaire’s amusing tale (1759) — a must read — and in Bernstein’s opera, reworked many times from 1974 to its final operatic version 1989, with June Anderson (Cunegonde) and Jerry Hadley (Candide) — a version not to miss.

        Voltaire’s text is supremely witty and sardonic, exposing, in a fantastic mode, the folly of men, and women too. Bernstein’s text is wildly humorous, and can provide quotes for many occasions in modern life. Which is why Bernstein had it reworked endlessly, as he wanted to provide a modern version of the book of “Proverbs” – wisdom on the go for everyman. Not to miss.

        1. I like Jerry Hadley and love Bernstein. I will have to rekindle some of my weekend listening to Candide.

    3. Just to comment on the “Israel is an apartheid state” nonsense. As a white South African/British citizen who has lived in South Africa since 1969, I can assure you that Israeli treatment of arab/muslim Israelis is nowhere near as bad as the Apartheid South African treatment of blacks.
      There is just no comparison, blacks in SA were treated like cattle to be moved around and abused, and denied just about any human right you can think of. It happened every day from 1948 until 1994, and “heaven” help them if they objected to such treatment.

      1. Never called Israel an apartheid state. It does appear that Israeli Jewish citizens would support similar policies towards Israeli Arabs, however… or at least they did a while back…

    4. I like how you referred to the human shields issue as a thing. I have an article written by UNRWA that condemns the placement of rockets in a U.N. school. Should I believe that the Jews silently sneaked into the school with long range rockets, placed them at the right moment and in the right place so U.N. officials would find it or that Hamas doesn’t really care about is citizens?

      1. You mean the schools that had been abandoned and were entirely empty of human bodies accept for a few Hamas militants? You mean the school that Israel (all to their credit) risked their own safety and the safety of their soldiers to ensure were abandoned and had been re-purposed by Hamas as weapons storage before attacking it, actually taking pains to ensure few-to-no civilians were killed?

        1. Yep, nothing whatsoever to that idea of Hamas using humans shields.

          Harris’s thought experiment stands: What would Israel do, if it could do whatever it wants to do? Live quietly beside Gaza and the WB.

          What would Hamas do, given the power to do so? Wipe Israel off the map and kill all its people. Can anyone doubt this? (As other Arab leaders tried to do in 1948, 1967, and 1973 (at least). There is a bit of history there.)

          Would human shields work for the Israelis? It’s laughable! Is it working for Hamas? Yes.

          This seems crystal clear.

    5. About the voting right.

      EVERY *Israeli* Arab (older than 18) has a voting right.
      The “one in every 4.5 people” are simple the Palestinians who live in the west bank (cause they excluded Gaza).

      Now, lets debunk the debunking:

      1) Israel isn’t occupying Gaza, for almost 10 years. When it was under its occupation, Israel did defended the Palestinian there, and not long ago I’v read that they “missing” IDF occupation, because it did respected many of their rights (unlike Hamas), and did fought crime in Gaza.

      Ignoring the fact that Gaza isn’t under any occupation – is almost lying to your readers.

      2) After pulling out of Gaza, while leaving behind advanced agricultural equipment (in the hope the Gazans would use it), it didn’t took Hamas a week to start shooting rockets at Israel.

      It took another 2 years until Israel decided to put partial blockage on Gaza, and only after Hamas took control of Gaza in a violent act (killing and injuring thousands of Fatah operatives), and dismissing all agreements that was held between Gaza, Israel and Egypt.

      But think – How is it that Israel control the strip, but Hamas manufacturing, storing and launching rockets, while digging tunnels into Israel?

      3) Pure lies..
      Killing Ahmed Jabari was the start of Pillar of Defense op. This was in 2012-11-14.
      Two days before that, Hamas launched hundredth rockets in one day.

      But, you can always say that Hamas start an attack, because the previous Israeli operation, then the the Israelis attacked because previous (and actually timely) attack from Gaza.
      Until Israel pulling out of Gaza, and Hamas shouting rockets at Israel for that (how lovely of them).

      4) Well,
      I. Having a crude technology, is not a justification to target indiscriminate ly.
      II. However flattered I am, there is no such technology to kill only a single person, but shooting with sniper (a technology which Hamas has… refuting I.). Other than that, every technology, however precise it is, can lead to causalities, especially when Hamas do what ever it can to force the civilians into the zone of fire.
      Even, and especially when Israel do warn the civilians to evacuate the area (which is almost does).

      5) After the UN reported that it found rockets in UNRWA’s schools.. twice.
      After seeing from where rockets are launched.
      After showing citizens (include children) encouraged to the roofs by Hamas, after getting warning from IDF.

      I don’t even need to refute this BS.

  10. I won’t pretend to have a fully formed opinion on what to do about the Israel/Palestine conflict. A lot of people I am aquainted with appear to place more of the blame on the Israeli side, which really is a bit odd if one looks at the actual behavior and aims of both sides. From what I gather, they seem to be motivated mostly by two considerations: (1) Israel is stronger and wealthier, so one should hold that side to a higher standard, and (2) if only they would stop building those settlements they would gain lots of sympathies.

    Of course, some of the people taking the Palestinian side may be motivated by rooting for the underdog, and others may be motivated by antisemitism.

    It is really to be feared that the conflict will simply fester on. And the problem as I see it that, regardless of where some greater or lesser fault is seen, Israel only needs to be weak once, be it in 50 years or in 80, and then it will be gone. I am not sure what all the people supporting the Intifada will say then. Will they be shocked by what is going to happen? Will they say, serves you right?

    As for Sam Harris, I think he is somewhat overrated. I am not an American, so perhaps his Letter is more important there, but I was underwhelmed by The End of Faith, and for me The God Delusion was the most impressive “New Atheist” book.

    He simply combines several stances that I find wrong and argues them, perhaps not stridently, but with the tone of somebody who considers every disagreement with him as deeply irrational and potentially dishonest: we need spirituality and meditation (I don’t), we need guns to defend us against bad people breaking into our homes (ye gods no), we should reconsider the idea that torture is bad (if I were tortured, I would either tell them something that is wrong but hard to verify or anything they want to hear just so they stop), and morals are objective and scientifically deductible (and when faced with counterarguments he starts moving goalposts). Some of these are just factually wrong, and he has a tendency to be very confident on issues that he does not appear to have informed himself very well about.

    The fact that some of his other views make more sense doesn’t quite balance those issues out. But each to their own…

    1. Sam H has confined his defense of torture to the relatively rare circumstance of a ticking time bomb, and has in the same breath called Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo a moral travesties.

      Similarly, Sam is a gun owner who remains critical of the wide influence of National Rifle Association and has reservations about carrying concealed weapons in public. More broadly, he is one of the few commentators on guns who seems to well understand both sides of the debate, the pro-gun rhetoric you find at “Reason” and the anti-gun rhetoric you find at “”.

      Possibly a gun-owner has more need of spirituality and meditation than a non gun-owner. I practice meditation, but don’t at all believe everyone needs to do it (not to mention I wish some of the time that Deepak Chopra spends in meditation, he would spend instead learning critical thinking.)

        1. It’s not BS, it’s a thought experiment. And you are out of line. Sam Harris can certainly think, and he’s my friend. This thread is about Israel and Palestine, not a referendum on Sam’s intellect.

          1. I did not mean to start an exchange that would turn insulting, but the first two paragraphs of the original post gave me the impression that the thread was also partly supposed to be about the question of why many atheists may have issues with Harris.

        2. It may !*seem*! like BS due to it’s massive overuse in the television series “24” and the citation of that series by Bush conservatives such as Antonin Scalia and others.

          But while Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff claimed (dubiously) that 24 reflects real life, the dean of the US Military Academy Michael Chertoff have raised great objections to the show claiming it has an adverse effect on the ethical training of soldiers and the show’s creator stated “Most terrorism experts will tell you that the ‘ticking time bomb’ situation never occurs in real life, or very rarely. But on our show it happens every week”.

          Prior to this show’ premier the ticking time bomb scenario as considered rare but an important thought experiment in discussions of ethics.

        3. Sam Harris thinks quite coherently. If you read his overall body of work on the subject, he is presenting sound arguments against those who categorically state torture is always unjustified and could never result in a better outcome than avoiding torture. Such absolute certainty, ironically enough, usually finds its home in the minds of the religious, yet it is often fellow atheists who mindlessly bash Harris without even attempting to grasp the argument or present a case for why torture would always be unjustified, even in exceptional circumstances.

          “Such “ticking-bomb” scenarios have been widely criticized as unrealistic. But realism is not the point of such thought experiments. The point is that unless you have an argument that rules out torture in idealized cases, you don’t have a categorical argument against the use of torture.”

          -Sam Harris

    2. Interesting… I don’t get that tone from Sam at all. I see him as the opposite of strident. He’s that guy who when yelled at by crazies sits there calmly and responds with well-reasoned arguments. I don’t always agree with Sam’s conclusions, but he is always thoughtful and unafraid to tell it like he sees it.

      Perhaps I identify as a fellow introvert (from what I can tell of Sam, he’s introverted by nature)… I’m often accused of being close-minded because I confidently assert my opinions. Confidence in an opinion at a particular moment does not mean one is unwilling to refine it based on new evidence. It just means at that moment, one is confident. You never know what a person is thinking and will think subsequently. And just because when faced with counterarguments, a person rejects them because they do not find it compelling evidence also does not mean one is close-minded…

  11. Excellent points in this post as usual. One always hopes the evidence will at least cause some people to reconsider their unconditional support (for one side or the other really), but how disheartening to reflect on how unlikely that will be. What a mess.

  12. I don’t know why the ‘peace activist’ movement is so rabidly pro Palastinian. One acquaintance is all fired up about this, and I wonder how she, as an openly atheist woman, would fare on the streets of Gaza vs the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Sadly, though, even though years ago I used to consider myself a left/liberal, I’ve come to the conclusion that they have a pretty fuzzy version of logic that is more based on ideology than reality.

    At least Israel is modern law structured state rather than a rogue bunch of religious fanatics.

    [One thing that bugged me, however, was during the recent selection hearings for Secretary of Defense Hagel, some right wingers criticized him as not being sufficiently pro Israel. Astonishing as he was being considered, not for an Israeli post, but for the job of protecting the interests of the *US*. The attachment of the religious right to Israeli politics is absurd.]

    1. At least Israel is modern law structured state rather than a rogue bunch of religious fanatics.

      This is certainly true, but it is also the case that the resources and self-determination to create a viable state are currently lacking in Gaza, and that is in part because of the Israeli economic blockade. In this environment, it is asking a lot for a populace to create all the standard tools of a modern democratic state.

      1. But of course the blockade didn’t appear out of the blue. A big wall was built to prevent attacks. The tunnels being dug and the rockets being hurled are just substitutes for more direct attacks that the big wall blocks.

        There is no end to this as long as Hamas demands the extermination of Israel.

        1. There is no end to this as long as Hamas demands the extermination of Israel.

          Agreed, or until Gaza has a government that does not involve Hamas.

      2. The blockade came AFTER rockets were flying into Israel and AFTER Hamas’ coup to take over power (and after killing some 500 Fatah members). And where is this thriving democratic state on the part of West Bank which since many years is under Palestinian Authority’s administration with all the attributes of independent state (own judicial system, own legislature, own ambassadors, etc.)? And with no blockade? If I’m not mistaken this is the tenth year of Mahmoud Abbas four years term of office.

          1. It really isn’t much of a blockade if Hamas can amass so much weaponry, so many rockets, in particular, to keep firing thousands of them, as they are doing. And Israel is not crippling the economy if the cement supplied to Gaza is used to line tunnels, the dollars are used to buy arms, and the Hamas government does nothing to build bomb shelters because their strategic philosophy requires numerous civilian deaths — even if they have to create them. Hundreds of their own rockets have hit inside Gaza since this round of war started, including a recent one that hit a playground, killing children. Israel, of course, will be blamed, but Israel has gotten smart and started videotaping to collect evidence of Hamas’ guilt to prove Israel’s innocence. When Israel does make a mistake, it deals with it, and that is beside the point. Deliberate targeting of civilians, by blockade or bombs, is by Hamas, not israel. And, if you follow the money, you’ll see how many in Gaza are now billionaires and millionaires. The general populatce, there, is starting to notice, too, and wondering what happened to their cut of the money.

    2. One acquaintance is all fired up about this, and I wonder how she, as an openly atheist woman, would fare on the streets of Gaza vs the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.

      Even more to the point, I wonder how Glenn Greenwald, a rabid Israel hater would, as an openly gay man, fare in Gaza?

      1. And, if people like Greenwald get their way, we and he won;t have to worry about anything, we’ll be dead or in a prison under a global caliphate.

  13. Arab muslim states are, at best, backward, authoritarian and socially repressive. At worst they are barbarous hellholes, either vicious political dictatorships or mediaeval theocracies. They are places where no outsider wants to live unless bribed by vast quantities of money (e.g western ex-pats in the oil industry) or forced to by economic necessity (e.g. labourers or domestic servants in the Gulf states). They are intellectually stagnant, have no economy other than one based on the geological accident of sitting on oil deposits, and generally contribute nothing to the well-being of humanity other than a supply of fossil fuels. All Arab muslim states are like this. There are no exceptions at all, and absolutely no reason to think that a “Palestinian” state would be any different.

    By contrast, the world’s one and only majority Jewish state, for all its faults, is a pluralist democracy that respects individual rights, allows complete religious, sexual and political freedom, and is open to anyone, Jewish or not. Despite having virtually no natural resources it has a flourishing, productive economy that punches far above its weight in terms of invention and innovation. It is the only state in the Middle East where you can hold a feminist rally, attend a Gay pride march, or openly run an atheist website. It has enough military firepower, including nuclear weapons, to annihilate its hostile neighbours and solve all its security problems in a matter of days, yet it refrains from doing so, and in fact continues to supply its enemies in Gaza with food, water and fuel even while under near-constant attack from them.

    Faced with these realities, for me it is a clear choice between barbarism and civilisation. I agree with Sam Harris and I think that more and more ordinary people in Europe are coming round to this conclusion too, despite the noise made by the professional protesters and their friends in the muslim fifth-column.

    1. There are different degrees of liberalization in the different Arab states. Jordan and Turkey are more liberal than most. I am sure, though, that one will find plenty of misogyny and anti-semitism there as well.

      1. Turkey is not an Arab state. Most of the people in Turkey are muslim, but ethnically and linguistically it is very different from Arab countries.

  14. There is nothing contentious about what Sam said. He speaks, in this case, as if he has approached this subject as a science research project. He observed. He made comparisons to other religions. He points out what is obvious and maybe paradoxical, e.g. Jews can be atheists and yet several of the works of the Torah are simply the most unpleasant in all of literature. And he summarizes, I think with conclusions that are valid, based on observations, based on how people are now behaving, based on what is the case. If anyone is offended by this, they need some more perspective.

  15. I find myself mostly in agreement with Sam Harris. My “solution” to this conflict is the 3 state solution. Just like before the 1967 war, let Egypt have Gaza, and let Jordan have the West Bank, only this time, the Palestinians have full citizenship rights under the governments that control the areas. Also, unlike 1948-1967, Israel is at peace with Egypt and Jordan.

    Bringing this about may be extremely difficult, but it seems more workable than the 2 state solution. I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that the main purpose of a fully independent Palestinian state alongside Israel would be to destroy Israel. This doesn’t mean that all Palestinians are in favor of this, but just look at the election of Hamas.

    One thing I don’t often get about this conflict is all the support there is for a Palestinian state, when ethnically, there is little difference between the Arab Palestinians and their Arab neighbors. Yes, Palestinians exist, but in the same way that Sicilians exist, or Andalusians exist, or the Kashubians of Poland exist. Do these people “deserve” their own nation-states? Why? Why not? Why aren’t these people as special and uniquely deserving as the Palestinians?

    All the ethnic groups I mentioned above are sub-groups of larger ethnic groups(Italians, Spaniards, Poles, respectively), yet there are also many unique ethnic groups(Basques, Karelians, Ainu) around the world without their own nation states. Russia has dozens of them, and China also has a bunch. India has hundreds of unique ethnic groups speaking their own unique languages; Punjabis and Tamils are both Indian, yet their native languages are totally different.

    Palestinians deserve rights just like everyone else. Palestinians deserve justice. Nothing I’ve said is meant to completely absolve Israel of the terrible things it has done. Under a 3 state solution, Palestinians would continue to exist, in a manner similar to how Bavarians exist, or Galicians exist, or Venetians exist. To some, the idea of a Palestinian nation-state is sacrosanct. This is absurd considering the fluid nature of ethnic identity and sovereignty.

    I fully admit I am no expert on this, but the 2 state solution may be no solution at all, in my opinion.

    For the record, I am neither Jewish(by religion or culture/ethnic ancestry), or Israeli, or Arab.

    1. “Yes, Palestinians exist, but in the same way that Sicilians exist, or Andalusians exist, or the Kashubians of Poland exist. Do these people “deserve” their own nation-states? “

      The question of whether the Palestinians Arabs deserve their own state has already been answered in the affirmative. The world has already given Palestinian Arabs their own specific and exclusive (no Jews allowed) homeland – it is called Jordan.

        1. You, and others may disagree with it, but the first two successive Kings of Jordan said very publicly and clearly that Jordan = Palestine, and Palestine = Jordan.

          And that is what the foundational document for the creation of (Trans) Jordan said – that Jordan was to be a new homeland for displaced Palestinian Arabs – and no Jews were allowed in.

    2. The idea of absorbing the occupied and formerly occupied territories into surrounding established states is interesting, and ironic given their status before the wars that made them ‘occupied’. I doubt that it would solve the regional problems, though, and would likely give the surrounding states more problems since they would then become responsible for the continued shenanigans of Hamas. Israel would soon be sending tanks and rockets into Egypt and Jordan!

    3. The 2-state solution is no solution if one of the states has, as one of its founding principles, the intent of destruction of the other state.

  16. I think Sam Harris is mistaken in assuming that the behaviors of unequal parties in a conflict would remain the same if the unequal powers were reversed. In particular, he assumes that the tactics of terrorism employed by Hamas would be continued to be employed (on an even larger scale) if the Palestinians had the military might of Israel and the Jews instead were the poor minority. A powerful state doesn’t need to terrorize, it can simply segregate and discriminate by law.

    1. In the context of systematic anti-Jewish propaganda provide across the Arab world, I think your comment is naive, at best. It requires us to believe that the stated purpose of Hamas is not, in fact, their stated purpose. It is a sort of “little people” argument asking us to deny that Palestinian organizations are able to state their own case. You are asking us to pretend we live in Opposite World.

      Oh… and nobody needs to terrorize. I am dismayed that you legitimize it.

      1. My point is that terrorism is a desperation tactic employed by the relatively powerless and outnumbered against a more powerful foe. I’m not legitimizing it. Just stating as a matter of fact, that’s what it is.

        1. It is not a necessary tactic for anyone. There are plenty of examples of relatively powerless people NOT relying on terrorism. And there are many cases of terrorism being employed by those in power. So saying that “that’s what it is” fails to convince.

          And you completely avoided my main point. Your assertion is, essentially, that if Hamas had enough power they would not seek to complete what their stated goals are. Why are you unwilling to take them at their word?

          1. “My point is that terrorism is a desperation tactic employed by the relatively powerless and outnumbered against a more powerful foe.”

            Ah yes, that must explain why there were so many Jewish suicide bombers detonating themselves in Berlin restaurants between 1933 and 1945. I mean, what else could they do?

            1. And why MLK and the other Civil Rights’ leaders rose up in violence against their oppressors…and why Ghandi gained freedom through violent sit-ins…

              I think we need to look closer at how we parse intentions of a group.

              We have words and we have actions. We could rightly be asked why we don’t take the Catholic Church at its word when it has the best interests of humanity at heart. After all, this is what Pope Francis and other leaders claim. Compare this to the outcome of their actions and it is obvious why their intentions can be questioned. They are either grossly misguided about what is best for humanity or they are not honest about their intentions, or some mixture of both.

              In the case of Hamas and other radical Islamist groups, we have words and we have actions. So far, their actions match their words. What evidence is there that they are not being honest about their intentions?

          2. I see the confusion is stemming from the conflation of Hamas with Palestinians, which I was not careful to avoid. I was reacting to this quote from Sam Harris’ article:

            “What would the Palestinians do to the Jews in Israel if the power imbalance were reversed? Well, they have told us what they would do. For some reason, Israel’s critics just don’t want to believe the worst about a group like Hamas, even when it declares the worst of itself.”

            Note that Sam Harris started using ‘Palestinians’ and then switched to ‘Hamas’. What I meant to say was that I do not believe, even if Hamas is representative of Palestinians currently, that Hamas with its current charter will continue to be representative of the Palestinians if the power imbalance with the Jews were reversed. The Palestinian government in this reversed scenario, Sam Harris assumes, would still be the genocidal Hamas. I do not think that is a valid assumption.

              1. Well, maybe you have the luxury to treat it as a bluster. A nation which not so long ago lost more than one third of its world population because people treated a German madmen’s word as a bluster, do not feel so relaxed. Jews learned one very serious lesson from their history: If somebody tells you that he will kill you, you better believe that he means it.

              2. On what basis do you dismiss it as bluster? Hamas is launching rockets with the intent of killing civilians. As has been pointed out here, there are officials who say they wouldn’t hesitate to nuke Israel.

                If I’m walking on the street and a guy punches me in the head and then says he wants to kill me, I don’t dismiss it as bluster in hopes that he really doesn’t want to spend a lifetime in jail. I would take the threat seriously and do whatever it takes to defend myself.

                Perhaps a peaceful agreement can be reached if both sides honor a ceasefire and Hamas agrees to revoke their charter with genocidal intent. Intentions do matter, this is why we have defense systems in place.

              3. Right. And Republicans aren’t really opposed to Obamacare.

                I’m dismayed at the unwillingness of many people (especially my fellow liberals) to take the statements of Islamic activists seriously. It’s a form of make-believe, IMO, and just as dangerous as the willful ignorance of religious believers.

              4. It is truly baffling, especially the response from PZ Myers and the commenters on his site. It is true that intentions do not matter to the extent that one has the ability to prevent those intentions from being actualized.

                It’s analogous to being held at gunpoint and then suggesting that they gunman drop his weapon and come sit down in your house with you because all he really wants is to be accepted. His stated intentions don’t matter because we somehow have the ability to know the inner workings of his mind better than he does.

              5. I agree that dismissing this as bluster is naive, and also overlooks the observation that Hamas has not stopped short of anything in attacking Israel.

                AFAIK there is no single instance where Hamas has said “we could use this terrible/devastating device X, but that would be too lethal/barbaric/inhuman, so let us not”.

                Israel on the other hand is doing exactly that on a daily basis.

        2. My point is that terrorism is a desperation tactic

          Your point is incorrect and is merely something parroted ad nauseum in order to absolve people of acting like animals.

          You really need to read the Hamas Charter and to listen/watch what Muslims themselves say about Jews/Israel/Jihad.

          They do not say they are desperate. They say they are waging Jihad with the means at their disposal. If they had better means, they would use them.

          Read the Charter. Read the Charter. Read the Charter.

          1. YOU read the charter (*4)
            The item in Hamas’ charter that you and so many popularly point to that calls for the destruction of Israel includes a qualification, it is as long as Israel denies the Palestinians recognition within their state. Obviously paraphrasing, but the point is, this marketed point that Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist is so overplayed, it is tied to their right to existence and therein clearly a negotiating position. Otherwise they could never throw their political lot in with Fatah who is actively negotiating with Israel and fully recognizing Israel’s right to exist.

            1. Are you saying that once Palestine gets its own state, they’ll stop beleaguering Israel? They have never repudiated their aim of extirpating Israel, and allied with Fatah purely for economic reasons. When they did so, the agreement specified that Hamas reserved the right to keep its aims.

              1. Yes and history would certainly suggest that. There was a significant period of time when the roles were reversed. Disenfranchised Zionist Jews also wanted to wipe out their (relatively) enfranchised neighbors.

                Please see:

                The Lehi Group (1940-1948) subsequently incorporated into the IDF:


                “Lehi also referred to themselves as ‘terrorists’ and may have been one of the last organizations to do so”

                “We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah, whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: “Ye shall blot them out to the last man.” But first and foremost, terrorism is for us a part of the political battle being conducted under the present circumstances, and it has a great part to play: speaking in a clear voice to the whole world, as well as to our wretched brethren outside this land, it proclaims our war against the occupier. We are particularly far from this sort of hesitation in regard to an enemy whose moral perversion is admitted by all.”

                (refer to the Wiki link for attribution footnotes)

                In fact, the Jewish terrorist group became so perverted with their aims which included terrorizing the British in order to scare them from effecting immigration controls, that they actually chose to side with the Nazis in WW2 in order to fight the British! This could be the definitive historical peak of warped means based on desperation ends.

                So we have the example of what the Zionist Jews would do when occupying the disenfranchised side. And I think there are good logical reasons why the empowered Arab side did not (and would not) repress to the same degree as Israel does in that role: they wouldn’t have the same degree of insecurity in their environment, not surrounded by the ‘enemy’ in neighboring countries. Perhaps a cultural holdover from centuries of Ottomon rule where minorities (specifically Jews and Christians) were tolerated on an unprecedented level relative to the preceding Christian or Jewish empires in the Holy Land.

              2. Adam, I am not an expert, but I think you are misinterpreting the “terrorist” Zionists and making a false comparison.

                While they seem to have called themselves terrorists that term appears to me to have been used very differently back then. AFAIK, their main targets were military and administrative and they made efforts to avoid civilian casualties.

                Further, it would have made no sense for the Arabs to crack down on the Zionists as at the time they had a mutual enemy, the British.

              3. While both events are somewhat muddled, but they are certainly not comparable to modern day terrorism and specifically Hamas.

                Both were legitimate military targets, civilians were not intentionally targeted and any war crimes that were committed by individuals or renegades were not approved at the highest levels of leadership.

                There are similar terrible stories in every war.

    2. In 1996, I recall a story that appeared in Reader’s Digest profiling a relative unknown in the United States, but a “rising star” (to use the most euphemistic of euphemisms) in extremist Muslim circles. The man being profiled was Osama bin Laden.

      The article highlighted his call for all Muslims to join him in jihad and how his goal is to convert or destroy all infidels. Well, we all know what happened five years later and we all should realize that as bad as 3000 civilian deaths was, it was a drop in the bucket in comparison to what bin Laden wanted to do or could have done, if he had obtained a nuclear weapon.

      Osama bin Laden came from a wealthy family. He was not repressed; he was maniacally and fundamentally religious and stated precisely what his religious extremism, in his view, dictated that he do. Why on earth, with such recent history as evidence regarding the goals of Muslim extremists would anyone doubt that Hamas does not want to annihilate an entire race of people (and if they succeeded, why they and other radical extremists wouldn’t extend this philosophy to more groups)? Add to that, the actual Holocaust is still recent enough in human history for there to be people alive who recall it. Hitler was not a Muslim, but does it matter? He was hellbent on an ideology for which there was no evidence that would change his mind.

      As if recent history is not enough, we have centuries upon centuries of violent, religiously motivated battles as well as full-scale wars. We have no problem talking about crimes Christians committed centuries ago in the Inquisition. If you recall, there was another side in these battles–it was Islam. Christianity, fortunately, has largely moved beyond promoting itself through use of violence (at least on a global scale). Islam (like Sam, I refer to the fundamentalist sects who have declared jihad on all infidels and those Muslims who support them) has failed miserably to do so. There is not a shred of evidence outside of speculation that Hamas, ISIS, or any other radical group out there would not make good on their threats if they obtained enough power. There is a mountain of evidence, only some of which I touched on above, that they would.

        1. The money and weapons were supplied to the Pakistan, not personally to Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden split from the ISI before the conflict was over and established al Qaeda with the explicit goal of jihad against the world’s super powers and spoke out against Arab nations receiving help from non-Muslim societies. His goal was always to support the mujahideen, even in his early days of fighting and there’s no reason to think this resistance, whose aim was jihad, had anything but animosity towards the democratic and secular West.

          In any event, what does the United States supporting Afghanistan’s conflict with the Soviet Union have to do with whether we should believe psychopathic religious fundamentalists mean what they say when they make threats?

          1. Because when those freedom fighter turned their head around, or merely crossed the board to another country, they became terrorists. When you want to talk about history, there’re always two sides of the story. Fundamentalists are always there, those psycho ones were the debts from taking sides during cold war. If we continue to deal with violence with violence, there will be more.

  17. During the seven years I lived in Berkeley, I found that pro-Palestine folk invariably took as their guru the writer Edward Said (pronounced Sigh-Eed.) I found Said’s attack on Western scholarship of the East (in his book Orientalism) wildly unconvincing, but I note he generally favored the more democratic forces in Palestine society and was apparently very friendly with Christopher Hitchens (though they disagreed politically). The two collaborated on a book and Hitchens wrote a nice obit for him in Slate.

  18. The fallacy presented in this blog and by Sam Harris is that there is a right side and a wrong side. On one hand you have a group of people penned into a small area, completely controlled by Israel on all sides, prompting the (partial) support of a terrorist organization by the people. On the other side you have a nation with a significant military, supported by other western nations, that is slowly encroaching on the Palestinian’s land. The asymmetric death toll (over 1000 Palestinians dead, mostly civilian, vs 40 Israelis, mostly military*), makes it difficult to defend Israel. Is it defensive? Maybe. Is it difficult to fight a terrorist organization? Certainly. It is still a lot of civilian deaths. What options do the Palestinians have? Hamas does not speak for everyone.

    There is clearly room for criticism on both sides.


    1. Sorry, but both Sam and I have cited Israeli improprieties (I’ve done it in previous posts). Nobody says that one side is completely right. The issues at hand are two: is one side far more inhumane and barbaric than the other (and I claim that that is true), and, regardless, how do we solve this problem? At the moment, of course, there will be no peace unless Hamas assents; Abbas has made that clear. Deeply though the Palestinian people may be yearning for peace, it will be obtained only with the assent of a terrorist organization. The Palestinians have the option of throwing out Hamas.

      1. Exactly! The Palestinians in Gaza voted Hamas into power. They may find it difficult to throw them out, but they should have thought it through before they voted them in.

      2. You are right, neither of you are wholly uncritical, but Sam’s post IS called “Why don’t I criticize Israel?”

        What is your response to the asymmetric death toll? Is 1000 dead Palestinians not barbaric?

        Fundamentalist Islam (like fundamentalist anything) is clearly an issue, and I do agree that these organizations (Hamas, Al Qaeda, ISIS, etc) are intractable and uncompromising.

        I don’t know how we solve it, clearly no one does. Both sides want what cannot be given.

        1. If Hamas stopped using human shields and putting their rocket launchers among civilians, the death toll would be much less. Further, remember the extraordinary lengths Israel goes to to avoid civilian casualties, phoning homes to warn the occupants to evacuate, dropping a dummy bomb first to warn people to get out (“knocking on the door”). Israel is pretty damn careful to avoid killing civilians. Hamas, of course, TARGETS civilians, and uses human shields. They also dug tunnels into Israel to kill civilians, and Israel went in to shut them down.

          I’m not sure about the “asymmetry” thing. To me, whether one acts in a civilized manner is more important, and its the failure of Palestine to do so that has elevated its casualties. The US lost almost no civilians in World War II; Germany lost millions. Does that mean we should have stayed out of the war?

          1. Believe me, I am not going to defend the practices of Hamas. I’m merely pointing out that the large number of Palestinian casualties gives a bit more moral ground to their cause. (As far as WWII goes, perhaps a more prudent comparison would be Allies vs Germany, and not to pick and choose certain localities.).

            1. I don’t think you can use casualty ratios to gauge who’s behaving better–at least not so long as Hamas knows (and indeed) encourages its own civilians to die by using them as human shields.

              1. If they actually do so. Palestinians don’t have the kind of media machine that Israel, with assistance from the US, does. What if Israel’s claims (including those of moral superiority) are false? Sam is basing his conclusions on information that, while widely accepted as truth, may be false. The below article gives lie to many of the claims upon which many of Sam’s (and most of the commenters here) conclusions are based.


              2. I don’t really understand why you are dismissing the huge Arab propaganda machine – much bigger than what Israelis do have. It also have much more money from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other oil-rich Arab countries. If you are suspicious towards Israeli sources you should be at least equally sceptical towards Arab sources. The more so that Arabs informations were many times shown as false (Jenin massacre, Al-Dura affair, publishing pictures of children killed by Hamas rockets or killed in Syria, and even Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorists, all as killed by IDF), while informations given by official Israeli sources were proved correct. And if the scope of Arab propaganda machine is unknown to you I would recommend a book by Mitchell Bard “The Arab Lobby”, published by HarperCollins 2010.

            2. I am pretty much in agreement with Harris on this point, so you won’t learn much from me except Hamas is using their citizens as shields, for propaganda purposes, Israel is not.

              This is a very important point that is continually being glossed over by Hamas apologists, Israel protects it people, Hamas wants their people to do for propaganda purposes. If you look at that statement you have to acknowledge that there will always be more Palestinian deaths.

            3. There is NO correlation between the number of casualties, even civilian casualties, and the moral correctness of a cause. The example from WW2 should have shown you that.

              Hamas is hoping that the world is filled with people like you who believe this fallacy.

        2. Regarding Sam’s title… it is a rhetorical question. His commentary demonstrates that he does. Did you read it? (or listen to it?)

          Both sides what what can’t be given? I can see why Israel can’t give up its existence. I don’t see why Hamas, et al., can’t give up their commitment to exterminating Israel.

          1. And Israel blocks Palestinian attempts at statehood in the UN. Neither wants the other to exist, thus the intractability we are in now.

            A question I do not know the answer to: To what extent do Palestinians support Hamas? Hamas seems to be the major stumbling block here, and it is unfortunate they are in such a position of power.

            1. It is unfortunate that Hamas was elected.

              I’m not surprised that Israel would block creation of a state founded with the goal of eliminating Jews. Until that goal is dropped, there is no solution.

            2. So you do agree that the Palestinians do not have moral high ground based on the number of civilian deaths?

              1. I don’t think anybody has the moral high ground. My point was that given such a large asymmetry in deaths it encourages empathy from some for the Palestinian movement. It lends credence to Hamas’s position (which is no doubt their intention). Placing weapons near civilians is a bad move, but you cannot blame every single Palestinian death on it. Israel has some culpability too.

              2. Then why did you say this if you felt that neither side had the moral high ground?

                >I’m merely pointing out that the large number of Palestinian casualties gives a bit more moral ground to their cause.

        3. What is your response to the asymmetric death toll? Is 1000 dead Palestinians not barbaric?

          It is an asymmetric war (e.g. city guerilla against military).

          As I understand it, it is Hamas that are entirely disproportionate, shelling and rocketing civilians et cetera. Here in Sweden there is a media discussion, where some military experts claim out that Israel’s campaign isn’t out of proportion.

          And these experts note that US similar asymmetric campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan et cetera has been more out of proportion (drones hitting civilians literary out of the blue, torture). So are we to call US “barbaric” now?

          1. Most certainly the US has and continues to act barbarically in the wars it has waged. How could you call Abu Ghraib anything else?

            1. If you are going to single out individual abuses and war crimes in this way then every nation who ever went to war is “barbaric.” That’s not much of an observation and not very illuminating here.

              1. That’s just trying to trash the whole discussion.

                If anyone wants to claim any sort of moral high ground then they DO have to answer for their actions, not just claim ‘everybody does it’. Otherwise you can’t tell the difference between the Allies and Nazi Germany (or between Hamas and Israel).

              2. You’re completely missing it. You’re making just the opposite point that you think you’re making.

                Nobody is saying that individuals shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions or that governments shouldn’t make reparations for atrocities committed in their name or under their command.

                However, what the previous poster has done is say that because I can cite one example of abuse that makes you guilty. America guilty. Israel guilty. Nazi Germany guilty. HE (and by proxy you) are thus making the claim that everyone is morally the same.

                A better way to judge would be looking at the entire picture and weight the offenses (few or many and their severity) vs. the size of the operation. Determine whether those offenses were explicitly sanctioned, tacitly approved, part of a lax or corrupt culture, or simply rogue operations. Then see how the nation, government, people, etc. respond and whether they hold themselves accountable.

                What you are saying gives an excuse to any government, e.g. Syria, to just say “Abu Ghraib!!!” to legitimize their own egregious crimes.

                I would have written a shorter response, but I didn’t have time.

              3. “However, what the previous poster has done is say that because I can cite one example of abuse that makes you guilty. America guilty. Israel guilty. Nazi Germany guilty. HE (and by proxy you) are thus making the claim that everyone is morally the same.”

                You just pulled a 180 on my point, but it’s good to se we agree, Sedan. 🙂

                I’ll try to explain it like this:

                What is the moral code of a Palestinian vs the moral code of an Israeli?

                My claim is, if you want to discuss morality, that assigning levels of morality to individuals by proxy of nationality is meaningless.

                Nationality doesn’t by definition say anything about your opinions, values or actions in this conflict. It says something about geography at the time of birth.

                Being a member of Fatah, Hamas, Likud or Yesh Atid for instance, would probably mean that there’s a pretty high chance that you more or less agree with their opinions on various issues.

                So yes Sedan, we finally did it. We agree the there’s moral ( although I’d much rather call it behavioural ) differences between people regardless of nationality.

                High fucking five.

              4. Jesper, that is absolutely nothing close to what you were saying before, but whatever.

              5. Well, we all have our own ways of making ourselves understandable.

                Including Sam Harris. 😉

    2. If you widen your view of that map, allowing Gaza and the West Bank to shrink to virtual invisibility, you’ll see that Israel is the one “penned in”, surounded by Arab/Muslim countries, all of which have multiple times tried to destroy it. The only two with which Israel has been able to sign a real peace accord are the very two which previously held control of Gaza and the West Bank: Egypt and Jordan, respectively. Ever ask yourself why those two didn’t require Israel to completely surrender back those lands? Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, and Gaza abutts it. Israel returned Golan to Lebanon, without a peace agreement. What’s different with the so-called “Palestinians”, who only appropriated that title in the 1980s?

  19. Great piece. I always get concerned when American academics weigh in on Israel. They are mostly siding with the Palestinians. Jerry’s comments appear to be largely in line with mine. Sam Harris’, somewhat less so.
    Please note my points below:
    1) Not only does Israel not harrass Palestinians within Israel, but imagine if Palestinians over ran Israel and occupied it. Civilians would be slaughtered. That’s why Israel can not allow defeat.
    2) Israel tries very had to avoid civilian Arab casualties. Last year, a lone Palestinian civilian, broke into an unlocked home in an Israeli home and slit the throat of an infant and 2 year old.
    When Israeli intelligence identified a meeting of several terrorist leaders, all with blood on their hands. To minimize civilian casualties in the neighborhood, Israeli forces used a smaller bomb than appropriate. As a result, because the terrorists were in the basement, they escaped. Had Israel not tried to minimize casualties, the terrorists would have been killed.
    3) in the curent conflict, children on both sides are being traumatized. This has occured in Tel Aviv, but especially in towns or kibbutzim to the south of Tel Aviv. I spoke with my friend Avi, south of Tel Aviv and he spoke of the children who have been traumatized by the shelling. They all must open their glass windows so an explosion won’t result in flying glass. They have a few seconds after hearing a siren, to get to a shelter or home.
    4) The Arabs have always won the propoganda war against Israel. There has been almost no coverage of Hamas shooting missles from schools and mosques. Americans are largely unsympathetic to Israel and the Europeans less so. (Note: due to demographis in France, in about 30 years, France will be a Muslim state. The attacks on Jews there has already started.)
    5) Hamas prefers war to clothes, food and medicine to Gazans. Millions have been spent on the tunnels. YouTube it. They are about 40 feet deep, have side rooms, supplies, food medicine and tranquilzers to immobilize and capture Israeli kids right out of high school. And the tunnels go to local kibbutzim where the capture of children would be a major victory to the Palestinian terrorists.
    The United States and Europe need to understand the existential danger Israel faces and oppose Hamas and other extremist Muslim (and other) groups with great effort, both verbal and political.

  20. There’s plenty Sam and I disagree on, but he’s pretty much spot-on on this one.

    We can, should, and do hold Israelis to a very high standard. The biggest problem in all this is that we don’t hold Palestinians to the same standard.

    The solution? Time. Lots of it — a generation or three. And holding Palestinians to the same standards will likely lessen the time…but not by much.


    1. I agree with you here, except for the little detail about holding Palestinians to the same standards. If we continue to NOT do so, it will take a lot longer then a generation or three.

    2. The solution? Time. Lots of it — a generation or three.

      Time is not on the side of Israel demographically. The Arab population in Israel, Gaza, and the West bank is growing faster than that of the Jewish population, such that in a generation the overall population will be a Muslim majority. Also, within Israel proper the extremist Orthodox population is growing faster than the more moderate, secular Jewish population. Neither of these trends bodes well for a state that wants to be both secular and majority Jewish.

      That’s why it is especially disheartening to see both sides rejecting a two-state solution, and to see Israel continue and even accelerate the illegal settlement of the West Bank. A two-state solution is really the only outcome that would allow Israel to retain its character as a secular, Jewish democracy — the further that possibility recedes, the more it will become necessary for Israel to drop at least one of those three descriptors.

      1. What has made a solution virtually impossible is explosive population growth in the palestinian territories. The Gaza Strip population increased from .34M (1970) to 1.66M (2011). The West Bank population increased from .69M (1970) to 2.57M (2011). In a list of all the world’s territories the Gaza Strip has the 7th highest population growth rate

    3. Hypothetical solutions: Religious conversion of all involved to equally random theological orientations. Or deconvert everyone to atheism…that would save the most time. Of course, Jews are already more than half way there.

  21. Other than the status quo, there are only two end games.

    First, IMO, the two-state solution is not workable. The resource imbalance makes the Palestinian state non-viable. Each generation of the status quo breeds another generation of terrorists who are committed to undermining the two-state solution. Any two-state solution is merely an extension of the status quo.

    So, what are the end games?

    1) Israel annexes the West Bank and Gaza, moving the vast majority of existing populations out (much like what went on in the time leading up to 1967). The resulting state is a Jewish state treating the remaining Arabs the way they are now.

    2) Israel incorporates the West Bank and Gaza into a secular state including a limited right of return. Over a few generations, anything Jewish about Israel disappears.

    Bonus: Jerusalem is declared an international city under the auspices of the United Nations.

    Prediction: I will never know the resolution to this, as some version of the status quo will extend well beyond my demise. If only I could find out when I get to heaven…..

    1. Israel annexes the West Bank and Gaza, moving the vast majority of existing populations out

      The word you’re looking for is “ethnic cleansing”. I have a hard time imagining that the international community would tolerate such a move, or that Israel could reasonably continue to call itself a democracy after such action.

      Israel incorporates the West Bank and Gaza into a secular state including a limited right of return. Over a few generations, anything Jewish about Israel disappears.

      I don’t see this as a viable solution either, as it would essentially mean the end of Israel’s reason for existence, and would potentially put the Jewish population at risk in a few decades.

      1. The status quo is the most likely long-game because it is hard to imagine any end-game happening.

        The only other end-game I can imagine is that Jordan takes back the West Bank and Egypt takes back Gaza. This would be destabilizing, especially for Jordan. Hard for me to imagine that happening in the current situation.

        If Israel was committed to a two-state solution, they would stop the settlements, provide adequate resources to the West Bank, and support the creation of that state. Use that success to incent the people of Gaza to join in. But they are taking the other tactic, putting in more and more settlements, and taking over the most desirable parts of the West Bank and natural resources. This is not a strategy to create a two-state solution. What then is their strategy? What is their end-game?

        I don’t think Israel wants Gaza – they would gladly give the problem to Egypt. But Israel does want the West Bank…and they are doing it through incremental strategies. Is the end result ethnic cleansing…I have heard officials suggest that Jordan should “repatriate” the West Bank “Jordanians”. It is not (yet?) official policy, but it sounds like that is the strategy.

        1. Would Egypt take Gaza, even if offered? I would be very surprised if they (Egypt and the Palestinians) did not reject any settlement that involved that.

          1. Never say never…but it would take a lot of sweetening for them to do it (read “aid” to be distributed among the ruling class). I don’t see Egypt even considering this unless there is a solution to the West Bank which would be:

            1) separate state – not viable, and Israel does not appear to want this

            2) annexation by Jordan – Jordan doesn’t want it and can’t afford it politically or economically

            3) annexation by Israel – they won’t do without “repatriation” of the indigenous people by Jordan. Many Israelis, even secular ones, believe this to be the right path…that they were Jordanians before Jordan renounced the West Bank, and Jordan should take them and Israel should have an “empty” West Bank.

            So Israel continues to settle the West Bank, continues to divert resources, making the two-state solution less and less viable.

            But, be careful what you wish for. At some point the West, including the US, will have less and less political use for Israel and especially the idea of a Jewish state.

            At this point the two-state solution having been made completely impossible by Israel’s policies, is off the table and what remains is an integrated, secular one-state solution (with some right of return).

            Maybe in the 22nd Century.

            Of course, by that time, the idea of countries may have given way to “citizenship” in corporations…..because they are people too, right?

        1. Oh no, that’s absolutely fine. It’s okay when Palestine (as it will if it ever becomes a country) prohibits Jews from becoming citizens, because they get a pass. Will we see the commenters here saying that Palestine is an “apartheid state”?

          Saudi Arabia, as far as I know, prohibits not only Jews, but all non-Muslims from becoming citizens. Why don’t we hear cries that that country is an “apartheid state”?

  22. You and Harris make good points, especially in regards to HAMAS. I read HAMAS’ Charter a long time ago, have personally spoken to Palestinians (when living in Palestine/Israel). Any cease-fire they agree to is only a means to an end–the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jewish people. Period.

    But I partially disagree with Harris and your view of Israel. I don’t think Arabs are treated equally with Jews. I’ve already listed specific examples of this a month ago so won’t repeat. For examples read Once Upon a Country by the Palestinian Sari Nusseibeh and Blood Brothers by Eli Chacour.

    The very fact that Jewish people in the U.S. can move to Israel and become citizens, but Palestinians (whose families were born in Palestine/Israel)can’t shows that there is bias. Jews have a “right of return,” Palestinians don’t. There are many other examples of discrimination.

    For a long time I thought, maybe, despite the political terror by the Palestinians that a 2-state system could eventually work, but with the rise of religious terrorists such as HAMAS and Islamic Jihad, it would seem hopeless. Religious fanatics seldom change.

    Best possibility: UN takes over demilitarized Gaza on Israeli side; Egypt continues to control Egyptian side. HAMAS is banned.

    Then Palestine (West Bank) and Israel become cantons in a Swiss-style economic confederation. Some possibilities of this have already been seen in cooperation between Abbas’ partially technocratic government and Israel’s government.

    Unlikely, but at least possible.

  23. I personally think this conflict is mostly about “You took our land” versus “No, it was our land to begin with”. To say “If you think that groups like Hamas will be satisfied with a peace that gives them their own state but leaves the state of Israel still in existence, you’re fooling yourself.” is like saying the Comanches will never be satisfied as long as European settlers are occupying their prairies. Some of them never were, but others finally decided to stop fighting. It only took a few hundred years. Unfortunately the situation in the middle east is more crowded and the weapons are more destructive.

    It’s not a question of “who’s right” to me. In business, government, and war, the sociopaths often rise to the top. I am seeing sociopaths on both sides.

    As an adjunct to Sam Harris’ piece, I recommend “A Gaza Breviary” by Corey Robin at Crooked Timber.

      1. Not really. The disputed territories of Gaza and the West Bank never really belonged to Egypt or Jordan. Those countries took them from Israel, Israel took them back, and the problem continues in large part because even if Israel tried to give them to Jordan and Egypt, those countries didn’t want the refugees to begin with, so they sure still don’t want them, now. The refugees were set apart in order to become what they are, today, heartless as that plan was, to make them a permanent thorn in Israel’s side and a source of material for Arab propaganda. When other Arab countries’ leaders start having problems with their populations, they used to stir the populations’ anger against Israel in defence of the poor Palestinians, and that would distract them. Of course, it doesn’t work so well, today.

  24. Richard Dawkins tweeted about Sam’s article. He called himself “on the fence” about this topic and said Sam raises some interesting points, especially re: what would the Palestinians do if they had the power to do what they wanted. His past tweets have been mostly anti-Israel, and it is very nice to see someone I respect immensely living up to expectations. Even if we disagree, at least it is clear that he’s thinking hard and considering other points of view. Which is more than can be said for most. Richard and Sam provoke a visceral disgust from many atheists (and believers) which I don’t understand. Thanks Jerry (and Sam and Richard – the three Amigos?) for all that you do. It is much appreciated.

        1. The 5th comment down calls Sam a ‘raging bigot’ and a ‘blowhard’, and the invective continues in this vein in pretty much every other post. I must have listened to a different audio file. It sums up pretty much why I stopped reading Freethought Blogs.

          1. Sadly, I thought this name-calling was supposed to end after the “joint statement” by Richard and Ophelia Benson. But I think that was just whistling in the wind. The commenters at that site will continue, I think, to engage in name-calling and invective.

            1. Without name-calling, many of them have nothing to say. And the tacit approval of the hosts (not just PZ, but many related or affiliated websites) doesn’t help. PZ could clean that place up if he wanted to. He doesn’t want to.

          2. I brought up the trolley car experiment in response to PZ lumping together “one, a thousand or six million” deaths as horrible. In an ironic response of epic proportions, a poster over there said that scenario is a “thought experiment, there is no right answer” while they continue to bash Harris for his view on torture, which he has unambiguously referred to as a thought experiment and has never labeled a real world situation as necessitating torture.

            In a separate comment immediately following, the poster made a comment regarding the “Islamaphobe trolley car experiment” where you just kill all six people and then say I don’t have reasoning skills. Apparently, what qualifies as reasoning over there is to mischaracterize an argument you disagree with, declare the poster to be unreasonable (because you disagree with them) and then resort to name-calling.

          3. I stopped reading PZ a few years ago. He’s gone off the rails in many ways IMO. And the little club of ditto-heads and their nasty online behavior I find offensive.

        2. Well, that’s better than what many of PZ’s “minions” think passes for a logical response to something they disagree with, for instance:

          90. Ing


          Go fuck yourself

          Well, Ing, since you’ve argued your position so eloquently and you’ve brought such compelling evidence to the table, how could I not be convinced?!

          Before I gave up on PZ, this was a common response to many things I stated in comments (there) that didn’t agree with PZ all the way. (Boot licking comes to mind.)

          And PZ is quite happy to go after commenters personally. He’s one of the last people I’d like seen in public bearing the banner of atheism.

          1. The difference between the site Jerry runs and the way he handles dissenting opinions and the way PZ runs his can’t be highlighted enough. Posters here can actually be persuaded to change their minds through constructive dialogue, whereas I don’t quite see how fucking myself, as the commenters there suggest, would result in changing my mind. Possibly it would release some stress and therefore make me think more clearly?

  25. It is unfortunate that the same word must be used for secular cultural Jews and the deeply Orthodox Jews alike. Clearly Isreal is not a “Jewish State” in the way Harris is concerned about, so that whole point is a non-sequitur.

    I find Harris’s ethical reasoning very sound in this case. What moral obligation does one truly have towards those who unflinchingly demonstrate absolutely no moral obligation to you? I can think of no moral problem more difficult. Even more complex, what obligation does one have to innocents put in harm’s way by such singly minded unethical people? I really do find myself at a loss.

  26. To US the defenders of Palestine, who have elected Hamas to represent them to the world, I would ask if you feel the same way toward the KKK. They have a charter the explicitly states that they want to kill all Jews and non-whites. They are a political group like Hamas and have had members elected to government offices. Would you agree to carve out Montgomery AL or anywhere else as their home? Do you think giving them land would appease them? Don’t you expect the government to do everything in its power to protect you from the KKK, neo-nazis, and other hate groups? I believe it should be our goal to marginalize such groups to the point where they no longer pose a threat. Is there a difference between Hamas and the KKK other than membership?
    I understand there is a difference in scale, but I haven’t seen the KKK shooting mortars lately, although I’m sure they would if they could.

  27. And what I’d really like to hear is whether readers have a workable solution to the conflict. After long pondering, I don’t think there is any.

    I agree, unless you count “they fight until the majority of both sides is so tired of the bloodshed, that they act to reign in any leader that suggests it continue.”

    That is a solution of a sorts, but not a pleasant one. When both sides would rather lay down arms than get that last retributive blow in, you’ll get peace.

    About the only optimism I have is that I think this can be achieved without necessarily convincing Hamas to change their beliefs about Israel. IOW, there is no need to ‘sway hearts.’ There can be peace even while Hamas continues to think that Israel should not exist, if you can achieve one of two other goals: (1) the movement is marginalized, i.e., comes to represent 1% of Palestinians rather than a majority., or (2) Palestinians decide that the right method for achieving their goals is to work within the law rather than use violence.

    More on that #2: in the US, we have a number of groups that hate other groups. Anti-immigration sentiment is pretty high in some groups here, and (as an extreme example) the KKK would probably like all blacks ‘pushed into the sea’ if they could do it. But we live with these groups, we tolerate their presence in our society, so long as they work within the law rather than against it. I see this, and I think maybe that that’s the sort of end-state that could be achieved in the mideast. There is no need to try and get Hamas to like or accept Israel, as long as they decide to use the ballot box and court system to achieve their ends rather than guns and rockets. As maybe a better comparison, the IRA has long laid down their arms in exchange for legal methods. The republicans probably still have the goal of removing British rule from NI. Their goal hasn’t changed. What changed was that they decided to pursue that goal through electing leaders and passing laws rather than violence. I think that’s a lesson we need to take here: instead of trying to make Palestinians give up their goals, we try to get them to reject violence as a means of achieving that goal.

    1. Rejecting violence. Very simple. Dennis Prager, who can hold some aesthetically repellant ideas about reality claims the Jews want peace:

      Prager on Israel

      I know of a couple of Israelis who would like to see most, if not all, of the Arab world (not so much Islam) wiped out. So I know Prager does not necessarily speak for all people of Israel.

      1. I am an Israeli. Unfortunately, we have our own share of extremist and racist lunatics. I am not sure what the couple of Israelis you know of were talking about, but as for myself and nearly all Israeli I know, we would be happy if our enemies would magically disappear (is there anyone who wouldn’t), but in the actual world, we know that this isn’t going to happen and we want peace with our neighbours.
        The Palestinian education system, including that of the supposedly moderate P.A. glorifies the destruction of Israel and martyrdom. Our system glorifies the desire for peace. This is an important difference.

    2. Even if that is the case, you’re still left with the problem of hawks holding undue influence over the current situation, and that’s because the citizens collectively are maintaining their political power. It is, in some ways, like the taken-for-granted sexism, racism, and homophobia in the Western world a century ago. And that being the case, the solution is likely to be similar: a spate of campaigns for peaceful measures within the citizenry, moving up to the politicians up top. It may be that Palestinians – at least, some of them – are already moving towards that position, and will initiate change from within.

      There may be precedent:

      If these sources are to be believed (and I reserve judgement on how accurate they are), we might be justified in expecting more peaceful Palestinians to come to power over the next few decades or even years, as radical and violent groups lose even more popularity due to their barbaric tactics.

      1. Uncensored public discourse is paramount to that end, and an aspect that Christopher Hitchens presented with eloquence. Though high-conflict individuals will curb free speech, it is getting harder and harder to do that because of how pervasive global communication has gotten because of blogs (like this one set up by our genial host) and all the other forms of web interactivity.

        Cheer up, even some sociopath/psychopaths (they retain their anti-social instincts while refraining from acting on them because such action are not in their own best interest) are learning to get with the program. Slowly, but if they can do it, we all can. Nothing is wrong with patience if it leads to real change, and I agree with Pinker, it is happening.

  28. I see the Palestinians as ignorant desperate people and this is why they keep Hamas in power. If they were presented with a real alternative that could improve their lives I’d like to think that they’d dump Hamas in a heartbeat.
    I think many expect better behavior from Israel and think that the only way things will change is for Israel to stop responding in kind. It may be true but its easy to say if you’re not there. If I were raising my family in Haifa and peace meant my family was going to be more vulnerable for a time I’m sure I’d say to hell with peace.
    One thing that shouldnt be ignored, and Harris in particular shouldnt ignore this, is that the events that unfold there, and Israeli policy itself is to one extent or another influenced by ultra-religious jews. This is a recipe for disaster because the ultra-religious of any religion are completely incapable of reasonable action in such situations. If peace will ever happen it will start when the ultra-relgious from both sides are completely excluded from negotiation and their actions discounted by the other side.

    1. I agree with this, on the whole.

      It’s a more messed up version of the whole situation in Ireland, which is still bubbling along after only 400 years, not 2000.

      The one thing that I think of is how badly wrong things go when the occupying* force resorts to force of arms against the civilian population.

      * Yes, Israel are occupiers, having annexed the land post previous conflicts. Whether or not this is legitimate is up for argument, but if I was a Palestinian farmer who’s land had been pinched to put a settlement on I can see the attraction of people (Hamas) who claim to be able to do something about it.

      I am absolutely not pro-Hamas, but I am not sure how Israel’s leaders can justify the asymmetry of their reaction unless they deliberately want to destroy Gaza’s infrastructure. Again.

      1. Just a short remark about “deliberatly destroy Gaza’s infrastructur”: when Israel withdrew from Gaza 2005 it left for Gaza’s farmers an agricultural infrastucture worth, if I remember correctly, 14 million dollars. This was smashed by residents of Gaza as an expression of hatred of everything that’s Israelis. And if not all this cement and steel in the tunnels going under the Israeli border, there would be so much more cement and steel for schools and hospitals (and there wouldn’t be any reason for Israel to go into Gaza).

        “Settlements” are not build on any Palestinian farmer’s land, but on state land. Every Palestinian who could show documents that settlers took his land, has won in Israeli courts and Israelis were removed by the Israeli army.

    2. “One thing that shouldnt be ignored, and Harris in particular shouldnt ignore this, is that the events that unfold there, and Israeli policy itself is to one extent or another influenced by ultra-religious jews.”

      Did you read his comments? What part of the following qualifies as ignoring ultra-religious Jews?

      “There are religious extremists among Jews. Now, I consider these people to be truly dangerous, and their religious beliefs are as divisive and as unwarranted as the beliefs of devout Muslims.”

    3. Palestine did have better options in 1993, 2000 and 2001 and decided against them. I think Hamas was elected to power in 2006. It may be hard to believe, but it certainly appears that the Palestinians do not want peace. This is my one gripe with my liberal thinking friends (yes I too am a liberal). Because they cannot fathom the depth of hatred the Palestinians hold toward Israel they think that the Palestinians are merely misunderstood. They’ll make excuses for the behavior of Palestine and refuse to believe that they want to drive Israel into the sea.

      1. I share your exasperation with the western liberal double standard applied to Palestine and Israel. I’ve probably pointed out to at least a dozen fellow progressives that they have no problem decrying religious intolerance when it looks like Rick Santorum, but when it doesn’t look like a white christian politician in a suit, they are blind to it. Between Sam Harris and the “End Israeli Apatheid” crowd, it’s clear which position is more thoughtful, well evinced and tempered by a deeper knowledge of the conflict.

      2. Palestine did have better options in 1993, 2000 and 2001 and decided against them.

        I think I read it here first: Palestinians never pass up an opportunity to pass up an opportunity.

        It may be hard to believe, but it certainly appears that the Palestinians do not want peace.

        It’s in their Charter. No peace under any circumstances. Why is this difficult for so many to understand?

    4. Even getting rid of the “ultra-religious from both sides” won’t solve the problem.

      Many Israelis are strong atheists yet support the Jewish state; some Palestinians aren’t religious yet support a Palestinian-only state.

      It’s called nationalism,or maybe it is just “realpolitik” in the connotative sense.

      Also, with the Israeli settler movement continuing to expand and the fact that Israel itself is only a few miles wide at one point, a reconciliation is unlikely, even if HAMAS gets banned.

    5. “If they were presented with a real alternative that could improve their lives I’d like to think that they’d dump Hamas in a heartbeat.”

      I agree that the level of poverty in Palestine is desperate and desperate poverty provides few good choices, but apply that logic to the politics of the American mid-west and south. Let me be clear, this is not an editorial about the flaws of the two party system, I’m speaking in terms of prevailing political ideology. The voters of Alabama and Indiana do not face the oppressive strife of life in Palestine, yet they embrace an ideology contrary to their own best interests. There many are very successful methods for manipulating people into investing in bad ideas.

    6. Hamas killed off their competition, Fatah, withinn the Gaza Strip. That set an example for others: Rise against us, and we’ll kill you, your children, your family, and make it ugly and gruesome and humiliating. That’s why the civilains don’t simply vote Hamas out or try to marginalize the members of Hamas. Now, after all the years Hamas has had to run Gaza, its top leaders have gotten very rich, as well, taking monies which should have gone for good government services. We (i.e., the USA) send them money, and now Qatar does, too, along with or in place of Iran and Syria. Those leaders are too rich to give up their “goose that lays the golden eggs” and too ruthlessly greedy to care how many civilians die to support their chosen occupation and lifestyle.

  29. This piece by Sam Harris is fantastic and I agree with it almost 100%. Eloquent and clearly reasoned.
    I’ve posted it on my Facebook page.

  30. This timely! For the last two weeks I have tried to catch up on the Israel/Palestine history and conflict for the first time. Maybe I can say something on this for the first time.

    It is an asymmetric war naturally, since the aggressor (Hamas) wants it that way. They are de facto terrorists, shelling and rocketing civilians, while, as rumor has it, hiding armories under hospitals et cetera. I hear terrorism has no legal standing in the laws of war, but maybe it should have. In any case Gaza is a state that is entirely devoted to war crimes.

    On the other side we have Israel and Egypt (an Arab state!), who has closed Gaza’s borders as the international community mandated them to. I don’t see criticism levied against Egypt in the case of Gaza suffering shortages. And when Israel withdraw from their occupation of Gaza, Egypt had already been there twice before.

    As I understand it, it is Hamas that are entirely disproportionate, war criminals, shelling and rocketing civilians et cetera. Sam shows this exceptionally well: “Imagine the Israelis holding up their own women and children as human shields. Of course, that would be ridiculous.”

    Here in Sweden there is a media discussion, where some military experts claim out that Israel’s campaign isn’t out of proportion. And as a comparison, these experts note that US similar asymmetric campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan et cetera has been more out of proportion (drones hitting civilians literary out of the blue, torture).

    That said, I have one problem with Israel’s policies, and now with Harris’s article. Harris claims that the West Bank settlements is on “contested land”. I don’t think it is the land that is contested, but the authority.

    Here is my problem: when Israel adopted the Allon plan, they chose to appropriate mostly unsettled land. I think it was a way to get around the problem of full annexation. As Jerry says: “What I am saying is that I think Israel has a right to exist in more or less its present form (without, of course, the war), and that a solution that makes it an Arab state is untenable and unjustifiable.” Annexation of the West Bank would today make Israel roughly a 50/50 % state, with perhaps 60 % jews.

    Annexation isn’t really a move a democracy should make. Now, this was a response to war, and annexation is (contrary to terrorism) a term in war justice. But for some reason Israel _did not_ annex the Allon plan areas.

    I don’t think they are properly occupied either. As I understand it UN glom them together with other outstanding points in diverse agreements and persist in calling them “occupied” despite there is no strict military government, which seems to me both perverse and nonconstructive. The international community is the third offender in this war.

    Someone characterized Israel’s behavior as a colonization re the settlements. (An Israeli scholar in fact, whose name has slipped my mind for the moment.) That is so 19th century, and totally unworthy of a modern nation!

    And what I’d really like to hear is whether readers have a workable solution to the conflict. After long pondering, I don’t think there is any.

    I hear there is a short term solution to the active conflict, originated within the Israel parliament (I believe). I don’t know how practical it is:

    Since the international community showed that it could remove the war crime chemical weapons in Syria, it could be called on to remove the weapons that Hamas use for its current war crimes. After that has happened, the international community and Arab nations could share in an infusion of money and resources into Gaza to rebuild the civilian infrastructure.

    Of course, that plan may hinge on Hamas abdicating their power. I hear they desist the calls for laying down weapons because they are afraid the Gaza community will start an uprising if they show themselves as ‘failures’.

    In the short and medium term then, the conflict resolution hinges on Gaza getting rid of Hamas’s now de facto military rule. Maybe offers like above can tempt them to consider Hamas the problem for Gaza it is.

    The rest of Palestine does not have the Hamas charter as guidance, and may well accept either withdrawal or annexation of the settlement areas. That would be a basis from which to constitute their own state.

  31. I can’t imagine peace in the Middle East as long as Iran and certain other Muslim groups foment hate and provide arms and funding. There is a role for the U.S. (and probably China) to play, but it is hard to envision taking the lead as long as rapprochement with those nations is politically unthinkable. The root is religious extremists but the deeper root is the poverty of Muslim people – and the U.S. shows little interest in solving its own maldistribution of wealth, how much less so than that of “enemy” states. Eliminating reliance on OPEC oil is part of the (unimaginable) solution as well. In short, this plays itself out and it’s horrible and bloody for another century or more. Simply awful.

  32. Every time I post on this site when it comes to the I/P issue, I get in trouble with the host. This has prompted me to look even more into the issues and I have to say that I still see Israel unraveling into its own worst enemy. Sam’s view is more of a philosophical discussion of the rhetoric on both sides and the theological/historical differences. Being a big fan of Sam and the fact that his book was pivotal in my final step into atheism, I hate to say it, but I think he’s wrong. Plus his title is terribly off-putting in my view.

    What I am interested in focusing on is what is really happening right now. One can get lost in the mess of historical arguments to the point of being rendered powerless to think straight. I read a recent op-ed in the Louisville Courier Journal by Russ Greenleaf, a Jewish man who is a peace activist in Louisville. It is titled “Make no mistake, Israel is targeting citizens in Gaza”. I followed his claims to see how much veracity is behind them. There is a lot! And I don’t think Sam has considered this thoroughly, at least if he has, he has chosen to ignore it for the purpose of a higher overview of the situation.

    I also watched a video by Mike Peled, author of The General’s Son and a Jewish man who is quite knowledgeable about the inner goings on in Israel because of his famous father etc. The video is on You Tube and titled “An Honest Israeli Jew Tells the Real Truth about Israel”. There are many more sources like these that I would urge those in this discussion to explore.

    I had been a total supporter of Israel for a long time, but over the last many years the actions it has taken as a so called partner of the US and as an actor in the world has totally shaken that support.

    For what it’s worth, that’s all I’ll say for now.

    1. > I still see Israel unraveling into its own worst enemy.

      Clearly their West Bank strategy makes a two-state solution less and less likely. I don’t think they want it, and dream of an empty West Bank with the “Jordanians” repatriated to the East Bank and beyond.

      >“Make no mistake, Israel is targeting citizens in Gaza”

      Israel believes that the only way they can move forward is to eliminate Hamas. The only way they can do that is to make life under Hamas unpalatable to the Palestinians there.

      However, if Hamas wasn’t in power, I doubt Israel would be targeting civilians and creating/intensifying the “climate of terror”.

      I don’t believe fully the propaganda of either side. But IMO, it’s naive to think that Israel doesn’t do as much as it can get away with in it’s own self-interest and self-defense. 70 years of history make that clear.

      1. Actually, what I heard (and I forget the source but it was from an Israeli analyst) is Israel does not want to eliminate Hamas because as bad as Has is, they feel the void would be filled with a much more radical group.

        1. This makes sense – keep control of the enemy you know. Again, no end game, but status quo that delays the inevitable…kicking the can down the road.

    2. Please, have a look at the distribution of age and gender among those killed in Gaza (according to Palestinian sources) and a demographics of Gaza: This does not show in any way that Israel is targeting civilians, quite the opposite. Add to that that estimated 30% of Gaza’s rockets “fall short”, i.e. on the heads of citizens of Gaza, and those are counted among killed by Israel. Think also about the official instruction of Gaza’s rulers (posted on the official website of one of their ministries) to present all casualties as civilians. Remember also, that in the operation Cast Lead there was the same accusation that Israelis intentionally target civiians and that the most victims were civilians, which was contested by IDF at the time. After many months Hamas admitted that over 700 of those killed (approximately half) were their fighters.

    3. “One can get lost in the mess of historical arguments to the point of being rendered powerless to think straight.”

      And one can be ignorant about history to the point of being rendered powerless to think clearly.

      History matters. Without an understanding of history you can not understand current affairs. And if you don’t understand current affairs then your actions are no better than random.

    4. Accusing Israel of targeting civilians is a lie, a blood libel. I challenge you to provide an evidence to an Israeli policy of targeting of civilians. Of course, I cannot guarantee that no Israeli soldier has never shot a civilians when it wasn’t justified, but this is not the policy of Israel and the IDF, and when we find about it, we punish those responsible for it.
      It’s true that the presence of Palestinian civilians does not always stop us from attacking terror targets which threaten our civilians or our forces. We try to avoid this. We don’t do this if the importance of the target doesn’t justify it. When we do it, we try doing this in a way that minimizes the risk to enemy civilians, but there is no way to completely eliminate the risk to enemy civilians without allowing the terrorists to operate freely against our own civilians.
      Hamas chooses the battlefield. Hamas places its headquarters, its rockets and ammunition in mosques, hospitals, schools and UN facilities. They use ambulances. They send children, women and elders to military missions. It’s Hamas’ fault that civilians are hit, not Israel’s.

      1. Sam even addressed this. If a soldier is firing at you while he’s hiding behind a child, what are you supposed to do? Just give him anything he asks for?

        In the civilian world, that would be considered the worst possible terrorist hostage situation, and you’d call out your best negotiators and snipers. But how do you do that when it’s not just a single lunatic who’s taken a single kid hostage, but a standard “military” technique?

        And what about when the soldier isn’t simply firing small arms, but is operating an heavy machine gun or even a rocket launcher or missile silo? Are you supposed to let your own people die rather than risk the life of this child the madman is daring you to kill?

        There’s no good solution to such madness. Such evil as the Palestinian soldiers are reveling in…it contaminates everything, no matter how hard you try to protect yourself and keep your own hands clean.


  33. I have to respectively disagree with Sam on this one. I understand what he is saying but don’t think he fully takes into account the economic disparities and institutional injustices which have been taking place between Israel and the Palestinians for 50+ years now. However, I won’t engage in vicious name calling and demonizing like many liberals unfortunately like to do. It’s a reasoned articulate position that I happen to disagree with.

    1. Wait, are you really suggesting that conservatives DON’T engage in “vicious name calling and demonizing”? If you aren’t, why are you singling out liberals?

      1. Hardly, given that I’m a die in the wool liberal myself. I just notice that some liberals for some reason direct irrational ire at Sam Harris (and others like Christopher Hitchens) I guess for taking controversial stances on some issues like guns and war and peace which depart from what most liberals think. We should be able to agree to disagree without the ire. Of course conservatives get apoplectic about just about everything these days, including imaginary scandals like Benghazi. But we should all expect that.

    2. Are you suggesting that a normal course of action due to economic disparity is to incorporate a policy with genocidal goals?

      I see your point about oppression as just an extension of the overall theme of Harris’s piece. For the sake of argument, let’s say that Israel is 100% responsible for economic disparities and social injustices in Palestine for the last half century. On what grounds does this justify the use of children as shields, military outposts placed in civilian areas and the goal of annihilating all Jewish people from the planet? Yes, Israel should be called out for war crimes if/when they are committed, but the criticism must be proportional. Israel is not being driven by an ideology that wants to paper the world in Islamic fundamentalism at any cost.

      1. No I would never endorse the detestable ideology of Hamas any more than I would that of the Taliban or Dick Cheney. But Hamas is not the Palestinians just as Netanyahu is not Israel in total. It is way more nuanced, definitely both sides share complicity. However on balance historically arguably more of the burden and failures of the past lie with Israel. Going into this in any detail would be voluminous, requiring paragraphs or pages which definitely wouldn’t be productive, and better handled by a historian with more skills that I have on this subject.

        1. It would be mighty nice if Hamas would refrain from fighting from positions specifically chosen to incur civilian casualties in the event of their being fired upon.

    3. This does overlook the fact that this economic disparity did not arise purely through actions of Israel.

      The Palestinians, by and large, have chosen to turn their territory into what is essentially an overcrowded military state.

      Imagine what could have been achieved with all the millions of dollars of aid – from both the West and Arab nations – if they had not been invested in rockets, explosives, guns, tunnels into Israel, etc.

      Combine this with a population control policy and the idea that in this case there would very likely be no or a much reduced blockade by Israel, and I think Palestine (or say Gaza) could have actually been a reasonably wealthy area.

  34. And as for the argument that Palestinians elected the terrorists Hamas.. couldn’t it be because the extraordinarily poor conditions that they live in (Prime Minister called Gaza a prison camp, and even this doesn’t cut it), the people decided to elect Hamas for all the charitable works that they do (which is considerable, but in no way an excuse for its terrorist activities), in opposition to the rampant corruption of the previous Fatah govts. Anti-incumbency if you will. It should be noted that killing all the world’s Jews wasn’t exactly on the election manifesto of Hamas when it gained power. It made a conscious choice of NOT using this as a consolidating tool, simply because it knew that people would not be willing to support this mad talk.

    1. What Hamas are doing is typical wartime propaganda – pretend to be charitable so that people trust you, then inculcate them with hatred. I suspect elections in regions dominated by Hamas are as free as the elections in North Korea.

  35. I agree with Harris.
    Everyone knows that if Israel’s enemies got hold of a viable nuclear weapon and a way to deploy it against Israel, they would. This shakes me to the core. As people here have already stated, Israel has and can utilize nuclear weapons but refrains in their defensive-style war. This disparity is obvious and in line with Harris’ eloquent comparison of human-shields vs. conscientious and deliberate care in not killing civilians.
    To put on the “philosopher hat” and ask a question to get to a deeper thought process; what would the West do if Israel was nuked? What would the US or Europe do to the perpetrators. Also, would Israel automatically use “an eye for an eye” reaction? I wonder if there are any serious policies based on this contingency in Western/Israeli governments. Since Hamas uses Israeli’s sedulous care to not harm civilians against them, would they believe a nuclear strike would elicit the same response? Would they care? The answer to that is what scares me most.

    This is an extremely difficult situation, but thanks for bringing it up so we can discuss. I’ve learned a lot (as is the usual case on WEIT).

  36. I mostly agree with Jerry (and thus, Sam).
    However, the current Israeli government under Netanyahu seem as incapable to reach any peace settlement as Hamas. Ask John Kerry.

    Jewish fundementalists are just as incapable to have any concessions over the “holy land” as Hamas

    1. But the current Israeli government can simply be voted out at the next Israeli elections – which are both regular and respected by all parties involved.

      Not sure if and when Hamas would be prepared to give up its rule of Gaza. Free and fair elections under them don’t sound wholly likely, somehow.

  37. With respect to the morality of the current respective fighting strategies, Sam Harris is pretty much right.

    I would like to hear Sam’s opinion regarding the morality of the raw existence of the state of Israel – the moral right of the Western Powers to appropriate Palestinian land and create a Jewish state in order to assuage their collective guilt over European antisemitism and the Holocaust. For example, it would be one thing for, say, the citizens of New York and the US government to vote to cede the Hudson valley to the jews for a homeland, but quite a different thing for New York and the US government to declare that Mexico must give up land. That is, in essence, what the UN did in the 1940’s – tell the palestinians that their land was being taken for european jews who, quite rightly, no longer felt safe in Europe. That act is not so obviously the moral high ground.

  38. I wouldn’t conflate Hamas with the Palestinians in general. The very short history of the current Palestinian territory:

    About 50 years ago Yasir Arafat and others formed the Palestinian Liberation Organization to fight for their own piece of turf and, indeed, to reclaim what the Jews had taken. The PLO was a terrorist organization at the time, much like Hamas. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s there were various meetings with representatives from Israel and the PLO to broker a truce. Over time Arafat agreed to denounce violence, confiscate and destroy armaments, and disband the PLO’s military units. Some people believed Arafat was going soft and many ex-PLO militants joined the newly formed Hamas. When the PLO finally did dispose of weapons and disband the military units, many more ex-PLO militants ran off with their weapons and joined Hamas. Hamas was the new terrorist organization committed to the annihilation of Jews.

    One of the big problems is this ongoing notion of Palestinian solidarity against the Jews: never criticize or start a fight with another Palestinian even if they are evil incarnate. That Fatah (non-violent child of the PLO) are negotiating with Hamas is not necessarily a bad thing – how can we judge when we don’t even know what they are talking about? Perhaps they hope to convince Hamas to reject violence – though I doubt that is possible. Anyway, this misplaced Palestinian solidarity in part prevents the legitimate government of the Palestinian territories from taking any action against Hamas. Fatah fear a loss of popularity if they should confront Hamas – not to mention Hamas at this stage are probably better armed than the Palestinian Authority.

    I suspect there will be no end to the war until someone breaks the ingrained cultural values of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and Palestinian solidarity. Hamas is the single greatest obstacle to Palestinian independence and will remain so until the organization is eliminated. I think what we need are negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on how to break this deadlock. What can be done over time to convince most Palestinians that Hamas are their greatest enemy, not the Jews. Until the denizens of the Palestinian territories reject Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is in a position to take military action against Hamas, there will never be a sovereign Palestinian state or a lasting peace for the people of the region. Whatever the solution, Israel has to be seen as a friend and benefactor of Palestinians and this would require an international effort; I don’t believe Israel can fill the role on its own. Any solution will be difficult to organize; Hamas are always willing to start a new war knowing that civilian casualties are inevitable all for the sake of telling others “Look at what those evil Jews are doing – join us, the only ones with the courage to stand up to them.” It is surprising how blinded people can be that Hamas is not seen as the anti-Palestinian terrorist organization that it is. But then it’s always easier to blame others than blame their own. Even in the so-called ‘western world’ it is still very common for politicians to blame ‘them’ (whoever that may be) for all of society’s ills. For example, in Australia at the moment ‘them’ are refugees – apparently impoverished and traumatized people arriving in dilapidated boats are the greatest threat to the nation – please ignore the extreme greed and inequity in the nation thank you. But if even relatively educated ‘westerners’ fall for such trivial diversions, how can we expect the Palestinians to fare better?

    1. I wouldn’t conflate Hamas with the Palestinians in general.

      Wot? There are current and future generations poisoned by infinite Jew-Hate and the desire to commit Jihad and become Martyrs for Koran/Hadith inspired reasons and rewards.

      Less than 10% of Muslims in the region have a “favourable” opinion of Jews. This means genocide at worst and no peace at best.

      I stopped reading after the first very poorly considered sentence.

      1. So you happily discard all the people as terrorists like Hamas? That’s the sort of attitude that perpetuates these wars.

  39. “My take, which you’ll know if you’re a regular, is that the sworn intention of Palestine as a nation is to destroy Israel as a nation.This is no secret, nor is it a matter of dispute. If you doubt it, I strongly urge you to read the Hamas Charter”

    So, reading the Hamas Charter is supposed to prove something about the intention of “Palestine as a nation”?

    “It amazes me that people prefer to ignore this, or pretend it isn’t there. Do you think that Hamas isn’t serious about their own charter? And remember that the Palestinian Authority is now allied with Hamas.”

    So, when the USA was allied with the USSR in Soviet Union, would it have been reasonable to take any political goal of the USSR (the elimination of capitalism, say) and treat it as the goal of the USA too? You’re making some rather large leaps in “logic” here, seems more like rationalization than thoughtful reasoning.

    As for Harris’ piece, what strikes me is how he completely abandons utilitarianism, and basically argues that since Hamas has murderous intentions Israel can’t be “blamed” for trying to crush them, regardless of any sort of utilitarian considerations of how many Israeli civilians are likely to die from Hamas attacks vs. how many Palestinian civilians are likely to die as a result of Israel’s bombing. If free will is an illusion and this is supposed to be an argument against “retributive” actions, why should the fact that Hamas is “blameworthy” make any difference at all? Murderous intentions should just be treated as a sort of memetic disease, killing a large number of people with such a memetic disease (or merely living in proximity to them) in order to save a much smaller number of your own people should be no more justifiable than killing a large number of biological disease carriers in a neighboring country in order to prevent a much smaller number of deaths from the same disease in your country. I don’t want to make this comment too long, but I discussed this point about the anti-utilitarian nature of Harris’ argument further in post #7 of this thread on his forum:

  40. Dr Coyne you are very eloquent, and I look forward to reading your views on this topic, but I can’t understand how you and Sam Harris arrive at conclusions that are not strongly critical of Israel.

    Consider the troubles in Northern Ireland. Even in response to terrorism that almost wiped out the British cabinet, the UK military was at no point justified in bombing civilian areas, including critical infrastructure, schools and hospitals. If at any point dozens of innocents were killed during a British operation, there would have been charges of criminality and universal condemnation.

    The IDF has admitted that their operations are undertaken in the knowledge that large numbers of children and civilians will be killed. I’ve heard it claimed that collateral damage is a tragic but inevitable part of war, but this isn’t quite like a conventional war, because the Palestinians are a captive population and they have no military capacity. It’s more accurate to say that this is an anti-terror operation that is causing much more bloodshed than its target.

    The fact that Hamas is hiding amongst the civilian population shows the sociopathic nature of Islamism, but it does not justify Israeli tactics. If the IDF targets buildings knowing that there are families and children inside, then they must be held responsible for their deaths. No military advantage can justify targeting areas where it is known that large numbers of children will be maimed and killed.

    You asked for solutions for peace but I don’t have any – I would only repeat what I’ve read elsewhere. Given Hamas’s dire financial state and inability to pay public sector workers, Israel could have used this to aggressively push for peace, instead they chose more carnage.

    1. “It’s more accurate to say that this is an anti-terror operation that is causing much more bloodshed than its target.”
      The “targets” cause much less bloodshed not because they are not dangerous, but because Israel uses state of the art technologies to intercept the Palestinians’ rockets, and orders its own civilians to go into bomb shelters. My own daughter goes to such a shelter 2-3 times in a typical kindergarten day for the last 3 weeks. We cannot let this continue indefinitely because Hamas uses its own population to protect its rockets. The tunnels have not caused civilian casualties to the Israeli population because they have not been used YET, but if not exposed and destroyed, they would be used to kill hundreds of Israeli civilians.
      Israel is not required to wait until the numbers are even. It has the right to respond, even preemptively (which isn’t the case, since Hamas started this conflict by launching rockets on Israeli civilians), to the threat.

    2. Israel and The Troubles are very different as they are facing different enemies that use much different tactics. The Irish didn’t place human shields around tactical areas, they didn’t blow themselves up and they didn’t try to erase England from the map and put this in a Charter. Moreover, they didn’t constantly send rockets into English cities, causing the English to create their own Iron Shield. If the Irish did all these things, I think England would respond militarily but their would not be so many deaths because the Irish wouldn’t place women and children in strategic areas to protect them as human shields.

      1. I honestly don’t know. An international presence in Gaza to enforce demilitarization in return for aid could be an option.

        In any case, I’m not convinced that ‘mowing the grass’ is either humane or effective, and I’m amazed that the Operation is characterized by Israeli spokespeople as an exercise in restraint. I appreciate the heart-felt comments that the assault on Israel can’t go on indefinitely, and I feel just as much for the 53 IDF soldiers that have been killed so far as the 1200 Palestinians. I suppose one glimmer of hope is that in some ways Hamas is weaker now than it has ever been in terms of economy, political standing even amongst its most radical neighbours and the Palestinian people. Maybe in the wake of this the international community will be able to exploit that weakness to force them into moderation and disarmament in return for economic relief.

        1. Can’t take credit but I like this solution:

          Gradual reversion to 1967 borders (UN Resolution 242) with a UN/American border presence and strict pre-conditioned incentives. Each rocket out of Palestine rolls back the timeline of Israeli withdrawal and settlement withdrawal by a specific number of months. Each failure by Israel to dismantle a settlement along the preconditioned timeline brings immediate international response, suspension of all loan activity from the US for eg. Each murder has similar repercussions.

          If the incentives are strong enough, you may actually get a dynamic like the Hooligan laws in soccer that had team fans pressuring against their own hooligans so that repercussions were not brought against the team’s prospects.

  41. Long time reader and admirer of this blog.

    But I just have to say I completely disagree with your comments here Jerry, about Israel, and the views of many of the commentators. I usually quickly scroll through the Pro-Israel posts on this blog, but this time I thought I’d register my disagreement, merely to show that here stands another reader who doesn’t support your views on this topic. I won’t go into detail, other posters have provided alternative arguments better than I could.

    As for every other topic, Jerry, keep up the fantastic work! You’re a hero.

  42. You’re oversimplifying the argument when you say, “I am shocked at this logic of supporting a side simply because it’s supposedly the more liberal, democratic, “moral” etc.” The support is not solely for this reason.

    I think there’s also a conflation here between supporting a side and fully endorsing all actions that one side takes. Sam H arris doesn’t endorse all of Israel’s actions and neither has Jerry. But how can we possibly favor the side whose intent is to wipe 15 million people off the face of the planet?

    When Hitler executed six million Jews, the Western World vowed never to let such a thing happen again. Is there really any reason to believe Hamas would not annihilate Israel if they had access to nuclear weapons? This is, as so many conflicts throughout history have been, about religion at the core. Yes, the Palestinians have some legitimate grievances. I don’t envy any citizen on either side of the conflict. But, as Harris rightly points out, we are all living in Israel now, even if we don’t realize it. To yield to forces hellbent on implementing a seventh century theocracy is to push progress in the wrong direction. We should condemn war crimes committed by Israel, but within context. There should be no ambiguity regarding intolerance toward genocide. The whole Muslim world is watching, including the extremists.

  43. An excellent and well-reasoned piece by Sam. I’ve never seen a decent rational response to any of his points by the anti-Israel crowd. They rely almost exclusively on cheap exploitation of moral emotions.

    The existence of a Jewish homeland is necessary because the Jews, through no fault of their own, have historically been and continue to be one of the most attractive and convenient outgroups of all time. The Holocaust was only the most notorious manifestation of that fact. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered during World War I and its aftermath in Russia alone. They have been the victims of frequent massacres and persecutions, at least since Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. The idea that the anti-Israel bias in Europe today is mere “anti-Zionism” untainted by anti-Semitism is the purest nonsense. The anti-Semitism is easily recognizable by the double standard that is invariably applied. It follows that the Jews should have at least a fighting chance of defending themselves, and that can only be guaranteed in a Jewish state. The idea that there are other places they can go, including the United States, that are free of anti-Semitism, and where a repeat of the Holocaust is impossible, is a fantasy.

    That said, was it “fair” for them to appropriate the territory of Israel to establish a state? In fact, there have always been Jews on that territory. There were bitter battles there between Arabs and Jews long before the establishment of the state of Israel. The idea that the two sides were going to peacefully coexist after the end of British occupation is absurd. In the end, one side would dominate, and subject or eject the other. The fate of the Jews under Arab and Moslem domination was not pleasant. For centuries they were forced to pay special taxes, and were often required to live in ghettos where they were locked up at night. In the 1948 war the Jews were victorious, and many Arabs either left of their own accord or were forced out. We often hear about that. Why is it we never hear of the sufferings of the Jews who were similarly forced out of a number of countries in the Middle East and North Africa? Why is it that the virtual elimination of the Jewish populations of those countries is never referred to as “apartheid?” Can anyone be naïve enough to believe that they all left voluntary, without fear of reprisals if they stayed? After all, there is a huge disparity between the tiny size of Israel and the massive extent of the territories from which the Jews were expelled. For that matter, how is it that the exclusion of the Jews from Gaza and the West Bank isn’t “apartheid” as well?

    One also wonders when the Arab occupation of Palestine became legitimate, and they became the “natives.” After all, they are only there as a result of a successful military aggression, just as that is the only reason that Moslems occupy all of north Africa, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc., etc. The European occupation of North America is hardly conceded such universal acceptance. How is it that the Arabs are now considered “native Palestinians,” but white Europeans whose families have been in America for hundreds of years are not considered “native Americans?” What event or lapse of time occurred between the 7th century and the 15th century to justify the distinction? What rule should we apply here? How many years, exactly, must elapse before the seizure of territory by force becomes “legitimate?”

    1. I think the term “occupy” is probably not correct with respect to the inhabitants of N. Africa, Syria , Turkey, Iraq, Iran.. A more accurate statement would be that the people living there are currently Islamic. The gene pool of European Turkey where a turkic language is spoken is closer to the inhabitants of Greece as opposed to the inhabitants of the actual turkic lands. Similarly in India, there are a very large number of Muslims, but most of them are no different genetically from the Hindu population. It is very likely that a very large proportion of the “Arab” inhabitants of Gaza were originally Jewish 1400 years ago.

      1. That may well be true, but what difference does it make? Is the “rule” you would apply that successful military aggressions are justified and legitimate as long as they only result in cultural changes rather than genetic changes, except among the political elite? That “rule” would only strengthen the case for a Jewish homeland.

        1. I never claimed justification of any sort. It is just that when you claim that the muslims are “occupying” that region, you seem to suggest that they are somehow illegitimate. But the thing is that the people have always been there, it is just that some of the people decided to convert to islam, and others chose to emigrate. Now, owing to the time, there is significant difference between the two populations.

  44. “Israel’s founding in Palestine was manifestly unjust towards those who were the majority there for centuries.”
    It may have been unjust and my history is a bit rusty, but Palestinians weren’t there for centuries. Palestine didn’t exist as a country during the Ottoman Empire. It was the forced breakup of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 that created the newly formed Palestine. I feel for the Palestinians, but I don’t see their loss of land as being different than any other that was redistributed as part of a treaty.

    1. ?
      Some of the people who now call themselves “Palestinians” have been in the land area of Palestine/Israel for hundreds of years. For instance, in Professor Sari Nusseibeh’s book Once Upon a Country, he claims his family has lived in Jerusalem for over 1,200 years!

      According to some sources, some Arabs moved into the area of pre-Israel after Jewish people immigrated there from Russia in the late 19th century.

      But even then, many other Arabs have lived in the area for hundreds of years as have Jewis. However, Arabs made up the vast majority of the population of the area in the 1800’s and before.

      Allegedly, the Ottoman’s oppressed these Arabs (the ones who now call themselves Palestinians).

      Keep in mind that names change. Back in the past, Jewish people in the area also didn’t call themselves Israelis.

      But both groups of people have lived for centuries in the area.

    2. Lebanon, Syria and Iraq were also carved out of the carcass of the Ottoman empire.

      We are still picking up the pieces of a 100 year old war.

  45. I’m currently reading Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life by Robert Trivers. I’ve been on the fence throughout the whole book because he tries to draw evolutionary points from the psychology of self-deception. Just last night I got to the social psychology of self-deception and war. He goes on at length about Israel, and this book was written a few years ago.

    One point he raises is that the peace deals the Palestinians have declined were really bad deals for them, but the fact that they decline them gives Israel self-justification for characterizing them as intransigent. If they are offered a deal that only a battered and beleaguered loser could accept, they will have to fight to that point for there to be “peace.”

    An unbiased outsider would have to broker a deal that the Palestinians could accept that would still give Israel a lasting security. The U.S. is not unbiased, nor is any Western country because of ties to the U.S. No Muslim country would be trusted by the Israelis (and some shouldn’t be trusted by the Palestinians, either).

    The only country that has no dog in this fight that is also big enough to have teeth of its own would be China. They have not taken on this role to date but they are on the brink of world leadership and this would be a way for them to take that step.

    1. p.s. if I could edit I’d note that the book came out in 2012, so the peace offers I mention were historical ones, not any made this year.

  46. In my darkest thoughts, I would like to see the eastern Med made into a glassy crater, centered on a city that very ignorant people think that their “god” gave them.

    This is a lovely example on how religion makes people stupid.

  47. re: Jews settling in Alaska instead of Palestine, for a good read, try Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union” It’s a rather strange combination of alternate history, murder mystery, and religious fiction. In this story, the Jews settled in Sitka, Alaska rather than Palestine.

  48. Jerry:

    The Israeli constitution guarantees religious freedom for all, including nonbelievers. It is not a theocracy in the sense that Iran, or even Saudi Arabia, is.

    True, it is not. Once you’re a citizen, you’re equal regardless of religion. I think the main criticism has to do with Israel’s citizenship and immigration laws, which do discriminate on the basis of religious or cultural background.

    Put simply, we would see such rules as immoral and inherently wrong if other modern western countries use them. Imagine, Jerry, your reaction if Republicans in this country proposed a “fast track to citizenship for immigrants of northern European descent” immigration policy.

    Personally, I’m ambivalent. I think the policy is wrong in principle, but pragmatically, giving it up at this time would be the same as eliminating Israel altogether. I do think that if other factors changed (such as a second state being really established, or Egypt incorporating Gaza and granting Egyptian citizenship to all residents of it), and that dramatically reduced the number of ‘stateless’ Palestinians, that Israel would have very little justification for maintaining this religion/culture-based immigration system.

    1. Nobody thinks it is “immoral and inherently wrong” when Poland, Hungary, Spain and many, many other countries give fast track to citizenship for people who can show that their ancestors were Polish, Hungarian, Spanish etc. (Many of those who are outraged about Israeli law don’t even know that their own countries have exactly the same laws which enable the descendants of their former citizens to become citizens according to different rules than all the other inhabitants on Earth.) Could you explain why it is “immoral and inherently wrong” exclusively when the Jewish state does it?

      1. I think the reason is that in the cases you mention the criterium for “ancestors citizenship” would be that they lived in that area previously, no matter what state it was called back then. In this case, the problem is that it is based on ethnicality (if true).

  49. “Finally, if you think that all the anti-Western and anti-Israeli rage from Arabs is inspired by Western oppression and has nothing to do with the tenets of Islam, you’re fooling yourself most of all.”

    I can’t think of anyone outside militant Islamists who have said or implied that. Before the CIA overthrew democratically elected Iranian leader Mohammad Mosaddegh, before we launched the Iraqi war based on lies and costing the lives of perhaps a million Iraqis, before Falujah and Abu Graib and Guantanamo, we had a lot more liberal leaning allies in the middle east. Our actions as a nation effectively helped silence them. Of course the Islamists twist our actions and motives. No intelligent person disputes that.

  50. Here is my message sent to the President just now. I know a lot about this topic from both intensive and objective study and personal interaction. I am appalled at some of the uninformed comments that I read here, but can’t waste time trying to educate those of you who are blind to what the Israeli government is doing. Where are your critical thinking skills? I have a lot to say, if you’re interested in hearing the other side of the story. Innocent people are trapped and dying. This is what all of us, as fellow human beings, are called upon to prevent right now.

    Hello, Mr. President.
    I am ever so slightly encouraged that you are pushing back on Israel a little bit today, but I am wondering if you are going to do what it takes to stop further massacres of the Palestinian people or if you will continue to allow the killing of civilians. It seems that the Israeli government will listen to no one, except perhaps the U.S. I have friends in Gaza who studied in the U.S. and who have had their homes demolished and escaped with only the clothes they were wearing. They have lost little nieces and nephews to this slaughter and now sleep outdoors and wait for hours to get a gallon of bad water. The Israeli government has members of the Knesset who speak openly of genocide and suggest that killing Palestinian mothers is a way to prevent the “birth of little snakes.” This illegal action must be stopped before it is too late.
    Thank you. Please be strong and do what is right.

    1. From Wikipedia:

      In March 2006, Hamas released its official legislative program. The document clearly signaled that Hamas could refer the issue of recognizing Israel to a national referendum. Under the heading “Recognition of Israel,” it stated simply (AFP, 3/11/06): “The question of recognizing Israel is not the jurisdiction of one faction, nor the government, but a decision for the Palestinian people.” This was a major shift away from their 1988 charter.[67]

      Not precisely a recignotion of Israeli’s right to exist, is it? And their actions tell us what they think. There’s also this:

      In February 2012, according to the Palestinian authority, Hamas forswore the use of violence.

      They really abided by that, didn’t they?

      1. This seems a bit one-sided. Why should Hamas explicitly ‘recognise’ Israel when Israel blocks the UN from recognising Palestine as a state? Works both ways.

        With respect, when Hamas say they want to do away with Israel, you take them literally and at their word; yet when they remove that statement you prefer not to believe them.

        I find it not surprising that large numbers of Palestinians say they want to destroy Israel while Israel is bombing and bulldozing their houses. I’d say the same. If* that can be stopped (and Hamas too of course) then it may not take too long for most to moderate their feelings. How long did it take in Europe after WW2? Of course there will be many who can never forgive, but I think most would not want to go back to a state of war. They don’t have to _like_ each other, ffs, just tolerate each other and remember the alternative is worse.

        *Yes that’s a very big IF.

        1. This is not symmetric at all. Israel would accept the UN recognizing Palestine if Palestinians would accept Israel’s right to exist on the PLANET.

  51. His last sentence was the most telling one:

    “”The truth is, we are all living in Israel. It’s just that some of us haven’t realized it yet.”

    I would like to state that I have not been happy with some of the “techniques” that Israel has used in its dealings with the Palestinians over the past 66 years, even though many try to justify brutality and oppression by saying it’s a matter of “survival”. Unfortunately, in the course of fighting an avowed “enemy” we always seem to become more and more like that we fight. The prejudice and ethnic hatred I have heard and seen exhibited by Israeli settlers and “hard-liners” disgusts me; they would be ashamed if they only bothered to remember their own history.

    That being said, it is obvious that the “religion” of Islam, if not directly responsible for the current situation, is playing a major role in it. The well-publicized Arab-Israeli conflict is but one of many, many conflicts in the world that demonstrate that an ongoing “war” is already being fought; “jihad” is back in full swing, and it’s only been the infighting amongst the Muslim sects that has prevented the civilized nations of the world from being confronted by a unified enemy every bit as powerful, ruthless, and relentless as Nazi Germany.

    I was thinking the other day about the old science-fiction movie scenario: where the nations of the Earth drop their differences and unite to fight off the alien invaders: It’s going to have to come to that; a war fought not only on the battlefield but a war of ideas. fought through education and the outspoken standing up for what’s right, that must be carried on at every level to combat the forces of ignorance and brutal superstition that seek to remove any freedom of thought from this world. It will have to be a “war of extermination” as well; not the extermination of a people or peoples, but the extermination of a way of thinking that keeps mankind from reaching a better future that still just might be possible.

    “They came for the Israelis, and I said nothing because, not only was I not an Israeli, they did some bad things. Then they came for the Christians, and….”

  52. Jerry, you seem to agree with Sam Harris on one thing he is deadly wrong about. As you point out, it would be foolish to say that all the anti-Western and anti-Israeli rage has nothing to do with the tenets of Islam. Yes, of course there is an islamic backgound to this.

    But it would be much more foolish to say this rage has nothing to do with American and British foreign policy. The spark has been alive in this volatile region, but it is mostly the US that threw fuel to the fire and still continues to do so.

    A quick look at the history of the islamic anti-Western movement tells you that it hasn’t been created out of religious needs. Islamic tenets were there, but the very countries now most against the West all had democratically elected governments, until the USA and UK threw them out and brought a puppet dictator in to protect their own financial interests. This happened in Iran and Afganistan, followed by heavy US support to Saddam Hussein. Even the theo- and plutocratic regime of Saudi-Arabia is protected by the US elite. Do you and Harris consider it just a coincidence that it is exactly these countries that are now the biggest problem for secular democracy?

    The muslims I know (eg. In Turkey) are much more against religious fundamentalism than any Americans I know. To them, the horror is not just CNN newsfeed. This threatening fundamentalist scenario is turning into scary reality around them. But by its blind and idiotic foreign policies and military interventions, the US keeps creating more and more fundamental opposition to any democratic development. Wherever American troops go with their mirror sunglasses and iron boots, they fuel hatred that spreads througout the region.

    So the answer is no, without the USA there would be no significant anti-Western sentiments in the islamic world. Saddam, ISIS, Taliban, Khomeini, Al-Qaeda would have existed, but in oblivion. The financial greed, cultural indifference and political obtuseness of the US turned them from fringe relics into major players global politics.

    If the world was run by a country like Norway instead of the USA, the political violence in the Middle East would have been over a long time ago.

  53. George Friedman at Stratfor offers the following sobering analysis of the current war in Gaza: It ends on a depressing note for anybody who hopes to see peace:

    “What we are seeing in Gaza is merely housekeeping, that is, each side trying to maintain its position. The Palestinians need to maintain solidarity for the long haul. The Israelis need to hold their strategic superiority as long as they can. But nothing lasts forever, and over time, the relative strength of Israel will decline. Meanwhile, the relative strength of the Palestinians may increase, though this isn’t certain.

    Looking at the relative risks, making a high-risk deal with the Palestinians would seem prudent in the long run. But nations do not make decisions on such abstract calculations. Israel will bet on its ability to stay strong. From a political standpoint, it has no choice. The Palestinians will bet on the long game. They have no choice. And in the meantime, blood will periodically flow.”

    1. Why do the Palestinians not have a choice? Because Palestine is a Muslim waqf? Or what? If Muslim Jew-hatred is at the centre of this conflict, as I think it is, then the Palestinians do have a choice. The had a choice in 1948. They have had many choices since, and have refused them, based on their intent to claim the whole of “Palestine” (which used to be southern Syria). The Palestinians may bet on the long haul, but they can scarcely complain if they continue to suffer instead of prospering. It is estimated that with the concrete used to build the tunnels, Gazans could have good schools, lots of good dwellings for her people, and a bustling trade with Israel and Egypt. If their successors two or three generations from now are expectedt to triumph, what kind of wager is that, compared to care for the present population and its needs? To mortgage an unforeseeable future for present misery is a pretty dumb bet.

  54. There are a few things that seem to be missing in the discussion so far, and that need to be taken into consideration in discussing the Israel-Palestine problem.

    First, is the fact that the Palestinians (and other Arabs) take “Palestine” (remembering that Palestine did not exist before the First World War) as part of the Muslim waqf (that is, a sacred part of the House of Islam), in perpetuity. In the minds of Muslims this applies to all parts of the world ever subject to Muslim governance and control, including Spain, Sicily, the Balkans, etc. So when Hamas speaks of the “occupation” they are not talking about the West Bank; they are speaking of the entire land area of what is now Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, and they vow to continue their opposition to Israel until Israel is once more under Muslim control, and the Jews, and any other non-Muslim population, are subject to the dhimma, that is to second-class status and the payment of protection money.

    Second, are several facts about Palestinian “refugees”. Insofar as they are refugees, this is because none of their fellow Arabs or Muslims have been willing to grant them citizenship. Usually, displacement of peoples leads to absorption into neighbouring territories of the same cultural, linguistic and religious customs. This did not happen, and the Palestinians have been kept in stateless limbo for over sixty years. (This is a scandal, but it is not a scandal caused by Israel, but by the Arabs, who have used Israel has a whipping boy and scapegoat for sixty years to distract citizens from the failure of their own governments.) In India, for example, after partition, there was a displacement of millions, but each territory absorbed the intake, and no stateless persons were created as a result. We should also recall the vast displacements of people in post WWII Europe, where millions of German speaking persons were moved into what might be called “lesser” Germany. The fact that the status of Palestinians has remained a running sore for sixty years is down to the neighbouring majority Muslim areas, where more Palestinians have been killed by their co-religionists than Israel has ever done or contemplated.

    Third, the existence of religious minorities in Muslim lands has always been precarious, and their treatment at the hands of their Muslim overlords extended all the way from allowing them to prosper, even in positions of power, to powerlessness and spontaneous acts of repression, murder and enslavement. The Muslim hordes that conquered and colonised North Africa, the Balkans, Spain, Persia, Afghanistan, India, etc. profited by sharing the booty. (Any Muslim who complains about colonialism should remember that Islam was one of the first colonial powers.) When no more booty was available, interior strangers were often attacked and murdered or enslaved to make up for the lack of booty from further conquests. Government, to a large extent, was bankrolled by these minorities. Because of their precarious position in Muslim societies, after the establishment of Israel, just as many Jews were expelled (or chose to leave) and were absorbed by Israel, as the number of Arabs who left Israel after 1948, and the war to attempt to push the Jews into the sea. Ancient Jewish communities simply collapsed, as ancient Christian communities are in the process of collapsing in Syria-Iraq and the new ridiculously styled “caliphate”.

    Fourth, it is ridiculous to count civilian casualties in Gaza, since Hamas, which controls Gaza, continued and continues to threaten the peace of Israel. No country can simply sit by while its people are threated with attack. It is perhaps salutary to remember that the Battle of Normandy claimed around 30,000 French civilians. This is not often mentioned, but it is a fact to bear in mind. Gaza is crowded. From all accounts, Hamas sites weapons and weapons caches in civilian areas; but even if it didn’t, civilian casualties would regretfully occur. Those who think that war can be carried out without civilian casualties are dreaming. Those who believe that one civil jurisdiction can attack another without repercussions are also dreaming. If the Gazans would promise to keep the peace, to cease their warlike intent towards Israel, no blockade could last for long, but, at first, it would have to take place, and should take place under strict UN supervision, to make sure that arms are not passing the blockade. The tunnel system should be destroyed, and Palestinians invited to join the family of nations. If they continue to consider Israel occupied territory, then there will be no end to the present unrest and frequent states of conflict.

    None of this means that Israel is without fault. Nevertheless, Palestinians and other Arabs should be aware that, given the fact that the old city of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights were taken in a war that threatened the very existence of Israel and a new Holocaust, they are the ones who are going to have to reach out with the olive branch. The occupation of the West Bank by religious Jews who consider this part of God’s patrimony to the Jewish people has not helped, but it also needs to be remembered that the small coastal area of pre-1967 Israel was indefensible. Israel will no doubt continue to occupy parts of the West Bank for its own security interests. The chance of Jerusalem becoming a divided city once again is nil. The Palestinians and neighbouring Arab states have themselves to blame for this. They will simply have to learn to live with it. It is important to remember that Middle East Christians are now increasingly seeking residence in Israel. Islam is becoming more threatening to ancient Middle East Christian communities as the unrest amongst Muslims increases. Islam is the problem.

    To Nap…. Hamas is just as corrupt as Fatah, and its leaders profit from aid just as Fatah’s leaders did. As for Finkelstein, his continuous talk about legal boundaries, etc. is absurd in the present circumstances. Israel has faced several attempts by neighbouring Arab states to destroy it and push the Jews into the sea. Old UN resolutions regarding boundaries (including the 1948 partition)are simply irrelevant in the present circumstances. Israel has been forced to defend its very existence, against powers determined to destroy it utterly. If those attempts did not abrogate the supposed boundaries established by the UN, I do not know what you expect Israel to do. The question of who was there first and in what numbers is not relevant to the present circustances. We cannot go back to 1948 or 1967 or 1973. We must start where we are. Jimmy Carter’s idea that we can and must is about as unrealistic as it is possible to get. No one in Israel can reasonably forget those who died preserving Israel, nor can they forget that territories gained to enable Israel’s security cannot be given up without a quid pro quo which the “Palestinians” have not so far been prepared to give.

    My apologies, Jerry, for taking up so much space. You are, of course, at liberty to block this note.

    1. You’re simply wrong here, because you don’t know how many square meters are in a square kilometer (hint: it’s not 1,000). Do your calculation correctly and then correct yourself, please.

      If you thought about it for a second, you’d see that having 5 people per square meter is simply ridiculous!

        1. Do the calculation. Also realize that there are plenty of empty spaces in Gaza from where one can launch rockets, so if you’re implying that, you’re wrong, too.

          Do you have an answer?

        2. Al Kimeea, if your figures are correct, Gaza has 5,000 people per square kilometre. To give you a few reference points, in Calcutta there are around 41,700 per square kilometre (24 per sq. m), Hong Kong (Kowloon) has 45,474 per square kilometre, and Manhattan has 32,157 per square kilometre. (These are 2005 figures.) Had the concrete used to build the tunnels been used to build high rise apartment blocks, housing and living conditions in Gaza could have been greatly improved. According to Tablet,

          Israeli troops entering Gaza last week have so far uncovered 18 tunnels used by Hamas to send armed terrorists into Israel and built using an estimated 800,000 tons of concrete.

          What else might that much concrete build? Erecting Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower, required 110,000 tons of concrete. Hamas, then, could’ve treated itself to seven such monstrosities and still had a few tens of thousands of tons to spare. If it wanted to build kindergartens equipped with bomb shelters, like Israel has built for the besieged citizens of Sderot, for example—after all, noted military strategists like Jon Stewart have spent last week proclaiming that Gaza’s citizens had nowhere to hide from Israel’s artillery—Hamas could have used its leftovers to whip up about two that were each as big as Giants Stadium. And that’s just 18 tunnels. Egypt, on its end, recently claimed to have destroyed an additional 1,370. That’s a lot of concrete.

          If Hamas leaders were not squirreling away so much money for themselves and educating their children in Europe, their much vaunted social support system could have been greatly enlarged. Had they been on peaceful terms with Israel, many Gazas could come and go peacefully to work in Israel. So, not only could Gaza living space have been used more economically, and provided people with protection from reprisals to Hamas attacks, the open spaces in Gaza could be considerably enlarged, and people’s lives greatly improved.

  55. So let’s say Hamas is gone tomorrow. Every condition that would be beneficial to extremism still exists in Palestine. You are a 16 year old in Palestine, what are your options?

    1. Presumably if Hamas magically disappears overnight, the same miracle would change people’s attitudes overnight. But seeing how the god screwed over the pharaoh, I doubt it will happen. We had an opportunity to change things in Iraq, but “bomb and run” just screwed everyone over; it takes more than a generation to change attitudes. It’s not easy, but if people never even try then it will never happen.

  56. I support Israel and believe that ultimately peace will reign. Three points to be made:

    1. Old Testament prophesies state that the Jews would be scatter over the world, they would be hated by the nations, they would miraculously return to their homeland Israel, and ultimately there will be peace in the world for all nations. The first three have been fulfilled – the latter is yet to be. When this “peace” happens, it will not be caused by the defense system and cleverness of man, but rather by the source of the prophesies.

    2. I believe Sam Harris is a living contradiction: his atheistic intellectual side wants to rid the world of all religion and usher in a new-happy world order of universal secularism; his hidden and disguised deep-seeded secular Jew side, influence by his Jewish ancestry, roots for Israel’s right to survive. To wit:

    3. If he was born and raised a Muslim and lived in Palestine, I surmise two things: 1. He would be anti-Israel; and 2. we would never have heard of Sam Harris, because his atheistic viewpoints would have been banned from publication.

    1. If you’d been born Martian, you’d be green.

      And, no, there’s no reason at all to believe in biblical prophesies.

  57. You seem to be unaware of the contours of the last round of negotiation which took place in 2008 between PM Ehud Olmert, and PA president Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas never declined Olmert’s offer–they were still working towards bridging gaps when Olmert was forced to leave office due to a corruption scandal. Netenyahu was elected in 2009, and the rest is history.

    You also seem to be unaware of the co-existence arm of the Israeli Zionist left, represented by figure such as the novelists David Grossman and Etgar Keret, and by groups such as Combatants for Peace, and Breaking the Silence, which, with intimate knowledge of domestic politics, and the situation in the territories (from having served there) holds its own government responsible for a failure to reach a deal, and for the perpetuation of the occupation. Interested to hear comments about this.

    David Grossman’s Latest Piece:

    Etgar Keret’s latest Piece:

    IN terms of what a peace deal would look like: Basically the Arab League proposal of 2002, which has been more or less the basis of every serious plan– Geneva People’s Imitative, and the 2008 talks–none of which have ever been rejected by Palestinians–with some room for final status quibbling about land swaps, and exact number of refugees allowed to return.

  58. There’s no question that Hamas and its ilk are despicable. The question is what do we do about it? We obviously can’t kill them all or their ideology, nor commit genocide, and the Israeli right-wing policies of “teaching Palestinians a lesson” have hardly yielded fruit. And if we keep on with the status quo, the demographics and world opinion will change massively with the decades (we can’t be certain that even US will have Israel’s back in 50 years), and just because Israel won two wars already, doesn’t mean that they’ll win a third or fourth one. It seems there are two ways to address this problem. They may not work, but something is better than nothing. One is a two state solution with the hope that Palestinians are able to create a reasonable secular state and have a chance at a good life, so that they themselves are able to and have reason to deal with their extremists. Of course, there’s reason to be skeptical of that, but it’s also reasonable to point out that despite many issues of their own, Palestinian daily existence and progressive efforts have often been cobbled by Israel. Secondly, is to maybe realize that this war for a “pure state,” however you define what being Jewish means, is untenable, and has been a losing cause from the start. In the far future, there may even be a significant number of people of mixed Israeli/Palestinian heritage, which will be a game changer. In other words, give Palestinians in Israel full rights as citizens. The fear, of course, is that Israel will soon cease to exist as a Jewish state, and worse, may become a state that is hostile to Jews; and if that’s the case, the US should do what it refused to do before & after WWII, which is to take in Jewish refugees. I am merely musing out loud, and am well aware of my ignorance and naivete; I’m just worried that there may be nightmares on the horizon which would make other bad outcomes look better by comparison.

  59. Since this blog is named ‘Why Evolution Is True”, I’m surprised that nobody has really looked at the situation through an evolutionary lens. I wrote the following to Sam, trying to do just that:

    Hi Sam,

    First of all, I love your writings on atheism, free will, and the distribution of wealth. I hope you read my note and tell me where I’m wrong on the tragic situation in the middle east.

    Since you’ve claimed that both doctrines are equally horrific, I find your moral high ground argument difficult to accept. Further human behavior rests upon the environment in which the society evolved in (remember ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ and your own arguments on free will?). I don’t think you’ve implied that there’s anything genetically superior or inferior on either side so I’m genuinely puzzled by your main thesis of Israel’s moral superiority.

    For example, your question, “What would Palestine do if it were in power?” is valid. The answer, given that their doctrine is equal, is, ‘Exactly what Israel is doing now’. The same logic would apply to the question “What would Israel do if they weren’t in power?”. Answer; Breed terrorist organizations and claim that, if they were in power, they’d kill all the Palestinians. After all, it’s in their doctrine as well. Would Israel admit to this? Of course not, they’re educated and in control. That does not equate to a moral high ground. There is nothing in Israeli DNA to give them an edge on morality over other humans I’m afraid…

    I may have given Israel moral high ground on the issue of using women and children as shields, however, you lose that high ground when you blow those shields up. Decisively. I would also have to go back to the environment as being the root cause of that ‘moral high ground’. If the roles were reversed would Israel be doing the same hiding behind women and children (as well as Palestine blowing them up)? If they suffer from the affliction of being human, the answer is, ‘Yes’.

    The fact that “most Jews recognize” that the Bible is BS is a complete function of first world education. Don’t you think with education “most” Palestinians would move towards secular thinking? You may argue something along the lines of the 9/11 pilots having PHDs. However, I would say that the indoctrination of these PHD’s would have been more difficult to perform in a first world, educated and peaceful environment.

    Idiotic doctrines are poisonous at all times, however, I’d say that the poison has it’s most horrific results on the already weak (ie poor and uneducated). In other words, environment has played the key roll.

    You’re right, however, in saying that we are all ‘living in Israel’. We are in power, wealthy and educated. However, despite the horrifically graphic violence we see through the news outlets, according to Steven Pinker, the data says education is prevailing, war and violence is in decline. Also, the Gates Foundation and the United Nations Development Program are doing a great deal to further the education process in the developing world. In other words, there is still hope globally.

    Lastly, I’d like to borrow an observation you made in your superbly written article, ‘How to Lose Readers (Without Even Trying)’.

    “Many of my critics imagine that they have no stake in the well-being of others. How could they possibly benefit from other people getting first-rate educations? How could they be harmed if the next generation is hurled into poverty and despair? Why should anyone care about other people’s children? It amazes me that such questions require answers.”
    -Sam Harris

    Please look at the situation in the middle east through this lens. You may see things differently.

    Best Regards,


    PS I’ve saved your gun control blind spot for another note 🙂

    1. Maybe someone with more knowledge regarding evolution and its effects on ethics and morality will weigh in here, but in my reading of your comment, I see at least two implications:

      1) That moral high ground can only be obtained via genetics;
      2) Genetics are the only thing that influences morality (follows from the first point).

      On the surface, this seems manifestly absurd. It would imply that, lacking genetic superiority (whatever that means), all people and thus all nations on earth are morally equivalent, and it follows that morals and ethics are 100% relative. (I’m not arguing necessarily that they are 100% objective either, for that would be the other extreme).

      1. Thanks for your comment and yes, an expert opinion would be nice.

        What I’m pointing out is that we are all equally moral, genetically, at birth. Subsequent actions we take throughout our lives are informed by our environment. So let’s forget about the blame game- let’s look at how this evolved. I would argue that the Middle East is now (and has been historically) a battle between the enfranchised versus disenfranchised. With, of course, poisonous doctrine to complicate matters (part of the environment). Wealth and education being a partial antidote.

        I’m very glad to hear Sam thinking out loud, it’s very thought provoking. It just struck me as wrong to say both doctrine are equally absurd (therefore cancelling each other out) then go on to argue that one side of a war is morally superior. How? Genetics? No. Unlucky to be born on the wrong side in the wrong era. Yes. Nobody is born a ‘terrorist’. We all have a stake in changing an environment that produces terrorism for the better. The choices are education or destruction. Sadly, I think we’re witnessing the latter choice for now.

        It seems that emotions are so super-charged that nobody is really addressing root problems in respective environments.

        1. Ok, I at least understand your position better now. The fact that Sam Harris doesn’t think there’s free will (let’s leave aside the compatibilist versus hard determinist argument for the moment; my opinion is that they’re semantically different versions of nearly the same idea). He doesn’t support any notion of dualism or libertarian free will, however the point I think you’re glossing over is that dismissing these ancient notions doesn’t remove cause and effect. Why would it? After all the dismissal of this sort of free will is linked directly to the point that there are causal relationships in the world.

          I can’t speak for Sam Harris, but I think he would agree that the current state of affairs regarding Hamas’s goals cannot yield anything other than what it is yielding. But, there are influences, both from people and from the environment that can change behaviors.

          Personally, I don’t think you can educate terrorists; they are too far gone in their irrationality to have any reasonable expectation that they will change their minds. Not that it isn’t conceivable that they could, but it’s not where you should place your bets.

          In order to provide education and western affluence, we need a means of separating out the terrorists from the victims who would truly embrace democratic freedom. Simply declaring a ceasefire and then welcoming Palestinians into Israel would all but guarantee rogue operatives coming in along with the innocent people and doing harm to innocent civilians.

          What Sam didn’t touch upon, thus we have no idea what his opinion is, is whether the Israeli forces couldn’t be doing even more to protect life on both sides. My personal opinion is that it is likely they could. This is not to dismiss the precautions they are already taking, but merely saying that perhaps more could be done. At the risk of losing more soldiers, perhaps a targeted ground attack on the missile locations could prove more fruitful. This would allow people on the ground to evacuate the civilian areas before targeting the sites. It would almost certainly result in more Israeli military deaths, but I think almost everyone agrees that in war, the goal is to prevent those who are completely innocent and did not sign up to fight from dying. In summary, I don’t see how lack of control over our genetics or environment excuses responsibility. To say otherwise is going down the path towards nihilism and to dismiss all evidence that society actually move in the direction towards less violence.

          1. Thanks so much for the reply. It’s an important topic and I fear Jerry believes I’m being disingenuous. I’m not and I’ve tried hard not to offend.

            To your points:

            I don’t want to take out cause & effect, I want to study it. It seems to me that Zionists had the exact same goals in the 1940’s as Palestine does now. When I distill the situations I see that this comes down to a competition for resources (land). Zionists have won the battle. The disenfranchised have become the enfranchised. This being one of the root causes of terrorism from the now disenfranchised. Seems a vicious circle one may be born into with very few options to escape from. To me, all the religious nonsense is noise. A poisonous product of man which is relied upon as justification in battles for resources. We’ve seen throughout history that the poor and uneducated are far more vulnerable to this poison. As you point out, it may take generations to extinguish. Still a worthy goal.

            I also agree that we don’t want to dismiss responsibility. However, we certainly want to explore where the motivations of actions come from. For example, a Palestinian or Israeli farmer may feel a responsibility to his family to get his farm back. Throw in an idiotic doctrine and we’ve got a terrible situation via dual responsibilities.

            Overall point being that we’ve got neighboring groups that are in a war over resources. Neither has a moral high ground. When highly intelligent people who are widely followed and very influential claim a side does have moral superiority I feel this is not only wrong, but also serves as a headwind to constructive idea generation on how to best approach resolution.

            1. One side has had the goal of exterminating the other for more than half a century. The other has not. It is absurd to claim moral equivalence.

              1. Hi GBJames,

                Why cherry pick 50yrs?

                The roles have been reversed over history and Zionism has had the exact same goals when in the disenfranchised role (helped by poisonous doctrine as well). Not only is it not absurd to claim moral equivalency, there’s sound historical evidence that neither side should claim the high ground.

              2. It is shorthand for “since Israel became Israel”. And it is absurd to claim equivalence. Talking a our reversed roles is silly.

              3. “Why cherry pick 50yrs?”

                Because recent history should be weighted more than ancient history.

                For many reasons (religion, education, multiculturalism, guilt, luck? …) one side has moved forward (morally, ethically, culturally) and the other has not.

                IF events happened a different way 50 years ago we MIGHT be looking at a different picture, but for here and now Sam Harris’ assessment is correct. There is little doubt about about what would happen if todays existing Palestinians were given absolute power vs. todays existing Israelis given absolute power.

            2. There’s a huge difference between the Zionists of the 1940s and Palestinians today. In the 1940s, genocidal intent against Jewish people was actualized in the form of six million deaths. There is simply no justifying the risk of dismissing Hamas’ stated intent to exterminate 15 million people as “religious nonsense” or negotiating tactics. If that is a negotiating tactic, I suggest Hamas leaders read some books on effective sales and negotiation, for threatening genocide would have to be at the bottom of the list of persuasive tactics.

              I’ll clarify my full present position on this and leave it at that so we don’t begin to dominate the thread. (I will clarify any points that you are still unclear about but won’t present any new ones after this.)

              I think Israel should cease firing rockets into civilian areas. Perhaps a ground invasion where they could have soldiers actively moving innocent citizens out of harm’s way would be an answer. There is no doubt this would risk soldiers and likely result in far more military deaths on Israel’s side, but if they can eliminate civilian casualties, this is a worthwhile risk. Israel cannot be viewed as having clean hands in this; they deserve criticism. But there can be no assumption that they can reduce the strength of their military and live peacefully with a group whose stated intent is to annihilate an entire population. If Hamas is either removed from power, or revokes their charter, that could be a game changer. Meanwhile, Israel must show that they are being genuine with their claims they are attempting to spare citizens and work with allies to determine what course of action will greatly reduce, and ideally stop Palestinian citizens from being killed.

              As things exist right now, I think it will take outside pressure and both sides agreeing to a binding resolution to solve this. But, I simply don’t have a lot of faith that Hamas will agree to anything that is proposed and what Harris points out regarding the stark contrast between the secular nature of Israel and the fundamentally Islamic nature of Hamas can’t be dismissed as “religious nonsense” that has no effect on the matter.

          2. “is whether the Israeli forces couldn’t be doing even more to protect life on both sides. My personal opinion is that it is likely they could.”

            Of course they COULD. Any military or police force can completely eliminate civilian casualties if they wanted to, but it would be incredibly costly and/or very ineffective.

            The question is always how much SHOULD they try to limit civilian casualties and how much are they willing to give up for it. There is a constantly reevaluated calculus going on to determine this and they will never keep everyone happy.

            The IDF has found a balance for this operation that seems to be well thought out, IMO.

            1. I wasn’t referring to the hypothetical extreme. Of course, simply not firing rockets at all would eliminate civilian casualties. That would have to rank as one of the worst strategies in history if Hamas doesn’t cease the attack.

              I was referring to the calculus of the matter. These calculations are hard to nail down with specific numbers, but I think it is reasonable to accept more risk to the military in exchange for more innocent lives saved. Part of this is also calculating whether alternative tactics significantly weaken your chance of winning which could lead, in this case, to numerous innocent deaths on Israel’s side. Given the relative strengths of the militaries involved, when I say Israel could do more to protect innocent lives, I say this in the context of doing it in a way that continues to protect Israeli citizens. I don’t say this to diminish the steps they have already taken.

              1. They are balancing the world’s opinion, which overwhelmingly thinks they should do more, against Isaraeli opinion which no doubt thinks they are already sacrificing too much for a people who have brought this upon themselves. (Generalizing of course.)

                Once again you say “Israel COULD do more” when it sure looks like you mean they SHOULD do more. I assume you’re using “could” in the colloquial sense, but it would further the discussion quicker if you were clear that it is your personal opinion that you don’t think Israel is doing enough to prevent civilian deaths in Gaza.

                If they could do so without putting their soldiers at more risk or endangering the operation, they certainly would. So, as you say, you are willing to trade off more Israeli lives for “innocent” Palestinian lives. I put innocent in quotes, because that is a crucial distinction. If all lives were of equal value then there should be an equal number of civilian casualties as IDF assault casualties.

                So the correct ratio is primarily a personal opinion. I might be happy with the current 30-1 ratio, you might not be happy until it is 10-1. Hopefully, you can see the absurdity of trying to get everyone to agree on this.

                I, personally, am content with the middle ground they’ve chosen. I would not want to be an Israeli commander who had to tell a family that their son died to protect people who would spit on his dead body.

              2. I thought about your could/should distinction. I am not a military expert, nor do I know of they’ve already had internal discussion to do a dispassionate analysis regarding other tactics, so I wouldn’t say I’m qualified to say they should do more. Maybe they have already done as much as possible given the risks. What I think they should be doing is being even more transparent, and in this dynamically unfolding situation make it clear that there’s constant reassessment of the current strategy. That, and pressuring their allies and the UN to help negotiate peace.

              3. It is inconceivable that the Israelis have not had in-depth discussions, if not detailed analysis, on the topic of minimizing civilian casualties. If they do not solve the equation with the same result you get then it must be that either they have relevant information that we don’t or they put different values on Palestinian vs. Israeli lives (it’s probably both).

                Transparency sounds great; you’d like it, I’d like it, but it is incredibly treacherous for several reasons. I’d love to know what their calculations are and on what basis they choose their targets, but the former would offend just about everyone else (17.2 Palestinian children are worth 1 IDF soldier?!) and the latter could be used to allow the enemy to move out of the way (or even more likely entice more civilian casualties).

                They seem to have made some egregious errors resulting in civilian casualties so far and it is unclear exactly what went wrong and it’s unlikely they’ll ever tell us the full truth. But you can bet that they internally reviewed where they screwed up so that it would be unlikely to happen again.

                All this means that a conservative group like the IDF would fight transparency tooth and nail.

    2. This is not the place to post your letters to Sam Harris; send them to him directly. And I don’t appreciate your sneer at the end, which isn’t helped by the fake smiley face. If you have “another note” on gun control; you won’t put it here, as I’ve already said this thread isn’t a place for Harris-dissing.

      You may want to apologize for your snark at the end.

      1. In all seriousness, not a bit of snark intended and I did send that note to Sam directly. I thought this discussion was an appropriate forum to post it to. I’m genuinely shocked by your comment.

        I think it’s important to try to keep the discourse pleasant as the ideas can really anger.

        I had sent that note to Sam before your original post and really did put the smile after the gun control comment (a real smile, not snark)- I included it because you had said in your post that you may have had an issue with his stance on gun control as well. No offence meant to anyone and I’m truly sorry it was taken that way.

        Nothing fake in my note at all. I’m just dumbfounded it was so offensive to you. I love reading your posts. I’ll try to be more sensitive to ways in which I could be interpreted going forward. I hope you’ll accept my sincerest apology for the confusion.

        1. Adam, I’m not sure, but I think there’s a chance Jerry thought your PS was aimed at him, rather than being part of your letter to Harris. (It confused me at first, too.)

    1. Key statement at the end- he sees the children in Gaza and knows they have no choice.

      They simply lost the uterus lotto. Let’s try to change those children’s environment for the better through education.

  60. I find this piece of Sam Harris’s as morally distasteful as I found the ‘thought experiment’ on torture and the essay in which he asserted that we might be forced to make a nuclear ‘first-strike’ on some Muslim nation. They share a pattern: a denial that Harris approves of the things he is discussing followed by the suggestion that nevertheless circumstances may justify them. I suggest, incidentally, that this shows up the deficiencies of the fundamentally utilitarian morality that Harris espouses, deficiencies that have well been brought out by Bernard Williams. The ‘thought experiment’ was written in such a way as to suggest it existed in some innocent and purely intellectual space, but it was of course written at a time when the American state had, despite its solemn obligations, embarked on programmes of torture, as Harris well knew. And the piece on making a nuclear first-strike was written at a time when chauvinistic American politicians and commentators were clamouring for a nuclear strike on Iran, as Harris was well aware. The tone of this latter piece was that of ‘more in sorrow than in anger’, and it was suggested that the effects on our civilized psyches of massacring people in their thousands and tens of thousands in this way would be terrible, but, alas, necessity gives orders and our poor psyches must endure the ensuing painful remorse. There is more than a hint of self-pity in this, and I am reminded of those perhaps apocryphal headmasters who before brutally flogging a boy would say, ‘This will hurt me more than it hurts you’. In the case of Israel’s activities, he suggests, the Israelis have been brutalized by the Palestinians, the implication being that they cannot be held responsible for any excesses they commit. (Stephen Pinker used much the same sort of rhetorical device – it is not an argument – with respect to the Vietnam War in his book about violence.) Since the Israelis have been so brutalized by the savages who surround them, Harris asserts he cannot or will not criticize Israel. I find this shameful. Surely, as a strong supporter of Israel’s right to exist, one not only can but should criticize its excesses, just as it is incumbent on one, the more particularly if one is American or British, to criticize and, if necessary, to condemn, America’s or Britain’s excesses (of which there were a number in the war on and in Iraq). Harris’s position strikes me as not all that different from that of those who claim that Israel’s appropriation of Palestinian land justifies the terrorism of Hamas. Harris finishes his piece by telling us we are all Israelis, by which he implies that the West is under siege, within and without, by what one might call ‘Islamdom’. This is surely hysterical, and recalls his assertion, after 9/11, that we are ‘at war with Islam’.

    1. “…Harris asserts he cannot or will not criticize Israel.”

      I’m wondering if you actually read his piece. It includes a few bits you seem to have missed:

      “I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state. I think it is obscene, irrational and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion. So I don’t celebrate the idea that there’s a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. I certainly don’t support any Jewish claims to real estate based on the Bible.”

      And this on Judaism’s core documents:

      “Let me remind you that parts of Hebrew Bible—books like Leviticus and Exodus and Deuteronomy—are the most repellent, the most sickeningly unethical documents to be found in any religion. They’re worse than the Koran. They’re worse than any part of the New Testament.”

      It is one thing to disagree with the man. It is another to disagree with a cardboard caricature.

      1. Beat me to it. I too wondered if Tim actually read Sam’s article.

        The title, “Why don’t I criticize Israel?” is quite obviously a question. One wouldn’t even need to read the article to understand that this does not amount to an a priori claim that he has no criticisms of Israel. Then, when one does read the article, it’s clear that he does have criticisms for Israel, but viewed in proportion to the aims of Hamas, Hamas is worse.

  61. One thing that this post ignores is that while while Jewish heritage may include Jews that are merely culturally- atheists and agnostic alike- the reason the Jews settled on that particular region is that god gave them that land and it’s THEIRS! That’s the whole of the problem. And Israelis recognize that that is part of the ongoing struggle (as do Palestinians). Religion kills, no doubt about it. Why the Western powers had to encourage settlement there, I will never understand (well, I do because I was a christian…), but religion (and racism- let’s be honest) was deeply ingrained in the decision and as a result we will always see violence in that region.

    1. Actually, I don’t think you need to have been an Xtian to understand why. There was this and all the sad history leading up to it.

    2. I think if you listen/read what Sam says he addresses that by saying:

      I don’t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state. I think it is obscene, irrational and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion. So I don’t celebrate the idea that there’s a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. I certainly don’t support any Jewish claims to real estate based on the Bible.

  62. “The Israeli constitution guarantees religious freedom for all, including nonbelievers. It is not a theocracy in the sense that Iran, or even Saudi Arabia, is.”

    Can I get a source for this Israeli Constitution? Because even according to the Israeli gov’t website, it (constitution) does not exist…How can I (or any rational person) take your propaganda and justification of Israeli massacres serious if you just make stuff up like the above quoted statement?

    quote: “Israel does not have a written constitution, even though according to the Proclamation of Independence a constituent assembly should have prepared a constitution by October 1, 1948. The delay in the preparation of a constitution resulted primarily from problems that emerged against the background of the alleged clash between a secular constitution and the Halacha (the Jewish religious law).”

    1. I didn’t make up stuff, I simply called the document guaranteeing those freedoms the “Constitution.” It’s really the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, and it says exactly what I said it did. You can find it here, and there you will read these words:

      THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

      Now do you see how rude your comment was? You could have simply and politely asked for my sources instead of implying that I lied about them. Yes, I erred on what the document was called, but was right on the important part: what the founding principles of Israel (and the principles still in practice) are.

      Now please apologize or you will never post here again. But, since you acted as a drive-by troll, you probably don’t want to, which is great by me.

  63. I can’t entirely agree with the paragraph beginning “What would the Jews do to the Palestinians if they could do anything they wanted?”.
    They cannot currently do anything they want, because they are subject, as a (currently) non-Pariah state, to their duties to International Law and the international community. It may indeed be, as Palestinians believe, that Israel harbours secret designs to expand right across Gaza and all the way to the Jordan. The fact that they may plan to do it slowly, by military oppression and attrition, and over a long period of time, never proceeding too far to outrage that community, would not mean that it was not an intention. We can’t presume that without Hamas’s attacks, Israel would be content to endure Palestine’s indefinite presence in the region.

    Note, I don’t express an opinion on whether they in fact hold that view, only that Sam’s logic doesn’t actually hold water.

  64. It’s shame Mr Coyne claims using the word apartheid to describe Israel’s treatments of the Palestinians denegrates the experience of black South Africans – I wonder if they would agree with him? The Russell Tribunal’s Cape Town session, along with other legal organisations, have stated Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its treatment of Palestinians can legitimately be termed apartheid.
    Israel’s PM has recently ruled out the possibility of allowing a sovereign Palestinian state to exist, yet this article only quotes Hamas’s position.

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