Oct 13, 2023

An apology, and your criticism.

An important follow-up on our Israel-Palestine piece.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

Today is a follow-up on our piece from Tuesday.

First: An apology.

In Tuesday's piece, I linked to a Twitter account of an Irish man named Keith Woods. He had posted a video I thought was relevant about fighting between Muslims and Jews at the Al-Aqsa mosque. It turns out Woods is an open, blatant anti-Semite — a self-proclaimed Jew hater and white nationalist. I had no idea who he was, I'm embarrassed and ashamed of the mistake, and apologize for giving him any exposure. Fortunately, only a few readers caught this error before we updated the link in the piece to this explanation from Forward, a left-leaning Jewish news organization, that explains some of the fighting that has happened there and why it is relevant.

I am sorry.

Now, I'm going to share some responses to my writing from Tuesday below. I was tempted to share all of this feedback and then my own responses to specific claims, but I know that would only start an unfair cycle of arguments where I get to determine when it ends. So instead, I'm going to share the feedback without any drawn out retorts from me, and I'll let the criticisms stand on their own and speak to each other. I’ve tried to both give a complete sample of the range of feedback I received, as well as an accurate reflection of the proportion of the arguments I got from readers. In a few places where I think it is important to share clarifying information or framing, I will include an editor's note as a parenthetical. I've left all of the feedback anonymous, but these are all real emails, comments, and private messages I received from real people.

I'd like to say a few other things about the last few days before we jump in.

First, I was surprised by how much attention this got. I am glad I "went viral" for something that means a lot to me and I put a lot of thought into, not for doing something stupid or a snarky tweet. But I was caught flat-footed by the massive response. I’ve had a few stories like this catch fire before, and there is no way to prepare for millions of people seeing something you wrote. I'm trying to engage everywhere I can while also taking care of myself. And I’m reminding myself of how lucky I am to be sitting in the comfort and safety of my own home in Philadelphia while commenting on the situation, not living through this or this. Last night, Israel ordered the evacuation of 1.1 million people from northern Gaza. Many of my worst fears are coming true. 

Second, I was also caught off guard by some of the responses I got from my Jewish brethren. As I said in my piece, when I saw the Israelis being slaughtered by Hamas, I saw myself. It could have been me. That was my thought. Those are my people. In trying to exercise empathy and look beyond my own worldview, I've spent a lot of time over the last decade engaging and giving space to the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim views of this conflict — many from friends and academics. To my great disappointment, the act of exercising this empathy has apparently enraged many of my fellow Jews. Empathy for the plight of those in Gaza or the West Bank is not mutually exclusive with love for Israel. It never has been and it never should be. The simple fact remains we are all, like it or not, squabbling cousins who deeply care for the land known as Israel.

Nevertheless, I was told I should no longer be welcome in some Jewish communities. I was told I sold out my people. I was told I was a self-hating Jew. One reader suggested I just drop the pretense and state my acceptance of anti-Semitism. Others disingenuously and disturbingly re-framed my writing as a "defense of beheading children" and intentionally conflated Hamas and the Palestinian people in order to claim that I was defending the slaughter of innocent civilians. 

This is an absurd notion. There is no moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel, and I never suggested otherwise. There is moral equivalence between dead Israeli children and dead Palestinian children. Hamas beheaded Israeli children. One million of the people who have no ability to leave Gaza are under the age of 19. Neither picked their government, leaders, or circumstances.

In some ways, I get the blowback. My piece was released just hours after (now confirmed) reports of babies being slaughtered by Hamas and civilians being burned alive. Unspeakable evil, motivated by a lust for blood and a hatred of Jews and Israelis. Earlier today, my synagogue emailed me asking for volunteers to act as security tonight so my fellow congregants could pray without fear of being attacked. And for good reason: Attendees of pro-Palestine rallies in Philadelphia are celebrating the dead and some extremist Muslim leaders are calling for more blood today. My piece arrived in many people's inboxes as they were immersed in these stories. Emotions are high.

And yet I also want to be as clear as I can: Telling me I am a self-hating Jew or a sell-out for my people or that I am unwelcome in a Jewish community because of what I wrote is repugnant. I want you to know that while I’m attending Shabbat services tonight, I’ll be praying for you. And for Israelis and Palestinians and peace.

That some folks responded this way despite the fact I shared my view that Jews had a legitimate claim to Israel and that Arab leaders have repeatedly sunk potential peace deals (two positions widely held by Zionists!) tells you just how radioactive this topic really is.

Finally: I cannot possibly fit all the history of this region into one newsletter. So many criticisms from people with every flavor of opinion on this conflict included sentences that started with phrases like "you neglected to mention..." To which my answer is: Yes, I did. I wrote what I could and made it as genuine and human and thoughtful as possible. Many entire books have been written about single events like the Balfour Declaration. I spared it two sentences. Of course there were things missing from that newsletter — as there will be from this one.

I also want to thank you. I learned a lot. I learned a lot from Saturday until Tuesday, and I learned a lot between Tuesday and now. So many people wrote in with unique individual perspectives or illuminating historical details. My position here is not written in stone. It is ever-changing, ever-evolving, ever-moving, and will continue to be as the events unfold in front of us and we get more clarity about the events of the past. So thank you, too, for everyone who wrote in and made their case thoughtfully, and in a way I could hear. Below, I've shared the kinds of feedback and criticisms that I think really added something to the discussion and will better inform our readers about the perspectives that exist on this issue.

Toward the bottom, I've included some bits of positive feedback — which, for whatever it's worth, was the overwhelming majority of what hit my inbox. For a little levity, a friend also put "my take" into ChatGPT and asked it to summarize my writing, which I’ve shared at the very end. We're sharing this newsletter to everyone for free, but if you appreciate it and our coverage, please consider becoming a member to support our work. 

I know there’s a lot here, but I encourage you to take the time to read it all.

Thank you,


The criticism.

To understand the present, it's important to note that the hatred of Jews plays a role. This hatred, as you know, is nearly universal and very ancient. Starting with the ancient Egyptians who fretted about the Hebrews' dual loyalty (Exodus 1:10), this time-honored tradition continued with Christianity in the West and Islam in the East. It's a myth that the Jews and Arabs got along until 1948. Jews suffered under Arab rule nearly as much as their brethren under Christian rule. Gentiles the world over have been predisposed to hate us since forever.

Fast forward to the late nineteenth century. When Jews began immigrating to then-Palestine, they found a desolate and barren land that was sparsely populated, dotted here and there by nomadic groups of Arabs (such as the Bedouins). Don't take my word for it. You can read travelers' accounts of the land from that time period, such as the one in Mark Twain's book, The Innocents Abroad. This bears repeating. It was desolate and barren and sparsely populated. There was not an invasion by imperialistic Jews into a land full of Palestinians. This is a myth. [Editor’s note: Like many issues on Israel-Palestine, this question is the subject of some scholarly debate. Some would certainly agree, and some would contend the land was not desolate or barren].

As you pointed out, Jews started arriving during that time to escape oppression. They began building up the land, attracting Arabs from neighboring countries seeking work. Even then, the Arabs hated them. The incidents of pogroms and violence that the British investigated were found to be instigated by the Arabs—well before the British decided to parcel up the land and divide it between the two peoples...The idea of a Jewish state was intolerable to them. Indeed, the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, had a relationship with Hitler; he had met with him and asked him to declare a Jewish home in Palestine illegal and to support the Final Solution in the Middle East. This is the climate the Jews were living in before they were even given a homeland, while the Holocaust was taking place in Europe.

This story could have ended happily. The Arabs could have accepted the partition and lived side by side with Israel in peace. Instead, right after Israel declared independence, five Arab nations attacked Israel. Now listen carefully because this is very important: The Jews did not drive the Arabs out. Instead, Arab leaders encouraged Arabs to leave, under the assumption that they would drive Israel into the sea and then they could return and take over Israeli homes. There is a ton of evidence for this. [Editor's note: The expulsion of Arabs was very much a mix of motivations — some left expecting to return when the war was won, some left out of fear for their lives, and some were actually expelled by the Israelis. In the video I linked to in our original piece, Dr. Benny Morris explains this history.]

But the Arabs lost the war, and with it, their land. They created this problem. In their arrogant belief that the Jews would fall to them, they created the problem of losing their land. In their arrogant belief that they would easily annihilate the Jews, they created 600,000 refugees. Yet they twisted the narrative and now blame and hate the Jews for this. Their propaganda has succeeded in convincing nearly the whole of Western civilization of the righteousness of their cause and the villainy of the Jews.

In the meantime, roughly 800,000 Jewish refugees fleeing oppression in Middle Eastern countries flocked to Israel. How did the Jews and Arabs handle this population transfer? The tiny fledgling State of Israel, with its thin resources, absorbed this massive number of people, although they did not share their language, culture, and even religion (the Ashkenazic Jews tended to be secular while the Sephardic Jews tended to be religious). On the other hand, wealthy Arab countries like Jordan with vast tracts of lands, who did share the language, culture, and religion of the refugees, refused to grant them citizenship. They passed their refugee status to subsequent generations, thus swelling the refugee population. This is unique in the history of refugees. There is not another instance of refugees being kept apart from their host population for generations, maintaining their refugee status forever. But Arab leaders cynically kept the refugees' status to use as a cudgel against Israel, a tactic that has succeeded spectacularly. 

You boil down the conflict to simple revenge and tit for tat. This is misleading. Israel does not attack Gaza without provocation or without reason (such as foiling a terrorist plot). They take excruciating care to avoid civilian casualties, but Hamas makes this impossible. The extent of their diabolical evil is hard to overstate. They deliberately place their munitions and hide their fighters in population centers such as apartment buildings, schools, and hospitals so as to increase civilian casualties—just to make Israel look bad. It's a tactic that works every time—you fall for it too. Prior to airstrikes, Israel sends out warnings to evacuate, but Hamas orders the residents to stay inside. Hamas has a history of using their own people as human shields, yet you failed to mention this, faulting only Israel for the casualties. [Editor’s note: This claim is a little complicated. There is an unambiguous history of Hamas using human shields. However, militants from Gaza fight from densely populated urban areas, and the IDF often levies imprecise attacks on these urban areas].

Now let's talk about the horrible conditions in Gaza. Israel handed off Gaza to the Palestinians, leaving behind their lucrative greenhouses so the Palestinians would have something with which they could jumpstart their economy. Instead, the first thing the Palestinians did was destroy the greenhouses. Then they elected Hamas, whose stated goal is to wipe Israel off the map, and who turned Gaza into a launching pad for terror attacks against Israel. Israel joined Egypt to blockade Gaza to protect their own lives. They didn't do it out of spite or malice. Egypt also views them as a threat, which is why they joined this security agreement. Finally, the corrupt Palestinian leadership uses aid money to manufacture more weapons against Israel.

The fault for the miserable conditions in Gaza lie solely with Palestinian leadership. It's a tragedy that the Palestinians are stuck in horrendous conditions because of Hamas. But as long as they continue to be indoctrinated in hatred of Jews and refuse to recognize that Israel is here to stay, they will remain stuck in this cycle...

You implicitly excuse Hamas's horrific atrocities with the rationale that only the worst oppression can drive people to such behavior. But if you study history, you surely know this isn't true. What drove the Nazis to commit their heinous acts against the Jews and others? It was not horrific living conditions. So what drove them to it? You must surely know that the only thing that can drive humans to behave that way is a dehumanizing hatred of the other. The Nazis did not see the Jews as human beings. They called us "vermin." And what do you do with vermin? You exterminate them. Hamas and their supporters do not see the Jews as human. That is the only way they could perpetrate those acts. And the hatred of Hamas toward Jews long preceded Gaza and its terrible living conditions.

I have two main gripes with the historical context part. First, and I think this part you expect, I think it's ethically questionable at best to view things in the context of what conquerors and colonizers deem to be a natural part of history. We can, and should, be better than that.

Second, Zionism did not do what the British or many of their European counterparts did by colonizing. They are not colonizers. They are settler colonials. There is a huge difference. The difference is the displacement of the local population. It's much more akin to what Americans did to Native Americans. The Ottomans, Romans, British, Arabs, whomever, all lived amongst the local population. Zionism/Israel killed or displaced the indigenous population in Palestine. They had no intention of living alongside their historical neighbors.

Even way back, millennia ago, Jews were not the only people living on that land. Sure, call them a majority, but to say that they are the only people with a historical claim to this land is patently false. So I think it's a bit misleading to frame this as a religious conflict (which I don't necessarily think you're doing), or one that's lasted thousands of years. Nor is it as simple as a people returning to the land they once lived on. This is a political conflict, initiated by secular Jews in the late 1800s/early 1900s who sought power in the only place they could garner enough support for it. You can say the word power may be a bit cynical here, I disagree, but I can appreciate that. The fact remains that Europeans were the anti-Semites that didn't want Jews around them, Europeans committed the atrocities in the Holocaust, and Europeans (and Americans) refused refuge to survivors. Zionists could not gather enough Jewish support for the safe haven of a Jewish state in Europe or the Americas, and so began the path to the creation of Israel in Palestine.

If the intention is to be safe from anti-semitism, why not live alongside the extremely diverse Palestinian population that was already ~10% Jewish? Why ethnically cleanse them, perform horrible acts of terrorism (glaring examples being the paramilitaries that eventually became groups like Irgun and Stern Gang), and create an enemy?

A final thought, and please take this point with the spirit it is intended, I find it curious when the West attempts to take the moral high ground in these types of situations. We're talking about a group of governments that, over the last several centuries, methodically and systematically destabilize region after region, government after government — solely for their own benefit. There is a complete disregard for human life in the process, they rape and plunder at will like well-dressed pirates. There are too many examples to name. But if we look at the Middle East specifically, the West overthrows both blossoming and flourishing democracies with impunity — simply because those democracies serve their peoples’ interests more than western ones (hi, Iran). [Editor’s note: It is true that the U.S. has meddled in ‘blossoming’ democracies and that it overthrew Iran’s last democratic leader in 1953, but I think many experts would disagree with calling Iran’s a ‘flourishing’ or ‘blossoming’ democracy]

It overthrows the secular movements, the socialist movements, installs dictators and proxy militaries, then has the audacity to balk at the inevitable resistance. It vilifies and dehumanizes the populations it torments to justify atrocity after atrocity. It’s serial sociopathy and ignores the humanity of those in its wake, the value of life—all for the insatiable pursuits of profit and power.

And although I don't feel the need to justify this, I'll say it again. I don't like Hamas. But I know exactly why Hamas is there, and I know exactly why it succeeds in gathering support where other movements have not. Hamas has not traded its principle of a liberated Palestine for money, comfort, and another term in office, as the Palestinian Authority (PA) has. Hamas has not completely given up on the idea of Palestinian liberation, again, like the PA has. It's not Palestinians' first choice, but it is one of the only groups fighting for the rights of a besieged and occupied people—a right protected by international law, by the way.

Israel has assassinated secular Palestinian leaders and crippled their liberation movements. It started a civil war among Palestinians by funding religious extremists in Hamas (not the first time a western government has faced consequences for funding an extremist group). When Palestinians protest peacefully, Israel picks them off with snipers like target practice [Editor’s note: Broad claims like this are hard to fact-check, but there have been instances of Israeli snipers shooting Palestinians that were not a threat]. Boycott, Divestiture, and Sanctions (BDS), a critical form of nonviolent resistance, is vilified by the West as anti-semitic, so there has not yet been a substantial economic impact as there was in South Africa.

Palestinians have begged and pleaded to Western governments, to the world, for any sort of support to end this inhumane treatment, for justice. So has every major international human rights group. The silence is deafening. So I hear the phrase, "Hamas does not represent the interest of the Palestinian people" and there's this part of me that can only think—if they don't, who does? (Or will?).

This is going to be a painful email for me, so I hope you will read this with an open ear, despite the fact that I am going to be criticizing you. I'm writing because from your work at Tangle I know that you are one of the "good guys," sincere and truth-seeking. In that spirit, I am going to point out a few pieces in your Israel-Palestinian letter today that I think was wrongful and unjust of you to leave out, as well as where I think you make a mistaken analysis.

While I think you will agree that quibbling over "who did what first" is unconstructive, I nevertheless think that your portrait is unfair. Let me just respond with a few points.

1. Your statement on the history behind the return of Jews to Israel-Palestine does not mention the fact that the return began in large numbers before World War II and in desert areas, not occupied by Arabs [Editor’s note: We addressed a similar claim above]. Initial Arabic resentment of Jewish immigration began before any attempt at forceful immigration by Jews. Initial waves of Jewish immigration began through settlement in uninhabited areas or through purchase of Arab land, and already in the 20s some Arabs were attacked by fellow Arabs for selling to the Jews [Editor’s note: These claims are generally accurate. Though Jews also bought land under the condition they would not resell it to Arabs, and some Arabs were forcibly displaced. For a fascinating historical review, you can read this article. It seems worth noting, though, that very little of the land owned today by individual Jews or the Israeli government was acquired by purchase — most gains came through war].

2. I must protest your statement that Israel transformed Gaza into an "open-air prison." First off, obviously, the fact that Gaza also borders Egypt cannot be ignored. Beyond that, however, it is akin to calling Cuba an "open-air prison" because of US sanctions. Israel does not let Gazans enter into Israel, for obvious reasons that no sane person, regardless of their political views, would question. Israel's blockade by sea is specifically connected to the fact that before the blockade weapons, missiles, and the like were being shipped in. I could go on and on, but instead I will link to this piece by Peter Hitchens, which takes what I see as a fair perspective on the situation in Gaza.

3. You state that "Israel is unwilling to give the people in Gaza and the West Bank more than an inch of freedom to live." I think you probably know that this is simply incorrect, as Oslo and the failed peace attempts in the 90s attest to. If you disagree, I would be glad to hear your reasons and discuss further.

4. Regarding Israel's response: bluntly, any discussion of Palestinian civilian deaths that neglect to mention that Israel issues warning beforehand, including telling civilians where to go, and that Hamas intentionally puts their stations within high-impact civilian centers (such as this), is deeply unethical. [Editor’s note: Many Palestinians would argue these warnings are rarer than Israel claims, and there is often nowhere to go when Israel begins bombing campaigns] I am sorry that I am criticizing you in such direct terms, but I think you have a responsibility as a journalist and a human being to clarify that. Even if it doesn't justify every Israeli action. 

5. I will point out that according to the United States Department of Defense, cutting off the power of a hostile area or their food supply temporarily is allowed as part of war operations. For instance, “Electric power stations are generally recognized to be of sufficient importance to a State’s capacity to meet its wartime needs of communication, transport, and industry so as usually to qualify as military objectives during armed conflicts.” See U.S. DoD Law of War Manual One can, of course, argue that the US definition is itself flawed, but claiming that Israel is acting in a uniquely unlawful way is journalistic malpractice. Parenthetically, I'll add that B'tselem is far from unbiased, and has a spotty history, though that is neither here nor there. [Editor’s note: The claim about the U.S. is true. However, it’s worth noting other entities like the European Union said Israel’s move to cut off food and water from Gaza was a violation of international law]

6. One parenthetical thing you said that I find particularly galling: you reference the "desecration" of the Al-Aqsa mosque as one of the ways Israel has antagonized the Palestinians. Please forgive me for the sharpness of what I am about to say: what you are saying is absolutely disgusting! The Temple Mount is the most holy place in the Jewish religion. Asserting that allowing Jews to merely enter and say a 30-second prayer is "desecrating" the mosque, is basically an endorsement of segregation. Why should an area of worship revered by both Jews and Muslims be forbidden for members of one race to enter!?

When I first read a history of Israel, I was amazed at the image of Israel being like an onion: there always seems to be a deeper layer and an older claim to the land. This makes it impossible to make a definitive claim to the land. I can understand your clear feeling that Israel is legitimately the land of the Jewish people. I think I believe that too, but I just don’t have the historical background to really confirm that. Where I absolutely agree with you is that regardless of if the land “belongs” to the Jewish people, Israel has no right to lock up an entire folk and give them no possible means of living. Why has Israel continued to illegally settle land that does not belong to them? And how can the Palestine people have a unified voice that represents what they think, when the Palestine people cannot freely communicate with each other — from the Gaza to the West Bank? I certainly don’t have the answers. But I can certainly support each and every one of your “Pro” comments.

I won't try and address all the issues, but instead specifically respond to your bullet point #1 in the "My take" section which was difficult for me to comprehend:

  1. "Israel is unwilling to give the people in Gaza and the West Bank more than an inch of freedom to live." We're talking about Gaza and not the West Bank today, right? I'm curious how you can justify the statement that Israel doesn't give an inch of freedom to Gazans: Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005 and forcefully cleared out the settlers so that can't be it. So I assume you're referring to the blockade in Gaza? The blockade exists to prevent weapons from getting to Gaza. With that, Israel still sends water, electricity, and humanitarian aid. In return, Israel gets rockets and terrorism. What inch is Israel supposed to give to Gazans that they haven't already?
  2. "You cannot keep two million people living in the conditions people in Gaza are living in and expect peace." The goal of a two state solution is for Gaza to be a separate country from Israel and be self-deterministic. That happened in Gaza in 2005. Why is it Israel's responsibility for how Gazan leaders (Hamas) run their country? Are you saying that Gaza hasn't gotten the resources (40 billion since 1990) to turn Gaza into a thriving city — is it Israel's fault that it hasn't? Why is securing a border now considered an "open air prison?" Are borders supposed to be open?
  3. "Israel has already responded with a vengeance, and they will continue to. Their desire for violence is not unlike Hamas’s — it’s just as much about blood for blood as any legitimate security measure. Israel will 'have every right to respond with force.' Toppling Hamas — a group, by the way, Israel erred in supporting — will now be the objective, and civilian death will be seen as necessary collateral damage. But Israel will also do a bunch of things they don't have a right to." Great. So Israel responding to terrorism makes it morally equivalent to the terrorists.
  4. "They will flatten apartment buildings and kill civilians and children and many in the global community will probably cheer them on while they do it. They have already stopped the flow of water, electricity, and food to two million people, and killed dozens of civilians in their retaliatory bombings." You know full well that Hamas operates out of civilian buildings, hospitals, and schools. What exactly should Israel target? Or should it instead not target anything and let Hamas continue with their operations? I'm completely against civilian casualties, but I don't see what you expect Israel to do except allow Hamas to operate without consequences. You should instead be livid that Hamas operates out of these civilian locations with the goal of maximizing civilian casualties when they know Israel will have to respond.
  5. They have already stopped the flow of water, electricity, and food to two million people... First, why doesn't Egypt send water, electricity, food to Gaza? Second, why are you not questioning why the victim of Hamas terrorism is also responsible for supporting their enemies since Hamas refuses to use their financial aid to develop their own infrastructure? 
  6. As of late, many, many more have died on their side than Israel's. And many more Palestinians are likely to die in this spate of violence, too. I also mourn the loss of civilian life. But I place the blame on Hamas using civilians as human shields. I also think you are creating moral equivalency here between the Israeli army that targets Hamas military operations and Hamas which explicitly targets civilians.
  7. "Unfortunately, most people in the West only pay attention to this story when Hamas or a Palestinian in Gaza or the West Bank commits an act of violence." We seem to live in very different realities. I overwhelmingly see the left blaming Israel for the conflict. The silence from the left in the last few days is deafening, until Israel responded that is.

Similarly to you, I'm horrified at HAMAS' actions, but also deeply upset by the lust for blood that seems to be one of the prevailing emotions in Israel in the aftermath of the attack. Israeli retaliation is inevitable, and in many ways HAMAS wanted it and left Israel little room in terms of what's available and politically acceptable. But it's one thing to accept the situation and its ramifications while praying for innocent lives, and a very different one to demand payment in kind, an eye for an eye. Killing civilians in Gaza won't bring Israeli dead back to life. Killing even more because Israelis were slaughtered with such abhorrent cruelty, won't do it either. Yet, razing Gaza to the ground (let alone the feasibility of this) is not something that seems to raise many moral objections. 

And this is something that, in my view, is one of the most problematic aspects of this all: Israeli lives are just more valuable. This dogma is proclaimed, supported on all levels politically and socially, it's kind of a maxim in Israeli society. In a way, the country is united around this postulate.  For all political divisions, this is not something that can be called into question. It's understandable in many ways given the history of the Jewish people where the whole world would hold quite an opposite opinion about the value of Jewish life and acted ruthlessly on it... But what this tenet does, it reinforces the divide and goes a long way toward dehumanizing "the others." Which then ricochets in a form of an even further amplified hatred and violence from the other side. Israel is like a medieval fortress for a select few, and people inside it couldn't care less about semi-barbaric peasants living around. They do not matter, their dreams and lives do not matter either. What would those "peasants" feel and think about the fortress then?With all that said, there's still one paragraph in your article I can't agree with. This one:

Are Israelis and British people "colonizers" because of this 20th century history? Sure. But that view flattens thousands of years of history and conflict, and the context of World War I and World War II. I don’t view Israelis and Brits as colonizers any more than the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Romans or the Mongols or the Egyptians or the Ottomans who all battled over the same strip of land from as early as 800 years before Jesus’s time until now. The Jews who founded Israel just happened to have won the last big battle for it.

Especially the passage about the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the Romans or the Mongols or the Egyptians or the Ottomans. Following this logic, what would your reaction be if I told you that Crimea was just won in the last big battle for it by Russia, and saying it belonged to Ukraine flattens maybe not thousands but certainly hundreds of years of history and conflict?

The thing is, the 20th century introduced changes in how the civilized (for lack of a better word) world approaches (or rather is expected to approach, but still) humanitarian problems. In a way, the history was reset, and nations of the world agreed to stop settling scores. What happened, happened, let's move on. The happiness of one nation cannot be grounded in the unhappiness of the other. And the moment this understanding emerged, and the paradigm shifted, happened before Israel was established. Or maybe these two moments almost coincided. But in any case, this is why it's such a painful, unbearably hopeless situation: the whole "civilized" world agreed that things should work differently from that point on, but also conspired to do this one last injustice where the sins of the same civilized world would be redeemed at the expense of the other nation that had nothing, or almost nothing, to do with it.

Despite your time in Israel, you are either ill-informed or ideologically blinkered... Who can blame the Arabs for killing Jews? I can, for one. I don’t have to assume that they’re antisemites and I don’t have to expect them to greet these foreigners with open arms or to recognize their historic rights, but I expect them not to commit mass murder, sure enough. By your reasoning, Israel really should have no problem letting [in] as many Palestinians as want to become citizens; if we feel that there are too many and it’s changing the country’s complexion, we can just kill off a bunch of them. Who could blame us? No, the Arabs behaved like Klansmen in the Jim Crow South, except this time the blacks didn’t get massacred in Tulsa, they won.

As for post-’67, well, I don’t know who you hung around with in Israel, but I’ve been here almost forty years and I haven’t seen Palestinians “subjugated” or “oppressed.” Would I change places with one? No, but mostly because of their own society. Does Israel restrict their movement?  Yes, because they insist that killing Israelis is a good thing, so you know, there’s this whole trust issue. But I can’t order them around or steal their stuff or have them make way for me on the sidewalk. They have recourse to Israeli courts, they drive the same roads and between their villages and the PA, run their own day-to-day lives.

To reiterate, my situation is better than theirs in a few ways, but when you start a war and lose this is well more than they could expect.

And they do not “die regularly at the hands of the Israeli military.” They die when they try to kill us, and sometimes when they get caught in the crossfire. You make it sound like soldiers are using them for target practice. The most obvious evidence against your implication is the trouble that soldiers have got into with the law when they can’t justify their actions. Which is not to say that nothing wrong is ever done. Israel has crime, too, but that doesn't make it Zamora.

As for your “open air prison,” how do you figure that? Israel controls its own border, as does Egypt. We both restrict the entry of Gazans because, you know, the trust thing. We also vet their imports because they tend to use them, once again, to kill us. We didn’t do it initially, only when it proved necessary. Other than that, they’re welcome to build Singapore on the Mediterranean if they choose. We’d prefer it. As an aside, Hamas limits the number of trucks daily bringing supplies from Israel to Gaza, for its own reasons; Israel would send more.

Those people can’t live in that area? It’s the same population density as Tel Aviv and London.  So no, this did not have to happen. They could get their act together and build something rather than live off handouts while waiting for Israel to go away. The massacre was the same as in 1929, 1939 and other times. Were those inevitable too?

This is where you admit you are partisan: "the Jewish people have a legitimate historical claim to the land of Israel." Based on what? DNA? The Palestinians' DNA gives them a greater claim because they never left their homeland. Religion? Then Christians and Muslims also have "a legitimate historical claim to the land of Israel."

The only legitimate claim to the land that Israel has is the UN resolution that was ignored as early as the massacre at Deir Yassin and has been ignored ever since as Israel constantly takes Palestinian land.

Mind you, I'm pragmatic. Israel exists. There are several solutions to the current state of things--I think historic Palestine should be turned over to the United Nations and become an international land.

I have always been a great admirer of Israel and the IDF, particularly their Air force. In recent years however, their right wing ideologues have done their fellow countrymen no favors. Whole scale evictions on the West Bank, supported in part, it has to be said, by religious US zealots, has cast the face of Israel in a different light. Combine that with the unrelenting squeeze on the 2 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and the only wonder is that this outrage didn't happen sooner. Unlike in 1948, Israel is now a powerful, secure nation. American support, going forward, should show a more nuanced inflection towards fair play for the average, peaceful Palestinian, to hold out some hope for a better future. Who among us can live contented without hope?

Hamas does not care about Palestinians. They only care about Hamas. For evidence, look no further than how they use and abuse Palestinians. As I understand it (from Michael Oren), Israel allows 1,200 trucks of supplies to enter Gaza, while Hamas limits it to about 400 trucks so that they can keep the population of Gaza desperate and dependent. [Editor’s note: Former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren made that claim in a podcast interview, and it has since been cited by many in conservative media — like in this piece]. Empowering and lifting up Gazans goes against Hamas' incentives. Next example: Hamas uses children to build their tunnels, with at least 160 dying in the process (probably way more). [Editor’s note: This number comes from a 2012 report from the Institute for Palestine Studies] Lastly, Hamas has a major operations hub in/under the Al-Shifa hospital (not to mention the mosques, schools, etc. they operate from). I don't need to add context on how terrible this is.On top of all of this, Hamas was democratically elected by the people of Gaza — which for the record was IMO a very big point you failed to mention in your article. Sure, the last time they were elected was in 2006, but polls show that they still have majority support. [Editor’s note: Hamas was elected in 2006 shortly after Israel pulled out of Gaza. They won 44.4% of the vote, with Fatah finishing second with 41.4% of the vote. Some, like former President Bill Clinton, blame their election on a divided opposition. Hamas has not held elections since. Polling on this question is notoriously noisy. Overall, some 57% of Gazans express at least a somewhat positive opinion of Hamas. But the same polls show majority support for Hamas maintaining a ceasefire, with 50% of Gazans saying Hamas should stop calling for the destruction of Israel and work toward a two-state solution. Other polls show a pattern of surging support for Hamas in the wake of conflicts and outbreaks of violence.]

So with all that said, why is it Israel's responsibility to support and protect the most innocent Palestinians who reject Hamas, let alone the civilians that cheer them on?While I wish absolutely no harm on these people (certainly not the Hamas haters, or even the civilians that with justified or unjustified rational hate Israel), and I want nothing more than to see them prospering in Gaza or elsewhere, I hate that I have come to a black and white conclusion even though my whole life has been focused on finding and dissecting grey areas: Israel must destroy Hamas, or at least their ability to threaten Israeli civilians, at all costs. If the only way to do that is by destroying Gaza, displacing millions, and incidentally killing both pro- and anti-Hamas civilians in the process, that is simply (though of course not simply) what has to be done. Unfortunately I see no other way out of this, and so this is the course of action Israel will take.

Gaza had so much potential. It could have been the Singapore of the Middle East. Israel squashed that option by oppressing the Palestinian people in the false name of security, something we see happening to us here in the US also. When you treat people in a barbaric manner, eventually they respond in barbaric ways.

While framed by the corrupt media as a battle between Hamas and Israel, Hamas is in fact merely a proxy for Iran, just as Ukraine is a proxy for the US and NATO against Russia. A proper response for Israel would be to declare war on Iran, the same way Russia is about to declare war on us. When they do, don't expect advance notice.

A harsh truth. There is a solution to this, and you know it. The fight needs to happen. I agree with you that this fight will be horrific. Every war is, and this one has the potential, almost guarantee, to be among the worst ever fought in terms of human suffering and atrocities. But not fighting it now will only make that fight worse in the future.

I think both sides have a legitimate claim to the land, both sides have deep historical and religious ties to the area, both sides have serious grievances both in the recent past and long term, and both sides have a long list of justifications and coverups for their actions... Israel is far from perfect, but it cannot, and should not be expected to, suffer [Hamas's] existence. Israel has and will continue to do its, admittedly disappointing, best to manage the Palestinians who refuse to accept Israeli governance. 

Israel can and should continue to strive to avoid civilian casualties. But it is far past time for the world to recognize that Hamas using religious sites, hospitals, and civilians’ living quarters as staging grounds and cover for its military/terrorist activity, means that Israel will have to fight in those areas to defeat Hamas, and civilians will die as a result. BUT. continuing with the status quo will mean that more civilians will die on both sides long term. This fight will be ugly and terrible, but far less so than allowing this situation to continue. So the fight must happen, and I take no shame in backing the side that isn't holding hostages and threatening execution for every attack into their territory, isn't releasing videos celebrating the rape, murder, and desecration of civilians and combatants, and isn't dedicated to the genocide of the other side. And frankly, you should too. 

As a peacemaker, I would still like to challenge only one statement you made: "You cannot keep two million people living in the conditions people in Gaza are living in and expect peace. You can't. And you shouldn’t...And the cycle of violence seems locked in to self-perpetuate..." 

I believe most people commenting and posting on the war are contributing to the perpetuation of this cycle by spending so much energy proving who is due the right to violent choices.

Within the psychology world there is a concept that if we look through a certain filter (a belief) then there is a natural order of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that will follow. What I propose is that your statement I quoted above goes along with something that often sounds like this:

Belief: Humans are broken, violent people that will take an eye for an eye.

Thoughts: You cannot expect peace and you shouldn't. Violence is a self-perpetuating cycle.

Feelings: Futility, Defeat

Behaviors: Inevitable violence, justified retaliation

I'd like to offer an alternative belief that I personally hold, that I know most people do not agree with.  

Alternative Belief: Humans are good inside AND retaliation is an instinctual protective response to being wounded if they don't have the skills to process and respond peacefully.

Thoughts: "There is no way out of this pattern until one side exercises restraint or leaders on both sides find a new solution." 

Feelings: Resolve, Hope, Generativity

Behaviors: Self-regulation by responsible parties, conflict resolution 

Here's the kicker. The alternate thought I just referenced above is actually something you stated in your article which indicates to me there is some part of you that believes violence is not inevitable but that the only way we move forward is self-regulating that protective instinct to seek revenge through violence.

I fully agree that the current cycle exacerbates extremism. I am asserting that the cycle was and is escapable. It starts with those of us witnessing and reporting on violent acts to refrain from justification and call for self-regulation (what you call restraint), compassion for the wounded, and conflict resolution. When we lose all sense of shock or curiosity that a violent act preceded and followed another by calling it predictable or justified, we will find ourselves in an even more polarized and desensitized world.

Now, some positive stuff.

I am currently in a yeshiva in Jerusalem, so this is very close to home for me. Thank you for your attempt to carefully treat this issue, as well as for maintaining your commitment to bringing multiple perspectives. You have managed to convince me to sympathize with the Palestinians to a degree I would not have thought possible at any moment since the first siren... 

I now believe that I understand why the Palestinians are doing this, and that it was basically inevitable. I do not blame the Palestinian people for participating. I can say that I believe that they are people who are only doing the thing I would do if I was in their place. I do not believe that it is acceptable to fault the Israelis for supporting Hamas when they were trying to deal with the situation in all of its complexity, which, as you point out, does not allow realistic leaders to engage in moral absolutism. I believe that you unfairly characterized the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Israel withdrew, despite massive popular protest, without receiving any concessions in return. Your concluding paragraph sounds hopeless.

But you are achieving something. I, a right-wing Jew, came away from your piece thinking that you had finally managed to effectively convey something that none of the commentariat had managed to say: It's a mess, and I understand how things went so wrong, and do not feel capable of supporting a side, or calling anyone evil for doing the things that I would do in their place; the only path forward is to capture the human stories on both sides of the conflict, there is no utility in anything else.

I am not unbiased, I am a Jew currently on the ground in Israel, and wish that we can dig up whatever moral justification Sir Arthur Harris used to justify the concept of area bombing. I reflexively support handing out guns to all Jewish people in the country who can use them, because I don't want to get stabbed. I support a ground invasion of Gaza, and want it to be performed in a way calculated to minimize Israeli deaths, not civilian deaths. Please understand this. I want to be able to live securely in Israel. In the moment, I don't much care why they fight, all I can think is that we were attacked, and the only way to end this cycle is by winning a total victory. It is thanks to you that I have finally realized that the same is true of many Palestinians.

But I don't want to die. I want to do what is necessary to secure my life and the lives of my family and friends. As long as there is an Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I'd have to be an idiot to abandon my side. I believe that it was a gross omission to not mention the sort of terror that Israelis have learned to live with. I am an American in yeshiva in Jerusalem. In 2012, one of the teachers was killed during morning prayers at his synagogue in Har Nof, Jerusalem. I say this to illustrate the nature of these attacks; Har Nof is not in disputed territory, and those killed were not killed in pursuit of any military objective, nor were they unfortunate incidental casualties of a military operation. It was not an unusual event.

The Sbarro pizza store bombing is more well known, and was part of a wave of such events. This is a point that needs to be stressed about the deaths on the two sides. Dead Israelis are far more likely to have been killed in acts totally unrelated to military activity, Palestinians are often accidentally killed by Israeli forces during military operations that are targeted at specific militants or infrastructure. In addition, Hamas uses child soldiers, making it unfair to cite numbers of children killed without checking why... I appreciate your time, and hope that you can understand the feelings that animate this.

Thank you for writing this. It means the world to me, as a Palestinian American, to read someone who has an honest and measured take on this situation. It is clear that, you like me, wish nothing more than peace in the holy land. Reading the "Your Take" section was like reading my own thoughts and feelings on the situation. It really was unbelievable. Thank you again for writing it. What is so hard about believing "Israel has the right to exist" and "Palestinians shouldn't be in an open air prison in Gaza and shouldn't be forced off what little land they have in the West Bank?" It is clear that you, like me, want the best for Israelis and Palestinians. 

Also, how are people, I'm thinking of terminally online leftists here, struggling at condemning Hamas? It isn't hard. Flying into a music festival and raping, killing, and kidnapping the festival goers is one of the most evil things I can imagine anyone doing. As is going into villages and massacring everyone living there. It's absolutely disgusting.

Until this week I had never considered the 3-state solution. But I think it would help achieve a lasting peace if implemented thoughtfully and with the goal of it actually working. The way the maps were drawn and the way the conflict played out made the two state solution doomed to fail from the start. Thank you again for your work. I can't imagine how difficult it was to write this while your friends and family in Israel are under attack. If Tangle ever does a meetup or live event in the San Francisco Bay Area please make an announcement! I'd like to attend.

You and your team are heroes. There is no other reporting, in the world, that I trust more than yours. In fact, I rarely ingest any other. Thank you for committing to the enormous amount of work, personal ethics, courage, vulnerability, and generosity of spirit it takes to this work.

This is the best thing I’ve ever read about Israel/Palestine —not just what has happened in the past few days but over time. And you perfectly capture the horror I feel about the slaughter by Hamas which lives alongside my horror at Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Thank you. You are an invaluable sane voice in this time of madness.

One of the most nuanced and considered responses I've seen come out in the past four days, Isaac. You are to be congratulated for the depth of thought you put into this, and the even-handedness of your presentation. You will, of course, be attacked, perhaps viciously, by adherents to extreme positions on both sides of this issue. Sounds to me like you're as ready for it as anybody can be. Personally, I look forward to whatever else you have to say about this continuing, unfolding tragedy. Best wishes going forward.

Was very moved by your take. Found it to be comprehensive, nuanced, and focused on what actually matters. Thank you. Glad to be a part of this very important project. I truly admire your humble diplomacy and honest transparency, risky as it may be. As always, your writing is most educational and inspirational. I thank you, earnestly, and encourage you to never stop writing. Not even for a day.

I am a security-concierge in the Middle East. I have lived in Jordan, now I reside with my family in [REDACTED]. We have been in the Middle East for 16 years now. I just wanted to tell you, in case you take too much crap from people, that your nuanced view of the issue playing out in Gaza was very welcome here. I was incredibly appreciative and impressed by the way you communicated it. I hold very similar views. It is so hard to have any sort of real discussion. With anyone. I have friends and acquaintances on every side of the issue. Most are entrenched, most communication seems to flow past people, and fall flat. Thank you for what you wrote and for thinking. You probably just got a subscriber for life (not that you wrote it for that reason).

Isaac, this was a remarkable newsletter. I agree with your assessment that there are no easy answers, or even simple explanations. I appreciate how you tried to touch on as many of the complexities as possible, while continually calling out and condemning the human tragedy that is occurring. The middle east has been a hotbed of violence and complex conflict for as long as humans have been conflicting. The current situation around Israel is as complex as it has ever been. I agree with you that I don't know what a solution looks like, but the current status quo is unacceptable, and will continue to fuel violent reactions. I especially appreciate the last few links you had where people are trying to positively impact this situation. Thanks for that!

I just wanted to thank you for your heart-felt, nuanced newsletter. I'm really sorry for the pain you are feeling, and I am certain it was very difficult to bare your heart on your sleeve so publicly. Maybe you know, but in case you needed some words of encouragement, I wanted to say that your work here really matters. You provide a depth of knowledge, reliability, and unbiased humanity that feels really rare these days, and I have learned a lot reading your newsletters. I hope you are able to spend time with friends and family and I wish you the best.

I used to be a subscriber but had to cancel my subscription a while back because of cost cutting — and, candidly, the Friday editions weren't a big enough draw for me. But I'm resubscribing today (even though I really should still be cost cutting...) because this is exactly the kind of nuanced information I crave after being inundated with social media posts and "takes" after tragedies like this. I've worked in journalism for a decade and I remember learning early on that emotion doesn't have a place in the industry. But I think you prove that wrong. I've been a reader since 2019 and this edition is Tangle at its very best... Your writing makes me a better, more critical thinker and citizen, and what you've accomplished with Tangle helped me make the choice to leave my job at a legacy news organization. (In a good way. I'm happier now, promise.)

Thank you so much for sharing your heart. The perspective, deepened through experience and a listening ear, has the nuancing needed desperately for this time, for this situation (and all that led up to it). The historical context is absolutely necessary for all of us to grasp to some degree, and your clear communication makes the Middle East complexities far more accessible. Your experiences of being Jewish and of living in Israel have provided you with "on the ground" insight, which allows us to get beyond the "he did/she did" type of news reporting. I am grateful that you kept stressing the brokenness of each "side," including the fact that the desperately poor and virtually imprisoned Palestinians in Gaza lack a functional government (who could make far better decisions on behalf of its people). I pray that many, many leaders and citizens of many countries will be influenced by your words, and that this letter will provoke discussions which help lead to peace—sooner than later.

No kidding this feels like a breath of much needed fresh air after days of mostly extremist “hot takes” from fools who reactively blast whatever incomplete and incoherent nonsense comes through their horribly limited feeds. THIS email however is an incredibly brave act of service. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’ve sent it to my entire contact list. I’m really, seriously grateful for Tangle, now especially, and for the level-headedness and sobriety of opinion you’ve exhibited here.

I almost didn't read this because I'm so tired of seeing people giving takes on the conflict that are just irrational, ugly, and clearly haven't been well thought out... BUT. I'm really glad I did, because your take is one of the first ones I've seen that's balanced, rational, and shows some empathy. It's not about justifying the actions of either side, it's about acknowledging the atrocities being committed on both sides, and hoping they come to an end.

From ChatGPT.

One of my friends prompted ChatGPT to summarize "my take." Here is what it said:

"The author offers a deeply personal perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict, highlighting the intricate nature of the situation and rejecting simplified labels like 'pro-Israel' or 'pro-Palestine.' Emphasizing the historical complexities and overlapping claims to the region, the author underscores the difficulty in finding a balanced viewpoint amidst centuries of conflict. They lament the horrific acts of violence from both sides and the inherent cycle of retribution that seems unending. Pointing to the broader geopolitical context, including the roles of foreign powers, they acknowledge the challenges faced by both Israeli and Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire. The piece emphasizes the need for understanding, restraint, and a genuine search for peace, while voicing skepticism about the feasibility of current proposed solutions. The author ultimately champions humanitarian values, advocating for the rights and dignity of all individuals affected by the conflict."

If you made it this far...

Thanks for reading. We sent today's email to everyone, but we normally release Friday editions only to our paying members. If you want more content like this, feel free to subscribe here.

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Have a great weekend. Stay safe. We'll see you Monday.

— Isaac & the Tangle team

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.