Friday, September 01, 2006

The Roots of Arab Muslim Sickness: Part 2, Palestine

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the roots of Arab Muslim sickness: failure; blaming an external party for that failure; implicit belief in one's own powerlessness; rebellion against that sense of powerlessness by demonstrating an ability to hurt the external party; chosen means (suicide bombs) that can only cause one's conditions to worsen; more suicide bombs; cultural stagnation and moral depravity; repeat.

We all evaluate our own worth in part by reference to others, and how do Arabs feel when they compare themselves with Israel, a thriving democracy with no oil and yet a first world economy, a world class technology sector (in May, Warren Buffet invested four billion dollars for an 80% share of Iscar, an Israeli precision tool manufacturer. When Buffet invests ten figures in an Arab manufacturer... well, it's hard to imagine, and that's the point), and a military that has repeatedly fought off its numerically superior Arab neighbors?

The comparison must be painful for all Arabs, but particularly for the Palestinians, given their greater proximity. Do they have a legitimate grievance? Yes. Thousands were indeed displaced, many of them deliberately expelled, during Israel's war of independence. They live in refugee camps in Lebanon, as second class citizens in Jordan, and under Israeli military rule in Gaza and the West Bank.

But it's been nearly sixty years, and Palestinians have a decision to make. Nurse their grievance, indulge in self-righteousness by clinging to maximalist demands, and gradually worsen their circumstances and diminish their future... or compromise and achieve something concrete?

Sadly, Palestinians have repeatedly chosen the first course. The tragedy of their society is that they have become all about means, and no longer care about ends. Or, to put it another way, their means have become their end.

If the end Palestinians willed were an independent state, they could have had it many times. Most recently, all they needed to do was choose hunger strikes as their weapon instead of suicide bombs. Armed with the unique benefit of a politically powerful and favorably disposed movement (Peace Now) within the country that occupies the land they claim, and the parallel advantage of numerous sympathizers in the UN and Europe, hunger strikers could have won the Palestinians a two-state solution forty years ago.

If an objective is repeatedly attainable, and someone repeatedly fails to attain it, at some point it's fair to ask whether the party really wanted that objective to begin with... or whether, in fact, their objective was always something else. The Palestinians have had many opportunities to have their own state. They do not. What is it, then, that they really want?

Primarily, to hurt Israel. Palestinian self worth is so low that the society can salve its collective ego only through the basest refutation of a sense of powerlessness: an ability to hurt their enemy. Menacham Begin is famous for saying, "I fight, therefore I am;" the Palestinian equivalent has become, "I can hurt you, therefore I matter."

It follows that a negotiated solution with the Palestinians is impossible. Israel couldn't even give the Palestinians what they profess to want, because what they really want is not be given anything, but to take everything.

It's hard not to pity a culture like this one. Palestinians have become so obsessed with their enemy that they now define themselves exclusively by reference to that enemy. They seem to mean nothing to themselves outside their ability to blow up Israelis. They must feel there's nothing else they can achieve, and apparently there is nothing more they desire.

The status quo of military occupation, bombings, and assassinations has gone on for a long time. After many failed negotiations, Israel attempted to change that status quo by unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza behind a wall. The Hamas rockets that followed Israel's withdrawal from Gaza (and those of Hezbollah, which followed Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000) have proven unilateral withdrawal to be a failure. So the status quo continues. But for how long?

If Israel can find some cost-effective way of suppressing the rocket fire as it has the suicide bombers, the status quo could continue for a long time. But if Israel can't, and the provocations continue or worsen, eventually, perhaps very soon, there will be another war.

In the next war, Israel will not attempt to occupy territories and rule local populations. It will instead drive those populations out, as indeed it did in 1947. Expulsions will probably end the peace with Egypt and Jordan. But they will prevent rockets from reaching Israel proper and eradicate the threat inside Israel's borders. Wars after that will be only against external enemies and conventional armies, an arena in which Israel has proven itself capable.

It's a bleak assessment, but I don't see alternatives. Over the course of six decades, the Palestinians have consistently demanded, explicitly and implicitly, something Israel can't give. Their circumstances have correspondingly consistently worsened. The next step in the progression of this dreadful combination of maximalist demands and worsening circumstances will be the Palestinians' loss of everything, even the territory they currently administer and de facto own by virtue of their physical presence there.

In some ways, Palestinians are like someone who owns stock that has been steadily losing value. Every day they realize they should have sold yesterday, when they could have gotten out in a better position. Now they've lost so much they prefer to hope for recovery by holding on than to lock in their losses by getting out. And so their losses worsen.

Well, there are times when things must get worse before they get better, if they can ever get better at all. The Palestinians have made such a situation for themselves. No, they weren't dealt a great hand. But they are responsible for the way they've played it, and therefore for the increasingly miserable outcome of the game.

Next week: Part 3, Solutions


JD Rhoades said...

Well written, Barry and depressingly accurate. I count myself as a liberal on most issues. But I break from most liberals when it comes to hand wringing over the "poor Palestinians".
Not that I'm overly fond of some of Israel's tactics, particularly the loathsome policy of bulldozing the houses and displacing the families of Palestinians believed to be militants.
I loook forward to your proposed solutions.

dkgoodman said...

I agree with much of what you say, but I'm not convinced that the Palestinians' problems all stem from their own shortcomings. Aren't they really a puppet of other Arab regimes that use the Palestinians to keep Muslim rage focussed on the Israeli's rather than their own problems? Some Palestinians, maybe even a majority, would have probably been glad to accept an independent state, but they are overpowered by the terrorists in their midst controlled or supported by other Arab countries.

I look forward to your proposed solutions. I hope they involve the puppeteers as well as the Muslim cultures themselves.

Anonymous said...

Barry: Other than providing a link to oil production statistics [ and mentioning Bette Midler's cleavage] I haven't contributed to the discussions on this blog because I'm learning more by listening than by talking.

I look forward to your 'Solutions' post next week.

John McAuley

Dave Zeltserman said...

Peace has never been an objective of the Palestinian leadership. Arafat was a little slyer about this, Hamas is very open about their goals. There's little doubt that this has been a longstanding war--a war funded by other Arab states and where the weapons are hate and terror. Look at all the virtulant anti-jewish propoganda being spread within the Arab world--papers still spreading the old blood libel, video games where the objective is to kill jews, hate-spewing text books. How is peace possible when a whole generation has been brought up with this? Whether the goal for this war is the destruction of Israel or to have a scapegoat for their populations to hate instead of focussing on their governments own inadequacies, I'm not sure. The dynamics, though, as far as Israel goes have recently changed dramatically. Iran has shown that a hostile and well-funded, well-armed coutry can fight a guerrilla war by proxy 30+ miles from Israel's borders. Israel now realizes border fences by themselves are not enough--they can not allow the creation of a hostile state next to them. I can't see any solution to this.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I look forward to the solutions, but I do feel that the religious component can't easily be removed from the equation. In some ways, you could draw parallels to North American history - certainly the original North Americans have been displaced and there are grievances that linger not mere decades but centuries after the fact.

In the case of Israel vs the Muslim world, it isn't simply economics that drive the hatred, or displacement. I'm interested in reading your thoughts, in the post on solutions, about how that can be addressed.

FYI, I'm reading The Last Assassin atm, finally having my own edits done. The review should be in the Fall Spinetingler, next week.

Anonymous said...


"Certainly the original North Americans have been displaced and there are grievances that linger not mere decades but centuries after the fact."

I understand what you're saying, and it certainly isn't helpful to simply dismiss grievances of misplaced peoples, but it's important to note that the Arabs were not the original inhabitants of the area that was known as Palestine. They conquered it in 637 AD, after the Romans. Indeed, the name Palestine is Roman in origin.

Until the Roman conquests, the Hebrews were predominant, and they maintained a presence throughout history, especially in Jerusalem.

On another issue, I also think it's important to clarify that not all of the Palestinians were expelled (I realize Barry has not said this, I'm just trying to make it clear). Even Benny Morris, the most respected of Israel's New Historians, who has documented cases of massacres, expulsions, etc., does not assert this, nor does he believe that transfer of Palestinian Arabs was planned. He believes it occured as a by product of the fighting, and asserts some were expelled, and some fled.

Sandra Ruttan said...

brooklynsax - yes, good point. In truth, who is the original occupant of any land? The Ruttan's are descended from Huguenot's and I don't see the French Catholics who were persecuting my ancestors offering us the land back. At some point, we all have to get over it and start looking toward the future instead of dwelling on the past.

That said, I think religious factors are quite significant in the middle east, and that politics and economics are clouded by that, which makes it harder to deal with. After all, when 'God is on my side' that means I have a divine right to what I believe I'm entitled to...

Dave Zeltserman said...

Another factor that has to be considered is how women are treated in the Islamic world. When one half of the population has power over the other half, it can be a strong incentive to keep that going--especially when the population doesn't have that much to begin with. I don't know how true this is but I remember in the late 70s reading articles how the driving force for overthrowing the Shah of Iran was because of his attempts for modernizing Iran and giving women more rights. While I think the leadership of these Islamic states and terrorist groups are driven purely by geopolitical goals, other factors are in place as far as the foot soldiers and suicide bombers go.

Anonymous said...


i agree with your analysis wholeheartedly.

i am very glad you posted what needs to be stated, even in a broader arena.

Thank You

Anonymous said...

You are not wrong. That is scary all by it's lonesome.

When I think about what you wrote in context to growing up in Tennessee and Georgia it's worse. I don't know how many fools I have heard say "The South will rise again" and have no idea that they were extolling suppression and hate. Sixty years is a long time, but I think we know that this is much longer term. /sigh

Anonymous said...

Off the topic but it sure goes to the previous post(s) (at least some of the arguments) ... ABC and the furor of Clinton administration failures against Bin Laden and terrorism in general ... you gotta have something in the works for this, Barry ... whether it (the movie) gets pulled or not, it's sure good fuel and/or fodder.

And yes, the left is doing exactly the same thing as the right did before the Reagan movie was pulled.

Back on topic ... we'd all love to think people everywhere would/could grow up and come to terms with the issues between them enough to stop the killing ... but in 2006, that's akin to joining hands and singing Kumbaya--it just isn't going to happen. It's an ugly situation that will most likely get a lot uglier before (or if) it ever gets better.

David Terrenoire said...

I too, like many here, await your solutions. I could use a ray of hope.

One of the things you've left out of your essay, as so many do, is the "right to return."

The Palestinians, many of them, ask for a right to return to their homes in Israel. And that's the real sticking point as far as Israel is concerned. Because it's one thing to call yourself a democracy, with free and open elections, and it's quite another to identify yourself as a Jewish state and yet allow a large group of diasporaed (is that a word?) Arab voters to return, become the majority, and vote you out of power.

I understand and sympathize with the Israeli's dilemma. But I also understand what it means to be a democracy with majority rule and what the injustices of 1948 demand.

I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that any discussion that does not include this right to return is missing a big piece of the puzzle.

As for the larger picture, here is a follow-up from James Fallows that states my position so much better than I can:

"A state of war with no clear end point makes it more likely for a country to overreact in ways that hurt itself, especially by losing the moral high ground that was crucial to America's victory in the Cold War. It also makes it harder for the country to do the patient work of tracking down, catching, and thwarting the "copycat" groups, since that depends so heavily on relations with allied countries and with sympathetic Muslim groups. Remember: it was police work, surveillance, and patient cultivation of sources that broke the airline bombing ring – not speeches about a state of war.

If Americans lose their heads when they hear of a threat, they do the terrorists’ work for them."

Anonymous said...

Remember: it was police work, surveillance, and patient cultivation of sources that broke the airline bombing ring – not speeches about a state of war.

Also remember: There are some in the UK government who believe the surveillance and detention of some of those arrested was illegal … I’m all for police work so long as you give them the tools to get it done (i.e. the wiretaps and profiling, to name two). Aside from the obvious politics, some of what Bush is asking for is the policing tools to get the job done (i.e., moving AQ heavyweights to Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, etc.)

r2 said...


I usually agree with you. And, although I'm no great fan of Bush, he sure beats the alternative.

However, I hate the way he's been trampling all over our rights using the War on Terrorism as an excuse.

Orwell was about 20 years off when he wrote 1984.

Anonymous said...


I don't remember him seeking those infringements on our rights prior to 9-11 ... why I tend to believe it's not an excuse to trample all over our rights. I don't see how you combat (especially in a policing manner) sophisticated terrorism without the Patriot Act. The Russian mob managed to take down the bank of New York (money-laundering billions of dollars right under our noses) during the Clinton years ... not sure if it was Bill's fault, but the fact it happened is kind of scary ... so I don't have a problem with the Patriot Act at this point.

Anonymous said...


Israel is not a theocracy. It was founded by secular socialist Jews as a safe haven for the Jewish people, but all religions have freedom of worship (most Jewish Israelis are secular). Its laws are drafted by a democratically elected parliament, not priests, rabbis, or imams. It recognizes Jewish holidays and celebrates Jewish religious customs, but it has no state religion.

Now, you can try and argue that its goal of keeping a Jewish majority is undemocratic, but that's another discussion.

Anonymous said...

For me, it if looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like one, it's a duck.

I agree! And since we're back to a sarcastic tone:

1) the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six and injured 1000

2) the 1995 bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed five U.S. military personnel

3) the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 and injured 200 U.S. military personnel

4) the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa, which killed 224 and injured 5,000

5) the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, which killed 17 and injured 39 U.S. sailors

But, to be fair, he did have that special CIA unit to get Bin Laden ... so what it didn't happen, at least he formed another committee.

Not to mention all the encouragement each of those non-responses were to Bin Laden.

Looks like Bill's the duck to me.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the questions.

A theocracy is...

1. a form of government in which a God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God's or deity's laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.

2. a system of government by priests claiming a divine commission.

3. a commonwealth or state under such a form or system of government.

Israel is not a theocracy according to those definitions. If you find it helpful to make analogies to ducks when we discuss this, that's fine, but I don't see how that supports your argument.

Israel is mainly a parliamentary democracy. Yes, it has theocratic aspects - adhering to traditional Jewish laws of who is considered a Jew when applying the Law of Return - but the rabbis don't run the country, as they would in a theocracy. Most Jews in Israel are secularists.

“how many other religions are represented in the Isreal democratic government?”

Arabs sit in the Knesset, and an Arab sits on the Supreme Court. Whether these Arabs are Muslim or Christian, I don’t know (I think Azmi Bishara is Christian. I might be wrong). They are obviously not Jews. You can do an internet search to learn more.

"Isn't it incorrect to say Israel was founded to give Jewish people a safe haven?"

No. It's history. Herzl's Zionist ideals were born after he experienced anti-Semitism in Vienna, and later witnessed – firsthand – the Dreyfus affair, anti-Semitism in France, and a pogrom in Russia. It's questionable whether Israel would have come into existence if there hadn't been widespread anti-Semitism in the last couple of centuries, especially the Holocaust. Historian Walter Laqueur doesn’t think so, though others disagree with him.

“Just that they are a country for people of one particular faith and race.”

There are over 1 million non-Jews in Israel, and they are free to practice their faith as they choose, so long as they don’t harm anyone else. They include Druze, Catholics, Protestants, etc. There is some tension in Israel between people of these faiths, but for the most part they get along with one another very well.

Perhaps you should visit Jerusalem, where you will see people of these different religions interacting freely.

“The location was chosen specifically for its religious meaning”

That was definitely a major factor.

“One could argue that America is a safe haven for people of Jewish faith and race”.

Of course. America has been good to the Jews. However, during the Holocaust, Jewish immigration from Europe was restricted, resulting in the direct deaths of tens of thousands, and American leaders refused to bomb the train tracks that transported Jews to the camps. This fueled the Zionists’ determination to have a state of their own that guaranteed Jewish safety.

“planting them right in the center of a middle-east filled with Arabs who hate them doesn't seem to be the safe choice.”

Yes, it’s sad that in general, the Arab world has not accepted Israel. It doesn't always seem rational to have Israel there, does it? Hence, Muslim-Arab sickness, which I agree with.

I’m not going to argue demographics with you, except to say that no historian has been able to produce census records that show the entirety of Palestine being populated by Arabs, when the first Jewish settlers arrived, despite the claims of Arab writers and intellectuals. Indeed, the records show large swathes of unpopulated land.

Anyway, that's all for me. Have a good one.

Anonymous said...


Didn't mean to cut you off. I'm eager to hear your responses if you have them. I just meant for tonight.


JD Rhoades said...

Charlie: Since you continue to be part of the "blame Clinton first for everything" crowd, I'd like for you to consider the following:

Measures taken by the Clinton administration to thwart international terrorism and bin Laden's network were historic, unprecedented and, sadly, not followed up on. Consider the steps offered by Clinton's 1996 omnibus anti-terror legislation, the pricetag for which stood at $1.097 billion. The following is a partial list of the initiatives offered by the Clinton anti-terrorism bill:

* Screen Checked Baggage: $91.1 million
* Screen Carry-On Baggage: $37.8 million
* Passenger Profiling: $10 million
* Screener Training: $5.3 million
* Screen Passengers (portals) and Document Scanners: $1 million
* Deploying Existing Technology to Inspect International Air Cargo: $31.4
* Provide Additional Air/Counterterrorism Security: $26.6 million
* Explosives Detection Training: $1.8 million
* Augment FAA Security Research: $20 million
* Customs Service: Explosives and Radiation Detection Equipment at Ports: $2.2 million
* Anti-Terrorism Assistance to Foreign Governments: $2 million
* Capacity to Collect and Assemble Explosives Data: $2.1 million
* Improve Domestic Intelligence: $38.9 million
* Critical Incident Response Teams for Post-Blast Deployment: $7.2 million
* Additional Security for Federal Facilities: $6.7 million
* Firefighter/Emergency Services Financial Assistance: $2.7 million
* Public Building and Museum Security: $7.3 million
* Improve Technology to Prevent Nuclear Smuggling: $8 million
* Critical Incident Response Facility: $2 million
* Counter-Terrorism Fund: $35 million
* Explosives Intelligence and Support Systems: $14.2 million
* Office of Emergency Preparedness: $5.8 million

And this was a bill the Republicans fought Clinton tooth and nail on while continuing to insist that everything he did was just an attempt to distract the public from the real burning question of the day, which was "did Clinton lie about getting a blowjob?"

Anonymous said...

J.D. That’s quite an impressive list … still, it did nothing to thwart the five mentions I made above. In fact, according to Bin Laden, he thought the U.S. was too weak to respond (and, list aside, there was no response under Slick Willy).

For the record: I never had a problem with Bill-Monica. In fact, I thought they made a nice couple. The problem I had/and sometimes still do, is his performance. There was none (as for as I’m concerned) regarding fighting terrorism. On the other hand, his telling some reporter the other day (in regards to the ABC movie) that “he just wants people to tell the truth” … well, come on, now that’s funny.

Anonymous said...

Also for the record: I didn’t blame Bill Clinton for everything first … I voted for the arrogant dummy his first election. (I call him an arrogant dummy because anyone in that office having phone sex with a young intern is nothing short of a dummy--no matter his academic resume.) It was after he fiddled while Rome burned when his luster wore off for me. It was never about the blowjob, JR … It had everything to do with the fact that he never responded in a way I was comfortable with (me, now, not “the group” you mentioned) … instead, he took the country on an asinine journey (and, yes, the investigation into Monica-gate was a HUGE waste of money and time and I wish it had never happened … but Bill shares in that blame as much as Kenneth Starr … all he had to do was fess up (which he was forced to do anyway).

So, I never had a problem with him getting head in the oval office. As far as I’m concerned, that was his business. I did have a problem with all the terrorist strikes against this country while it was going on. He had to take that one on the chin, whether you approve of George Bush, "the group" or anybody who finds fault with Bill Clinton's presidency, or not.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for responding. You said...

"You appear to characterize the whole conflict there as one simply about one race of people hating another race that doesn't hate them back"

I never said nor characterized it like that, Joshua. I simply stated the Arabs – by and large - have not accepted Israel, which is a fact. As far as my claiming that Jews just want to be nice to the Arabs - you must be confusing me with someone else.

"how one fellow I know of the Jewish faith framed it for me is that it seems more that it happened so that holy land was taken back for God's chosen people."

I'm sorry, Joshua - and my sincerest apologies to Barry for tone, here - but I really don't see the point in discussing this with you (as you feel about discussing things with Charlie - someone I admire by the way). I'm talking about census numbers, specific names of non-Jews in the Knesset, definitions of a theocratic state, and observations I've made from personal experience in Israel, and you're admitting by default that your outlook and knowledge are formed by a specific "camp" and a Jewish "fellow" you spoke to.

You are wedded to a set of beliefs that you have neither personally verified through broad reading nor firsthand experience, and have all but admitted you can't/won't make any effort to do so because you are stuck on your "belief".

Honestly - and I'm trying to say this politely - I doubt that by your questions to me and lack of specifics, you have any idea who Azmi Bishara is (why would you ask about non-Jews in the Israeli government). Or the Druze. You also appear to lack fundamental knowledge of the history of the region (Herzl's plan, the first Zionists, the number of Arabs, etc.), and you are ignoring it when I tell it to you.

As Barry said, this is a place to try to get to the heart of the matter, rather than engage in the emotionalism of Michael Moore, O'Reilly, etc. But you have basically told me that all you have to bring to the table are the rants of a Marxist playwright and the world view of an anti-Israel, anarchist organization. And I sincerely don't see how it will be a productive use of my time to discuss this with you if that's all you've got.

So, thanks for responding, and Barry, again, please forgive me. I'm doing my best to be as polite and forthright as I can.

Anonymous said...


No offense taken, and I didn't think you were jumping down my throat - I also didn't mean to come across as jumping down yours.

All the best.

Barry Eisler said...

Hi all, sorry I haven't been around much... things have been a little busy.

For anyone who's curious, I'm guest blogging on M.J. Rose's Buzz, Balls, and Hype through Wednesday. All business, no politics. I think...

DKG, I know there's an argument that the Palestinians are puppets and otherwise manipulated. But to me this is just another aspect of the root cause of their ongoing problems -- a refusal to take personal responsibility for their future and an insistence instead that all their problems are externally caused.

Sandra, thanks for picking up Last Assassin, and I'll look forward to the review.

Brooklynsax, thanks for the clarification. You're right -- I'm familiar with Morris's work and wasn't suggesting that all the Arabs who left Israel in 1947 were driven out.

Hardluck, great point on the role of women; I'll have more on that in Solutions, coming soon...

Charlie, I haven't been following the Clinton/ABC news as closely as I'd like. So much news, so little time... but from what I've read (Dorothy Rabinowitz in Saturday's WSJ), the show is equally hard on Clinton and Bush.

David, good point about the "right of return." This is a nonstarter from Israel's point of view and the Palestinians know it. My sense is that they use it as a negotiating cudgel and as an absurd cultural tool: "we don't have to make any meaningful compromises today because we'll get everything we ever wanted tomorrow."

It's possible that if there were ever a negotiated solution, the ROR nonsense would be dispensed with via some sort of nolo contendre financial compensation. But I don't see a negotatied solution anytime soon. The Palestinians don't seem to want one.

Solutions coming soon!