“Beware of Your Beliefs”*


David Blumenthal


When I first sat down to write this essay, Yasser Arafat lay sick, probably dead, in a Paris hospital.  After his death, Arafat was replaced by Mahmoud Abbas, one of the few democratically elected leaders in the Arab world.  That event and others, such as the Israeli pull out from Gaza, led to soaring hopes that peace between Israelis and Palestinians might be around the corner. Unfortunately, subsequent events, including but not limited to the war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, showed that those hopes were premature.  No one actually knows what will happen next; the best guess for the future, however, depends on how one reads the past. Thus, in the interest of self-disclosure, I begin by noting that I am a Jew who has been a conscious Zionist for as long as I can remember. I recall the vote in the United Nations to establish the Jewish state and the switch in religious school to the Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew when the state was proclaimed. I was an active member of a Zionist youth movement and my first trip to Israel was very much a Zionist pilgrimage.

I am also a religious Jew who takes seriously the presence of God and the truth of God’s promises to the Jewish people of seed, land, and blessing. I, therefore, justify the Jewish claim to a homeland in Israel on both secular-historical and religious-spiritual grounds.

            I am also an experienced rabbi and professor of Jewish studies, one who has taught Jewish civilization for some time and has been active in Jewish and Israeli causes, locally and nationally. I was also one of the organizers of the first trialogue group of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholars and was a consultant to the Presbyterian church on some of its important documents concerning the Jews and Israel. I initiated courses and research on the Shoah at my university, have been a member of various committees of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and of the biennial international symposium of Holocaust scholars at Wroxton College in the United Kingdom, have written two books on the Shoah, and have edited the memoirs of a survivor and two volumes of essays on the Shoah.[1]

On the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I was among the early speakers for Palestinian rights and have consistently supported the efforts of Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations.  I vividly remember visiting a fellow student in an Israeli Arab village in 1959. It was then under curfew and, being dark-skinned, I saw their humiliation. I remember, too, sitting with them as they listed excitedly to Nasser preach about pushing the Jews into the sea. I recall being asked to address a large synagogue gathering together with a Palestinian in the early 1980s. I took a firm stand in favor of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel, much to the admitted astonishment of the Palestinian speaker. At about the same time, I was quietly dropped from the list of speakers to the young leadership group of the Atlanta Jewish Federation because of my espousal of Palestinian sovereignty and not just autonomy. I joined Oz ve-Shalom, the religious peace group, a long time ago and, over the years, hosted at my university speakers from that group and related organizations.  I have also encouraged speakers from the Israeli right as part of the educational thrust of my work. During the course of my consultations with the Presbyterian church, I visited Palestinians in Israel and in the West Bank as well as Christians in Egypt.

Over the years, however, my position has changed because I found that my Palestinian and Muslim interlocutors embodied three characteristics that I found counterproductive. First, they totally politicized all discussions. All my attempts to discuss theology, peace, and a justice that would include Jews and the State of Israel as well as Palestinians and a Palestinian state were completely rejected. My “partners” wanted only to present the Palestinian side, not to dialogue. Second, my Palestinian and Muslim interlocutors refused to acknowledge any co-responsibility for the conflicted situation. They candidly approved terrorism, even when directed at innocent Israeli civilians. Occasionally, I would find individual Palestinians and Muslims who would realize the futility of terrorism, though not necessarily its inherent evil. But, even for such rare individuals, the open expression of such opinions was regarded as national treason, and they simply would not make such statements in public.[2] Third, even though there were uneven attempts at political and religious dialogue with an elite, Palestinians and Muslims in general—ordinary people engaged in conversation as well as the Palestinian and Arab media—have openly manifested a relentless wish to destroy the Jewish state and to drive out the Jews who have chosen to settle there. [3]

It has made no difference whether I have engaged in dialogue in the United States, Europe, or Israel. Nor have the auspices been a factor: Presbyterian, leftist, rightist, religious, secular, political, interfaith. Nothing has helped. While it is true that Jewish and Israeli interlocutors are also varied in their opinions and even in their prejudices, I have increasingly found Palestinians and Muslims to be very difficult dialogue partners. Frankly, they do not share a concern for Jewish existence. Nor do they share a sense of the inherent right of the Jewish people to exist in its homeland, granted that there must be some dignified, mutual accommodation that would make this possible. Perhaps in some ideal religious or ideological sense, they should not need to think such thoughts. But, in the concrete situation in which we all find ourselves, I have found their refusal to want to deal with us Jews to be irresponsible, and I have found their hostility to us to be relentless. Further, in the context of post-Shoah Jewish life, I have increasingly realized that I cannot dismiss that hostility as simply a negotiating position or as merely a cultural custom or a verbal convention. Instead, I must deal with the hostility as forthrightly as I can. [4]

In spite of my commitments and experiences, I recognize that I am not an expert on the Middle East or on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I do consider myself, however, an educated layperson with commitments who is not afraid to confront realities wherever they lie. It is with that background and in that spirit that I address the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the context of post-Shoah experience.


            In the 1980s, I published “The Seven Commandments for Jewish Survival in a Post-Holocaust World.”[5]  It is worthwhile to list them yet again: “Be a little paranoid; Get organized and stay organized; Educate; Support the institutions of freedom; Reproduce; Confront your opposition; and Be prepared.” I also offered pieces of advice:  keep a good amount of cash and a valid passport at home, belong to a political lobby as part of your responsibility as a citizen, always vote, support peace movements, and be prepared to use political violence if necessary.  Looking back, I still think the article contains many valid points. However, I would now add another injunction:  “Beware of your beliefs.” We live life based on certain convictions about human nature and society, and the most difficult part of cross-cultural communication centers around the beliefs each party brings to the table.

The Shoah took place, in part, because of the beliefs of those involved: that the world would not care about the Jews since it had not cared about the Armenians; that the Germans were too civilized to carry out a plan of actual extermination; that the Allies would act out of humanitarian motives and bomb non-essential targets such as the Nazi camps; that ordinary people would not murder innocent others; that governments would admit people who were obviously refugees; and so on. One of the important “lessons” of the Shoah is that we must beware of our beliefs; that we must aggressively question what we believe and what others believe; and, further that, as Jews, we must do this with an eye to the problem of Jewish survival. Had the Jews of the Shoah period been more realistic concerning their beliefs about human nature and society, perhaps many more would have been saved.

            In this vein, I want to present six beliefs about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that are not only widespread but also highly dangerous to Jewish survival. We need to examine these beliefs carefully because we Jews cannot afford to be wrong yet again about the world in which we live. It is our watch, our time for responsibility.

            1.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of the problems in the Middle East. This belief is very widely held in the Arab world; to wit, that the State of Israel was imposed on the Arab world by the Christian nations of Europe and America as a response to their guilt for the Shoah.  As more than one Arab has said, “If the Christians persecuted and killed the Jews, why should we have to pay by having them in our land?” In this analysis, it seems to follow that, if only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be resolved, then there would be peace in the Middle East.

            This belief seems to me to be very naive. As Haim Harari and many others have pointed out, the following serious events in the Middle East were not the result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:[6] the Iran-Iraq war in which casualties reached millions; the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan; the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait; the destruction of the city of Hamma by the Syrians; the occupation of Lebanon by Syria; the al-Qaeda attacks against Saudi Arabia and Egypt; the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers; the attack on the Spanish railroads and on the London underground; both American invasions of Iraq; the Algerian revolution; etc. None of these events was the product of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They were the result of struggles for power, oil, and influence, as well as many other factors. Yet, the belief persists that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the heart of the world’s problems in the Middle East—and not only in the Arabic media and public statements but also in the European press and statements by European leaders.  The popularity of this belief has led to many violent incidents that are anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and anti-Jewish.     The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one part of the Middle East dilemma. Israel/Palestine, however, is not geopolitically significant.  There is no oil to dispute, the land is not particularly arable, and there are few resources or industries to covet.  In short, no one’s national interest, except that of the Palestinians and the Israelis, is at stake. The belief in the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resisted.

            2.  Poverty is at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and indeed at the core of the Middle East crisis; further, poverty justifies the use of terrorism.  This belief is widely heard in leftist circles around the world.  It is an outgrowth of Marxist analysis that understands all conflict to be class conflict and further teaches that class conflict can only be resolved by violent means. Some western intellectuals are particularly taken with this argument, partly because it expresses their sense of guilt for the blessings they have. There are even some who “justify” terrorism as an expression of resentment at poverty.

            This belief also strikes me as very naive. As Haim Harari has pointed out, there is much, much greater poverty in Africa where people are really starving (as in the Sudan), but terrorism of the kind found in the Middle East is not widespread.  There is greater poverty in India, but, again, terrorism of the kind found in the Middle East is not widespread there either.  Poverty is, indeed, an issue in the Middle East and also on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but poverty is not the central issue, and solving the problem of poverty would not resolve the tensions in either the local conflict or in the region. Poverty relief is important, but the belief that it holds the key to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must also be resisted. 

            3.  Reason and law are basic to all human societies.  Hence, diplomatic activity to bring about the rule of reason and law is appropriate. This belief is perhaps the most widely held philosophical and political principle in the western world, especially in the United States. We Americans tend to think that people are reasonable and that law and respect for it provide the proper and ultimate place for the resolution of disputes. We further believe that humans of diverse origins and aspirations can, with reason and good will, settle their conflicts justly and live together peacefully.

            Unfortunately, this belief, too, seems to me to be very naive. The world is not a place where there is liberty and justice for all. It is not a place of cooperation and good will, where the rule of law is the ultimate judge. To a considerable degree, the world includes terrorism.  In that world, where murderers are called martyrs and museums are built to their memory, the ends justify the means.  Whether the terrorists are Palestinian or Cambodian, the world of terror is not a world where reason and law prevail. Regimes that support terror are not entities to which one can appeal on the basis of law and reason. The Palestinian leadership has endorsed a life of terror. It would be very irresponsible to history, especially to Jewish history, not to recognize that western belief in reason and law is only that—a belief and one that many Palestinians do not share.[7]

Further, the world of Jew-hatred—and let us not sanitize it by calling it antisemitism—is also a world in which reason and law do not apply. All racial hatreds defy law and reason. The widespread teaching of Jew hatred in Palestinian textbooks,[8] political statements, media,[9] mosques, and so on is testimony to a world that must be faced, not denied. Yasser Arafat was a Holocaust denier. Mahmoud Abbas, his successor, wrote a book on holocaust denial.[10] The Egyptian media have released films based on Jew-hatred. The July 2005 Pew Global Attitudes Project report entitled, “Islamic Extremism: Common Concern for Muslim and Western Publics,” found “unfavorable” views of Jews at the following percentage rates in the countries surveyed: 60, 74, 76, 99, 100, and 88.[11] One might also add the well-documented reports of Palestinians standing on the rooftops celebrating the falling of Scud missiles on Israeli towns during the first Iraq war; or the cruelty with which an Israeli soldier was publicly executed in a Palestinian town, an event that was recorded by European television. No amount of denial of Jew-hatred in the Arab world will erase these facts.  The Realpolitik that acknowledges them is better.

It should also be emphasized that the United Nations has surely not been the embodiment of the ideals of reason and law. The “Zionism is racism” vote, the Durban conference, and a host of other votes and policies pursued by the UN are proof of this.[12] Blindness to these outcomes is a repetition of the blindness of the Shoah generations.

4.  Most Palestinians want a state that will exist side by side with the Israeli state. This belief, reinforced by occasional statements by the Palestinian leadership, including Mahmoud Abbas, is widely believed in Israel and the West. Indeed, the “two-state solution” would seem to be the reasonable solution—indeed, even the only solution.

It seems to me that this belief, too, is very naive. There are certainly some Palestinians, including Mahmoud Abbas, who want a Palestinian state even if that means recognizing a Jewish state alongside it, for there cannot be a Palestinian state without a Jewish state. However, it must also be remembered that, over the past half century, the official Palestinian representatives have rejected every offer to create a Palestinian state precisely because acceptance would also recognize the Jewish state.

The reason for this refusal is that, in Islamic thought, land once conquered by Islam always remains Islamic; it can never be ceded to a non-Islamic entity.[13] The classic instance of this policy is the crusader conquest of the Holy Land. From an Arab point of view, the crusaders were invaders who ruled the land temporarily and were justifiably expelled by force. Arguably, Saladin, the Islamic leader who expelled the crusaders, is the only man in Islamic history generally known to westerners.  Every Arab leader aspires to be the modern-day Saladin who will expel the foreigners, the Jews, from the Islamic land of Palestine. The converse is also true: No Palestinian leader can recognize the moral right of the Jews to a homeland anywhere in Palestine—from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea—without being a traitor to Arab history.

For these reasons and others,[14] there has been no real Palestinian peace movement, no popular political base for making peace with Israel, although there have been a few members of the elite, including Mahmoud Abbas, who have thought it useful to pursue peace-making policies. For the most part, however, advocates of peace with Israel have been intimidated, persecuted, and even killed.[15] While this situation has created sympathy for the silence of such persons, it also has contributed to a double standard that demands western civic courage from Israelis but not from Palestinians.

Finally, Palestinian belief in a “demographic time bomb”—that the population growth of the Palestinians will make them a majority of the Israeli population by 2010 or 2020—means that many Palestinians neither need nor want a Palestinian state. They simply need to wait and let majority rule do the work that is necessary.  The purpose of this strategy is to erase the Jewish presence in the Holy Land, to do away with the Jewish state. Certainly, one must give peace a chance, but it must also be remembered that the belief that most Palestinians want a two-state solution is just that—a belief.

5.  Islam is a religion of tolerance with occasional aberrations of fanaticism. The West wants very much to believe that this proposition is true, and thus this belief—that Islam must be, like all religions, basically humanistic—has become a fundamental premise in western culture.  Westerners point to the scientific achievements of the early Islamic period and to the tolerance often found in Muslims who are in the Muslim diaspora, while Jews point to the “golden age” of the medieval Islamic-Jewish symbiosis as evidence for the “true” Islam.

This belief, however, is another that I find to be very naïve.  Throughout Islamic history, the phenomenon of dhimmitude has existed; that is, Jews and Christians were awarded protected status but, as minorities, they were subject to special taxes and regular humiliation.[16] Such treatment is not tolerance, and its actual practice was worse than its theory. Further, as Joel Kraemer has shown, even at its intellectual height, Islam sought to persecute its own philosophers who were often accused of heresy, punished, and sometimes executed for their teachings.[17] The principle that land once conquered by Islam must always remain Islamic is indicative of intolerance too.

The reasons for this Islamic intolerance are many and complicated. Perhaps the most crucial, however, is a very long tradition of the lack of self-criticism. As Lazarus-Yafeh has demonstrated,[18] even the biblical stories retold in the Koran are distorted to eliminate the prophetic critique of society that is so crucial to biblical religion.  This lack of self-criticism generates the widely observed phenomenon that Arabs never blame themselves for anything that happens to them; it is always the Zionists, the Americans, the other who is to blame.[19] The lack of civic courage in Arab society is clearly seen in the following case: On March 11, 2005, the Muslim Council of Spain condemned Osama Bin Laden as an apostate. In July 2005, at a conference on “The Reality of Islam and Its Role in the Contemporary Society,” 170 Muslim scholars from forty countries issued a final communiqué that repudiated the decision of the Spanish Muslim Council: “It is not possible to declare as apostates any group of Muslims who believes in Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, and in His Messenger (may Peace and Blessing be upon him) and the pillars of the faith, and respects the pillars of Islam and does not deny any necessary article of religion.” [20]

The lack of self-criticism in Islamic society, including Palestinian society, stems also from the irreducible patriarchy of Islamic society. Disempowered economically and politically, Arab men are left with only one source of personal power: power over women—a power so absolute that, in most Arab societies including Palestinian society, men are permitted to kill women in their family who defy the sexual taboos of the society. These “honor killings” (note the term) are not considered crimes.[21] Such a deeply patriarchal society must do two things: It must honor the whole patriarchal hierarchy, suppressing all resistance, and it must avoid liberty and freedom for all at all costs. The assumption that Arab Islamic society is tolerant, or will be any time in the foreseeable future, is delusional and must be resisted.[22]

6.  A government is “legitimate” only when it derives from the participation of the governed.  This belief, one that I share, should also be watched closely because trust in its authority and credibility can be dangerously naïve.  Consider, for example, the position of Dennis Ross, the United States representative in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process from the Oslo talks to the second intifada.  In the well-informed analysis of his 2004 book, The Missing Peace,[23] Ross maintains that the primary obstacle to peace was Arafat himself.[24] With Arafat’s death, it seemed, peace should have followed in a reasonable period of time. Ross, however, points to other factors that prevented peace.  Primary among them is that Arab leaders lack legitimacy.  According to Ross, this lack accounted for the failure of Arab leaders to criticize Arafat and also for Arafat’s inability to “take historic decisions.” This same lack of legitimacy is also the basis for the inability of almost all Palestinians and the Arab world to recognize “the moral legitimacy” of the State of Israel, whose existence is seen as only an unwanted necessity.[25]

            As a result of this “lack of legitimacy” and the consequent inability to “recognize the moral legitimacy” of the State of Israel, there has been no “transformation” of the Palestinian and Arab world, no change in the underlying attitudes of the Palestinian and Arab world toward Israel and Jews. The basic Palestinian narrative of victimhood and entitlement remains. It is taught in the schools, the media, youth camps, the mosques, in public statements by leaders, and elsewhere. Violence is enshrined instead of being denounced. There is no “conditioning” of the Palestinian and Arab public to peace.[26] Ross also faults the United States, and himself as an integral part of the peace process, for not enforcing accountability.[27]  He also holds Israelis accountable, but, because Israel is a democratic society and hence its government has “legitimacy,” a majority of Israelis do question their own myths of victimhood and entitlement, hold their leaders responsible, vote them out of office if needed, and are ready to take historic decisions.   

Detailed, learned, and at times perceptive thought it is, Ross’s analysis is naive because of the trust it places in the belief that a government is “legitimate” only when it derives from the participation of the governed. As one brought up in America, I agree that government should be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Indeed, I firmly believe that the blessings of technology, prosperity, freedom, liberty, and the protection of human rights all derive from the democratic process. In addition, I believe it is laudable that the American government wants to export freedom and democracy to others. But that idea will work only in some contexts and not in others. Government in Islamic society has never derived its “legitimacy” from the people. One must grant Ross the chance to be right about legitimacy, but, at the same time, one must beware of putting too much trust in a political philosophy that counts on arguments about legitimacy to set things right.  Ross’s belief about legitimacy is only that—a belief.

            We Jews want peace. We want the acceptance of our moral legitimacy by Arabs, Palestinians, and the West. Culminating in the Shoah, so many centuries of persecution, so many years of fighting for our survival, have formed our psyches. But our yearning cannot be allowed to blind us as it did during the Shoah. We must resist our own yearnings and question the beliefs that are generated by those longings while, at the same time, maintaining an intelligent and critical view of the workings and policies of all governments and political entities involved. We must resist the six beliefs listed above, each of which seems to me to be very naïve. Allowing our policy to be guided by them endangers Jewish existence, a danger that Jews cannot risk in the post-Shoah period.


Contributors’ Questions for David Blumenthal


You speak about a fundamental intolerance in Islamic society, and you imply that fanaticism is not aberrational but rather something inherent in the nature of this religious tradition. You speak of “Islamic thought” and “an Arab point of view.” But is there one “Islam” (or one Arab perspective) with the fixed characteristics you attribute to it? Are there not many Islams? Are you not in danger of putting forward a specious essentialist claim? Might this be one instance of your failure to apply the same measure of critical acumen regarding your own assumptions that you have attempted to apply to the assumptions you are challenging?

On the one hand you claim that there is no Palestinian peace movement and on the other you assert that there can be no such movement because rejectionism is inherent in Arab/Muslim society. How, then, is it logically possible for Palestinians to serve as partners for peace? You claim that failing to examine the six beliefs you articulate in your chapter endangers Jewish existence in a post-Shoah world. But what kind of policy derives from your rejection of these beliefs? How would your own beliefs allow for any possibility of peace in the region?



                                                     Response by David Blumenthal


            My dialogue partners have focused their comments around two points. The first is my view that Islamic fanaticism is not aberrational but inherent in the nature of Islam. They maintain that this is a “specious essentialist claim” about Islam—“But is there one Islam (or one Arab perspective) with the fixed characteristics you attribute to it?”—and that, in so characterizing Islam, I am myself not being sufficiently critical.

            I could not disagree more with my dialogue partners. Every religion, indeed every culture, does have a set of “essential” claims. Authorities within the religion may differ on the exact meaning of these claims, but it is precisely those claims that define the religion, that give it its identity. To point to those claims is, indeed, to do honest scholarship. It is to focus the attention of the reader on doctrines or practices that are definitive of the religion or culture under study. Thus, it is hard to talk about Christianity without some interpretation of Christ, or of Judaism without some interpretation of Torah, or of Islam without some appreciation of the centrality of the Koran. Further, the “essential” identity of these traditions is not limited to the three parameters I have listed. One could add: crucifixion, resurrection, and salvation to the definition of Christianity; or halakha, teshuva, and peoplehood to the definition of Judaism; or, shari’a, Mohammed, and worship to that of Islam. To do this is not to distort in a “specious essentialist” way the religion or culture under study; it is to attempt to delineate a series of parameters that define it, that enable a discussion of it. While one must be aware of the differences of opinion within each tradition, that awareness and those differences do not deny that each tradition really requires an “essentialist claim” to describe it.

            There are two kinds of essentialist claims: the intellectual and the sociological. The intellectual essentialist claim would have to argue that certain ideas are “essential” to the proper definition of the religion or culture under study, allowing for some variations in interpretation. The sociological essentialist claim would have to argue that, independent of the formal teaching of the duly constituted authorities, the actual populace believes certain claims and practices them accordingly.  In all cultures and religions, it is surely the case that the intellectual and the sociological claims overlap in some areas and differ in others.

            Intellectually, it is the case in Islam that territory once under Islamic rule always remains Islamic even if it is temporarily in the hands of others called “infidels.” This is classic Islamic doctrine, and it is still taught as such.[28] Furthermore, and perhaps more important, this idea is the center of all popular Islamic claims to territory that was once Islamic, beginning with the claim to the Holy Land that was once redeemed from the Christian crusader infidels and now needs to be redeemed from the Jewish infidels who occupy it. This essential claim also includes the liberation of Iraq (where this idea has particular force) from the American “occupation,” as well as the reconquest of the Balkans and Spain. While talk of reconquering Spain and the Balkans is not taken seriously by the West, it is taken very seriously by Muslims even if that goal is not on the top of their current political-military agenda. Meanwhile, Muslim talk about reconquest of the Holy Land and Iraq should be taken very seriously indeed.  From the point of view held by many Muslims, recovery of territory that is properly Islamic is precisely an essentialist claim of Islam as well as of popular Islamic culture.  Such territorial ambition is even a part of nationalist secular Arab culture, where calls for the reconquest of the whole of Palestine are common in the media, including websites, the press, and textbooks, as I have indicated.

Politically correct, prior beliefs about the good will and tolerance of Islamic religion and Islamic peoples should not allow scholars to shrink from pointing to the reconquest of the whole of Palestine as a central element in popular and intellectual Islam.  A failure of that kind points to false scholarship that is especially dangerous in the post-Shoah world.

            The second critique of my position points out that, given the lack of an actual Palestinian peace movement and given the lack of a possible Palestinian peace movement due to the deep popular and intellectual roots of Palestinian nationalism in Islam, how can I believe at all in peace between Israelis and Palestinians? “How, then, is it logically possible for Palestinians to serve as a partner for peace?” And again: “How would your own beliefs allow for any possibility of peace in the region?”

            Given my early history, I have come reluctantly to the conclusion that almost all Palestinians are not partners for a real peace, at least not in the sense in which the word peace is used in the West. In the West, we usually use that word to refer to a state of ceased hostilities followed by a state of developed commercial, political, social, and other inter-people and inter-governmental ties. As I see it, these relationships will never happen in Israel / Palestine. There will never be a cessation of hostilities, not to speak of the development of constructive inter-state and inter-people ties. I think this for all the reasons I have outlined in my essay.

The best I would hope for is two separate states with borders clearly defined and policed and with a relatively low death toll on both sides. There will be some commerce and labor exchanges, but they will not be central to either economy and will largely be developed in spite of the existence of the two states. There will also be some people who will cross the cultural and political borders and genuinely interact with one another, but they will be, as they have been, very few in number and with no appeal to the masses, particularly the Palestinian masses who subscribe to the exclusivist teachings of intellectual and popular Islam.

Still, as the Bible itself records, forty years of reduced hostilities is an accomplishment, a goal to be striven for. I, for one, and I think many other Jews and Israelis, would be content with such a “peace,” which is really a smoldering armistice, one that requires continued alertness and, unfortunately, the continued sacrifice of innocent lives on both sides. I think, too, that “peace” as I have outlined it might be a realistic short-term possibility at this time because of the peculiar historical juncture of the American insistence on democratizing the Middle East. This effort has a tendency to bring to the surface those who are ready for compromise, although it is not at all certain that they will survive long enough in Palestinian society to take the reins of power and make any significant changes in Palestinian society. Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian realists would do well to seize the moment and work diligently toward whatever “peace” is possible while post-Shoah western scholars would do well to disabuse themselves of the beliefs listed in my essay.  Those beliefs do not further the cause of peace, but actually inhibit it through an overly optimistic view of the possibilities that lie before us.

* This appeared in Anguished Hope: Holocaust Scholars Confront the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, ed. L. Grob and J. Roth (Eedermans, Grand Rapids MI: 2008) 50-67. It is composed of my article, questions by the readers, and my response. It is my custom, for ethical reasons, never to capitalize “nazi,” “shoah,” and “holocaust.” The editors, however, capitalized all of them in accordance with usual style rules. I have reversed that here. See also Mukto-Mona Writer's Corner.

[1] David R. Blumenthal, Facing the Abusing God: A Theology of Protest (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993); David R. Blumenthal, The Banality of Good and Evil (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1999); Alex Gross, Yankele: A Holocaust Survivor’s Bittersweet Memoir (Lanham, MA: University Press of America, 2001); and David R. Blumenthal, ed., Emory Studies on the Holocaust, 2 vols. (Atlanta: Emory University, 1985, 1988).

[2] During this period, I conceived an exemplary textbook in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim trialogue. I have never succeeded in finding a Muslim, Palestinian or otherwise, who would write the section on Islam. Every Muslim I have met has been afraid of any kind of “cooperation”—that is, collaboration—with me.

[3] I once interviewed a well-educated Muslim from the United Arab Emirates for the MA in Jewish Studies at Emory University.  His interest was in modern Hebrew literature. He plainly told me that only literature written by Jews from Islamic lands was legitimate; the rest of modern Hebrew literature had too much “Yiddishkeit” (his word, not mine) and, hence, was simply not properly Hebrew literature.

[4] For more on this topic, see my Response below.

[5] "In the Shadow of the Holocaust," Jewish Spectator 1981 (Winter), pp. 11-14; reprinted in expanded form as, "Memory and Meaning in the Shadow of the Holocaust," in David R. Blumenthal, ed., Emory Studies on the Holocaust (1985), pp. 114-22; available on my website davidblumenthal.org.

[6] Haim Harari, “A View from the Eye of the Storm,” in a speech given in April 2004 and widely distributed on the internet: http://www.freeman.org/m_online/jul04/harari.htm.

[7] The very prestigious Palestinian public opinion survey, PSR – Survey Research Unit, in its Public Opinion Poll #13 from September 23-26, 2004, indicates that, while 83 percent of all Palestinians want “mutual cessation of violence,” fully 77 percent supported the then-recent Beer Sheva bombing attack; that fully 48 percent “viewed armed attacks against Israelis as effective;” and that there was “widespread support for: firing of rockets into Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip, firing of rockets from Beit Hanoun into Israel, and the ‘liquidation’ of Palestinians accused of being Israeli spies.” See the PSR website: http://www.pcpsr.org/index.html.

[8] On Palestinian and Arab textbooks, see http://www.edume.org/reports/. See also the discussion by Margaret Brearley in this volume.  Friends report to me that there has been effort to eliminate some stereotypes in Palestinian textbooks, but even these attempts do not tell the story of Zionism as a legitimate Jewish nationalist movement.

[9] On Palestinian media, see http://www.pmwatch.org/pmw/index.asp. See also Brearley’s contributions to this book.

[10] On Holocaust denial, see Deborah Lipstadt, History on Trial (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005), pp. 299-300. See also Meir Litvak and Esther Webman, “The Representation of the Holocaust in the Arab World,” The Journal of Israeli History, 23:1 (Spring 2004) pp. 100-15.

[11] The countries surveyed were, in order of the percentages: Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Lebanon, Jordan, and Morocco, leaving Lebanon and Jordan (with its very high number of Palestinians) with the highest percentages. See the Pew website: http://pewglobal.org/.

[12] See Anne Bayefsky, “On the Record: One Small Step,” June 21, 2004, a speech copyrighted by Dow Jones and Company, widely circulated on the internet: http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110005245.

[13] This principle is known as dar al-Islam and has, as its counterpart, dar al-harb, the domain of the sword. A Google search for “dar al-harb” yielded 46,800 hits, among them Ahmed Khalil, “Dar Al-Islam and Dar Al-Harb: Its Definition and Significance,” which states:  “Dar al-Harb (Domain of War) refers to the territory under the hegemony of unbelievers, which is on terms of active or potential belligerency with the Domain of Islam, and presumably hostile to the Muslims living in its domain” (http://www.bismikaallahuma.org/History/dar_islam-harb.htm). I call the reader’s attention to the expanded definition of dar al-harb, which includes all land that is under non-Islamic control but contains a Muslim population. I further note that, in the pronouncements on the underground bombings in London (July 2005), the term dar al-harb was explicitly used as an Islamic term justifying such bombings as part of the larger mission of Islam to the world. See also Brearley’s contributions to this book.

[14] For example: There is no prima facie reason why Palestinians should recognize the Jewish claim to the Holy Land at all. Also, there is a violently anti-western, anti-imperialist ideology in the Arab world, and Israel is seen as an integral part of the imperialist, western world. And so on.

[15] See the PSR survey cited above on approval ratings for killing of “collaborators.” I am not aware of statistics on intimidation of opponents, but such intimidation is widely reported.

[16] See Bat Ye’or, Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002).

[17] Joel Kraemer, “The Islamic Context of Medieval Jewish Philosophy,” in Daniel Frank and Oliver Leaman, eds., Cambridge Companion to Medieval Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 38-68.

[18] Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, “Self-Dialogue Partners in Jewish and Islamic Traditions,” in Benjamin Hary et al., eds., Judaism and Islam: Boundaries, Communication, and Interaction (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000), pp. 303-20.

[19] See, for instance: http://groups.msn.com/MiddleEastAbrahamicForum/debates.msnw?action=get_message&mview=0&ID_Message=67084&LastModified=4675500932346677344.

[20] Reported by J. Pearl, “Islam Struggles to Stake Out its Position,” International Herald Tribune, 7/20/05, p. 8.

[21] For a sharp view of Arabic patriarchalism, see Hisham Sharabi, Neopatriarchy: A Theory of Distorted Change in Arab Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

[22] See, for example, the statement of Ibn Warraq of the Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society: “We are confronted with Islamic terrorists and must take seriously the Islamic component. Westerners in general, and Americans in particular, do not understand the passionate, religious, and anti-western convictions of Islamic terrorists” (italics original). See the website: http://www.secularislam.org/. See also, Robert Spencer, The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treats Non-Muslims (New York: Prometheus Press, 2005).

[23] Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus, 2004). See especially pp. 13, 757. For a counter-view, see C. Swisher, The Truth about Camp David (New York: Nation Books, 2004) and R. Malley and H. Agha, New York Review of Books, August 9, 2001, June 13 and 27, 2002.

[24] Ross, The Missing Peace, 13, 757.

[25] Ibid., pp. 762-63.

[26]   Ibid., p. 42, 770-73, 766, 769.

[27] Ibid., 770.

[28] See above, note 13.