On Wednesday, October 25, 2023, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, “Our war against Hamas is a test for all of humanity. It is a fight between the Iran-Hezbollah-Hamas axis of evil and the forces of freedom and progress. . . We are the people of the light, they are the people of darkness. Light will triumph over darkness.”
Now where have we heard those lines before? The axis of evil, the forces of light and freedom, the forces of darkness: these prejudiced phrases are so stale they’ve grown moldy. The war in Ukraine, we’re to believe, is against dark, evil Russia. Biden’s National Security Strategy 2022 speaks of the “darker vision” of US adversaries. The Cold War was against the “Evil Empire.”
In every single US war for the past two and a half centuries, Americans have been expected to believe that we’re forever fighting evil and darkness and that the US government, even as it leads the slaughter of thousands and millions, faithfully carries the torch of freedom, humanity, and all good things. Evidently, Israel’s government believes that about itself, too.
We’re taught that the enemy—the “bad guy”—strikes out of the blue, for no good reason, entirely unprovoked, simply out of malice and aggression. Al-Qaeda’s attack on 9/11, Russia’s military actions in Donetsk and Lugansk, Hamas’ strike on October 7, 2023: all were supposedly unprovoked, out of the blue, inflicted by malevolent people for malevolent reasons. With that notion swallowed, we’re then to believe that we can’t negotiate with such people because their goals are allegedly unjust, their motivations are deemed illegitimate, and they supposedly refuse to negotiate anyway.
The grand perverse conclusion at which we’re to arrive from all these dramatic falsehoods is that war and weapons are the solutions as well as the only solutions to preserve goodness and the Forces of Light. And, naturally, we haven’t the time to mull it over: we must send those weapons quickly, for the quicker they’re sent, the quicker we can promote killing, and killing, as we know, always helps people get along, helps problems go away, and enables goodness and morality to be rescued! Right?
If we can step away from that false drama, the truth is: perceiving international and ethnic conflict as a good vs. evil drama is based on ignorance, prejudice, double standards, and mental patterns strongly paralleling those of sibling rivalry. It is a psychologically immature manner of viewing such conflict, not only because it is self-centered and aggressive in consequence, but because it exhibits an inability to impartially gather information from all sides of conflict in order to rationally solve problems.
When you research conflict and examine the roots of violence of these supposedly evil adversaries, including al-Qaeda’s 9/11, Russia’s military actions in 2022, and Hamas’ October strike, guess what happens! You find understandable motivations, fears, and grievances! You even find much humanity in the form of rage and despair over inhumanity witnessed and experienced by the so-called “bad guys.” And you find a great deal of provocation of the supposedly unprovoked.
The good news is: if the so-called enemy actually does have understandable motivations and legitimate grievances, then there’s great hope that we can have successful cooperative negotiations and work together to solve the problems that led to the violence.
With regard to the war in Gaza, Israeli and American leaders are portraying Hamas as the “bad guy.” Can we try to make some psychological, social, and cognitive evolution for once and see past the good vs. evil drama that is so destructive in its consequences?
In June of this year, I was asked to write a memo on the consequences of apartheid in Israel, the systematic ethnic discrimination against the Palestinian people that violates their human rights and legal rights and also denies them respect, kindness, and caring. I found 16 major consequences—all negative, and there are likely more. Since the writing of this June memo, the war between the Israeli government and the Palestinians has escalated catastrophically. In case it can be of any help, I share these 16 consequences and policy recommendations with you now in 4 parts:
June 28, 2023
Part 1. Tending the fronts of conflict
Consequences 1 – 6
1. Death, Destruction, Despair, and Dread for Palestinians. The terrible obvious consequence of Israeli policies which have existed towards Palestinians for decades and which are now worsening has been the physical, social, and psychological harm done to Palestinians. The worst consequences are the killing, aerial bombardments, beatings, beatings to death, torture, assault, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and collective punishment which are committed by Israeli security forces with impunity. Palestinians also are routinely subjected to “torching of field and livestock, theft and vandalization of property.” Associated severe consequences are the psychological damage to the victims and their families, friends, acquaintances, and communities which leave so many permanently deprived of inner peace, love, trust, and joy.
With Israel’s new extremist coalition government’s heightened demolition and eviction policies in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, another severe consequence is the destruction of hundreds of homes and the terrible fear and dread experienced by Palestinians at all hours of the day and night: they never know whether and when their houses are going to be demolished. In addition, the more than 2 million Palestinians of Gaza have been permanently trapped in Gaza with severely limited access to consumable water, electricity, and health care because of the 16-year air, sea, and land blockade imposed by Israel since Hamas won the 2006 elections and gained control over Gaza from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in 2007.
It would be shameful, immoral, and a betrayal of its own principles of humanity and democracy for the US government to support such behavior. Valid humanitarian concern and horror over the suffering in the 1930s and 1940s of Jews in Nazi Germany and at other times and places where Jews have suffered and suffer from anti-Semitism and pogroms should not eclipse our need and desire to care about the suffering of any other group of people, including those harmed by Jews.
180 degrees of empathy is a dangerous thing: it can lead one to take extreme measures to protect a certain group, while blinding oneself to the hatred, immorality, inhumanity, and injustice of one’s own actions against another group. We’ve absolutely got to have 360 degrees of empathy and care for people on all sides of conflict. This is not only just, but it is the most effective and long-lasting way to help each side find peace, justice, mental and physical health, and happiness.
2. Destruction of Israelis’ Social and Personal Psychologies; Damage to Both Sides of a Destructive Relationship. Support for inhumane, inegalitarian treatment of Palestinians harms the behavior and mentalities of the Israeli people themselves. Whenever there is a relationship between people that is both hierarchical and unkind, people on both sides of the relationship suffer and become less than what they could be—not only economically and professionally but morally and psychologically.
Reading about Israeli brutality towards Palestinians—indiscriminately beating Muslims worshipping in Al-Aqsa Mosque in April 2023, including the elderly, using excessive, painful force on Palestinians—reminds me of the sick mentalities of some Americans who were particularly cruel slave-owners. Something had gone wrong with their minds. They seemed to relish lashing the slaves mercilessly. Some were heavy alcoholics. They had severe mental problems. One wonders whether they had good relations even within their own families.
When I read in Al Jazeera how the Palestinian, Assem Khater, has not been allowed to make any changes to his home or build a single additional thing on his property, I see the Israelis in power as having entered the dimension of mental dysfunction and mental illness: “Israeli authorities monitored Khater’s home and the surrounding area for 17 years with constant patrols and surveillance drones. Any construction tools were confiscated and any new structures were demolished.” It’s not only the military that goes after the Palestinians, Israelis living in nearby illegal settlements are paid to inform on Palestinians who build.
Israelis are using drones to make sure that Khater doesn’t add a porch or window to his house. Think about what that means about the minds of those Israelis who created and enforce this law: they’ve become obsessive, crazed, paranoid, and hateful; they’re micro-managing, control-obsessed, and wasteful with their funds and resources. And they’re building a culture amongst themselves that breeds these qualities.
How many Israelis feel psychologically peaceful living in a nation that feels the need to be armed to the teeth in order to be safe against its neighbors and safe against its own Muslim/Arab inhabitants? How many Israelis appreciate universal conscription and the culture that has evolved from a mentality of militarism, brutality, prejudice, and ethnocentrism?
As US presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. stated, the violence we use internationally comes home to haunt us in the form of violence within our nation. Kennedy was speaking about the United States. But the same happens to Israel. Patterns of behavior and thought are transferred from one level of society to another, reflected back and forth, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unconsciously. It can become automatic. Israelis are going to develop these qualities, if they haven’t already, in their relations amongst themselves, not only towards Palestinians.
Do Jewish Israelis want to be treating Palestinians in ways they would not want to be treated themselves? Is this the behavior they want to role model for their children? Is such behavior actually in accord with the principles of Jewish law?
3. Neglect of the Multiple Fronts of Conflict and Inculcation of Poor Habits of Human Dynamics at Each Front. The major, publicized front of conflict we always hear about pits Palestinians, who are largely Arab Muslims, on one side, and Jewish Israelis on the other side. However, the removal of all Muslims and Palestinians from the Mid-East would not result in Jewish Israelis living happily ever after—not even close. Furthermore, the removal of Israel from the Mid-East would not result in Palestinians and Muslims living happily ever after—not even close.
This is because there are many other fronts within each side that are not as perceptible, fronts that would surge to the foreground if the main front disappeared. In fact, while current discussion considers whether it would be preferable to have a two-state solution or one-state solution—ideally with respect for human rights and equality, in reality, probably about six or seven states are necessary to create governments that represent and satisfy the sharply conflicting views on both sides.
In the case of the Israeli vs. Palestinian conflict, the less publicized “minor” conflicts are so heated, vicious, numerous, and long-lived that the removal of one side of the major conflict—the eviction of all Palestinians or the eviction of all Jews—would probably result in other fronts taking menacing strides to the foreground. It also doesn’t seem likely that the Israel vs. Palestine problem can be thoroughly resolved without settling the minor conflicts, because surely some faction won’t be satisfied with any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and will start blowing people up.
It’s only logical that the existence of multiple fronts of conflict and the constant birth of factions within factions should influence the choice of methods to handle these conflicts. While it’s a popular custom to unite different groups to fight the big, glorious fight against a common enemy, it really makes no sense for one side to try to slaughter or subjugate another side, unless that side also thinks it’s worthwhile to slaughter or subjugate all the other factions within its own side with whom it will soon find itself in conflict.
It makes more sense to try to develop habits of conflict resolution that are effective for non-violently resolving conflict between human beings along any front of conflict. In this way, every level of conflict can be used as an opportunity to practice developing non-violent skills of conflict resolution, mutual justice and respect, and coexistence. Every front of conflict is an opportunity to learn to literally place one’s consciousness in one’s heart, to step into others’ shoes, and to engage sincerely in cooperative dialogue.
If the US government encourages Israelis to be harsh and to feel superior towards Palestinians and Hamas, it’s not helping Israel to develop positive human dynamics that it can transfer to the many divisions amongst Jews. It’s only encouraging attitudes of hatred, divisiveness, and hierarchy.
What’s important is to develop the habits of cooperative dialogue, caring, and non-violent, cooperative conflict resolution at every front of conflict with which one finds oneself, whether internationally, nationally, or in the community, workplace, and home. An ideal US government would encourage Jewish Israelis and Palestinians to handle every one of their fronts of conflict within and between themselves in a cooperative, caring, thoughtful way.
4. Failure to Address Jewish Israeli Fronts of Conflict and Develop Positive Habits of Human Dynamics. This is a more detailed development of point #3 with regard to the multiple fronts of conflict on the Jewish Israeli side.
Instead of assuming that all Jewish people have been of one mind, it’s important to understand that intense conflict exists amongst Jewish people.There are extremely hateful divisions according to ethnicity, religious sect, the role of religion in politics, goals for Israel, views on social issues, and relations with other nations. For example, in The New Israelis, Yossi Melman writes in 1992 of three levels of status in Israel which can be very harsh and isolating: on top are the Ashkenazis, with ancestors from Eastern Europe, then the Sephardim, with ancestors from Northern Africa—coming from Spain and Portugal, and then the Arab-Israelis. Hatred and hierarchical feelings of superiority also exist across divisions of religious sects, such as the divisions between secular Jews, Reform Jews, Orthodox Jews, and Ultra-Orthodox Jews. The divisions even within these groups can be more hateful than the divisions between them!
In From Beirut to Jerusalem, Tom Friedman describes an American-style Reform service of Israeli Jews at the Baka synagogue in Jerusalem in 1986. An ultra-Orthodox rabbi and about thirty of his acquaintances unexpectedly entered the service. The ultra-Orthodox were horrified that men and women were dancing together in a circle dance. They screamed at the dancers, called them names, said they were evil, and claimed that it was precisely because of people like them that there had been a Holocaust. At least one even kicked a participant and threatened to kill him.
Melman reports that in Jerusalem:
“Orthodox platoons smash billboards showing half-naked fashion models and throw stones at cars driving on the Sabbath. . . . the secular warriors conduct raids on Orthodox areas and cover walls with antireligious graffiti. Their unorthodox warfare also includes the opening of cinemas, theaters, and restaurants on Friday nights and operating public bus services on Saturdays. Secular activities came to a brutal climax when, in the spring of 1991, a pig’s head was placed in the doorway of a synagogue. . . .
“In fact, the Orthodox frequently argue that the behavior of secular Israelis reminds them of anti-Semitism. Nowhere, it seems, are Orthodox Jews more feared and hated than in the Jewish state itself. “When I see those Orthodox folk I can understand the anti-Semite” is a fairly common expression among secular Israelites. . . . The Orthodox are viewed as parasites. . . .”
If Orthodox Jews are feared and hated nowhere more than in Israel itself, what was the point of creating Israel? If hatred and fear are human characteristics that will appear within any group, why the need to believe that separation of different ethnic groups will promote peace?
Melman writes, “In a male chauvinist society like Israel’s, where army service is equated with social status, the religious folk were perceived as marginal and ridiculous. Secular kids called their religious peers names and treated them as inferiors.” He adds:
“The emerging mood of religious-secular relations is one of increased friction and growing, mutual isolation. On the one hand, it seems that both sectors are becoming more militant every day and willing to take risks in confronting each other. On the other hand, each sector is sinking ever deeper into itself and concentrating on its own secluded communities. Their children attend separate schools and usually marry within their own communities. There are no serious attempts to exchange useful ideas between the two sectors, to explore better possibilities for peaceful coexistence and mutual reconciliation.”
In fact, resolving prejudice requires much more than an appreciation of diversity: it requires addressing the we-they attitude, the desire to feel superior to another, and the thirst for a sense of value, belonging, and worth. Differences will be pounced upon and taken advantage of as a reason to feel superior to another, as a reason to hate or taunt others, but differences are not necessarily the underlying cause of hatred and conflict between groups seeking to feel superior to one another. Even when differences don’t exist, this drive to feel superior can still lead to hatred and conflict, because of the absence of a sense of self-esteem that is independent from feelings of superiority and because of a desperate need therefore to belong to a group that feels superior as a means of feeling emotionally and socially secure.
Israel is clearly a nation in need of healing. Its government must be condemned for its brutality and injustice. Measures must be taken to ensure that such brutality and injustice cease. Yet, keeping in mind all people’s needs to feel a sense of self-worth and belonging, it’s also important to provide moral and social support to all Israelis, including those who’ve behaved badly, to take an upward path towards inner harmony, caring, and respect and safety for all.
(The topic of fronts of conflict amongst Palestinians is located in point #13.)
5. Trampling Democracy, Trampling Israeli Voices. Related to the point of multiple fronts of conflict is the trampling of democracy. When the multiple fronts are ignored, not only are positive habits of non-violent conflict resolution ignored, but the many voices are also ignored within a population—an undemocratic consequence.
Just as the post-coup Ukrainian government disproportionately represents the ultra-right segment of the Ukrainian population, the Israeli government is also unrepresentative of the general Israeli population. The current Israeli coalition government of ultranationalists and ultra-Orthodox, even more so than past Israeli administrations, is representative of only one sliver of the population: a sliver that, based on what I’ve read, is narrow-minded, uncooperative, ethnocentric, and militant. It would be a disservice to Israel if the US government were to conflate being “pro-Israel” and “anti-Holocaust” with being supportive of the Israeli government even as it tramples the voices of many, if not the majority, of Israelis.
Here are a few examples of the current Israeli government’s lack of support from the Israeli people, including the police, courts, and military:
- In 2007, Itamar Ben Gvir, the leader of the ultra-nationalist party Jewish Power, now Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s National Security Minister, was “convicted by an Israeli court for incitement to racism and support of a terrorist organization.” Incidentally, the Kach party, “the ideological progenitor of Ben Gvir’s political party,” was once on the US list of foreign terrorist organizations.
- Following the violence of May 2021, “Israel’s chief of police, Kobi Shabtai, explicitly accused Ben Gvir of serving as a catalyst for the deadly unrest that fanned the flames of insecurity.”
- Following the Israeli police raid upon Al-Aqsa in April 2023 in response to hundreds of Palestinian youth barricading themselves inside with rocks and fire crackers, “the unbridled violence of the police crackdown. . . prompted even Israel’s chief of police to register concern.” [Update: Note that recent news articles have reported on Kobi Shabtai’s expressing absolute intolerance for dissent over the Israeli government’s behavior towards Gaza. Nonetheless, the point remains that there has been disagreement between Shabtai and Ben Gvir.]
- The US Institute of Peace writes: “Normalization with the Arab world is deeply popular amongst Israelis, but Netanyahu’s most extreme coalition partners on whom he relies are driven more by their annexationist and Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif sovereignty goals than by the lure of regional normalization or fear of the international community’s condemnation.”
- “This is the most right-wing and extreme government in Israel’s history. It has already brought Israelis to the streets in protest and prompted strong statements of concern from former Israeli diplomatic and security officials. Even the current chief of staff of Israel’s Defense Forces has weighed in with security concerns.”
To ignore all these Jewish voices, including the many Jewish voices who would like peace with Palestinians, and to put one’s ear only to the voice of one narrow segment of that population is harmful, dangerous, undemocratic, immoral, and illogical.
6. Giving the Reins of Power to Those Israelis Who Seek to Dominate Palestinians and to Dominate Their Fellow Israelis. When the many voices in Israel today are ignored by the government and the media, when the many voices amongst Jews and amongst Zionists themselves are ignored, the result is not only an undemocratic representation of those voices but also a tragic loss of opportunities for cooperation, for many of those unrepresented, unheard voices are the voices of those who seek non-violent conflict resolution with Palestinians and democratic, humane treatment of them.
Repeatedly, throughout Israel’s very creation and history, the harshest and most extreme elements—the elements who seek to dominate Palestinians—have a way of dominating fellow Israelis and getting their way.
This has also happened within the US government: those Americans who most sought to dominate foreign nations also sought to dominate their fellow Americans within the US government and in society. In fact, this is similar to Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s statements that his uncle, John F. Kennedy, was surrounded by military brass who were really pushing him to go to war at various times, or to send troops or weapons. They sought to dominate foreigners, and they sought to dominate JFK.
It happens even within the CIA: those agents who say “You always just want to throw cash and arms at groups to solve problems; you never look at the roots of the conflict” get sidelined by those who want to take sides in foreign conflicts and who see these conflicts in terms of good vs. evil.
It may be that those who love to dominate foreigners also love to dominate those of another ethnicity, another religion, another gender, and another age group. Again, it’s perhaps driven by a misguided search for self-worth or for emotional security.
It is essential that we all recognize this dynamic, seek to prevent its development, call attention to it, and stand courageously against it wherever we see it.
Kristin Christman has been independently researching US foreign policy and peace since 9/11. Her channel focuses on US-Russian relations at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuNEw9-10lk-CwU-5vAElcg. Kristin graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College with a BA in Russian, and she holds Master’s degrees in Slavic languages from Brown University and public administration from SUNY Albany. She has been a guest with former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter and UNAC coordinator Joe Lombardo on Cynthia Pooler’s program, Issues that Matter, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDlaLNJih7U. Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice recently published her article on suicide, culture, and peace in their special edition on suicide, Vol. 33 No. 4. [email protected]
OHCHR, “UN experts say Israel should be held accountable for acts of ‘domicide,’” Feb. 23, 2023, https://www.ohchr.org.
Globalr2p.org, “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
 Globalr2p.org, “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
 Zena Al Tahhan, “Palestinians Face Expulsions.”
 Yossi Melman, The New Israelis: An Intimate View of a Changing People (New York: Carol, 1992), 65.
 Thomas L. Friedman, From Beirut to Jerusalem (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1990), 474.
 Melman, 128.
 Melman, 120.
 Melman, 129-30.
 Donald L. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California, 1985).
 Tirana Hassan, “Israel and Palestine: Events of 2022.”
Congressional Research Service, “Israel: Major Issues and US Relations.”
 Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, “What Does Israel’s New Government Mean.”
Press TV, “Israeli police chief under fire after saying ‘Arabs murder each other, it’s in their nature,’” Apr. 7, 2023, https://www.presstv.ir.
 Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, “What Does Israel’s New Government Mean.”
 James W. Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable (New York: Touchstone, 2008), 13-36.
 Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth (New York: Penguin, 2013).