Friends, Here is a fairly short interview I did with a Spanish magazine. The interview appears in full below and can also be accessed here.
– You were a stalwart follower of Israel during your whole life, but nowadays you are not anymore – or not as much as before. Can you explain to us what made you change your mind?
As I explain in greater detail in my book, in July 2006 Israel invaded Lebanon in retaliation for a cross-border raid into northern Israel by Hezbollah, the nationalistic Lebanese political/military organization. I fully supported Israel’s action, without regard for the consequences to Lebanon’s civilian population. Although I was not fully aware of it at the time, the real motivation for my one-sided perspective was Fear. Being Jewish, I identified with the Israeli soldiers who had been killed and abducted in the raid by Hezbollah. As a Jew, I identified with all Jews everywhere, who, I believed, were eternal targets of Hezbollah, Hamas and, in my mind, the entire Arab world. Without bothering to do any honest research to confirm my assumptions, I took for granted that this world was pathologically anti-Semitic (I define anti-Semitic as an aversion toward the Jewish religion and its people) and, therefore, a threat to my life.
Please note, in particular, two things I just implied: First, I did not indicate any identification with the people of Lebanon, the vast majority of whom were innocent victims of a devastating invasion. Because my identification was limited, in the sense that it did not include all people – and because I saw the Arab world as an enemy of my world – I was unmoved by the displacement of over one million Lebanese and the deaths of hundreds. In other words, my limited identity (in my case as a Jew) functioned as a lens through which I saw the world and it necessarily blinded me to the suffering of the other. In my mind, the other did not warrant the same humanity as did my people. As long as I defined myself as Jewish, my analysis of Israel’s behavior was inevitably predetermined. And documented facts were only relevant if they conformed to what I wanted to believe. If they did not conform, they were automatically dismissed.
The second thing I implied was through my reference to “my life.” I could have used the language of my past and said “my people,” but what I later discovered, when I became sensitive to the suffering of the other, is that the proclamations I made pertaining to alleged threats to my people were not precisely honest. I made use of the phrase “my people” to convince myself that I was not being selfish, that my concern was for my entire family of Jews, but what I was really concerned about was my perceived and personal sense of self, my presumed mortal identity. My concern was narcissistic, egotistical. Information that challenged the beliefs and images that formed a significant part of my identity was interpreted, at an unconscious level, as a mortal threat.
All of us are attached, to greater or lesser degrees, to unexamined beliefs and images and to the identities that arise out of or are reinforced by these beliefs and images. But if our beliefs and images are unfounded, what are the implications for our identity? If, for example, we are brought up to believe that throughout history our people have been innocent victims of anti-Semitism, that because we are Jewish we are victims, we will be compelled to interpret events, such as the Israel-Lebanon War, in a way that preserves that belief.
Nowadays, I find it amazing when Israeli loyalists talk about the suffering of Israelis, who are in the line of rocket attacks from Gaza, without the slightest concern for the far greater suffering of Palestinians who are subjected to infinitely more destructive rockets from Israel, not to mention an economic blockade that has caused immense suffering on every level of existence.
Getting back to what made me change my attitude toward Israel, in order to deal with the anxiety that arose as a result of Hezbollah’s provocative action, I started talking with close non-Jewish friends about what I referred to as the Arab world’s hatred toward all Jews. I explained to them that Arabs in general were so consumed with hatred that they were willing to sacrifice their own children to the goal of wiping Israel off the face of the earth. To my great disappointment, these friends disagreed with me and criticized Israel for its disproportionate use of force and the killing of civilians, both war crimes according to international law. My friends’ inability to understand the existential threat that Jews constantly faced only hardened my stance toward the Arab world and further convinced me that only fellow Jews could understand our people’s suffering.
A few days after these conversations, I received an unexpected phone call from a Jewish friend who I had known my entire lifetime. During our two hour conversation, which consisted mostly of me complaining about Arab society, my friend just listened. He did not offer any resistance. Occasionally, he disagreed with a few of the “facts” I shared but he was emotionally and intellectually non-judgmental. At the end of the call he suggested that I look into the writings of a couple of Israeli-Jews, who, he said, were well-respected historians. When I hung up the phone I thought to myself, “I can do that. I have never really studied the history of the Arab-Israeli problem. Maybe there is some information that I should be aware of.”
So that telephone conversation encouraged me to do something I had never previously thought of doing: to find out for myself what is true and what is false. I then began a long and meticulous study of the history of Israel’s relationship to the Arab world and, in particular, to Palestinians. What I discovered shocked me. I learned that virtually everything I thought I knew about the history, everything I had been taught from the time I was a child, beliefs I thought were unassailable, were either total fabrications or gross distortions of the actual history.
This remarkable repudiation of what I had taken as sacred triggered what I call a revolution in consciousness, in which my personal and collective identification as a Jew dissolved and was replaced by the understanding/recognition that I was as much Palestinian as Israeli or American, as much Muslim or Christian as Jew. Fear was replaced by compassion and confusion was replaced by clarity. Fear arises with the presumption of a limited identity, or separate self, and colors the way we see the world. It prevents us from seeing the world as it really is. Therefore, confusion always accompanies fear. Compassion, on the other hand, is the ability to stand in the shoes of the other and see from all perspectives. Therefore, clarity always accompanies compassion.
So now, if I define myself at all, I define myself as pro-humanity. That makes me both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli. My support for Palestinian equality is not because I like Palestinians or dislike Israelis. It is because I believe that all people – not some people – are entitled to the same rights as any other people. If the roles of Palestinians and Israelis were reversed I would be doing exactly what I am doing now, fighting for freedom for the oppressed.
But when we live within the paradigm of Us against Them, which is always based upon fear, we become so confused that we cannot conceive that someone who cares about Palestinians could also care about Israelis. We assume that if someone is pro-Palestinian they must also be anti-Israeli. This is the kind of dualistic thinking that is doomed to perpetuate conflict.
– You just published a book called “Breakthrough. Transforming Fear Into Compassion – A New Perspective on the Israel-Palestine Conflict.” Could you kindly explain to us what your new vision contributes to resolving the conflict?
The vast majority of people who would seriously study the history of Israel-Palestine would conclude that the primary issue is land, two peoples competing for one land. And they would acknowledge that the religious and cultural disparagement between the two sides is a consequence of that competition. However, I see Israel-Palestine as primarily a spiritual problem. From my perspective, the root cause of the problem is, as you might deduce from my answer to your first question, the attachment to a limited identity and the beliefs and images that emanate from and reinforce that identity.
The real solution to this problem is for each of us to transform our consciousness from Us against Them to tolerance and understanding. Once enough individuals have made that leap in consciousness, society itself will be transformed.
So my vision requires each of us to practice what I call – and many of the great spiritual masters of mankind’s collective inheritance call – self-inquiry. We must begin to inquire within. We need to develop a capacity for self-reflection and inquire into our indoctrination, into the beliefs and images we have absorbed through our culture, our parents, our schools, our religions, etc. If we do this, we will find that much of what we have taken as fact is simply untrue and is designed to support a certain world view that keeps us imprisoned in this world of separate selves, or egos, that creates, for its own apparent self-preservation, a world of separation, of Us against Them. And society needs to educate its members to develop critical thinking skills, to question everything they have been taught.
If each of us takes responsibility for our beliefs and if society teaches us to think for ourselves we will be free from the indoctrination that favors one group and demonizes another. We will be freed from our life-negating enemy images. We will no longer unconsciously superimpose these images onto the world and then assume that the world we see is reality. Then we will no longer scapegoat particular others as being solely responsible for the state of our world. Our interpretations of our religious teachings will also be transformed. We will see that the objective of every true religion is to transcend the religion itself, to go beyond being a Jew, a Muslim or a Christian to being a human being who is part of an infinite and interconnected mystery that every human being contributes to. The bottom line is that before we can find peace in the world we first must find it within ourselves.
– The day after the United Nations voted to give Palestine observer status, Israel announced plans to build a new settlement close to Jerusalem which will further divide the West Bank into two parts and will create a huge problem in the future. What is your opinion about this?
First of all, we have to understand that for every Israeli government since Israel became a state in 1948, peace has been secondary to the acquisition of more land. One only has to read the history as found within Israeli state archives and the writings of Israel’s leaders to come to this obvious conclusion. Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that Israel will build in area E-1 and make impossible a contiguous Palestinian state is in line with the objectives of the Jewish only settlement project that began in 1967 with the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The Likud platform, Netanyahu’s political party, explicitly rejects a Palestinian state and calls for the Jordan River to be “the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.”
Year after year we hear Israel claim that it wants peace while it continues to make peace impossible. Seizing Palestinian land, throwing Palestinians out of villages they have lived in for generations, stealing their water, destroying their olive orchards, restricting their movement and their access to education and medical care, allowing settler fanatics to terrorize women and children while the army looks on with approval are not the actions of a country that is interested in peace. Nor would a country interested in peace declare that Jerusalem is and must be the “undivided” capital of a Jewish state. All of Israel’s leaders know that any Palestinian leader who would surrender a right to East Jerusalem would become a pariah throughout the Muslim world.
Most of the world is upset with Israel’s treatment of its non-Jewish inhabitants, but its immoral and illegal abuse of non-Jews will not stop until the United States government finds the courage to stand up to Israel’s powerful lobby and put justice ahead of the prejudice that enables and encourages the abuse.
– Thousands of Palestinians have died since 1948; five million live as refugees… most people around the world see Netanyahu with the same eyes that they used to see Hitler because actually, he is doing the same things Hitler did. Do you think Israel’s colonization of Palestinian territory will end some day?
I would not go so far as to say that Israel is doing the same thing to Palestinians as Hitler did to Jews. There are no extermination chambers and, as far as I know, no plans to warehouse and murder Palestinian men, women and children. However, I do not want to minimize the hatred many Israeli politicians and religious leaders, not to mention soldiers and settlers (colonizers), routinely express toward Palestinians. When a rabbi writes a book, endorsed by other rabbis and barely criticized by Israel’s government, that claims the Torah allows for the killing of Palestinian infants because they will grow up to be “terrorists,” I can only conclude that segments of Israeli society have fallen to a level of inhumanity that is a threat not only to Palestinians but to the integrity of Judaism itself.
Briefly, I want to say that I do not condone Palestinian violence toward Israel, but it has to be understood within the context of the Occupation. The fact is that Palestinian resistance has mostly taken the form of nonviolence. However, Israel has so delegitimized Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party and their attempts to nonviolently come to a peace agreement with Israel, not to mention deported, arrested and assassinated over decades many of the leaders of Palestinian nonviolence that one has to consider the possibility that Israel is more comfortable with violence than with nonviolence. Certainly, Israel can more easily divert the world’s attention from its colonization of Palestinian land towards Palestinian violence.
Regarding Israel’s colonization, at some point either the world, with the United States in the decisive role, will sanction Israel like it sanctioned South Africa and force the colonization to end or Israel will complete its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to the extent it deems necessary to fulfill the Zionist dream of a Greater Israel; and the Palestinians will be left with a few cities and small pockets, or Bantustans, that will be separated from other Palestinian areas. And the world will hold up its hands and say that it is too late to do anything about it.
– The last ‘war’ between Israel and Gaza ended about one month ago (November 22). It all started when an Israeli air strike killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari. Nevertheless, International Media said a rocket launched by Hamas started the war. What is your opinion about International Media?
I was part of a human rights delegation, sponsored by InterFaith Peace Builders, which visited Gaza from November 5 to November 11. On November 8, Israeli artillery fire killed thirteen year old Hamid Abu Daqqa while he was playing soccer with his friends in front of his house in the village of Abassan Kabira. The next day, our delegation went to the boy’s funeral. We met with his family and with his friends who witnessed the killing. We went to the boy’s house and saw exactly where he was shot. Abassan Kabira is about one and-a-half kilometers from the border with Israel. Israel has created a buffer zone that is supposed to extend three-hundred meters into Gaza where only Israeli Occupation forces are allowed to enter. However, Israeli soldiers sometimes enforce the buffer zone up to a kilometer away. Furthermore, prior to the “war” Israeli tanks entered Gaza on average six days a week. When the tanks enter, Israeli soldiers begin shooting indiscriminately. A woman I met in Abassan village asked me a rhetorical question: “Do you sleep with your shoes on?” Gazans who live close to the border are terrorized almost every day by Israeli soldiers. They sleep with their shoes on so they can get up out of bed at a moment’s notice and run to areas that provide them with greater safety.
International media that claims the war was started when Hamas shot a rocket into Israel are irresponsible. The war started with Israel’s occupation that began over forty-five years ago. It started when Israel killed a boy who was playing soccer with his friends, something millions of boys do every day all over the world. And it started when Israel violated a two day old truce by killing Jabari, who had agreed to a longer term truce.
If international media wanted to provide their readers with real and useful information, they could report on a joint statistical analysis performed by the University of Tel Aviv, MIT and a Harvard graduate student that demonstrates that 79% of all ceasefires were violated by Israel, 8% by Palestinians and 13% by both sides on the same day; and that of twenty-five ceasefires lasting longer than a week Israel violated twenty-four; and that Israel violated all fourteen ceasefires that lasted longer than nine days.
– How do you perceive the ideological bent of the news and what do interests obey?
In the United States, the mainstream news favors the Israeli government perspective. Actually, perspective is not the most accurate word. Propaganda would be more appropriate. One example is the constant reference to rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza. There is nothing inherently wrong with reporting on such incidents, but what is egregious is that little or no mention is ever made of the fact that rocket attacks into Gaza from Israel are far more lethal and far more numerous. According to Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, from 2000 through 2008 Palestinian groups fired a total of 8,088 mortars and rockets into Israel. Contrast that figure with the nearly 8,000 rockets and mortars Israel launched into Gaza in the nine months between September 2005 and June 2006.
Most American journalists use language that has been cultivated for many years and favors the Israeli side. For example, Israelis who shoot at and kill Palestinians are soldiers but Palestinians who shoot at Israelis are terrorists. When the government of Israel attacks a Palestinian village it is defending itself in the name of security, but when Palestinian groups shoot projectiles into Israel they are terrorizing an innocent population. Critics of illegal Israeli policy toward Palestinians want to delegitimize the Jewish state but Israeli behavior that brings on the criticism is not seen as delegitimizing the prospects for peace. And as I said earlier, people who care about the rights of Palestinians are labeled anti-Israeli, whereas people, especially U.S. Congressmen, who enable Israel’s daily violations of international law, are friends of Israel who simply want peace between the two sides.
– Have you ever planned to return to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to do some type of activity?
Currently I do not have plans, but I expect to return in the near future. I will go anywhere I think my message can educate and bring a measure of clarity to people. Peace through internal transformation is the heart of my message. And this transformation can take place much more easily when people make themselves available to hear the truth, even when the truth is not congruent with the beliefs and images that constitute their indoctrination.
Thank you so much to Richard Forer for being with us while you are very busy in this period and share with us your thoughts; our readers will really appreciate it and wish you all the best.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers.
 Nancy Kanwisher, “Reigniting violence: How do Ceasefires End?” January 6, 2009, .huffingtonpost.com/nancy-kanwisher/reigniting-violence-how-d_b_155611.html