Archive for January, 2009

The Israel-Arab conflict comes to the supermarket

“I won’t take any oranges from

 damn Israel!”


This scene is based on a true story. Jack Cohen (not his real name) is a middle-aged economics lecturer and writer living in Oxford, England. It’s the second week in January 2009 and the war in far-away Gaza has been going on for over two weeks. He goes into a supermarket to buy a few things. There’s a pleasant atmosphere. Like most places in Oxford, it’s not very big or bustling and the people – shoppers and attendants alike – relate to each other with easy-going cheerfulness. Jack finds what he needs and stands in a small queue by the check-out counter.

A pleasant-looking woman is standing in front of him. When her turn comes to check out her purchases she exchanges greetings with the clerk – all smiles and that sing-along tone so characteristic of the folks in this lovely part of the world. She puts her purchases on the counter. Tomatoes, lettuce, a can of sardines, paper towels …

Then as she puts a bag of oranges on the counter she suddenly lets out a loud shriek. “Oranges from Israeeeel!” She flings the bag to the side and yells, “I won’t take any oranges from damn Israel.” She pays her bill, while the check-out clerk calls an assistant to come and take the oranges away.

Then the check-out clerk turns to Jack, giving him a pleasant smile. “It’s your turn, sir,” she calls out and he begins to put his purchases on the counter.

But Jack is flustered. This is not the first time he’s witnessed a scene antagonistic towards Israel. Living in Oxford, he’s often come across anti-Israel sentiment. Even by other Jews in the academic world of which he is part. But he knows enough about the Israel-Arab conflict to recognize that it is largely the Arab narrative, composed to a large extent, of disingenuously selective omissions and untruths, that everyone is exposed to by the mainstream media, and which clearly implies that Israel is the villain – especially now with the dreadful scenes of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

Jack realizes that what this woman did was seen by others in the supermarket, probably even admired and conceivably seen as a role model. Her outburst might have influenced others to resolve never to buy anything made in Israel. As an economist, he knows the damage that an economic boycott can cause. But what could he have done? Even though he was standing right next to her, he felt helpless in the face of such indignation.

Actually he wasn’t really helpless. There were two ways he could have reacted, apart from the lame passiveness which he exhibited. One way would have been to react reflexively and aggressively. He could have told the woman loudly that she obviously didn’t know the reality of Gaza, and accused her of being an ignoramus or an Anti-Semite. That would have been a bad response because it would have led to a shouting match and a further deepening of the woman’s hostility towards Israel and the Jews, probably leading to even more damage to Israel’s image among the onlookers.

A different scenario

The sensible thing to do in such circumstances would have been to try to engage the woman in a conversation. The issue of setting the record straight is so important that it would have warranted even leaving one’s turn in the queue to confront her. But one would need a good basic understanding of the Israel-Arab conflict. Jack happens to have a good grasp of the background to the conflict because he is a long-time Zionist, having frequently visited Israel and he has family there.

Here is a possible dialogue that Jack could have tried to pursue. It is suitable for anyone living outside Israel or traveling as a tourist. It can also be used in Israel itself under certain circumstances. But apart from a good knowledge of the background of the conflict, one would also need a disposition enabling calm confrontation with angry strangers.

Our imagined scene proceeds with the woman hoisting the strap of her shopping bag on her shoulder, and Jack catches her eye and nods: “Pardon me for saying so, madam, but I think that was quite impressive what you’ve just done.”

She throws Jack an angry look. It’s nothing personal. She’s just all het up. “That was impressive,” Jack repeats, leaving his purchases near the check-out counter and walking alongside her in the direction of the exit of the supermarket. Reaching the exit door she mutters: “Those bloody awful Israelis. God, how I hate what they are doing to the poor Palestinians.”

Jack holds the door open for her and says: “Yes, I know, it’s terrible what’s happening in Gaza.” She walks out the supermarket and he follows her, saying: “Any decent human being must be apalled by the death and destruction.”

“I wish there was something more I could do,” she says walking along the pavement towards her parked car, “apart from boycotting their rotten oranges.”

“Oh there is,” says Jack.

She stops: “What? What can we do? There are demonstrations. I’ve been to one. But what else can we do?”

Jack says: “You can learn more about the subject of the Arab-Israel conflict.”

“Oh, I know all there is to know,” she retorts. “I watch the BBC and Sky News and I read The Guardian. She’s about to reach her car. It’s a critical moment because if she gets into her car Jack won’t be able to continue the conversation. He knows he has to say or do something right now in order to keep holding her attention.

He says, “It’s obvious that even though the conflict is far away from us here in Oxford, it is of great importance to us.” She looks at him as though she can’t make him out. He continues: “It’s very important that we get the whole story correctly, don’t you think so?”

A lot of things cross her mind. Firstly – who is this man? She’s thinking about getting home on time to take her daughter to riding lessons. But she is also wondering what Jack meant by “getting the whole story correctly,” and she’s thinking that maybe he has some extra juicy and nasty details about those damn Israelis.

Jack continues: “Getting the whole story of what’s happening in Gaza is especially important if you’re a decent, concerned and honest person. And obviously you are a very concerned person, otherwise you wouldn’t have rejected those oranges.”

She nods with a smile.

“That was really something,” Jack smiles back. Yet he is somewhat uneasy about this line of approach because he feels that he is being sneaky. It’s almost like trying to seduce someone, but he reckons that this is his part in the war for Israel and that we must all try to minimize the number of Israel’s adversaries and win over as many people who understand better what Israel is really up against. Now he’s going to be more direct. It’s yet another critical moment in this encounter.

Expressing reality

“Hamas,” he declares, “is a very formidable, dangerous, devious and ruthless enemy!” She looks at him with a blank stare. Jack continues: “You probably know that the Arabs of Gaza had been firing rockets – every day onto Israeli towns and villages for the last eight years. Thousands of rockets! They’ve caused a lot of death and devastation.”

She frowns. Jack realizes that this isn’t what she wants to hear and he doesn’t want to antagonize her. So he suggests: “The Israelis probably deserved it, wouldn’t you say?”

Puzzled, she shakes her head. She can’t figure out what Jack means. He continues: “Well just for the sake of comparison, if the Welsh government started firing rockets on a daily basis from Cardiff onto some of the neighboring English towns like Exeter or Plymouth, or for that matter onto Oxford – which is only about a minute away by rocket, then you could say that we English deserved it – isn’t that so?”

“That’s absolute rubbish!” she scoffs. “What on earth are you talking about?”

“Actually I’m talking about the Hamas government in Gaza attacking Israel and killing ordinary people,” Jack answers. Substitute Gaza for Wales and Hamas for the Welsh government and Israeli towns and villages for Oxford. What do you think our government would do in such a situation?”

“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” she chides him. “I’m sorry to say this, but you are being ridiculous.”

“Maybe,” says Jack. “But that is exactly what has been happening to Israel for the last eight years.”

She looks warily for a moment, suddenly realizing that this guy isn’t what she thought he was. He doesn’t share her attitude about those awful Israelis. So she changes the tone of her voice to express her displeasure: “But Israel stole the land from the Palestinians. They kill women and children. They use the most modern jet fighter planes and tanks against young boys armed with sticks and stones.”

Jack has to be careful now. At the outset he knew that it was unlikely that he could turn this woman into a sympathizer of the Israeli cause. His aim for the moment was merely to make her realize that her attitude about Israel was based on a very one-sided view. He wanted her to have second-thoughts. It’s the first step in persuading people to stop hating something.

But by bringing up the old accusations about plundered land and the killing of innocent women and children, she has, probably unwittingly, ensared Jack away from Arab attacks on Israel. If he is not careful he will squander what he’s said so far. He’s got to get back to Hamas. If he discusses her latest assertion that Israel stole the land from the Palestinians and kills women and children, even though he’s got very convincing arguments, he will get himself into a heated squabble and lose the little rapport that he had built up with her.

Explaining convincingly that Israel didn’t steal any land from the Arabs and that women and children are killed in every modern conflct (especially when Hamas uses them as human shields) will take up too much time. He’d have to go over the whole sequence of events starting from biblical times, through the Ottoman era, the British Mandate, the creation of the Kingdom of Jordan and the United Nations Partition Vote of 1947. Then he’d have to discuss the many wars, and who initiated them. He’d need to dwell on the Arab refugee problem and emphasize that the world has never related to the fact that there were also about 900,000 Jews who had to flee Arab countries at the same time that the Arab refugee problem emerged – which in any case resulted from the Arabs’ own attempt to utterly destroy Israel. All this would take time that is scarce, and would create arguments – and arguments are seldom won by anyone. But he can’t ignore what she’s just said. He has to relate to it.

But he takes a different tack: “How do you know that Israel stole the land from the Palestinians? And that the Israelis kill women and children?”

She blinks, shaking her head as if to convey that she thinks this is a stupid question: “It’s in the news all the time. Don’t you watch TV or read the newspapers?”

Jack nods. “Yes, indeed I do. And I get the distinct impression that Israel is an aggressor nation. Most of the news media conveys the impression that the Jews in Israel have robbed the Palestinians of their land. Israel is a danger to world peace. Israel makes war all the time. Yes, I pick all that up from the newspapers and the television.”

“Well, there you are,” she sang out.

Jack continued: “But there’s something that I don’t understand. There’s something that just doesn’t make sense. Maybe you can help me”?

With mock patience, she says, “What don’t you understand?”

Jack takes a deep breath and asks: “Do you know …” He hesitates briefly and continues: “What is the Jewish population of Israel? And what is the population of the Arab countries?”

She doesn’t have a clue. Jack continues: “And how big is Israel? And what is the combined land mass of all the Arab countries?”

She shrugs her shoulders and says, “How should I know, and in any case, what’s it got to do with anything?

Jack says: “It’s got to do with everything.” Then he tells her the statistics. “There are about six million Jews in Israel. That’s a lot less than the entire population of London. And there are about three hundred million Arabs in the world, many of them more or less surrounding Israel. In other words there are about fifty times as many Arabs as there are Israelis. Also in size Israel is one of the smallest countries in the world. Its about the same size as Wales. While the Arabs have the second largest land mass in the world – larger than the USA or Canada or China. And they have the largest oil resources in the world …”

She stops Jack. “So what? That’s all the more reason why the Israelis want to steal land from the Arabs. They are so full of themselves, these J…” She eyes Jack for a moment, trying to sum him up. Then she continues: “… these Israelis. They think they are God’s chosen people.”

Jack shakes his head. “Most Israelis aren’t religious. They don’t take that kind of stuff seriously. But just think about it for one minute. Israel’s Jewish population is about half a percent of the total Arab population in the world. If you add another billion Muslims, most of whom really hate Israel for whatever reasons, ask yourself candidly: does it make any sense whatsoever, for Israel to want to pick a fight when they are so dreadfully outnumbered in every way? Think about that. Does it make any sense?”

She shakes her head irately, thinks for a moment and replies: “Well I know what I see on the TV and read in the newspapers and I get a completely different picture from what you’re saying.”

Jack: “Well three hundred million Arabs controlling most of the oil in the world make a lot more noise than a few million Jews. That’s one of the reasons why you see mainly the Arab point of view on the news. There are other reasons, but that’s one of the reasons why Israel looks so bad on the news.”

She begins to open the door of her car. Then she turns to Jack and asks almost accusingly: “So tell me, how do you know all this?”

He’s not sure how she will relate to what he’s said if she realizes that he’s Jewish. He looks at her piercing blue, almost hostile eyes and they help him make up his mind. “I’m a Jew,” he says simply. “That means that I have to know a lot of stuff – just to survive.”

She nods coolly, pouting her mouth and screwing up her eyes. Jack adds: “The Jews have been connected with the Land of Israel for over three and a half thousand years. All that Israel wants more than anything else in the world is to live in peace with all its neighbors. But when attacked, Israel does what any other country would do and that’s defend her citizens. This latest war in Gaza actually started eight years ago when the Arabs of Gaza began to fire rockets at Israel’s towns and villages. Israel never retaliated properly. There hasn’t been a single Jewish soldier or civilian in Gaza for over three years. But the mortar and rocket attacks kept increasing all the time. At a certain point the people of Israel couldn’t take it anymore. That’s what this present war against the Hamas terror army and government is all about.”

She’s about to get into her car and shakes her head. “I don’t know. You’re too glib.”

Jack says, “I’m not suggesting that you automatically believe every word I’ve said. Just think about it and come to your own honest conclusions. Check it out on the Wikipedia. If you like I’d be very glad to further our conversation.”

Jack gives her a visiting card. She sits behind the steering wheel and is about to close the door when he adds: “By the way, if you’re already boycotting Israel’s oranges there are other things that you should avoid. For instance, be sure not to use your cell phone, because the voice mail technology used in it was developed in Israel. So were many of the components and programs in your computer. Also be very wary of what medicines you take or what medical procedures anyone in your family takes. Many of the breakthroughs in modern medicine were done in Israel.”

She looks puzzled as she begins to pull out of the parking space and drives away. Jack waves and she nods her head. There’s so much more that Jack wanted to say. He had wanted to talk more about Hamas’ ultimate aims, tactics and ruthless cynicism. But there just wasn’t time and anyway, there is a limit to how much a person can be expected to change his or her attitude during a brief conversation. But at least she was exposed to a few home truths. Maybe the next time she watches the BBC or reads the Guardian she’ll be able to relate with less gullibility to slanted presentations and with more openness to reality. Also the more, people with a good knowledge of the Arab and Islamic fundamentalist quest to eradicate Israel, become vocal, the better chance this woman and others like her will know which side she must join in the coming global struggle for sanity, common decency and freedom of the spirit.

Jack had followed all the rules of engagement:

1. He never shouted or belittled the other person.

2. He appealed to her sense of self-respect and suggested that he was sure that truthfulness is an important issue for her.

3. He tried to avoid confrontation until some minimum form of rapport had been made.

4. He suggested an opposite conclusion to the obvious. (England would deserve being rocketed by terrorists.)

5. He focused on one main issue and avoided dealing with too many other issues at once.

6. He realized he couldn’t change her mind in one short conversation. The aim was to get her to have second thoughts.

7. He ended the encounter amicably with the suggestion of a future chat.

See also:


January 25, 2009 at 4:09 pm 5 comments

How to end Gaza’s misery

The world must finally learn

to face the truth



The pattern keeps repeating itself in the Middle East as it has done for more than 60 years. Arabs attack Jews. Jews practise restraint at first, but the Arab attacks intensify and the Jews are forced to retaliate. People all over the world see gruesome images on their TV screens of battered Arabs. The Jews are branded as the aggressors and widely condemned in the media and in every international forum. They are pressured into making concessions and the Arabs are encouraged by all this. After a while they resume attacking Israel.

But invariably it’s the Arabs who suffer most from the attacks on the Jews. Moreover the censure and condemnation levelled against Israel actually cause the Arabs even more grief in the long run. I’ll explain presently.

But right now in Gaza we’re at the stage where Israel is going to have to stop before it can properly prevent the resumption of rocket attacks on her towns and villages. A few weeks ago, after a six-month fake-lull in the hostilities, the Hamas government/terrorist organization began launching a daily barrage of up to 80 rockets into Israel’s towns and villages, while Israel refrained from retaliating.

Obviously this situation became totally untenable for Israel. After all, the launching of thousands of rockets over the last few years by an elected neighboring government demanded a vigorous reaction by Israel, as nothing else has helped. Indeed, the complete evacuation of every single Jew from the Gaza Strip, rather than lead to quiet, precipitated an escalation of the rocket attacks on Israel. It begged for war. But fighting with Hamas means the destruction of whole neighborhoods, because Hamas stages their attacks from within the homes of the citizens, from mosques and schools. Hamas (and Hizbollah) use their own women and children as human shields. This leads to the deaths of hundreds of non-combatant Gazans – many of them women and children.

And that’s exactly what Hamas wanted. Apart from killing Jews simply because they are Jews, civilian casualties of Arabs always arouses enormous international protest against Israel, coming from every possible podium and forum – from the capitals all over the world, to universities and parliaments to the United Nations itself. It’s a ploy that never fails.

The heart-rending images seen on the TV screens all over the world, of destitute Arabs crouching on mounds of rubble that had been their homes, grieving over their dead children, must infuriate any decent human being, no matter what nationality. Most Israelis, even though they realize the need for drastic military action, shake their heads in deep dismay over the terrible scenes coming out of Gaza.

There are also terrible scenes in Israel’s Southern towns and villages, but nothing to compare with the unspeakable carnage in Gaza. Clearly, for the foreign TV crews, the smaller mounds of rubble of Shderot and Ashkelon are not nearly as dramatic and photogenic as the misery and widespread destruction in Gaza. So the viewers all over the world hardly see the results of Hamas’ handiwork in Israel. Indeed, the almost daily mortar and rocket attacks on Israel’s towns and villages for the last eight years, have seldom if ever been mentioned by most of the world’s press and TV stations. People don’t realize what has led to Israel’s assault on Gaza. Most people think that Israel has once again suddenly launched a monstrous attack for no reason at all on innocent people. For most outsiders this present outbreak is yet another one-sided confrontation between a Jewish Goliath equipped with the most sophisticated tools of destruction against an Arab David equipped with primitive weapons, fighting gallantly for his freedom, his land, his people, his honor.

The people of the world don’t realize that they are being duped – again and again. People don’t really have time to delve into the background of the Israel-Arab conflict. Also, few people outside Israel (and ruefully in Gaza itself) realize that Hamas has created much of its defence infra-structure within the homes and schools of the Gazan population; that many of the Arab civilian casualties were actually caused because of exploding ammunition dumps and booby traps in private homes; few people register the enormity of Hamas shooting from schools and mosques; or that Israel keeps letting in huge humanitarian aird convoys with food, medicine and other basic supplies.

The great purveyors of mass information such as the BBC, CNN, France-2 and other TV stations as well as most major newspapers, are pretty mum about such matters. A large part of humanity reckons that Israel has also stolen the Arabs’ land and therefore she must be condemned, despised, boycotted and even made to just disappear – illustrating the immense power of the big lie.

Most of the world’s leaders, academics and media personalities choose to overlook that Gaza together with the rest of Judea and Samaria could have had their statehood when Israel allowed Yasser Arafat and his henchmen to return from exile in Tunisia in 1994 to set up the Palestine Authority. Also overlooked is the fact that three years ago, in a move designed to engender peace with the Arabs of the region, Israel actually uprooted every single vestige of Jewish presence out of Gaza. The international community has chosen to ignore that instead of responding accordingly, Hamas launched yet another totally unprovoked escalation of rocket attacks on Israel’s towns and villages which, apart from a few lulls, has lasted until the present day. Nobody seems to consider that four times in the last sixty years, Gaza has been used as a launching pad for attacks and invasions on Israel, and that each time has resulted in Gaza being occupied by Israel and then returned to Arab jurisdiction.


Another major point that very few people realize is that those who suffer most from Arab aggression … are always the Arabs themselves, whether they are Gazans, or people in Hebron, Nablus, Jenin or Lebanon.

Yet another point is that the people who in the long run, suffer most from international condemnation against Israel, are the Arabs themselves, and no matter whether the condemnation is in the form of mass demonstrations in the capitals of the world, or from university or church podiums or cynical United Nations condemnations of Israel, or the break-off of diplomatic ties, ultimately its the Arabs who always bear the consequences.

Why is this? Why are the Arabs the ones who are always most hurt even though the military attacks or the international condemnation is directed against Israel. The answer is because all these actions encourage the Arabs to continue their belligerence against Israel. This is what’s been happening for a hundred years now. The Arabs have employed every possible tactic to undermine or obliterate the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. In the beginning they rioted, murdered, and concocted wild lies. They weren’t admonished. Then they resorted to pogroms. Later they launched mass invasions against Israel and set up economic boycotts. Even then no state condemned them or broke off diplomatic relations. They have encouraged and created terror organizations and suicide bombings. And each time till this present round of hostilities, hardly anyone accused the Arabs of being way out of line.

But probably the worst thing they have done was to create and perpetuate the refugee problem – the only one in the world that has lasted for over sixty years and which is not being solved – because it is used as yet another highly effective weapon against Israel. And no country has ever condemned this ongoing heinous stand. Meanwhile, the world allows itself to be duped and pays for the upkeep of millions of people forced to stay in this wretched refugee status – three generations and no end whatsover in sight.

The world chooses to ignore that the Arabs of Judea and Samaria were offered statehood in half of what was left of Palestine, after 77% had been lopped off to create the Kingdom of Jordan. Subsequently as a result of the U.N. Partition Vote, the Jews were alotted the remaining half. In other words they were alotted about one-eighth of the original Palestine. The Arabs refused to accept any national sovereignty anywhere in the Middle East for the Jews, despite their 3000-year-connection. So the Arabs launched a war to utterly destroy the Jewish state (a mere three years after the end of the Holocaust). And nobody in any top position of authority anywhere in the world castigated the Arabs for this dastardly move. Nobody even scolded them for saying that this would be a massacre like never before in history.

The result of that 1948 invasion on tiny Israel was the beginning of the terrible Arab refugee problem. Furthermore, what should have been the establishment of an additional Arab state side by side with Israel, was simply annexed by the Kingdom of Jordan.

Since then, every few years there is yet another stage in this ongoing Arab quest to destroy Israel. And after every stage, Israel becomes stronger … while the world refrains from criticising the Arabs. World leaders don’t want to upset the sources of oil or cause any unnecessary diplomatic rift with 22 Arab states and another few score Muslim countries.

So the quest to destroy Israel continues – with international sanction. This last terrible war in Gaza is yet another example of Israel being provoked way beyond human endurance, with the express purpose that it would lead to international condemnation of Israel. On this score, Hamas has succeeded.

But if you look at the dreadful destruction of Gaza and the hundreds of lives needlessly lost, it is clear once again that the Arabs are the ones who suffer most.

To paraphrase the immortal words of Pete Seeger: “When will they ever learn?” When will leaders, media editors and ordinary concerned citizens of the world understand that the only way to end Arab suffering and to bring peace to the region, is by telling them firmly that they must stop this quest to destroy Israel. It’s simply immoral to want to destroy another nation, and it’s immoral to support that quest.

For more see:


January 12, 2009 at 7:22 am 13 comments