Forward Thinking

Instead of Israeli vs. Palestinian, Think Modern vs. Medieval

By Gal Beckerman

  • Print
  • Share Share

I give Hussien Ibish — a contributor to our pages — a lot of credit for even agreeing to get into the ring with someone like David Ha’ivri, an “extremist settler” (Ibish’s words, with which I concur) that he recently debated. Ibish recounts the encounter here.

In many ways, this type of interaction can only lead to head-banging-against-the-wall frustration. The two men share absolutely none of the same premises about the nature of the conflict. While Ha’ivri refers to the bible to justify where he lives and doesn’t even stop to consider that the millions of Arabs living alongside him should have any rights, let alone be entitled to their own national aspirations, Ibish looks at the current situation purely through the pragmatic prism of two peoples who desire the same small land and need to divide it up. They can’t even have a conversation. And they didn’t really. It sounds like they just lectured each other.

But Ibish had an interesting insight into their inability to speak the same language. Of all the dichotomies and binary choices that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presents, it’s easy to forget this one. But it seems to capture a big part of the problem:

My main point was that this was not so much a debate between an Arab and a Jew, as one between a modern mentality and a medieval one. Modern thinking, I explained, recognizes both the inherent rights of individuals as human beings and the rights of self-defined peoples to national self-determination. Medieval thinking, on the other hand, relies on holy texts and symbols, and conceives of people not as individuals and groups of individuals, but as fixed categories in a divinely ordained hierarchy.

Ibish goes on to describe how this played out in the debate:

When the moderator, a friend of Ha’ivri, suggested there was deep significance in the fact that Jerusalem is frequently referred to in the Bible but not in the Koran, I dismissed this as irrelevant on two counts. First, historically this has not been, and it must not become, primarily a religious conflict that is by definition irresolvable. Second, ancient texts of whatever variety have nothing constructive to tell us about how to solve the real problems we face.

This modern, rational evaluation drew snickers from some of the audience. Most of them were clearly more comfortable with the religious absolutism Ha’ivri was offering, and deeply but erroneously and dangerously believe this is a religious struggle.

Many of them seemed more comfortable with the childish caricature he was offering of a morally pure Israel, relentlessly pursuing justice and friendship that is opposed only by degenerate Arab and Palestinian venality. The realistic evaluation I put forward, in which there were faults on all sides and no clean hands, has little appeal to absolutists. Nonetheless, I invited everyone present to join me in the modern world.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Palestine, Israel, Hussein Ibish, David Ha'ivri, Settlers

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.