Criticising an Atheist Horseman – Sam Harris is wrong about Israel and Palestine

I had exams. So I let this slide. My next two are on Saturday and Sunday so I have some time to field this one.

Sam Harris’s take on Israel and Palestine shows an incredible naivety about the situation and buys into the whole notion that the conflict is purely religious in nature. Let’s break it down.

And I fear that writing this will get me accused of being a secret Muslim. The count of accusations due to the prior piece was at 43. 

I was going to do a podcast on a series of questions, but I got so many questions on the same topic that I think I’m just going to do a single response here, and we’ll do the #AskMeAnything next time.

The question I’ve now received in many forms goes something like this: Why is it that you never criticize Israel? Why is it that you never criticize Judaism? Why is it that you always take the side of the Israelis over that of the Palestinians?

Because as atheists it is easier to do so. Palestine is clearly filled with Hamas and Islamic Terrorists = Bad Guys.

But we don’t get why Palestinians are angry and secondly why they support Hamas. What we think of the situation is two countries at war. We keep speaking of a Palestinian as if there is a Palestine.

There isn’t. There is Israel and a series of fragmented parts of the West Bank that are basically self contained zones run by the Palestinian Authority. It however is like being the head of a ghetto. You have power but should the greater society wish to do things to you, there is little you can do but make gold fish impressions for all that would do.

And I use the term ghetto. I dislike the usage of the word “Concentration Camp”. These areas have permanent housing, they aren’t concentration camps. But they are ghettos. They are areas where people of a specific ethnicity or religion live. The joke being Palestinians aren’t a minority group. They are much like the Black people of South Africa. More in number than the whites of the Apartheid but outgunned and out-equipped. Let’s keep this in mind.

Now, this is an incredibly boring and depressing question for a variety of reasons. The first, is that I have criticized both Israel and Judaism. What seems to have upset many people is that I’ve kept some sense of proportion. There are something like 15 million Jews on earth at this moment; there are a hundred times as many Muslims.  I’ve debated rabbis who, when I have assumed that they believe in a God that can hear our prayers, they stop me mid-sentence and say, “Why would you think that I believe in a God who can hear prayers?” So there are rabbis—conservative rabbis—who believe in a God so elastic as to exclude every concrete claim about Him—and therefore, nearly every concrete demand upon human behavior. And there are millions of Jews, literally millions among the few million who exist, for whom Judaism is very important, and yet they are atheists. They don’t believe in God at all. This is actually a position you can hold in Judaism, but it’s a total non sequitur in Islam or Christianity.

That’s because Judaism is considered both a religious affiliation and a race. This is due to a shared history (in Europe at least) of collective oppression that transcends religion alone. So while many Jews may not buy into being a god’s chosen people they have a shared history.

So, when we’re talking about the consequences of irrational beliefs based on scripture, the Jews are the least of the least offenders. But I have said many critical things about Judaism. 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. But the truth is, most Jews recognize this and don’t take these texts seriously. It’s simply a fact that most Jews and most Israelis are not guided by scripture—and that’s a very good thing.

Of course, there are some who are. 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. But there are far fewer such people.

Bit simplistic but okay.

However the difference here is that these people have modern weaponry while the Palestinians do not.

For those of you who worry that I never say anything critical about Israel:  My position on Israel is somewhat paradoxical. There are questions about which I’m genuinely undecided. And there’s something in my position, I think, to offend everyone. So, acknowledging how reckless it is to say anything on this topic, I’m nevertheless going to think out loud about it for a few minutes.

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. [Note: Read this paragraph again.]

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.

This is not tepid. This is daft. Israel has all the power. It’s got an big brother to keep it safe in the form of the USA. Palestine isn’t a country. It’s a series of fenced up pieces of land policed by Israel. The problem is that a single state policy cannot work. Fewer Jews than Palestinians and the fear is that any single state would create a tyranny of the majority. Particularly since that majority has a long history of anger and gripes to fear. And secondly? Since Israel has all the cards, why would they trade their power in? It’s simply not going to happen. Hence the “Two State” plan. Which Israel doesn’t want because a recognised Palestine would be subject to International law.

Needless to say, in defending its territory as a Jewish state, the Israeli government and Israelis themselves have had to do terrible things. They have, as they are now, fought wars against the Palestinians that have caused massive losses of innocent life. More civilians have been killed in Gaza in the last few weeks than militants. That’s not a surprise because Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Occupying it, fighting wars in it, is guaranteed to get woman and children and other noncombatants killed. And there’s probably little question over the course of fighting multiple wars that the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes. They have been brutalized by this process—that is, made brutal by it. But that is largely the due to the character of their enemies. [Note: I was not giving Israel a pass to commit war crimes. I was making a point about the realities of living under the continuous threat of terrorism and of fighting multiple wars in a confined space.]

It isn’t defending it’s territory.

The dialogue of Palestine being a separate state has to stop. This is like the USA blowing bits up of Los Angeles because it is filled with Californians. There is no Palestine. It is ALL israel. There are some zones inside Israel where Palestinians live but there is no such thing as Palestine anymore. It is an occupied territory.

The reason for high civilian casualties is the usage of indiscriminate weapons of warfare in Gaza. Such as artillery shelling in residential areas. Israel’s willingness to utilise weaponry in high residential areas racks up the body count.

Whatever terrible things the Israelis have done, it is also true to say that they have used more restraint in their fighting against the Palestinians than we—the Americans, or Western Europeans—have used in any of our wars. They have endured more worldwide public scrutiny than any other society has ever had to while defending itself against aggressors. The Israelis simply are held to a different standard. And the condemnation leveled at them by the rest of the world is completely out of proportion to what they have actually done. [Note: I was not saying that because they are more careful than we have been at our most careless, the Israelis are above criticism. War crimes are war crimes.]

They aren’t defending themselves against aggressors any more. They are the aggressors. This is like complaining about Gang Violence in Detroit so shelling a housing project.

I don’t think you understand what they have done. In effect Israel have occupied land that belonged to Jordan and Egypt. That land was filled with people who expected a Palestine to be created. Israel promptly began displacing them and generally breaking International law. Considering we killed thousands of Iraqis for the first Gulf War? Israel has NOT been held to the same standards. The first war was started by their neighbours. The second one was listed as “pre-emptive defence” which is double speak for “We attacked first”.

Israel invaded it’s neighbours grabbing land from them.

I think the notion that Israel could be a lot worse is not a sensible argument for their current actions. Aren’t you glad we only broke one leg? We could have broken two. Aren’t we the good guys?

It is clear that Israel is losing the PR war and has been for years now.  One of the most galling things for outside observers about the current war in Gaza is the disproportionate loss of life on the Palestinian side. This doesn’t make a lot of moral sense. Israel built bomb shelters to protect its citizens. The Palestinians built tunnels through which they could carry out terror attacks and kidnap Israelis. Should Israel be blamed for successfully protecting its population in a defensive war? I don’t think so. [Note: I was not suggesting that the deaths of Palestinian noncombatants are anything less than tragic. But if retaliating against Hamas is bound to get innocents killed, and the Israelis manage to protect their own civilians in the meantime, the loss of innocent life on the Palestinian side is guaranteed to be disproportionate.]

What you say is also incorrect.

Israel builds bomb shelters because of Hamas’s reliance on home made rockets to harass Israel. The Palestinians build tunnels to carry out attacks because they live in fenced in and walled in pieces of land under Israeli control and have absolutely no actual power. All the ideals we laud and hold are lacking. We joke about “live free of die” but Palestinians want to live that lifestyle.. The Palestinian authority is basically VIchy France. A puppet government with no actual power. It’s like voting for the Blackboard Monitor. Any power that you do have is highly irrelevant in the real scheme of things. Palestinians are second class citizens and quite honestly? When Palestinians were peaceful we ignored them. We ignored land grabs. We ignored children being shot and jailed for being children. Even in the current dialogue? Many US sources report the story inaccurately.

Random Palestinians kill Israeli settler teenagers. IDF responds (not the Palestinian police if you noticed but the army) killing 5 and taking away nearly a hundred Palestinians to remain in extra-judiciary custody. Things settle down until Settlers take revenge by burning a Palestinian teenager alive in a lynch mob. When the IDF refuses to treat Israelis the same as Palestinians Hamas begins its attack.

The US News Sources conveniently fail to mention that the anger was not due to the tit for tat killings so much as the lack of political drive to deal with the extra-judiciary deaths of Palestinians and the usage of unlimited holding powers. AKA the running of Palestine as a Police State. Anger was further driven when the IDF responded to a PEACEFUL protest with rubber bullets and threats of actual weaponry.

Now here is the thing. Random Palestinians killed someone, so the IDF kills random Palestinians creating tensions and diffusing them by treating illegal settlers in Palestine as first class citizens while Palestinians lose the right to assemble peacefully. Leaving them with one REAL option. If they are going to live, they are going to live free or die. Such phrasing is not just for New Hampshire.

Palestinians aren’t building  tunnels. Hamas and Palestine Jihad are. Why? To smuggle things mainly. And to fight back. Because NOT fighting back has cost the Palestinians freedom. Not fighting back got them invaded and created a system where they live in refugee camps and ghettoized communities and don’t even have the right to police themselves. What are Palestinians?

Are they part of Palestine? An Independent state? Therefore subject to International law protecting their borders from Israel? Or are they a part of Israel and so part of an apartheid system where they are discriminated against because of their ethnicity and religion? As of now the media reports them as a separate state filled with terrorists rather than people within Israel filled who want and need things that are denied to them by dint of faith and ethnicity. Their tunnels are no different from the “terrorism” of Crazy Horse or the Battle of Little Big Horn. It isn’t “Dirty Indians” killing good White Christian Americans, but people fighting for their future. We respect Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull.

Yet we speak of Palestinians as if Israel was ever going to give them an equal right to live if they put down their guns. No Mr. Harris, you know as well as I do that if Israel treats Palestinians as equals  they would have to take in nearly 12 million Palestinians and Israel would cease to be a Jewish state. The majority Palestinians would simply vote down any Jewish exceptionalism enshrined in the constitution and while Mandela and Gandhi exhorted their followers to let their hate go, people still didn’t listen to them. Do you think people who have endured a loss of land, life and freedom and a survival economy and who lived in glorified camps on international handouts are going to be conducive to a pleasant relationship with their oppressors?

Mr. Harris. What price do you think Israel should pay for the land taken and for the nearly 60 years of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Of the lives ruined and the potential lost? Because that is the price of a society where you treat both sides as equals. And guess what? We tried that. It wasn’t Palestinians who killed Yizthak Rabin but zionists. Israel’s fundamentalists wish the war to continue because moderate Israelis minds are changed by depicting Palestine as a deadly threat filled with people who wish to destroy all Jews when the reality is that their hate is created by an apartheid treatment of Palestinians.

But there is no way to look at the images coming out Gaza—especially of infants and toddlers riddled by shrapnel—and think that this is anything other than a monstrous evil. Insofar as the Israelis are the agents of this evil, it seems impossible to support them. And there is no question that the Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation. This is where most critics of Israel appear to be stuck. They see these images, and they blame Israel for killing and maiming babies. They see the occupation, and they blame Israel for making Gaza a prison camp. I would argue that this is a kind of moral illusion, borne of a failure to look at the actual causes of this conflict, as well as of a failure to understand the intentions of the people on either side of it.[Note: I was not saying that the horror of slain children is a moral illusion; nor was I minimizing the suffering of the Palestinians under the occupation. I was claiming that Israel is not primarily to blame for all this suffering.]

No. We are primarily to blame. We should not have encouraged the formation of Israel in the first place. Western guilt towards the Holocaust is one of the major driving forces of the initial support as is the doomsday cult of Revelations Christianity.

We created Israel in a position of damned. We also gave it carte blanche to behave badly. We equipped it. We trained it. We poured money into it and technology. Put it this way, we aren’t offering Palestine help to develop it’s version of the Merkavah Tank or F 16s, we are giving it wheat and penicillin. Israel’s existence is based on a conflict. Without the threat of Palestine Israel is a first world nation with huge amount of wealth kicking poor Palestinians. Home Made Rockets versus Flechette rounds. Tunnels vs. White Phosphorus. Both are weapons, but one is infinitely deadlier than a home made bomb made with fertiliser.

We supported Israel and they just ran with it until the world’s attitude changed. So stuff they got away with in the 1960s got ignored. They can’t be ignored in an era where everyone with a smart phone is a war reporter. People got more educated, people started asking questions. Sure, a lot of people don’t get the balance but Hamas were a reactionary creation to the actions of Israel.

And Mr. Harris? You quietly ignore the reality, that over and over again it’s Palestinians who pay the price no matter what.

The truth is that there is an obvious, undeniable, and hugely consequential moral difference between Israel and her enemies. The Israelis are surrounded by people who have explicitly genocidal intentions towards them. The charter of Hamas is explicitly genocidal. It looks forward to a time, based on Koranic prophesy, when the earth itself will cry out for Jewish blood, where the trees and the stones will say “O Muslim, there’s a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him.” This is a political document. We are talking about a government that was voted into power by a majority of the Palestinians. [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.]

And the USA has people who support Israel due to an explicit omnicidal intention.

Do you know why Hamas were vote to power? Not because they are omnicidal but because they got results.

In years of Palestinian “talks” nothing was achieved. Settlers still moved in. Palestinians were still displaced. Children still were sent to jail and innocent people were still getting shot. So the Palestinians had a vote. A democratic vote. And they voted for Hamas. Because Hamas got Shit Done.

When Israel killed doctors? Hamas brought in more. When Israel destroyed schools? Hamas got teachers teaching again. They paid people’s salaries and gave them jobs. The job was “career terrorist/ freedom fighter” but it beat starving or eating UN rations.

Lets look at Gaza. Gaza and the West Bank are both under siege. The West Bank’s travel is restricted and business is at a grinding halt among Palestinians. Many who work in Israeli businesses do so because they have no other choice. They are second class citizens who live in ghettoes. Gaza may be without power but there are no illegal settlements within it. Gaza is Palestinian thanks to Hamas.

To put it in simple terms. Hamas got results. Gaza may be under siege but in it the Palestinians are free. The West Bank? Not so much. They can travel, but only if the Israeli guards open the doors. It’s simple Mr. Harris. The Palestinians live in ghettoes and when Hamas is a symptom of that.

The discourse in the Muslim world about Jews is utterly shocking. Not only is there Holocaust denial—there’s Holocaust denial that then asserts that we will do it for real if given the chance. The only thing more obnoxious than denying the Holocaust is to say that it should have happened; it didn’t happen, but if we get the chance, we will accomplish it. There are children’s shows that teach five-year-olds about the glories of martyrdom and about the necessity of killing Jews.

There are denialists of the atrocities inflicted on Muslims. You are aware of the global response to Sabra and Shatillah? Ariel Sharon was rewarded with Prime Minister of Israel. Not sat in a cell at the Hague for war crimes.

Bear in mind the Palestinians do not see this as Jews returning “home” but as a colonial invasion by Europeans and Americans. When Zionists utilise the holocaust to Justify their treatment of Muslims, Muslims simply think it is a lie. An excuse being used to justify the means.

And Mr. Harris if you do read this. I guarantee you by now at least one atheist has looked at me and gone “Avicenna is not a real atheist but a secret Muslim. Because of writing a more sympathetic understanding of Palestine and not being white”.

And if Mr. Harris is aware of his own country’s history about such insensitivity. Slap a Jap and Hun under the Bed? We did such things too. Do you not remember the last war in Iraq? How we mocked the Iraqis and said similar things.

There are childrens books from our fundamentalists about the eternal tortures Hindus and Muslims will face but we don’t take Jack Chick seriously. And I must point out? Your argument here is not that Palestinians are oppressed and have suffered inordinately but they aren’t Gandhi. They are willing to fight back with violence.

Historically speaking? Do you remember how Native Americans were regarded as fair game as kids? Because they are told from a young age to kill white people? Same thing for black people? That we portrayed them as savages who hated white people for their superiority.

Not because white people had massacred them or made them slaves. Imagine if you will a black slave in Africa and a Native American who survived relocation. Imagine them speaking about white people and mentioning the oppression of the Pilgrim Fathers. This concept would be inexplicable to them. That the Pilgrims were oppressed so they cam to the USA to oppress others and justify it. It seems like an excuse. Hell, considering all the lies and broken promises, many people would have seen such an event as a lie too.

The existence of the Holocaust is little comfort to a Palestinian who loses a child or a loved one. To the Palestinian? He is paying the price for the Holocaust, not the people who perpetrated it or the ethos that encouraged anti-semitic values. It would make anyone a bit angry. We speak of Palestinians as driven by hate without realising that they have valid reasons for a dislike of Israel and a fairly rational reason to consider the Holocaust as a lie.

Now the reality of it is that the Holocaust is real and that Israel’s use of the Holocaust to do terrible things to Palestinians in order

And this gets to the heart of the moral difference between Israel and her enemies. And this is something I discussed in The End of Faith. To see this moral difference, you have to ask what each side would do if they had the power to do it.

And how does this justify the wholesale killing and the usage of anti-personnel weaponry in high civilian density areas resulting in mass casualties? As of now intent (like Friendship) is magic. Hamas may intend to kill all the Jews but in reality have killed just a handful of people who aren’t soldiers. By contrast the IDF’s intentions have resulted in major casualties. A thousand are dead. This is a massacre and the majoriity of dead are civilians and children.

And let us be clear. Two play at this game.

See the thing is Mr. Harris conveniently ignores the fundamentalists of one side while portraying the fundamentalists of the other as the norm. Now I am sure not all Israelis are like this. I also know that not all Palestinians are screaming All Jews Must Die.

What would the Jews do to the Palestinians if they could do anything they wanted? Well, we know the answer to that question, because they can do more or less anything they want. The Israeli army could kill everyone in Gaza tomorrow. So what does that mean? Well, it means that, when they drop a bomb on a beach and kill four Palestinian children, as happened last week, this is almost certainly an accident. They’re not targeting children. They could target as many children as they want. Every time a Palestinian child dies, Israel edges ever closer to becoming an international pariah. So the Israelis take great pains not to kill children and other noncombatants.  [Note: The word “so” in the previous sentence was regrettable and misleading. I didn’t mean to suggest that safeguarding its reputation abroad would be the only (or even primary) reason for Israel to avoid killing children. However, the point stands: Even if you want to attribute the basest motives to Israel, it is clearly in her self-interest not to kill Palestinian children.]

A benevolent oppressor is still an oppressor. I mean the British caused the deaths of millions of Indians, but they didn’t massacre them all and so that’s a good thing. They could have though.

Israel’s issue is that it has a problem. It cannot treat Palestinians as equals or be an Apartheid State. It cannot free Palestine without having to answer for it’s crimes and indeed fork out a huge amount of money for the reconstruction, reparations and damages. Enough to wreck it’s economy. Also? There is a fear that Palestine will effectively unite all of Israel’s neighbours against them. So any option is expensive.

Israel has external constraints (because even the USA cannot turn a blind eye to the outright genocide of Palestinians and despite the calls for such by the more fundamentalist Jews it isn’t likely to take place). However Israel’s picked a hawk government whose idea of security is oppression of Palestinians which only makes the problem worse because it gives Palestinians more reasons to pick up a gun and Hamas more reasons to supply the instruments of revenge and the flag to march under.

The Hawks idea of war is to cause so much casualties that the enemy doesn’t wish to continue. Which doesn’t work if you are shooting fish in a barrel. All the Palestinians have going for them is this. They don’t have a future through conversation because the Hawks defend the highly illegal settlements.

Now, is it possible that some Israeli soldiers go berserk under pressure and wind up shooting into crowds of rock-throwing children? Of course. You will always find some soldiers acting this way in the middle of a war. But we know that this isn’t the general intent of Israel. We know the Israelis do not want to kill non-combatants, because they could kill as many as they want, and they’re not doing it.

The current Gaza crisis has had the IDF “go berserk” and shell Medicin Sans Frontier equipment, a clinic killing 30 people (a war crime I may add if this were a war between two nations), a designated and marked UN shelter and just today another hospital.

They may not want to kill ALL the non-combatants but they want to kill enough to make opposition of Israel a deadly proposition and dissuade Palestinians from joining freedom movements.

What do we know of the Palestinians? 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. We’ve already had a Holocaust and several other genocides in the 20th century. People are capable of committing genocide. When they tell us they intend to commit genocide, we should listen. There is every reason to believe that the Palestinians would kill all the Jews in Israel if they could. Would every Palestinian support genocide? Of course not. But vast numbers of them—and of Muslims throughout the world—would. Needless to say, the Palestinians in general, not just Hamas, have a history of targeting innocent noncombatants in the most shocking ways possible. They’ve blown themselves up on buses and in restaurants. They’ve massacred teenagers. They’ve murdered Olympic athletes. They now shoot rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas. And again, the charter of their government in Gaza explicitly tells us that they want to annihilate the Jews—not just in Israel but everywhere. [Note: Again, I realize that not all Palestinians support Hamas. Nor am I discounting the degree to which the occupation, along with collateral damage suffered in war, has fueled Palestinian rage. But Palestinian terrorism (and Muslim anti-Semitism) is what has made peaceful coexistence thus far impossible.]

No. IF the power balance was reversed they would never have really done anything. You must realise Mr. Harris that the entire illwill for Israel is due to the displacement and ghettoisation of people based on religion encouraged by western nations. The entire dialogue of hate is born out of oppression of Palestinians. In fact I do agree with people who say there was never a “Historical Palestinian” until the 1960s. There wasn’t any Israelis or Indians till the 1950s, so it isn’t like Israel has a major hold on what is and isn’t a historical identity. Everything since then was created by the dialogue of Israel as an occupying force (since the 1960s) and Palestinians as a oppressed people.

I must also ask Mr. Harris.

What is the difference between an F-16’s use of a JDAM or Hellfires fired from a helicopter blowing up buses and ambulances nd restaurants in Palestine and a suicide bomber doing so?

Hamas has massacred far fewer teenagers than the IDF has. In fact the UN school in Gaza was hit by shelling killing children. And this isn’t the first time this occurred. During Cast Lead a similar incident took place.

They murdered Olympic Atheletes, but that’s what got the world speaking to Palestinians. I mean we never cared what Palestinians thought until they did stuff like that. Hell. The British didn’t care about Gandhi until he found out ways to wreck their economies. In Durban the complete shut down of Indian dominated services meant that the entire Civil Service of South Africa was paralysed. In India Gandhi paralysed the labour and cloth industries costing the British millions. It was only his “economic terrorism” (and believe me he played a part in the damage to poor people in the UK by harming the factories there by encouraging local weaving) that made people listen to him. If not for the Battle of Little Big Horn, Native Americans would have probably been a lot worse off.

And currently? These indiscriminate rockets have killed fewer Israelis in 2 years than one day of fighting in Gaza has killed civilian Palestinians.

And I repeat? Hamas is going to annihilate the Jews using what? A starving population? Lack of medical supplies? Home made rockets and kalashnikovs against a serious modern army equipped with the finest weaponry Americans can hand over as “charity”? Come on, you know as well as I do that Hamas couldn’t fight it’s way out of a paper bag. It’s just that they can make life so randomly dangerous that safety is not guaranteed.  By contrast the Iron Dome has made the rockets useless and only a handful get through to the point that Rocket Watching is a spectator sport particularly since these rockets aren’t aimed so much as fired with the notion that they land somewhere where there are people. They are more designed to scare people than kill anyone.

The truth is that everything you need to know about the moral imbalance between Israel and her enemies can be understood on the topic of human shields. Who uses human shields? Well, Hamas certainly does. They shoot their rockets from residential neighborhoods, from beside schools, and hospitals, and mosques. Muslims in other recent conflicts, in Iraq and elsewhere, have also used human shields. They have laid their rifles on the shoulders of their own children and shot from behind their bodies.

Mr. Harris. Are you suggesting that a guerilla force fight fair? By standing on open ground? Why not toss out the rules of Hindu Combat or initiate a Garland War. Have both sides send their champion and duke it out in fisticuffs.

If Hamas are using Human Shields then so did the French Resistance, or are human shields only acceptable if the victors use them?

Hamas just fights from wherever they can because they don’t have modern technology to fight a battle in the open. Hamas lack any tanks let alone modern battle tanks. Hamas if they are anything like the Iraqis would be using handloaded rounds and cut rounds (lower gunpowder amounts) because they have to make it last longer. Hamas are like every urban guerilla fighter group ever.

And I am aware of the usage of Human shields by BOTH sides such as the Battle of Jennin where Palestinian children were used to shield Israeli soldiers or during Cast Lead where Palestinian children were used to check houses to trip booby traps. In fact? Since 2009 there have been 13 instances of the IDF using Human Shields as recorded by Amnesty International and the Red Cross and noted by UN Observers and MSF and admissions from ex-Israeli Defence Force soldiers.

 And secondly? The argument is daft. It’s like claiming the IRA used human shields by operating out of Belfast. Because they didn’t have the good decency to stand on a field under a giant cross marked “bomb here you English Bastards”. And likewise the British Army didn’t utilise artillery or aerial bombardment in a civilian area because you can’t win hearts and minds by splattering them across roads.

And many Palestinians don’t consider staying with their houses as being Human Shields, but as being human beings who want to stay in their houses.

In fact Mr. Harris, considering MSF are out there? There has been no evidence that Hamas are using Human shields. I am quoting Jeremy Bowen… the BBC’s Middle East Director on this one. (Note, waiting for the accusation that Jeremy is a secret Muslim too)

The people of Gaza are clustering where they are safe, not where they can sit on Hamas rockets. Am I being used as a human shield just for refusing to leave my house? My supposedly safe zone? I have already been forced to flee my house once Mr. Harris. To you it may not make sense but in a War Zone people stay put because everywhere is unsafe! It’s not like Israel don’t target shelters and hospitals.

The other 1.8 million people living in Gaza are in a similar situation.It is a rectangular tract of land, about 25 miles long and just a few miles wide, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on one side and Egypt on another. It is a barrel and it’s difficult for civilians to hide or go anywhere to avoid Israel’s airstrikes, artillery and gunboat shells. They have no choice but to stay in their houses waiting to get killed and hoping the Israelis don’t “miss” at whatever they are firing at, while Israel continues propagating flimsy accusations that many of these houses hide weapons. The truth is Israel doesn’t know which houses have weapons since it has no actual intel and in many cases the shelling has simply been at random.

And we are talking about Hamas as if it were a purely military organisation. Hamas is like a government. Sure there is an army but there are also Doctors and Teachers and Fire Fighters. Defeating Hamas is great on paper because it invokes you as brave defenders of Israel killing douchebag terrorists. Not shooting up someone’s paediatrician or kindergarten teacher.

And imagine a Hamas member living in an apartment building. His neighbours are not human shields any more than his family are. The apartment building is not a hive of human shields but a residential building and a reality of urban life. These people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And I don’t understand the addition of other Islamic Conflicts. I mean you do realise Palestinians are an entirely different entity to these people?

Consider the moral difference between using human shields and being deterred by them. That is the difference we’re talking about. The Israelis and other Western powers are deterred, however imperfectly, by the Muslim use of human shields in these conflicts, as we should be. It is morally abhorrent to kill noncombatants if you can avoid it. It’s certainly abhorrent to shoot through the bodies of children to get at your adversary. But take a moment to reflect on how contemptible this behavior is. And understand how cynical it is. The Muslims are acting on the assumption—the knowledge, in fact—that the infidels with whom they fight, the very people whom their religion does nothing but vilify, will be deterred by their use of Muslim human shields. They consider the Jews the spawn of apes and pigs—and yet they rely on the fact that they don’t want to kill Muslim noncombatants. [Note: The term “Muslims” in this paragraph means “Muslim combatants” of the sort that Western forces have encountered in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The term “jihadists” would have been too narrow, but I was not suggesting that allMuslims support the use of human shields or are anti-Semitic, at war with the West, etc.]

I have considered it. And I noted that you have “carefully” ignored the usage of human shields by Israel.

Now imagine reversing the roles here. Imagine how fatuous—indeed comical it would be—for the Israelis to attempt to use human shields to deter the Palestinians. Some claim that they have already done this. There are reports that Israeli soldiers have occasionally put Palestinian civilians in front of them as they’ve advanced into dangerous areas. That’s not the use of human shields we’re talking about. It’s egregious behavior. No doubt it constitutes a war crime. But Imagine the Israelis holding up their own women and children as human shields. Of course, that would be ridiculous. The Palestinians are trying to kill everyone. Killing women and children is part of the plan. Reversing the roles here produces a grotesque Monty Python skit.

Actually since 2009 there have been 13 instances noted and not one Israeli was tried for a war crime. In fact? As a war crime this is one of those things that Israel simply ignores as a reality on the ground. Any complaints are quickly hushed up. To date I am unaware of any single instance of an Israeli being tried for the usage of human shields. If you know any, list em in the comments and assume I stand corrected.

And don’t sugar coat it Mr. Harris. Palestinian children. Because Hamas will not fire on their own children. In fact Hamas has often given up ground rather than fire on children. Which is why the practice exists.

If you’re going talk about the conflict in the Middle East, you have to acknowledge this difference. I don’t think there’s any ethical disparity to be found anywhere that is more shocking or consequential than this.

What puzzles me more is the ethics of ignoring the fact that in general, observers have noted the usage of Human Shields MORE by the Israelis. In fact in every case of human shields being used by the Palestinians it has been a populist shield. A Gandhian tactic of non-violence. Like chaining yourself to a tree.

And let us assume for a second that you are right Mr. Harris. That the Palestinians are terrible people who shoot their own babies to kill Israelis.

Does that justify the occupation of Israel and the shelling of civilian areas because “Israelis are higher on the scale of morality”.

And the truth is, this isn’t even the worst that jihadists do. Hamas is practically a moderate organization, compared to other jihadist groups. There are Muslims who have blown themselves up in crowds of children—again, Muslim children—just to get at the American soldiers who were handing out candy to them. They have committed suicide bombings, only to send another bomber to the hospital to await the casualities—where they then blow up all the injured along with the doctors and nurses trying to save their lives.

What Harris doesn’t get is that Palestinian issues are different from the other ones.

Okay let us take two different moves for Sovereignty.

Gandhi and those people who declare themselves Sovereign Citizens in the USA and refuse to pay taxes. Both declare themselves to be “Freedom Fighters”. Both refused to pay taxes. But why is one considered a paragon of peaceful protest and the other fringe idiots who make life worse for everyone? Because they are different people and have different driving ethics. Gandhi wanted independence from the UK and rights for Indians and freedom. These people think taxes are tyranny and fetishise an Ayn Randian paradise without realising that only exists in fantasies. They stand for an ethos that is selfish while Gandhi tried to create one that was selfless. Gandhi and his Assassin were both Hindus but we can differentiate between Nathuram Godse’s hate and Gandhi’s pacifism.

I know a specific instance of this happening in Afghanistan. An Indian doctor providing healthcare in Afghanistan wrestled down and gave his life to stop a Muslim Suicide Bomber from hurting his patients. I don’t know about you Mr. Harris but that man was a serious doctor and I am humbled by the fact that there are people that selfless for their patients and that should such an instance occur, I would be just as mindful of the people I have taken responsibility for.

But Afghanistan is miles away from Palestine. The situation there is different. The issues there are different. The Taliban are a fundamentalist group who ban dancing and force women into Burkhas and stop their education. Hamas educate women and even run nursing schools. They aren’t the same entity at all. That’s like suggesting we shouldn’t let anyone Christian do anything in the USA because the Lord’s Resistance Army are Christian or that mobs of Christians make life unbearable for Muslims in the CAR and have caused nearly a quarter of 4.6 million people to become refugees.

Harris simplifies a conflict into the greater issue of Islamic extremism without realising that the local conditions create the issue and the issue here is a real injustice that was ignored by the world until Islamic Jihadi ideas began to take root.

Every day that you could read about an Israeli rocket gone astray or Israeli soldiers beating up an innocent teenager, you could have read about ISIS in Iraq crucifying people on the side of the road, Christians and Muslims. Where is the outrage in the Muslim world and on the Left over these crimes? Where are the demonstrations, 10,000 or 100,000 deep, in the capitals of Europe against ISIS?  If Israel kills a dozen Palestinians by accident, the entire Muslim world is inflamed. God forbid you burn a Koran, or write a novel vaguely critical of the faith. And yet Muslims can destroy their own societies—and seek to destroy the West—and you don’t hear a peep.

This is not a zero sum game Mr. Harris. If we campaign for an independent and sovereign Palestine AND a safe Israel it doesn’t mean we are ignoring ISIS. And there are large indications that Hamas would PROBABLY not want anything to do with ISIS either due to ISIS’s actions in Syria causing the death of Palestinians. Hell? ISIS and Al-Qaeda don’t get along either. Islamic Fundamentalism is not a monolith anymore than Western Europe is a place where we all speak German.

And as for ISIS? We trained an entire army, equipped it with new and modern equipment and are looking into options for interference against them. However we kind of have over-extended ourselves. Particularly in Iraq where we just left the damn place and don’t wish to be dragged in to a war. We aren’t supporting ISIS. Every damn western government’s having a collective moment where we wonder how the Iraqi army that is better equipped and outnumbers ISIS is losing and where we realise that the Iraqi army is completely untried and tested without American Support. So our options are “go back to Iraq” or “give Iraq more stuff” and we want to do neither because going back to Iraq is a major step back. Likewise, giving stuff to Iraq doesn’t solve the problem. The reality is that the Iraqi army is a big fluffy  pillow  with poor leadership. Unlike the half brick of ISIS. So despite being bigger its a lot less useful in a fight. Giving it more toys won’t make the Iraqi army better, what it needs is proper leadership and a drive to achieve things.

Hell the Iraqis fighting against ISIS are using American and British training and weapons to do so.

And if you want to see cooperation on ISIS then look no further than Iraq and Iran who are working together to fight ISIS.

Your argument is “why don’t you get angry about ISIS! Why only Israel”. It’s simple. We don’t fund ISIS, we fund Israel. It isn’t rocket science that we would be more capable of asking Israel to not abuse the people it has conquered.

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.

I repeat. Mr. Harris, are you suggesting that if Hamas and Palestine disarms… then Israel will destroy every single one of the settlements and pull out of Jerusalem (which will be under UN control and accessible to both sides) and Palestine will be a soverign nation and Israel will pay the appropriate cost of damages and reimbursements and for the redevelopment of Palestine to the standard of Israel?

Israel has repeatedly refused to respect Palestinian borders and designations, why would Palestinians make a deal that leaves them even more vulnerable? The argument that Israel are not the primary agressors in this conflict ignores the fact that the land that is currently regarded as Palestine was taken as part of a Land Grab  in 1967 and that any Palestinian request is that the borders be restored to a pre-1967 level. This war has never finished for the Palestinians because they are still living under the occupation that began in 1967.

A war that Israel started. Pre-emptive defence is just double speak for “We started it”.

Again, granted, there’s some percentage of Jews who are animated by their own religious hysteria and their own prophesies. Some are awaiting the Messiah on contested land. Yes, these people are willing to sacrifice the blood of their own children for the glory of God. But, for the most part, they are not representative of the current state of Judaism or the actions of the Israeli government. And it is how Israel deals with these people—their own religious lunatics—that will determine whether they can truly hold the moral high ground. And Israel can do a lot more than it has to disempower them. It can cease to subsidize the delusions of the Ultra-Orthodox and it can stop building settlements on contested land.  [Note: Read that again.]

Sure, but it isn’t just “stopping” the building of the settlements but tearing down nearly 50,000 of them. Nearly a 100,000 settlers live there and what they do is create contested Islands that the IDF is forced to police creating strong points, barriers and cut up portions of the West Bank to protect handfuls of settlers.

This incompatible religious attachments to this land has made it impossible for Muslims and Jews to negotiate like rational human beings, and it has made it impossible for them to live in peace. But the onus is still more on the side of the Muslims here. Even on their worst day, the Israelis act with greater care and compassion and self-criticism than Muslim combatants have anywhere, ever.

Every person who discusses the Middle East agrees that the entire issue has its basis on land and the ownership of land rather than religion. Religion is the divider, land is the cause. The original goal was the separation of Israel and Palestine and the holding of Jerusalem as neutral territory. In 1967, Israel made a grab for Jordanian and Egyptian land. When the dust settled, Gaza and the West Bank were in Israeli hands. Palestine became an occupied territory. Palestinians simply demand freedom. Collective experience of occupation plus local differences mean that Palestinian culture has evolved and a separate identity exists.

And the demands from Israel are frankly irrational. Like the recent ceasefire? Hamas is sort of right. How can you claim to be a humanitarian ceasefire when your blockade is still killing Gaza? We wring our hands and go “why don’t you accept a shit deal”.

Let us look at another shitty deal. The Palestinians of the West Bank offered the Palestinians of Syria a place to return to and aid to escape from the fighting there and predation by ISIS. They were denied entry into the West Bank by Israel at the Golan Heights. They would only be allowed in if they gave up the right to return as refugees. Seriously? Israel rather than demonstrate humanity, utilised the dreadful conflict in Syria to try to fuck over more Palestinians. As expected, Palestinians refused. Why? Because these aren’t bargains, these are demands to further neuter and alienate the Palestinians from any semblance of a fair deal.

Your demand is that Palestinians (not Muslims) sue for peace no matter the cost. That’s not equality.

And Mr. Harris, we seek to hold ourselves to higher standards than “better than fundamentalist terrorists”.

It’s simple Mr. Harris, tell us what concessions are you willing to make for Palestinian peace? What they should give up and why? And then explain to me how and why is it acceptable to agree to live in a ghetto under a modern apartheid.

And again, you have to ask yourself, what do these groups want? What would they accomplish if they could accomplish anything? What would the Israelis do if they could do what they want? They would live in peace with their neighbors, if they had neighbors who would live in peace with them. They would simply continue to build out their high tech sector and thrive.

Mr. Harris as you are aware, there are no priests in foxholes.

There are no chemistry teachers either.

Palestinians are more interested in survival than high tech sectors. I was a refugee. My parents are doctors as am I. But for that one year we were effectively beggars. My dad and mum traded medical skill for food. If I lived in those conditions? I would not have amounted to much. It is only living in the UK that has driven me to a be a doctor. Had i had no job opportunities, no education and constant fear of war? I don’t think I would have become a medical student.

There are no schools in a war zone. Right now the disruption caused by Israel in Gaza has effectively turned education into a farce. If Jamie Oliver says that poor food is bad for education then I say that having your school blown up is bad for education too.

And Palestine isn’t Israel’s neighbour. Neighbours have fences between them. If your neighbour moves all his stuff into your house, kicks you out of the living room and the master bedroom and lets you sleep on the floor of the bathroom then he isn’t your neighbour anymore.

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.

No. Hamas is very very clear. Hamas wants Israel out of Traditional Palestine. Now we know that isn’t going to happen but Hamas are the equivalent of those idiots from Israel cheering the death of children. They don’t want to rule the world. Same for ISIS. Same for Al-Qaeda. The whole “destroy the west” dialogue is kind of like 5 years talking about ruling the moon.

In fact? Al-Qaeda is like a franchise. ISIS Were part of that franchise till they broke off and went all Dio on Al-Qaeda. Hell, my personal favourite story about this is Al-Qaeda’s response to the Anders Breivik shooting in Norway. Before the suspect was named and the rationale released, someone from Al-Qaeda claimed it was c carried out by them. The irony being Anders Breivik was as an islamophobe.

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.

I completely disagree here.

Sam Harris doesn’t live in the same conditions that most Israelis do. Let us get this straight. Israel isn’t in a nice place.

They have centuries of oppression and the holocaust weighing down their collective history and fear a repeat of it. To them Israel is a symbol of hope and a destiny that is their own. The problem is that it came at the cost of Arabs who got the short end of the stick. The arabs do not see Israel as a homeland for Jews but as a place where Europeans have colonised. Jews to them aren’t natives to the region but an invader coming in from all parts of Europe as a payment for a crime Arabs did not commit.

So to satisfy them, Palestine was partitioned but this was not accepted by the neighbours of Israel. To understand why we must look at a similar instance. The partition of India. Nothing Israel and Palestine have done is on the same scale as India and Pakistan’s partition. By the final tally during the Bangladesh Independence? More than 2 million people were dead as a cost of lines in the sand. And more 8 million were displaced. That’s the ENTIRE population of Israel. The closest the world has ever gotten to Nuclear War in our lifetime is right there. And it is all down to a pointless line.

See Israel sees the whole of Palestine as theirs and vice versa. The Palestinians feel robbed that invaders from Europe got all their land and Israelis thought that this is deserved land.

There is a touch of Manifest Destiny about this. That Israelis are returning to a promised land and that the Palestinians are merely place holders. The Holocaust made a lot of Zionist ideals very selfish. Let us just say the 1940s were not a progressive period. Even for Jews. Neither were the 1960s. Remember. Black people were still considered second class citizens in the Home of the Free with absolutely no sense of irony.

With the capture of the region. Israel had a second problem. It couldn’t exactly police the new people who began to call themselves Palestinians. They were an occupied territory and rather teaching a force of conscripts (The IDF are a conscript force) how to deal with issues they watched as the IDF heaped insult after insult. In addition Palestinians became a cheap labour force and were handy to keep around. Like black people in the USA and South Africa. They did odd jobs, manual labour and jobs no one else wanted. Nearly 40% of Palestinians worked in Israel.

For many Palestinians being held without cause was normal. Death was normal too. Palestinians of the period were rather more docile and a variety of sleights were visited upon them. A variety of things caused a collective snap in the Palestinian pacifism. One can look at the beginning of oppressive measures in Palestine as voicing disapproval of Israel was sufficient to get you arrested, beaten and thrown into over-crowded cells. In one Prison camp 250 Palestinians were kept in just four cells.

It finally came to a head when an Israeli soldier accidentally drove a tank into some Palestinian cars resulting in deaths. This was the start of the first Intifada. This was incredibly non-violent to begin with. There was a major drive to oppose Israeli brutality with non-violence. In the first year only one Israeli soldier was killed. Live ammunition was used on Palestinians. Settlers even burnt a few alive in their cars. Then the riots began. And finally? A 17 year old girl was shot at a refugee camp. That changed the tone of the conversation.

See until then Palestinians were willing to talk. They endured everything a brutal and oppressive regime threw at them. Israel’s look into this was that Palestinians should just “go away” and that they were useful to have around economically but not to be given equal rights as they outnumbered Israelis. The first martyr of the Intifada this young girl.

What ensued was mass rebellion. Neighbourhoods were closed off and barricaded and soldiers who attempted to breach them were fought off with anything that came to hand. Palestinians refused to trade with Israelis and day labourers refused to work. Each ot these activities was considered riots and the Israeli policy of “might” continued to keep Law and Order. People were thrown into prisons for refusing to work. Within a few days the entire occupied territory was engulfed in a wave of demonstrations that Israel was simply ill equipped to handle. Everything from Demonstrations, to Riots to Commercial attacks. Military Vehicles, Buses and Banks.

An important thing to note? Not one Israeli Settlement was touched during this.

When pro-Israeli people ask me what is the definition of Palestinian, I point out that this is the first time we begin to see a unique identity of what it means to be a Palestinian. Palestinian nationalism is born out of the oppression faced.

The more oppressive the Israeli Defence Force was the stronger the Intifada got. With each brutality the anger increased. A few months later six people had died due to Israeli live fire and beatings, hundreds imprisoned and at least thirdy severely wounded. Anger began to turn towards the Americans who were seen as sponsors for Israel’s state brutality.

 Since 60% of stone-throwers were children under between the ages of 6 and 14, Yitzhak Rabin adopted a fallback policy of ‘might, power and beatings’. The IDF killed many Palestinians at the beginning of the Intifida, the majority killed during demonstrations and riots. Certainly 2000 odd Palestinians had died by the end. Palestinian protests were large and the millions of Palestinians demonstrated that they effectively outnumbered the Israelis. In response the IDF were unsure of how to deal with crowds, in riot police tactics and in general were conscripted rather than professionals so had discipline issues which lead to increases in violence.

In addition the Israeli policy of force lead to collective punishments such as the closure of the West Bank’s Universities (Mr. Harris? Remember your dig about Israeli High Tech Industries? Imagine what 6 years of University closure would do to the American High Tech Industry business). West Bank schools were shut down too by the Israelis. Yes, Israel enacted a ban on education. In the first year nearly 1600 round the clock curfews were aimed at Palestinians. There were random closures of electricity, water and fuel. At any given point 25,000 Palestinians were under house arrest. Palestinian businesses were targeted for destruction. Farms were uprooted and nearly a 1000 homes were destroyed.

Then the settler attacks began on Palestinians.

Palestinians refused to pay taxes. You heard me. Palestinians pay the Israelis tax, cannot vote and have no equal rights. When that happened to Black people in the USA people revolted. They got angry too. The only difference was that the USA didn’t fight Malcolm X with artillery shelling. This lead to further brutalities with seizure of property and jail time for family members of stone throwers.

One young man from Palestine told me his younger brother had thrown a stone and so his father was in trouble. So his father told him to go throw more stones at the Israelis because “what can they do! They are already jailing me for my son scratching the paint on their tank. I may as well get a good deal for this and have both sons throw stones!” Other gallows humour exists. “If you want Palestine so much  we are giving it to you, piece by piece”.

In the six year Intifada 1200 Palestinians were killed. 200 of these were below the age of 16. These were children either shot or beaten to death by Israeli forces.

At one point 1 out of every 50 men in Gaza above the age of 16 was in a single Prison Camp.

In the first month of the Intifada 35 Palestinians were killed and 1300 were wounded. Charities noted that nearly 30,000 children required serious medical care for beatings. A third of these children were under the age of 10.

Israel adopted a policy of arresting key representatives of Palestinian institutions. After lawyers in Gaza went on strike to protest their inability to visit their detained clients, Israel detained the deputy head of its association without trial for 6 months. Ironic right? 

Dr. Zakariya al-Agha, the head of the Gaza Medical Association, was likewise arrested and held for a similar period of detention, as were several women active in Women’s Work Committees. During Ramadan, many camps in Gaza were placed under curfew for weeks, impeding residents from buying food and in effect starving Muslims. Al-Shati, Jabalya and Burayj were subjected to a form of collective punishment where saturation bombing by tear gas was employed as a disciplinary method. During the first year of the Intifada, the total number of casualties in the camps from such bombing totalled 16.

Had Israel been any other country, the International pressure would have cracked them in half considering the same pressure destroyed the Apartheid at the same time.

But let us not leave without speaking of how the Palestinians hurt themselves. With rising Nationalism came the accusations of collaborations and the various organisations in Palestine tore themselves apart. The end toll of that was a thousand dead.

Do you want to know what one of the slogans of the Palestinians was? I am sure Sam Harris would get a kick out of this. No Taxation Without Representation.

When the UN sought to put pressure on Israel for these actions, the USA vetoed it.

The First Intifada failed. And it failed because Israel was capable of ignoring the international community due to the incredible power of the USA and the blind backing of Israel. The First Intifada dragged Israel to the peace table, but since then Israel has reneged on it’s promises and returned to the older ways. Palestinians remembered trying out peace. All it got them was a few days of news, their children beaten up and their people killed, more land grabs, more settlers and a demolition of their education system and their most educated leaders in jail.

I hope Sam Harris reads this. I hope he realises that his stance is one of ignorance. Of looking at the problem as if it were a simplistic argument between religions when it has and always has been an issue of land, self determination and the like. While Hamas and the like dominate the dialogue, remember when people like Dr. al-Agha tried to speak you put them in jail, beat them, shot their neighbours and children. So we are stuck listening to fundamentalists because we refused to listen to people who were moderates. And if you note? Not one instance of religion had to be invoked.

Hamas are bad for Palestine but what is good? Can Palestine reproduce the first Intifada? A mainly peaceful uprising that involves all of Palestine willing to break the law and take the punishment in mass civil disobedience? Because Hamas are not the answer. Neither are Israel. For Palestine to succeed it needs a peaceful uprising that we listen to. Otherwise we will go back to having to deal with Hamas.

If you wish to read a bit more about this? Check out my previous post. 


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  1. CT Chimako.27 says

    Absolutely awesome response.

    DH and I saw some new reports/documentaries about 10 years ago about the Isreali “settlers” in Palestinian territory. Since then, we refer to the Isreali government as a bunch of terrorists.

  2. Menyambal says

    Great article. Very informative.

    I don’t know as much about the area as I could, so I appreciate the exposition. I do know that the people that I trust, who have actually been there, speak very poorly of Israel and its policies. I do know that the people that I know, here in the USA, who support Israel, support it for religious reasons having to do with the Christian apocalypse (and the ultimate destruction of the Jews).

  3. Steven Weir says

    Do you think this conflict would be what it is if everyone in Israel and Palestine were atheists? What would it look like, what conditions would separate them?

  4. says

    Yes it would still occur. Land would be the dividing factor. It may not be as virulent due to the use of religion to drive both sides and emphasise the divide but it would still be a division.

  5. natashatasha says

    Good article! The thing I hate about Israel-Palestine discussions is that almost inevitable it will come down to ‘whose side are you on?’ as if the issue were completely black-and-white, good-and-bad. It’s almost heresy to be on the internet and argue that both sides have legitimate grievances, both sides committed terrible deeds (without drawing moral equivalency between the grievances and deeds of each), and criticising the smallest behaviour of one will label you a fanatic for the other.

    It’s a shame people’s sense of justice is haunted by time — it doesn’t matter who legitimately owned the land fifty years ago or five thousand years ago, what matters is the problem that exists now. And it can’t be solved by anointing one side with all the blame. I condemn the Israeli apartheid state just as I condemn the Hamas terrorist attacks.

    Unfortunately, the negotiations can’t really proceed until both sides are willing to give major concessions — the Palestinian Authority seems to be negotiating as if the default peace were a status quo ante bellum, and expect Israel to pay to keep the settlements (as well as a number of other things, this is just an example). Israel sees the peace negotiations’ starting point as the status quo and expects Palestinians to concede something for settlement removal (such as the claim on Jerusalem). Yes, I know that there has been agreement on where negotiations should start in the past, but it’s been made pretty clear that it doesn’t start there.

    And let’s not forget that Hamas starts from the negotiating position that Israel needs to be destroyed. You can’t negotiate with someone whose only terms are your destruction.

    In the end, though, it boils down to the fact that one side has the power to unilaterally declare the war over and place borders over the objection of the other, to create an independent state. And of course, doing so would deeply hurt its interests. And so the situation continues, an unbroken cycle of violence on all fronts.

    And while we can apportion blame proportionally to power, moral responsibility, even our own bias, it makes absolutely no progress to do so.

  6. natashatasha says

    I hate not being able to edit. It should read ‘Israel seems to see the peace negotiations’ starting point as uti possidetis …’

  7. Hoosier X says

    So. This Sam Harris guy. I’ve heard of him.

    Isn’t he supposed to be smart or something?

    I haven’t seen much evidence of that in his Middle East talking points.

  8. RJW says


    “Do you think this conflict would be what it is if everyone in Israel and Palestine were atheists? What would it look like, what conditions would separate them?”

    That question really doesn’t have any relevance since Zionism is an ideology that developed within an ethno-religious culture (1) it doesn’t seem at all plausible that Zionism would have been invented by atheists and (2) the implication is that Israel and Palestine are two separate nation states and the conflict is ideological.

    “What we think of the situation is two countries at war. We keep speaking of a Palestinian as if there is a Palestine.”

    Yes, this is the fiction promoted by Zionists and accepted by the ignorant. The present conflict is essentially a colonial war of the type that should have vanished in the 19th century, the Palestinians, like any indigenous people, are resisting the invaders, whose land hunger is insatiable. it’s not an inter-state war and it’s not a religious conflict.The war will not end until the Zionist project is complete.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    … Hamas were a reactionary creation to the actions of Israel.

    Many make (and document) the claim that Hamas came into existence not only as a reaction to Israel policies, but as a direct and generously subsidized creation of the Israeli government, intended to undermine the then (late 1970s) strong support of the Palestinian population for Yassir Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

    See former Chicago Tribune columnist Ray Hananias’s “Sharon and Hamas” summary from 2003. Compare with the simultaneous (and substantial) aid given to extremist Islamists by the CIA as part of Zbigniew Brzezinski and Jimmy Carter’s scheme to “give the Soviets their own Vietnam” in Afghanistan – and how both plots ended up in backfiring against their makers.

  10. James The Second says

    Sam Harris is not naive. He is a positively malicious warmonger. The man is an anti-Muslim nutter who sees everything through the lens of religion. Muslims are not just people trying to raise a family, pay their bills and get ahead in life. No, they are all secretly conspiring to put American women in burkas and confiscate your beer. That really is how he thinks. I remember he says in The End of Faith somewhere that we need to fight the war in Afghanistan because Muslims want to impose Shariah on us. Yes, barefoot and illiterate Afghan peasants are going to lead an amphibian assault on California beaches and close down all the gay bars if we don’t bomb the shit out of them. The man is a raving loon saved only from the Glenn Beck crowd by his atheism. His opinion on politics is worthless. I want to hurl whenever I see an atheist waving around his books as if they were holy gospel. The guy is just a dupe with a doctorate. There are legions of such people. It’s time atheists stopped falling for every moron with a science degree and a messiah complex.

  11. James The Second says

    This is the most well written and thoughtful response to Sam’s garbage that I’ve read by the way. Well done. ++

  12. Ed says

    I like a lot of Harris’ work–neuroscience, free will, consciousness, conequentialist ethics, the value of “mystical” experiences (like deep meditative or ecstatic states) from a non-theistic point of view. But he has an excessively cold and abstract theory of motivation which leads to distorted views of religious people.

    Belief A leads to Action B in his mind. There’s no consideration that human behavior is often motivated by needs and emotions more than ideas. Religion can be a huge problem in and of itself sometimes, but it is often a set of myths and symbols to organize one’s experiences around–even when superstitious literalism is there, too.

    For example, it is an irritating but revealing habit of religious people to give their beliefs or god credit for any virtue or good decision. They love their children or parents, don’t steal, stopped using drugs, etc. because of Jesus (or Krishna, or whoever). They don’t consider that they are simply behaving as relatively well-adjusted people for purely natural reasons. Most people (in the absence of serious dysfunction) have warm feelings toward family. A lot of people fool around with drugs in their youth and quit as they realize that going down that path into later adulthood will lead to trouble and interfere with their goals. Most citizens of a stable society don’t steal.

    But if religion is important to them, they have to give it more of a causal role than it really has. This principle is there with the less pleasant parts of life. People fight over resources, hold grudges, feel proud of killing their enemies even at the expense of their own lives. These things exist among people of every religion and secular ideology under certain conditions.

    Consider also that trauma and deprivation enhance negative feelings and harsh value judgments. Even in a privileged life, not getting good sleep, missing meals, being stuck in bad weather , being around too much noise can increase the chances of a person reacting in anger in word or deed. Imagine the level of suffering and deprivation many Palestinians go through on a daily basis. How nice would you be?

  13. Kics says

    “That land was filled with people who expected a Palestine to be created.”

    Under the Ottoman empire, There was no Palestine border or Syrian border or Jordan border or Lebanon border. Maps I’ve seen show Syria as a large region covering Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan. The people on the West side of the Jordan were the same people culturally as those on the East side. There was an enormous Arab land mass that was divided up. A tiny – TINY – proportion of that was allocated to develop Israel as a Jewish sanctuary – given the subjugation suffered by the Jews in Europe and – as Dhimmis in Islamic jurisdictions for centuries.

    The British promised emancipation of the Arabs from the yoke of the Turks during the First World War. They didn’t promise demarcated ‘Palestine’ and ‘Jordan’ and ‘Arabia’ and ‘Syria’ etc. There was just a vast region that was under the jurisdiction of the Turks that was to be emancipated. What exactly happened after that was not set – until Sykes-Picot in an effort to establish control and order after war. That agreement is almost universally condemned by the Arabs. But imagine what would have developed in the vacuum? Over such a large area surely there would have been various struggles for dominance in the exercise of drawing their own lines in the sand. Given the strong tribal alliances, almost certainly there would have been tribal wars.

    The peoples of the Jordan, East and West Bank, largely illiterate subsistence farmers wanted any regime that basically left them alone and taxed them the least. They weren’t hankering after a demarcated autonomous ‘Palestine’ state before or after the Ottomans. They didn’t refer to themselves as Palestinians. It was the Jews who used that term. The ‘Palestine Post’ was an early Jewish-owned newspaper. The Muslim Palestinians only proclaimed ownership of that term after the ’67 war when Jordan lost the West Bank. Before that they were simply Jordanians – again a term that existed only because the British/French created that region as a country. Demarcated Palestine was drawn and created by the British only after the Ottomans lost jurisdiction of the vast – VAST – Arab territories.

    Finally, let’s just look at how the Jews have transformed the region without any oil revenues to speak of. Economically and culturally it is the jewel of the Middle East, a title Beirut deservedly had before the rise of Islamic psychosis. The Christian and Arab Israelis live in the safest streets of any MENA country.

    This is an ideological battle, on one front you have the theocratic mindless Quranic thuggery of Hamas who “love death more than you (infidels) love life” who are ideologically of the same psychotic feather as the Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram and ISIS; on the other you have a secular democracy, with a free press and freedom of speech – and a thriving robust market economy and culture. Muslim women can drive, become MPs and walk around without masking their identity in Israel – not in Arabia

    The West Bank is an open wound for both sides. It is a source of shame for many Israelis. What to do, give the Arabs citizenship so that they can freely elect MPs with the values and ideology of Hamas? That’s what ‘the people’ of Egypt did in electing the Muslim Brotherhood. The Israelis have seen how their unilateral withdrawal from Gaza has worked out – disastrously. Even with checks on imports Hamas brought in thousands of missiles – and Hamas want the checks removed? The Gaza are a means to an end to Hamas. They are fodder. Pawns to be used in their war to rid Israel, where Muslim Arabs have the safest streets and the highest standard of living across all of MENA. Given the results of leaving Gaza, it is understandable to think that exactly the same thing would happen should they march out of Judea/Sumeria – the West Bank.

    (Sorry, not sure whether the line breaks will work)

  14. says

    1. It wasn’t tiny. It was 50% of the state and it was some of the best parts of the state. If I offered you 10 acres of land in the middle of New York and 1000 acres of land in the Sahara Desert you wouldn’t say “SAHARA PLEASE”. Not all land is equal.

    2. The countries that made up the region had no say in the decision. It literally would be like the UK deciding to make changes and give New York to Canada without any say from the USA or Canada or the people in New York.

    3. I point out that Palestinian Nationalism is based on a shared history of persecution by Israel either as refugees in the camps or within the West Bank and Gaza and this is different to the Syrian and Egyptian cultures that they were part off. I mean seriously? Israel and india were both created just 20 years before Palestine. It isn’t like either group has a major monopoly on unique nationalism

    4. That’s like saying it was okay to massacre Native Americans, break treaties and force them into reservations and turn them into Sports Mascots and Stereotypes because we built New York.

    5. Did you even read my post on the First Intifada? OR the prior article showing the reality of the West Bank? The settlements, the history, the fences, the road closures?

    6. Did you ignore the fact that Israel is the biggest recipient of aid and indeed military aid on the planet? And you assume there is no Palestinian culture which is a major major problem created by Israel’s dialogue and the notion that Palestinians aren’t a real group of people.

    7. I have written about the usage of medicine as a weapon in Gaza. Medicine, Food and drinking water have all been used to Punish Palestinians. Did you ever consider that the reason Hamas is supported is because they are the only people doing anything to fight back?

    8. If you paid attention to my post you would notice that Muslim Arabs do not have the highest standard of living in all of the MENA unless you ignore Kuwait and the UAE which have really high standards of living that exceed the standard of the western world. If you had read both my articles you will note that it shows clear restrictions of rights including the usage of water cut offs to force Palestinians off land, destruction of farms to ruin local economies and the arrests of Palestinian Middle Class leaders.

    If you keep arresting moderates, pretty soon all you will have to deal with are people like Hamas.

    Please read my article before commenting because nearly every single point you made was covered by my work.

  15. Tilly says

    Everything is relative–what is “moderate” is so called only by comparison to what is extreme. It is unlikely that during the first Intifada, Israel saw the suicide bombers as “moderates.” You criticize Israel for not having a crystal ball and looking into the future to see Hamas and other extremists rise up, Hind sight is twenty-twenty, as the expression goes.

    If it is appropriate for Hamas to begin negotiations by saying “we want you all dead and gone,” is it appropriate for Israel to negotiate similarly? Settlements and terror tunnels were created for barter–what makes one worse than the other? Why do you feel land is more worthwhile than human life?

    You imply that if Israel had never been created, there would be peace and prosperity for Palestinians. However, the Middle East is teeming with problems–Shiites fight with Sunnis, Persians fight with Arabs, one Arabic tribe fights with another. Not to mention the second class citizenship jews had while living in Arabic and Persian states.

    You also seem to think that Israel is responsible for every bad thing that has ever befallen any Palestinian anywhere, ever. Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and countless other nations have contributed to this problem. These Arab nations have made it clear that they don’t want the Palestinians and don’t want to help. Hezbollah claims to support the Palestinians, but uses them as solely for a body count. Before you say that these Arab nations have too many internal problems of their own, Israel has just as many. Israel has no ultimate control over this problem than the USA does with Gitmo.

    Looking back doesn’t solve any problem. This conflict is riddled with the discussion of “whose land is it,” “whose claim is stronger,” “who deserves it,” and none of this matters, because what is done is done. The International isolation of Israel also solves nothing, because as social science has proven, isolating a group only makes the group double-down. If somebody tells you your country, your people, everybody you love, is wrong and has no legitimate concerns (let alone calling them monsters, thieves, etc) you are not going to sit down to a dialogue.

    Your post is full of things Israelis did, didn’t do, did wrong. What about Hamas using aid money for weapons and terror, rather than schools, hospitals, infrastructure? Weapons may give people in Gaza some kind of hope for freedom, but it won’t give them a decent life now. If Hamas used aid money for these things begining in 2007, Gaza would be better off. Instead, Hamas will pay only if your 12 year olds sign up to dig terror tunnels and strap bombs to their chests. Gaza indoctrinates their children from preschool to hate jews–why isn’t this something worth mentioning? Israelis don’t teach their children to hate. Israel gave the family of the murdered Arab teenager status as victims of terror–but you carefully ignored this. Israel left Gaza in 2005 and dragged people kicking and screaming out of the settlements. Since Israel doesn’t get any credit for doing what the International community wants, it is no surprise that people in Israel are more and more taking the position that “everybody hates us and we’re on our own.”

    Finally, you mention that there is a different standard for Israel–and there is–the world asks Israel to do what no other nation is asked to do. You also assume that everyone in Israel is of one mind, ignoring that there are as many differing opinions as there are stars in the sky. Your bottom line seems to be that because the cost of a Jewish homeland is “too great,” it isn’t acceptable. Jews are people, horrifically mistreated by the world in the past and present, and deserve one tiny nation to call their own. Are there bitter pills to swallow on both sides? Yes. Do jews deserve less than others? No.

  16. says

    Sorry, I’ve only been able to read about the first hundredth of this very long post…but I wanted to comment on this part from Harris:

    So, if there were going to be a state organized around protecting members of a single religion, it certainly should be a Jewish state.

    I would add that it should be in Europe…maybe a chunk of Germany. But, I’m doubting the Europeans are willing to give up any of their land!

  17. mfbaadog . says

    Great post.

    My main problem with Harris’s attitude to this is that he seems to think that some inherent moral character is responsible for how ‘Jews’ (ie, Israelis) and ‘Muslims’ (ie, Palestinians Muslims) behave. Ed’s post above helpfully (to me) explains his typical reasoning as

    “Belief A leads to Action B in his mind. There’s no consideration that human behavior is often motivated by needs and emotions more than ideas.”

    — which is exactly the problem. Harris attributes Palestinian hatred of Jews to abstract (Islamic) ideals, rather than their oppression and violence at the hands of Israelis; their terror tactics, likewise. But Jews lived in peace throughout the Muslim world (more or less) right up until the Six Day war, and the Islamic rules of warfare are basically the Geneva Convention 1300 years earlier — clearly, Jew-hatred and terror do not necessarily follow from Islamic principles. (For that matter, a study of suicide bombings in Lebanon found that over the years they’d been used by Muslims, Christians and…atheists. Marxist atheists, but still.)

    I’m not pretending that Islam has no influence on Hamas (it avowedly does), or that they have no choice; only that in general circumstance dictates our options, hence how we can act on our ideals. It seems like it influences which ideals we adopt, too — (proto-)Israelis weren’t so high-minded when they used terror to establish Israel (amongst many more legitimate tactics, obviously), and their “care and compassion and self-criticism” stops short of granting (as they could) Palestian self-determination.

    In any case, I’m shocked at how bigoted Harris is. He seems to hold Judaism in high regard because he’s actually spoken to some rabbis, hence realised it’s a diverse religion with many, often liberal variants. As regards Islam, he is suffering from serious group attribution error — he seems to think that the world’s billions of Muslims, millions of imams, thousands of Islamic scholars in hundreds of countries are all of one, brutal mind. Seriously, go speak to some people.

    In any case, I’m not a secret Muslim, either (drink far too much, sleep too late). Thanks again for the post, and good luck in your exams.

  18. Stacey C. says

    Thank you for this. I’m really fed up with Harris and others getting a pass for their naked bias when it comes to Islam.

  19. says

    What seems to have upset many people is that I’ve kept some sense of proportion. There are something like 15 million Jews on earth at this moment; there are a hundred times as many Muslims.

    It’s a sad kind of irony that it’s my German native tongue that has the perfect word to describe Harris’ attitude here: Menschenverachtend.
    Despising humans.
    What does it matter if there are 100 times as many people who share the same religion with the kid killed in Gaza? Is that kid therefore only 1% the person a Jewish kid is? So it wouldn’t be that big a crime if Israel wiped out all Palastinians because there are enough muslims in the world? What other conclusion are we supposed to draw from this?

  20. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Palestine is clearly filled with Hamas and Islamic Terrorists = Bad Guys.

    That much is certainly undeniably true and significant.

    A lot of other stuff after that is highly contentious and arguable.

    But we don’t get why Palestinians are angry (I) and secondly why they support Hamas. (II)

    I. Anger is one thing, the way they deal with it and the tactics they use to try and get their way are something totally else. I do not think anything, any cause, justifies terrorism.

    II. a) Do we really know how many genuinely do support Hamas as opposed to being cowed and bullied and brain-washed into seeming to do so? We are talking about terrorists here who throw their rivals off buildings and murder anyone they suspect of “collaborating” with Israel -or even Fatah, the other more moderate palestinian group who they took Gaza over from ina bloody Civilwar.

    b) Islam – religion justifying evil and atrocities as it does with similar terrorist groups eg. Boko Haram, ISIS -ISIL -Islamic State, Al Quaida, Taliban etc .. This is an islamofascist group with a driving Islamic ideology.

    c) Have you ever heard of the Palestinian TV shows and education system? That might explain a lot. There is one hell of alot of inciting hatred and brain-washing taught to their children.

  21. papagi says

    If Israel retreated to pre-1967 borders and the Palestinians were allowed to exist as a separate unified state without any Israeli intervention, would there be peace? Even though there may be only a relatively small number of militants relative to the Palestinian population, how many suicide attacks would it take to make life in Israeli cities intolerable? So yes, the idea of Jihadism needs to be taken very seriously when trying to work out any kind of deal.

    As for the 1967 war being a land grab (what benefit might there have been for Israel to occupy Gaza other than that it was previously Egyptian territory and they were Israel’s enemy at the time?) it’s interesting to read such a different take. Israel struck pre-emptively but this was a response to the various opposing nations’ build-ups on her borders and the closing of the Strait of Tiran by Egypt – in addition to these nations avowed intention to destroy Israel. Note that it was clear at the time that an Israeli defeat would not have been purely on a military level. Given the threat of total destruction of their people, the Israelis chose to strike first.

    I’d be interested to find out other takes on the situation and what could have been an alternative course of action.

  22. =8)-DX says

    Very good (if long) article. Finally a proper perspective that looks at the situation in its entirety. I remember as a kid we heard of the situation in Gaza and the West Bank and it wasn’t as bad as today. In the current situation it is very easy to dismiss all Palestinians as “evil terrorists”.
    Once more I listen and learn.


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