Questions to ask your pro-Israeli friends

Palestine questions

By Paul Kinzelman

… Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said that you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

However, one reason that genuine dialogue and finding a solution to the Gaza conflict are so elusive is because the two sides can agree on very few facts thanks to the perfection of propaganda campaigns featuring selective recall, rewriting of history, and the constant repeating of lies…

Thus, attempting to have a discussion of “facts” does not solve anything because there is little agreement on a common set of facts. Without a common basis of facts, any discussion will be unproductive and usually devolves into a shouting match as often seen on TV, thus polarizing the sides even more…

I’ve found that asking questions can be a more productive approach to discussion because answering well-crafted questions requires examination of beliefs instead of responding with prepared sound bites.

So if you find yourself in a discussion with a pro-Israel person who seems willing to have a rational conversation (as opposed to just shouting slogans), I’ve come up with a list of questions you might consider asking. Be careful of a lot of responses you might get – often they’re just hand-waving and exaggerations of minor exceptions to avoid directly confronting the question. Continue to bring the focus back to the cognitive dissonance between the pro-Israeli position and these questions. You can also get lot of good information from Richard Forer’s book Breakthrough, Transforming Fear Into Compassion.

Here are some questions to ask.

Question 1

What should have been done (and what should be done now) with the many thousands of Palestinians who had lived on their land for centuries when the state of Israel was founded?

How is forcing them off their ancestral land and into refugee camps any different from what we did to the Native Americans in the 1800s (other than the time period) which is now almost universally regarded as genocide? Both situations feature intimidation, killing and the taking of land.

Even though there is much controversy as to whether the Palestinians left voluntarily, a number of even Israeli – including military – sources say that the exodus was primarily involuntary and due to the deliberate actions of the Israelis. Rich Forer’s book covers this in detail.

But let’s assume for the moment that the myth of voluntary (without any threat or intimidation) exodus is predominantly correct. How does that change anything? I can understand some people leaving to escape a war zone, but when the active conflict is over, why should they not be able to go back to their home, orchards and fields, and continue their life from where they left off? Why should Israel have rights to the land on which the Palestinians had been living for hundreds of years?

Reports indicate that over 1 million Iraqis have fled their homes in northern Iraq. By leaving “voluntarily” in the face of the intimidation and brutality of the so-called “Islamic State” (formerly called Islamic State in Iraq and the Syria, or ISIS), have they given up their rights to return to their homes?

Question 2

By what right does Israel continue to take over more Palestinian land, and continue to bulldoze Palestinian homes and orchards and build settlements in the territories that were declared to be Palestinian by the United Nations in 1948?

The rest of the world (even the US) has declared the settlements to be illegal, yet Israel continues to take more land. US leaders are all apparently too intimidated to stand up to Israel to force it to stop its illegal expansion. We continue to send it massive amounts of money and equipment. Again, how is that expansion different from the genocide and forced migrations perpetrated by the US on the Native Americans?

Question 3

Given Israel’s relentless expansion, consistently over decades, beyond its given territory, how can anyone conclude anything other than that Israel’s covert plan is eventually to annex all of Palestine (again, like what we did to the Native American lands)?

Question 4

If you agree that expansion to annex all of Palestine is the covert goal of Israel, how could you possibly conclude that Israel has ever negotiated anything in good faith?

Note that even while accepting the 1947 UN Partition Resolution, David Ben-Gurion pledged to his party that the borders established were “not final”, thus their acceptance was merely a tactical necessity as a prelude to further expansion. Why would Israel genuinely agree to any ending of hostilities if its actual (covert) goal is to expand Israel to include all of Palestine? What would you do if full annexation were your actual goal from the start?

Note also that for the 1947 partition, the Palestinians were neither consulted nor compensated, so how could that plan be the basis for peace? How could you expect the Palestinians not to fight back against that existential assault?

Question 5

If you agree that Israel has the (above) covert agenda, how can you conclude that any peace discussions or dialogue would possibly result in a peaceful solution to the conflict?

Of course, some Muslims have the covert agenda of establishing a Shari’ah law theocracy, and there are many Muslim (and non-Muslim) countries with abhorrent records of the treatment of women, for instance, but that does not justify Israel’s assault and annexation of Palestinian land. Furthermore, many Palestinian leaders are secular and understand the dangers of theocracies.

Question 6

Given the above, how do you think Palestinians should respond to such insults and atrocities?

How would you respond if you were a Palestinian whose home and/or livelihood (orchards, farmland, etc.) was just bulldozed with little to no notice and with no compensation – to make room for a new settlement of Jews who are actually subsidised to live on what had been your land for hundreds of years?

Question 7

In what way is the Goldstone report on the 2008-09 War on Gaza inaccurate in finding that the vast majority of war crimes were perpetrated by Israel?

The author is a well-regarded Jewish jurist from South Africa who was commissioned to investigate war crimes. He initially refused when the mandate was to investigate only Israeli war crimes. Once the scope of the investigation was enlarged to look at war crimes perpetrated by both sides, he was willing to participate. Note that he documents war crimes on both sides; it’s not all about Israel, but Israel holds the cards. The Palestinian options available for responding to Israel’s occupation are severely limited because of Israel’s military and technological advantages.

Here are some quotes from the report:

Military objectives as stated by the government of Israel do not explain the facts ascertained by the mission, nor are they congruous with the patterns identified by the mission during the investigation.

While the Israeli government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self-defence, the mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.

It is clear from evidence gathered by the mission that the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces. It was not carried out because those objects presented a military threat or opportunity, but to make the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.

Question 8

Why do you suppose that many Jews, including Israelis, at risk of being hit by rockets and subject to governmental persecution, and especially those who have actually been to Gaza, support Palestinian rights?

In fact, just this week (16 August 2014) there was a massive (estimates of 10,000 people) anti-Gaza war demonstration in Tel Aviv. On the other hand, you’d be hard-pressed to find even one Palestinian anywhere in the world who supports Israel’s position. Why do you think Jews would oppose their own government’s policies if the perspective of Israel and the US corporate media on the conflict were accurate?

And no, it’s not because they’re “self-hating Jews” (a meaningless term). Am I a “self-hating American” because I oppose my government’s fraudulent wars and consistent support of terrorists and brutal dictators? Rich Forer’s book has a chapter specifically addressing the “self-hating Jew” issue.

From the Goldstone report:

The mission is of the view that actions of the Israeli government during and following the military operations in the Gaza Strip, including interrogation of political activists, repression of criticism and sources of potential criticism of Israeli military actions, in particular NGOs, have contributed significantly to a political climate in which dissent with the government and its actions in the occupied Palestinian territory is not tolerated.

Question 9

Why is the United States one of very few countries in the world that supports Israel in the UN (aside from Canada and three minor Pacific Island countries)?

Does the entire rest of the world (dictatorships and democracies, Muslim and Christian alike) know something that the US refuses to acknowledge? And no, it’s not “universal anti-Semitism”. That’s unwarranted paranoia left over from World War II. Israel is a pariah precisely because of its treatment of the Palestinians. In addition, Israel has violated by far the most UN resolutions of any country in the world. The US is only number two in that regard. Remember that UN resolution violations was one of the excuses the US used to invade Iraq in 2003.

Question 10

Why does Israel have discriminatory (against Palestinians) laws (50 by some counts), many passed in the 1950s and 1960s?

Many of Israel’s laws are based on (and thus favour) Judaism, not unlike Shari’ah law is based on Islam. Both result in theocracies to some degree, and bad governance and human rights violations. One absurd example is that Israel built some good roads in the West Bank on which Palestinians are specifically prohibited from driving. What connection does that have to terrorism (if that is the excuse given for the differential treatment)? Note that even if you were black in the southern US during the 1950s, you could (legally anyway) drive on all roads in the country. How is that not apartheid, like South Africa’s apartheid used to be?

Question 11

What’s wrong with talking to so-called terrorists?

Not only is one man’s terrorist another man’s freedom fighter, but history shows many examples where genuine dialogue with terrorists produces peace (the IRA in Ireland, and South Africa come to mind), whereas continuing to do what hasn’t worked for over 60 years and expecting different results is often defined as insanity. In addition, the first leaders of Israel were terrorists against the original British occupation of Palestine.

Of course, the dialogue must be genuine, and both sides must desire peace rather than use the dialogue for posturing and propaganda purposes. One side wanting peace while the other side constantly sabotages peace guarantees failure of the peace process and continued conflict…


A version of this article first appeared in OpEd News and can be seen here. The version here is published by permission of Paul Kinzelman.

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