Chronicling the follies of religion and superstition, the virtues of skepticism, and the wonders of the real (natural) universe as revealed by science. Plus other interesting and educational stuff.
"Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."
“If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed”.
“Skeptical scrutiny is the means, in both science and religion, by which deep thoughts can be winnowed from deep nonsense.”
The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.
Despite the president’s trip to Israel being one meant to strengthen the already impossibly strong U.S.-Israeli bond, I wasn’t expecting to hear this. If this was turned into economic motivation, we could get Israel to sit down with Palestinian leaders and meaningfully negotiate in a flash.
There would be no conflict between Israelis and Palestinians if neither believed a magical god blessed a special city.(via goodreasonnews)
I’ve gotten a few asks about the basic history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, so I figured it would be easier to address that in a text post, and answer any subsequent questions.
First of all, I just want to make clear that the way I view the the world is through a lens of ideas, context, and humanitarianism. This worldview contributes to my understanding and processing of all information, and most certainly influences the way I discuss the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in particular. One of the biggest issues we have in America is the way we discuss and frame this particular conflict, and to many people, the way that I frame the conflict with this worldview is controversial. Take that as you will.
The conflict over the territory in present-day Israel and Palestine did not begin thousands of years ago. While this land has certainly seen its share of conflicts throughout history, the specific conflict between Israelis and Palestinians can be traced back to really only the late 1800s. The general idea here is that facing rampant antisemitism in Europe, many Jews were coalescing around the idea of establishing their own land in order to be free from persecution. The World Zionist Organization talked about establishing such a nation in a few places throughout the world. One popular idea was Argentina. However, many Jews also liked the idea of returning to Palestine, as some considered this their spiritual homeland.
At this time, the Ottoman Empire controlled the territory of Palestine. To make a long story short, throughout WWI the British promised a few key Arab leaders independent states if they helped them to fight the Ottomans. Once the Ottoman Empire fell, however, the French and the British carved up the Middle East for themselves. The British controlled the territory of Palestine, and did promise them independence. This never happened. In the meantime, due to politics in Europe and among prominent Jews and members of the World Zionist Organization, the WZO set their sites definitively on Palestine. Throughout the 1900s, there were large waves of Jewish immigrants coming to Palestine. The indigenous Palestinians at first got along very well with their Jewish neighbors, but as they started coming in in the hundreds of thousands, it began to cause serious tension and economic issues.
Arab leadership pleaded with the British to let them have independence, or to at least stop or put some kind of cap on the massive immigration. WWII broke out, however, and the British had to keep their attention on that instead of Palestine. Independence was again put on indefinite hold. Some of the new Jewish immigrants had begun forming militia groups such as the Haganah/Irgun to takeover Palestine from the British (and ultimately from the indigenous population). They believed that the land belonged to Jews for the creation of a Jewish state, and that it would be taken by force if necessary. Now there were two groups asking the British for Independence: the indigenous Palestinians and the Jewish immigrants.
By the time WWII ended, the British decided to leave the “question of Palestine” up to the newly formed United Nations. Prominent Jews in Europe held more political power and influence, and the UN decided that the land would be split between the Jewish immigrants and the Palestinians. It should be noted, however, that the most fertile land was awarded to the Jewish immigrants. Obviously, the Palestinians and surrounding Arab nations were not happy with this UN decision, and challenged the ruling. However, on the date set by the UN to finalize the split in 1947, the highly trained Jewish immigrant militia groups in Palestine went in and physically took over the land designated to them by the UN. They destroyed entire villages and in many cases massacred entire families. This was frightening to the Palestinians, and so many of them left their homes in order to escape from the violence. The militia groups used this opportunity to take over and occupy not only the land designated by the UN, but as much land as they could. Arab nations came in and fought on behalf of the Palestinians, but their underdeveloped armies were no match for the militias and they lost.
This is the starting point, I believe, for the “modern day” conflict. I could write pages and pages, but to sum it up let’s say that from 1947 until the early 90s there were a few wars involving the new Jewish state and the indigenous Palestinians with their Arab allies. This is where the idea of “denying Israel’s existence” comes from—for many decades after the UN decision, Palestinians along with many other nations around the world refused to accept Israel as a legitimate nation, because of the nature of its founding. The historic Oslo Accords in the early 90s established a mutual acceptance of both Palestine and Israel to exist and set up a plan to create an independent Palestinian state while maintaining peace. However, no such state has been created and obviously there has not been a lasting peace.
Clearly I have skipped over a TON of history here, but I’m hoping you get the idea. When it comes to Palestine there are a few hugely contested issues that remain unresolved:
- there is no official Palestinian state. This means that Israel has ultimate veto power over any actions by any sort of Palestinian government.
- to create an independent Palestinian state, borders must be defined. Over the past 50 years, Israel has illegally expanded its territory far past the 1947 lines established by the UN, and has even gone past lines set in subsequent wars. Moreover, Israel continues to allow for the existence of illegal settlements in Palestinian territory in very blatant attempts to gain more land, specifically land adjacent to bodies of water. (Please see the map below of the “Shrinking Palestine”
- after the wars in ‘48 and ‘67, many Palestinians who left their homes to escape the violence had their homes taken over by the Jewish militia/new Israeli state. These people have been toiling away in refugee camps for decades, created generations of refugees that the Israelis will not allow back in the country. At this point, so much time has passed that generations of Israelis now live where these homes and villages once were, so beyond ideological differences, there are huge practical problems.
- Right now Palestinian territory is divided between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. These two territories are completely separate and it is nearly impossible to travel between them. Each territory is governed differently by Israel. It is also governed differently by Palestinian leadership—in Gaza, Hamas has political control while Fatah has control in the West Bank. Uniting these territories and these people will be crucial in creating a single, unified state.
In addition to and mixed in with this are HUGE problems regarding the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government. Palestinians suffer incredibly human rights abuses that have been condemned many times over by the UN. The Gaza Strip is referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison. Palestinians in the West Bank, typically somewhat better off than their counterparts in the Gaza Strip, face checkpoints that are not only dehumanizing, but are an impossible burden to any sort of hope for economic development or even basic human travel. Men, women, and children are imprisoned often without cause, a trial, or any kind of conviction. Rampant corruption is present in Palestinian government. Any kind of civil society movements are quickly crushed by the Israeli government. Crippling poverty is present throughout both the West Bank and Gaza.
I will stop myself there, but if you’re interested in more about the humanitarian situation in Palestine, there are many resources available. I will suffice it to say that the cruelty is unimaginable. Moreover, there are many ways the Israeli government systematically enacts barriers to any sort of economic or political growth or a larger peace process in general. Again, if you would like more on this you can message me.
I tell you this because I’m sure that you have already heard of the bombs that are launched from Gaza into Israel, and the history of suicide bombings. These things do happen, and they are terrible and awful and have resulted in the death of many Israeli civilians. I do not condone violence in any way, from any party in this conflict. I do think it’s important though to understand why a certain minority of Palestinians turn to violence. There are also many resources available that look at this.
The current situation in Gaza is Israeli “retaliation” for Hamas bombs launched into Israel. The problem is that Hamas considers those rocket launches “retaliation” for Israeli attacks on Gaza, which happen just as often and usually kill exponentially more civilians. This argument doesn’t get anyone anywhere, and these back and forth attacks are only symptoms of a much larger problem. There are many reports on the numbers of deaths caused by Israelis to Palestinians and vice versa, if you are interested.
There are a billion related topics that I could get into, but this post is already long enough. If you are interested, I highly recommend a book called the Gun and the Olive Branch by David Hirst. It’s very accessible and offers a comprehensive look at the history of the conflict.
This is one of the best articles I’ve seen written on the topic (the last one submitted was not bad, mostly correct, but couldn’t avoid bias)
This is an excellent article on the history of the region, and why conflicts exist today and why there doesn’t seem to be any easy solution. Absolutely no one is without guilt in this mess.