Thinking Citizen Blog — Zoom In/Zoom Out: Making Sense of Recent Events in the Middle East

Thinking Citizen Blog — Monday is Foreign Policy Day

Today’s Topic: Zoom In/Zoom Out: Making Sense of Recent Events in the Middle East

I began teaching the Israel-Palestine conflict in 1977. Two very different perspectives are summarized in the two maps below — one depicting an expansionist Israel, the other depicting a besieged Israel. I have tried for over thirty years to find better ways to make sense of this tragedy. I have repeatedly asked for suggestions on how to improve my attempt below to give as strong as possible a statement for each side. I do so again today. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. Palestinians have an exclusive right to Palestine. They are analogous to Native Americans.

2. The state of Israel is the creation of imperialist Western powers — Secretary of State George Marshall was right and Truman and Clifford wrong. (Marshall opposed US recognition of Israel in 1947/8)

3. Palestine is sacred to Muslims and once a land is Muslim it will always be Muslim. The Al-Aqsa Mosque in Old Jerusalem is the third holiest place in Islam. From there Mohammed ascended into heaven.

4. Palestinians are treated as second class citizens by the Israelis — with the perfect symbols of apartheid being the West Bank Wall and the ID system.

5. There have been many massacres of Palestinians by Jews: Safsaf (1948), Deir Yassin (1948), Kafr Kasim (1956), Sabra and Shatila (performed by the Lebanese Phalange with the complicity of the IDF), war crimes in Gaza in 2014 (including airstrikes killing 1472 one third of which were children confirmed by the UN Human Rights Commission).

THE ISRAELI SIDE: five points

1. If any people on the earth has a well documented claim to any land,it is the Jewish people to the land of Israel. It’s even in the Koran, Chapter 7, verse 137.

2. The Jewish people were homeless for almost 2000 years and the most persecuted minority on the planet, culminating in the Holocaust in which six million Jews were slaughtered.

3. Jerusalem is to Judaism as Mecca is to Islam and while Jews have one country Arabs have 22 and Muslims 50.

4. Jews came to Israel in the 19th and early 20th centuries not as invading an invading army but as settlers and refugees who turned a desert into a garden and built a state where Muslims (especially women) have more rights than they do in most Muslim lands. 17.4% of Israelis are Arab Muslims, 17 of 120 Knesset members are Muslims. Top civil servants in Israel have been Muslim. Israel is an island of tolerance in a sea of intolerance.

5. Israeli territorial expansion and any restrictions on Palestinian life after 1945 was in response to to threats to its national security by the coordinated invasion by surrounding Arab countries (1948,1974) or by the planned invasion whose success was prevented by a preemptive air strike (1967), or by the rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza.


1. To be honest, I find the Israeli case far more persuasive. If you feel that this bias shows in my statement of the Palestinian case, please submit suggestions as how to better to state that case and, if I agree, I will in the future adopt the suggested changes.

2. If there is a third side to be stated, I am most eager to hear it.

3. Golda Meir (above): “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

NB: Full disclosure; when I started teaching the Middle East conflict in 1977, I was a Marxist and a Catholic. Two years ago, I learned via genetic testing that my Protestant-turned-Catholic mother was in fact by Jewish law. Jewish as her mother’s mother was Jewish. My mother’s mother’s parents eloped from Vienna and apparently jettisoned their ethnic identity somewhere during the Atlantic crossing.

FOOTNOTE — Golda Meir (1898–1978) — teacher, atheist, socialist

Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel between 1969 and 1974. Born in Kiev (then part of Russia, now the capital of the Ukraine), she emigrated to the US with her parents in 1906. After working as a teacher, she moved to Palestine in 1921 with her husband. She was an atheist and a socialist of the “labor Zionist” variety. In Israel she rose through the ranks of the Histradut, the national trade union. In 1948 she was one of the 24 signers of the Israeli equivalent of the Declaration of Independence. “”After I signed, I cried. When I studied American history as a schoolgirl and I read about those who signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence, I couldn’t imagine these were real people doing something real. And there I was sitting down and signing a declaration of establishment.”

Here is a link to the last three years of posts organized by theme:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest or most important thing you learned in the last week, month, or year related to foreign policy. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in our life related to foreign policy.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something important you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is the key to depth of thought. The prospect of imminent publication, like hanging and final exams, concentrates the mind. A useful life long habit.