Archive for December, 2010
The only way to solve the Arab-
… and all other conflicts
Based on talks by Ralph Dobrin, and his forthcoming book “How to Avoid Armageddon,”
In part 1 of this article we showed why truthfulness is probably the most important of human values. We also suggested that the history of Israel and Palestine might have run a different, happier course for everyone had there been more truthfulness on the part of all the parties. In this part we will follow this premise and examine whether the Israel’s generally unfavorable status in the world has any bearing on the ability of humanity to cope with all the serious global problems that threaten our future well-being and very existence.
At the beginning of the British Mandate in Palestine following the First World War, the Arabs had a legitimate and understandable gripe about the Jews in Palestine, as such a small minority, getting sovereignty in the country. However, not long after the beginning of the Mandate, the British cut off 77% of Palestine to create Transjordan, which was later to become the independent Kingdom of Jordan. This in itself could have been seen by the Arabs as a move beginning to reflect more closely the demographic reality in Palestine. Granted, the creation of Transjordan at that time still did not accurately reflect the demographic ratio or the population distribution of Palestine. But it was a highly significant development. Also noteworthy was the dozen or so Arab countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa that at that time and in the years to come, did receive their full national independence. Nevertheless one should be able to understand the uneasiness – to say the least – that the Arabs must have had about the large-scale Jewish immigration into Palestine.
But the point is that had truthfulness been the main guiding principle determining the actions of the various parties, it’s quite possible that solutions could have been found to satisfy or at least partially satisfy all the parties and that fears could have been shown to have been unfounded. It is quite likely that there would have been far less turmoil and more prosperity and a better life for everyone. Quite possibly there wouldn’t have been any Arab-Israeli wars. There would have been an Arab state of Palestine, independent and in addition to Jordan, or annexed to it. And there wouldn’t have been any Arab Refugee Problem.
But sadly, as is so often the case, it‘s the more tempestuous voices that prevail. They usually use lies to gain and preserve leadership, and the lies are eventually believed by the general population to be the truth.
So much has happened in this region during these last few generations. Apart from half a dozen or more wars, there have been numerous diplomatic attempts by international agencies and other countries to solve the conflict. And here too, truthfulness has not been an over-riding imperative, and that’s more than likely the reason for failure to resolve the conflict up to this point.
There were wars when the Arabs were clearly the initiators, and there were wars when Israel either pre-empted an imminent invasion or retaliated to ongoing terrorist attacks. And always, Israel is almost universally blamed or scolded for each outbreak and the casualties suffered by the Arabs. In the first Arab-Israel War, known as the War of Independence in Israel – the Arabs call it El Nakba – what is forgotten or ignored by most of the world, were the calls by the Arab leadership to reject the United Nations Resolution 181 to partition Palestine. There is a great deal of evidence in books and newspaper articles written by Arab writers and historians of that period, that the Arabs started this war with the clearly expressed aim of destruction of the Jewish state. But the Jews did what any other nation would have done – they defended themselves and more than held their own, and to a large extent because of very exaggerated accounts of Jewish brutality at Deir Yassin, a mass exodus began of Arabs from Palestine. A main contributing factor to the further continuation of this exodus was what had been in minds of the local Arabs at the outset of the war. Their leaders had promised to drive the Zionists into the sea, and had talked about a massacre of the Jews. But when the tide of war changed the Arabs expected that the Jews would do to them what they had promised to do to the Jews had they won the war. They expected to be slaughtered and about four-fifths of the entire Arab population fled. Thus was created the tragic Arab Refugee Problem.
So, when the Arabs and their supporters blame Israel exclusively for the Arab Refugee Problem, they willfully or unwittingly ignore that it was the Arabs in the first place who launched a war with the well-announced aim of destroying the Zionist state – in short ethnic cleansing – a term that is now frequently and cynically used against Israel regarding that war. To ignore all this is to indulge in the selective omission of vital aspects of the conflict. It actually panders to falsehood. And it releases the Arabs from any responsibility for what had happened and thereby contributes to the perpetuation of the Arab Refugee Problem.
The reason I’ve brought this up is not to justify Israel’s actions, but to show how damaging falsehood can be.
Another event that was to drastically change this region was the Six Day War in 1967, which started after the neighboring Arab countries massed their armies on Israel’s borders and promised an imminent onslaught that would end the Zionist entity once and for all. In Jerusalem the Jordanian army started intense mortar and artillery barrages into the Jewish suburbs and also captured the regional United Nations headquarters. What was Israel to do? Well, like any other nation, Israel retaliated and to put it briefly, the Jordanian forces retreated to the eastern side of the Jordan River. And that’s how the West Bank and all of Jerusalem came under Israeli control. In Jerusalem, Jordanian forces began pounding the Jewish suburbs with heavy mortar and artillery fire. Israel retaliated – like any normal nation – and within six days all the Arab armies were repulsed. Israel found itself controlling territories from which attacks and invasions had been launched a number of times. And that included Judea and Samaria.
Suddenly much of the rest of the world took notice and became extremely alarmed. Dozens of countries immediately closed down their embassies in Israel in protest. It is noteworthy that a few days earlier, when Israel’s actual existence had been seriously threatened, few other nations seemed particularly worried. But now, that the threat of Israel’s destruction had been repelled and Israel happened to have in its possession large swathes of territory that had been used to attack and invade it, suddenly most of the countries in the world demanded Israel’s immediate withdrawal. And again ignored, was the fact that it was the Arabs who had instigated this war with the express purpose of destruction of Israel. Ignoring this needed an enormous degree of cynicism.
The U.N. Security Council worked out Resolution 242, calling among other things, for the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Note: not withdrawal from the territories. It should be recognized that the exclusion of the significant definite article “the,” was due to the determined stand of some honest, valiant American and British jurists who participated in the drafting of the resolution. But many people are adamant that even without the significant the, the resolution calls for withdrawal from all the territories that Israel had captured. The thing is, would withdrawal to the previous, precarious borders make any sense, seeing that Israel had been invaded from these same areas before? Actually, did any withdrawal make sense, or follow the principles of fairness? Also, wouldn’t the demand for Israel to withdraw from all the territories mean that armed aggression against a neighboring state carries no penalties and that the Arab nations could invade Israel time and again without losing any land, thus setting a precedent in the annals of history? Many people seem to think so. Is this a double standard, especially when one considers that many borders in the world have been established as the result of armed conflict and that it was always the winning country that gained the territory? Bear in mind, double standards imply, among other things, the purposeful ignoring of pertinent facts, which is an aspect of falsehood, of lying.
A major controversy that rose as a result of that war over 43 years ago is the legality or illegality of Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank and the construction of Jewish settlements. Many folks who are convinced that Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria is illegal, are able to cite an international document or agreement such as the Oslo Accords, or Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Conference, or Security Council Resolution 242.
But I find it hard to accept that anyone who has really read these documents carefully can say with absolute conviction that Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria is illegal. Questionable – maybe, but probably no more questionable than China’s rule over Tibet or Russia’s rule over what was once East Prussia and scores of similar cases. If they claim that Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria doesn’t help in the peace talks with the Palestinians, there might be something in such a statement. While this might not tally with my personal sentiments about the matter, I can appreciate that they do have a point that merits serious consideration. But that doesn’t necessarily support the claim of illegality – according to any international conventions or agreements, unless based on a very narrow, selective and incomplete reading – notwithstanding what many of the great luminaries and leaders of the world keep saying.
One doesn’t need to be an expert on international law to consider the implications in these documents. Take Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Conference, which prohibits the forcible transfer or deportation from occupied territory, and certainly after cessation of hostilities. But the 4th Geneva Conference didn’t deal with a terra nullius situation, which is territory not legally occupied by any sovereign state, and which the West Bank arguably was in 1967, when taken by Israel in what must also be remembered as a defensive war. Also, when drafted in 1949, it did not anticipate the unprecedented intensity and ruthlessness that started in the early nineteen nineties, of thousands of deadly armed attacks against Israel’s population by people in these territories. Which in itself is a clear indication that the hostilities continue. And regarding the clause that prohibits transfer or deportation of populations into the territories, which could mean the Jewish settlers these people went there of their own free will. They weren’t transferred or deported. And again the status of the territories was questionable. Also, some of these people were actually returning to lands that they or their parents or grandparents had once lived on, like Gush Etzion or Hebron. Furthermore, in a historical context these are lands where the ancestors of the settlers had likely once lived for hundreds of years.
Regarding Resolution 242, what should be added to what we said earlier is that the Resolution also requires “a just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” which is far from the case and seems well nigh impossible at the present time. And the Oslo Accords and additional connected agreements do not talk about banning settlement development at all.
There are other international documents that weaken even more the accusation of Israel’s illegality in Judea and Samaria, like the San Remo conference of the League of Nations, calling for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine, thus clearly giving international sanction for Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria; and the United Nations Resolution 181 in 1947 to partition Palestine. We’ve already mentioned the U.N. Resolution to partition Palestine, which as we recall had been categorically rejected by the Arabs of Palestine and the rest of the Arab world, who launched a war against Israel with the intention of destroying it? So, by unilaterally starting the war, weren’t they the aggressors? And in losing the war that they started, didn’t that nullify or at least cast into serious question their claim to any sovereignty in Palestine?
So, when talking about Israel’s conquest of the West Bank in 1967, one must wonder if there is another similar example throughout history, where a country that is repeatedly attacked from the same territory, repulses the enemy that had threatened its destruction – and then, as in Israel’s case, is constantly petitioned by the nations of the world to withdraw from these territories without having surrendered to any military force? Is there any other similar example in history? I‘d like to know if there is. Please comment.
There are many other controversial issues connected with the Arab-Israel conflict such as the peace negotiations with Palestinian leaders; and how should Israel deal with attacks by terrorist organizations – to mention just a few of the issues. And very often, when an issue makes the news headlines, there is an outcry against Israel for its aggression, intransigence, human rights abuses and apartheid policies, by politicians and leaders all over the world, joined by universities, churches, labor unions, even municipalities, calling for censure and condemnation, calling to cut all ties with Israel and boycott its products and even its academics. All this is widely backed in all forms of the media.
Also, judging by the many famous names joining in this outcry – world leaders, eminent scholars, famous writers, Nobel Peace Prize winners, all truly illustrious men and women, among them many Jews – it would seem that Israel is indeed a pariah state. This seems to be clearly confirmed by the fact that in the United Nations Human Rights Council, Israel has been condemned more often than all the other countries in the world combined. In fact, judging by the hugely disproportionate attention and votes of condemnation in the Human Rights Council, as well as in other international forums, Israel is far, far more villainous than the likes of Sudan, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Iran, China and North Korea, to mention just a few of the more ruthless and brutal regimes.
And you know what? If all this censure and condemnation is really due to a genuine concern for justice and human rights; if it is all meant to correct a terrible wrong, then I for one would acknowledge that even though it’s directed against my country, which I love, I could appreciate that it’s a positive thing, that it’s all for a good cause and that it would seem that humanity has indeed come a long way, seeing that so many people seem to truly care for justice and fairness and an end to oppression, and are also willing to act.
But too many things that we’ve already discussed indicate that there is a double standard in the way that most of the nations of the world relate to Israel? If there are still any lingering doubts about double standards, let’s look at one more of the many indications.
Let’s look at casualties! Let’s compare figures. Apart from the many mega-massacres of civilians, such as those committed by all sides in the Second World War, and the Khmer Rouge and in half-a-dozen countries in Africa, where literally millions – millions of civilians have been slaughtered … in each war, there have also been tens and hundreds of thousands of civilians killed, often intentionally, in wars in Central and South America, South East Asia, regions under Soviet influence and the Balkan states.
On the other hand, however, during the First Arab-Israel war about one thousand Arab civilian non-combatants were killed either in cross fire or by mistake and yes, in some cases wantonly. Now, this is tragic. But compared to what goes on in other conflicts, as callous as this might sound, anywhere else a thousand civilian fatalities over 16 months of fighting, would hardly have merited any mention whatsoever.
And what about the Arab countries themselves? Clearly, they are no slouches when it comes to killing civilians in conflicts among themselves. The killing of thousands and even tens or hundreds of thousands of unarmed fellow-Arab civilians has been a fairly regular occurrence up to the present day. The figures I give here are the lowest figures that I have found in various sources, and I always try to do a lot of multiple cross-referencing, using mainly neutral sources.
In Lebanon during their civil war – over 70,000 civilians were killed. Compare this to the one thousand Arab civilians killed during Israel’s War of Independence. The Syrian army killed at least 10,000 civilians during a bombardment of the city of Hama. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Algeria in a conflict between government forces and Islamist groups. Iraq has been a permanent killing field for generations, with hundreds of thousands of Shiites and Sunnis being killed by each other. Sudan … is the scene of the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. And we could go on and on with the long list of Arab killing Arab to the present day. Mind bogglingly, the rate that Arabs have killed other unarmed Arabs is about fifty times more than the number of non-combatant Arabs that have been killed by Israel during all the wars and battles during the last sixty three years. And please consider that Israel often has to contend with its foes in densely populated civilian areas because of the Arab militias’ practice of launching attacks from their own residential areas. Talk about double standards!
So, one can’t help wondering why all those good, concerned people that we mentioned earlier who keep condemning Israel, who demand sanctions, divestment and boycott against Israel – if they are so concerned about international justice and human rights, why aren’t they calling for a boycott of China, for instance, for its brutal occupation of Tibet? Or demanding from Turkey to at least declare remorse for its genocide of the Armenian people. And what about Turkey’s continued occupation of Northern Cyprus? Just to mention a few of the many serious human rights abusers. And why haven’t these righteous souls castigated the Arabs that it was wrong to have sought the destruction of another nation and to keep trying to weaken it in the guise of questionable grievances? And that it is wrong to slaughter their own people? And why is it that in all the many times that Israel has been attacked, whether by armed militias or actual invasions, the censure regarding instigating Arab aggression, if at all, has always been very low key? The only answer is clearly – double standards? And bear in mind that double standards imply the purposeful ignoring of pertinent facts, which is a close relative of lying.
So, what is the real reason for all this? There must be a good reason! God’s will? Maybe! Although as a mere mortal, I cannot know God’s will. I can only think that perhaps Israel’s eternal struggle is actually part of some unfathomable cosmic scheme of things that might even unfold in our time. But on a pragmatic level I can assume a number of reasons for Israel’s unfavorable status. Firstly, all countries need regular, even-priced oil supplies, which the Arab countries have in greater supply than anyone else. Therefore, it’s understandable that most nations would be wary about annoying the Arabs by showing too much support or understanding for Israel. Although, it must be said, that quite a few do risk Arab and Muslim displeasure by quite often voting against outrageous votes in the various United Nations forums.
The United Nations is clearly a major factor in Israel’s lowly situation. This is due to the large number of Arab, Muslim and Third World nations that make up its membership, as well as many others with a communist connection. Russia comes to mind. All these countries automatically form an anti-Israel bloc, which frequently passes highly unfavorable resolutions against Israel. An extreme example of an anti-Israel forum is the highly inappropriately-named Human Rights Council mentioned earlier.
Another major reason for targeting Israel is what is often seen on television screens – the devastation of Palestinian towns caused by Israeli bombings, which must arouse dismay and indignation of decent people everywhere. Especially when what is seen is seldom accompanied by any objective commentary on the reasons for the bombings, or balanced reactions. This is probably due to the fact that many of the people running the media – not all, but many – are unsympathetic to Israel. One reason for this could be a political and ideological disposition that embraces strong, left-leaning views and conditioned by a concern for political correctness. It’s an attitude that tends to favor emerging, struggling, aggrieved peoples, especially if they are struggling against, what is seen, rightly or wrongly, as a dominating, expansionistic, militaristic force. And Israel, in the minds of many of these people, clearly represents such a force. And this attitude tends to suppress any sound, objective appraisal regarding the said aggrieved peoples, no matter how intransigent, ruthless or devastating their actions might be. In short, what we often get in the media is unreliable and misleading.
The third factor in Israel’s negative image, judging by the huge degree of double standards, might be anti-Semitism. Now, we all know that racial bias and bigotry is not something directed exclusively against Jews. Many other peoples have also endured terrible discrimination. But in today’s world where political correctness in the media and in all government capacities, rules out patent racial discrimination, one would expect that that includes anti-Semitism. And it does. Anti-Semitism is out – officially. Yet, it does seem to be very much alive in an updated and politically-correct version. A version that is stridently anti-Zionist and anti-Israel in tone and content. And this too, appears to be a factor in Israel’s isolation.
In other words much of the censure and condemnation against Israel is actually a case of cynical hypocrisy as well as innocently but willingly received falsehood on the part of ordinary people everywhere.
Earlier we spoke about the power of truthfulness in preventing strife and solving conflict. Conversely, falsehood creates strife, perpetuates it and prevents its resolution. It seems that the largely biased, far from honest international condemnation of Israel has actually been a major factor in preventing a resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict. It has encouraged the Arabs to continue their hostility and their quest to make the Zionist entity disappear. And all this hasn’t helped in any way to alleviate the plight of Arabs anywhere?
Now I repeat that I haven’t brought up Israel’s stand against Arab hostility or the international bias in order to justify Israel’s actions or to wag an accusing finger at anyone. After all, as we all know, Israel, just like any other country, sometimes acts in a way that is diplomatically regrettable and morally questionable. But I have raised the subject of Israel’s isolation in the face of continuous hostility in order to show the pernicious effects of falsehood.
What is especially important as far as this article is concerned, is that it is this same untruthful attitude regarding Israel that is preventing humanity from solving all the other urgent global problems.
Israel’s survival – and its survival is in the balance – depends to a very large extent on what the people of Israel do; how they conduct our lives, what is the general level of integrity and a vital extension of this question is, what kind of leadership and government system are they able to develop?
On a global scale, Israel seems perforce and reluctantly, to be a fairly central player in the scheme of things. Israel’s survival or demise might even signify what kind of future is in store for humanity? Will it be an age with optimum personal liberty, well-being and joy for more and more people everywhere, or conversely an unprecedentedly awful dark age, even evoking images of Armageddon? Whether seen as a theological issue or a purely pragmatic question, it would seem that the enormous amount of falsehood in all its different forms, directed against Israel in its desperate confrontation with the Arabs, shows that humanity on the whole probably doesn’t have the capacity – moral or intellectual – to contend with all the other serious existential challenges to our planet. Clearly, too many people everywhere simply don’t know how to differentiate between fact and fabrication, too many people don’t know right from wrong. And that includes the leaders. Especially the leaders.
Now, it is probable that every decent, fully rational person anywhere on earth, who is not infected by any fundamentalist depravity, would very much want our world to become a happy, bountiful place for all people. And that is indeed possible. As simple and simplistic as it might sound, truthfulness is the answer. We need to practice and observe it as a lifestyle, as an integral part of our belief systems. And this is indeed possible, but only if we can begin to fully understand the meaning and the power of truthfulness. There has to be a clarion call for every concerned person to practice truthfulness as a lifestyle, as an integral part of our belief systems. Indeed, as yet another step in human development, that is necessary if we want to survive as a species. We all need to fully understand this and spread the message, mainly through personal example. It’s up to each and every one of us.
If you want to see part 1 of this article, click https://truthandsurvival.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/no-more-lies/
Ensuring a future
Based on talks on the subject by Ralph Dobrin, and his forthcoming book “How to Avoid Armageddon”
Humanity has never had it so good. Or at least a large part of humanity. For the first time in history, over half the people on earth have running water in their homes. This is something that we in developed countries take for granted. But indoor plumbing is actually a relatively new thing. Throughout most of human existence people had always needed to tramp every day to the nearest well or river and draw water – in all kinds of weather. Usually it was the womenfolk. But today, over half the people on earth have taps and faucets and showers in their homes. And hot water. Over a third of the people on earth have flush toilets – halleluya! Humanity has indeed come a long way.
In many countries all over the world the average person enjoys more luxury and comfort than kings did a few generations ago. We can travel to distant lands in a way that was undreamed of by the most powerful monarchs a mere hundred years ago. We have instant contact with people anywhere. And there are so many other ways that our lives have been improved immeasurably in the last few generations.
We all know this. And we also know that these are indeed very uncertain times. We are probably living in the midst of one of the most crucial moments in history. With all the many wondrous ways that life has improved for a large part of humanity, the threats to the well-being, to existence itself , have never been so daunting.
I don’t think it’s necessary to go into detail regarding all the challenges and threats that humanity now faces. Everyone them all too well. In fact, by the time the present generation of six-year-olds reaches Barmitzvah age, or even beforehand – humanity could very well be in the midst of a Doomsday situation. And to a surprising extent, it happens to coincide with prophesy in the scriptures.
It’s interesting that people have always predicted a doomsday. Mythological and religious writings about a future global cataclysm can be traced back to the earliest days of civilization. Makes one wonder. Is there something about the human mind that is intrinsically and morbidly pessimistic or have there really been a select few throughout the ages, who’ve been so closely in touch with the cosmos that they could know what the future would bring?
But no matter what the answer to this question is, Doomsday, or whether one calls it the End of Days, or Judgment Day, or whatever, is clearly a most awful prospect. Prophesy talks about universal destruction on a completely unprecedented scale, making the horrors of all previous wars seem like mere trivialities. A question that comes to mind is: can it really be that the dreadful visions prophesied in the Scriptures are indeed being played out – whether by divine intention or coincidentally by human obtuseness?
Now, even a cautious skeptic like myself cannot ignore the correlation between biblical prophesy and many of the events that have taken place in recent times, such as … the “ingathering of the exiles,” in the Books of Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel; or Isaiah’s prophesy that “the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.” And there are others.
But the most sobering prophesies – at least for me as someone living in Israel – and observing the increasing isolation of this country in the face of impossible odds, would include Zecharia in chapter 14, where he says, “I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle …”
And the passages referring to Gog and Magog in the Book of Ezekiel (Chapters 38 and 39), involving a confederacy of nations that will attack Israel. Today, these passages don’t seem so far-fetched when observing the present deep, knee-jerk antagonism towards Israel by over half the nations in the world.
However, many theologians of all faiths believe that the prophecies should be seen as very serious warnings to heed the Almighty’s commandments. In secular terms, I believe it means working for a more just world order, providing enough food for everyone and doing whatever is necessary in order to contain pollution, climate change and of course thwarting the demonic ambitions of nasty tyrants and dangerous bigots.
I like to believe that we can all still work to avoid Doomsday, whether we see it as biblical prophesy or as a secular metaphor for the dangers ahead. And what is needed is not something revolutionary or something based on ingenious scholarship or the revelation of any esoteric texts. No! As simple and as simplistic as this might sound, what is needed is plain, common decency. That’s all. Plain, common decency, but with the main emphasis on truthfulness. Oh come on, you might say. Be serious, for goodness sake. How is truthfulness going to solve pollution or poverty and hunger? How is truthfulness going to cope with the likes of Ahmadinijad?
Well think about it – throughout history it has usually been fib and fabrication that have been used by inept leaders to cover up blunders; while scoundrels and tyrants have used lies, half-truths and unkept promises to gain and keep power and to wreak havoc and cause inestimable misery. And it has been gullibility or indifference of most people that enabled the evil to be done. And in the course of this talk I will show you the correlation between all this and truthfulness.
Many people might say that things are too far gone to be corrected. That only prayer and religion will save humanity. And sure, prayer and religious observance is fine, if it inspires and fulfills you, if it makes you feel close to the divine essence of existence. That’s wonderful. But religious devotion – no matter what religion – when not bound by a strong inclination towards truthfulness and respect for others, can become very far removed from righteousness. Interestingly, the ancient Jewish sages taught that common decency comes even before Torah, even before the Bible. “Derekh eretz kodem latorah.” Also, the Bible and the Talmud have numerous references to the vital importance of telling the truth. So in actual fact truthfulness can also be seen as a religious observance.
Before continuing, we should consider the meaning of truthfulness, so as to appreciate its power and its effectiveness as a tool, as a basis, as a guarantee to success in any human framework or cooperative venture, whether as a family, or a club or business or entire nation. A general atmosphere or spirit of truthfulness engenders mutual trust and cooperation. That would be logical, wouldn’t it? Also, truthfulness enables the smooth flow of information and intelligent, sensible decision-making. All these things together create a far more pleasant, efficient, productive and successful entity. Clearly, truthfulness is quite possibly the most important value for humanity.
On a more executive level, whether in a large company or local or national government, or international affairs – imagine a working framework at all levels of any hierarchy, that is based on openness and a minimum of concealed information, of facing facts honestly, facing the truth about all situations, whether complimentary or positive or terrible. Imagine administration devoid of intrigue and running mainly on integrity. Too good to be true? After all, one can’t get ahead unless we play dirty, isn’t that so? Well, that’s precisely why there are so many problems everywhere. But in today’s precarious world, some of these problems, if allowed to continue, will quite possibly destroy us. That’s why we must change this mindset. That’s why there must be zero tolerance to any form of falsehood.
Now, when we speak of truthfulness, we’re not necessarily talking about “truth,” which while connected is not quite the same as truthfulness, and we don’t have to get too deep into abstruse theories or propositions by Maimonides, Plato or Kiergegard on the full meaning of the word “truth” – which granted can be a fascinating subject, if one has the time and inclination. However, for the purpose of our discussion we should clarify a few things about the word “truth.”
Firstly, it should be said that the often-repeated phrase that everyone has his own truth, actually mangles the meaning of the word “truth”. What everyone has in actual fact, is his or her own notion or belief of what one might think is a truth about something, but that notion or belief, all too often lacks pertinent facts and might include half-truths and quite a bit of wishful thinking. And no matter how deeply felt, it is often just a notion or a belief. Not necessarily the truth.
However, we should understand that every single thing, every item, whether visible or invisible, every recorded or unrecorded event and every concept, does indeed have its own set of truths, based on reality, facts and conventions. With some things, the truths are readily ascertained. A table, for example, is incontrovertibly and truly a table. It possesses certain clearly and easily ascertained truths such as its size, weight, shape, color, materials from which it is made and its functions. These are truths regarding a table, which if ever relevant to some cause or debate, are easily verified.
But ascertaining the truth about less tangible, more abstract things is a different proposition. The truth about a robbery or a car accident, or historical events, or the validity of religious or ideological claims, or assessments relating to the arts, tastes, human relationships, etc, are all very subjective, largely judgmental values and therefore no matter, how strongly we might feel about issues connected with these things, what we have in essence, are often merely whims, feelings, notions or beliefs. Not necessarily the truth.
Which now brings us to the related word Truthfulness and that’s what this article is about. Truthfulness is an integral part of honesty. Apart from telling the truth, it also means refraining from expressing half-truths or indulging in selective omission, which are actually forms of lying. Truthfulness also means refraining from saying things that we are not absolutely sure of, and if we do say or claim things that we are not quite sure of, we should make it clear that we are not sure of what we are saying. We should make it clear that we either heard or read such and such, or that in our opinion, maybe such and such is the case.
Truthfulness is not just a question of how we ourselves express things. It has a converse side – and that is how we receive and choose to understand what others say. This depends on our ability to sense in others, whether what they say or claim is truthful, or maybe questionable, or unlikely or downright false. Even if it is something that might appeal to us, but because it might seem to be a little too glib, or too contrived or it just doesn’t make sense, we should have the ability and the integrity to question or reject it.
So, understanding the vital importance of truthfulness as a value, how do we promote it universally. How do we spread a universal attitude and embrace of the tenets of truthfulness?
But before we discuss how to go about promoting truthfulness, it’s important for us to do some soul-searching, and ask a question: are we ourselves truthful? Am I basically a truthful person? Or perhaps I should rephrase the question by asking myself: How often do I not tell the truth? Do I sometimes exaggerate things? I’m not talking about saying something like: “I waited for half-an-hour in the rain,” when in actual fact I waited only twenty-five minutes and it drizzled for a few minutes. I think that just about everyone indulges in such minor inflation of facts from time to time. It’s not too terrible, but it is a bit of a lie, a teeny weenie little lie. And according to the principles of truthfulness even such a fib should be avoided. However, what about gross exaggeration like for example if I say: “I waited for half-an-hour in the rain!” when in actual fact I might have waited for a quarter of an hour or only 10 minutes and during all that time a few tiny drops of rain might have fallen nearby. Such exaggeration is clearly a lie. And let’s face it, many folks indulge in such lies.
By the way, I want to state for the record, that I don’t consider myself to be a completely honest person. Granted, today, I think I am more honest than I used to be because I understand more fully than before, the importance of honesty and truthfulness. I understand its importance on a personal and a global basis. But I confess that in the past I have indulged in countless exaggeration; I have told many a white lie; I have tried to impress people, especially womenfolk, with fib and fantasy – on a scale that makes me ashamed when I think of it. Sometimes, even now I still catch myself about to regurgitate one of my old fibs. But I usually catch myself in time. At least I hope so.
Now, I think that most people are pretty honest most of the time. We might exaggerate a little from time to time, but under normal circumstances most people will seldom tell an outright lie. But there are times when the large majority of normative folks engage in falsehood – often not even realizing that they are lying. Drivers caught speeding or not heeding a stop sign, will often swear when stopped by a policeman, that they were traveling at far less than the speed limit, or that they did indeed stop at the stop sign. Or when criticized or scolded for something, we often lie about what we heard or didn’t hear or what we understood.
How often have we found ourselves in such situations and lied? How often have we given some kind of cockamamie excuse for coming late to an appointment or made some fake claim of not feeling well to excuse our failure to be somewhere, or for not keeping some promise? And there are dozens of other situations, which have prompted most us to fib or lie from time to time.
But we won’t go into any more examples of lying now. We don’t want to embarrass ourselves too much. However, like I’ve said before, the subject of truthfulness is really tremendously important and this needs to be driven home to more and more people. It needs to become the in-thing everywhere. It needs to be appreciated, revered, venerated and studied – yes studied – so as to become a fixed national characteristic. The study of the subject of truthfulness – and indeed there are many aspects to such a study – can become part of the program of lectures and talks at work places, synagogues, churches, community centers and other public venues, or generally at places where people gather to work towards making this a better world.
It is also important to realize that falsehood is not only a question of telling lies or indulging in gross exaggeration or deviously concealing something vital. When we choose – because of convenience, expediency or bias – to ignore or downplay a negative phenomenon or danger, or allow a blatant, potentially dangerous untruth to go unchallenged, we are in fact subscribing to falsehood by knowingly allowing it to prevail. This is what we should consider when contemplating what to do on a personal basis regarding global warming and pollution, or any other important issue for that matter. We should be asking ourselves, whether by the way we are facing what seems to be evident, or choosing to ignore it, are we following all the principles of truthfulness and integrity, or are we, heaven forbid, pandering to falsehood. How we answer this question has a direct bearing on our future and the future of our children and grandchildren.
Now one more thing about the nature of truthfulness. There are many issues that most of us automatically accept or reject, depending on what political stand it represents or seems to represent. Many issues seem to be bound by a certain political principle or party line – usually according to liberal, progressive or conservative views, Left-wing as opposed to Right-wing, Avoda versus Likud or the more radical proponents on each side of the political divide, or Republican versus Democrat in the States, or Tory versus Labor in Britain, etc. But it should be realized that both Left Wing liberal or progressive and Right Wing conservative views present many valid points. The Left’s concern for equal rights, freedom of expression, social issues and the protection of the environment, together with the prevention of warfare, are indeed noble, worthy sentiments. And so is the Right’s concern for morality, free enterprise, security of one’s country and a loyal, honorable national identity. It’s all good stuff. No? But unfortunately, a common attitude is to assess the acceptability of something by how it tallies with, or differs from an overall political platform or ideological system, or which politicians are supporting or rejecting the idea. Not always, but often, this tendency precludes considering each issue on its own merits.
So, often we choose to ignore or downplay certain salient facts, or we unconsciously accept falsehoods because they might tally or clash with a political, ideological or religious loyalty, thus we sometimes come to conclusions that are not necessarily based on sensible reasoning, but more on sentiment, bias and a selectively partial review of a given situation. And that’s very sad, because in today’s dangerous world, we cannot afford the dubious luxury of whim, wishful thinking or any kind of flaw in our thinking – not when it involves problems of an existential nature.
THE ARAB-ISRAEL CONFLICT EXEMPLIFIES WHAT WE’VE SAID HERE
The thing is that if there’s any problem that got started with strong emotions and … untruths, it’s the Arab-Israel conflict. A short review of a few main aspects of the conflict sums up exactly what we said earlier – how falsehood in its many forms can cause a problem or a conflict, perpetuate it and prevent its resolution.
Going back to the early part of the last century, when Jewish immigration to Palestine began to increase noticeably, I think in the interest of truthfulness, we need to appreciate the deep concern that the Balfour Declaration must have aroused among the local Arabs. Think about it – the Balfour Declaration not only seemed to flout earlier British promises to the Arabs, it also aimed at setting up a national homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine. So, to any informed Arab at that time, it must have seemed, not just a threat to their nationalistic status and aspirations, but terribly unfair as well. After all, at that time in Palestine, the Arabs outnumbered the Jews by about nine to one.
So, understandably the Arab leadership in Palestine was worried. And they warned, or rather some of the leaders, headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, warned their people that unless they woke up and acted, the Jews would take away their lands; their homes and their jobs; they claimed that the Jews were also planning to take over the el Haram el-Sharif that’s the Temple Mount – with the highly venerated El-Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. But, none of this was accurate. Jews were indeed buying land, but this wasn’t the same as taking it away. Certainly not when, what the Jews were acquiring, were usually the more arid tracts or even swampland and paying good prices that included compensation to any Arab tenant farmers. In any case Palestine was a much larger country in those days and its population density was about six people per square kilometer! It would seem there was lots and lots of space for everyone.
As for taking away jobs from Arabs – the contrary was true. The Jews brought enterprise and helped generate more jobs than ever before. In fact, with all the Jewish immigration as well as the British Mandate, many Arabs from the surrounding countries began to arrive in Palestine because of the opportunities for a better life.
And as for the fear that the Temple Mount would be taken over by the Jews, Jews were actually urged by their rabbis not to enter the Temple Mount, because of the fear of profaning this supremely sacred spot. In addition to all these unfounded warnings about losing their lands and homes and jobs, were the totally false claims on a number of occasions during the nineteen twenties, that hundreds of Arabs were being butchered by Jews.
And sadly, all this exaggeration, half-truth and lie got the attention of the Arabs of Palestine, and lit a fire that is still raging to this day.
Now, just imagine what might have been, had the Arab leaders been more truthful about the situation. Or imagine them granting that the Jews had helped bring more enterprise and job opportunities. This is in fact what the Emir Feisel had expected. Imagine the racial calm and absence of serious inter-communal discord, had the false claims of an intended Jewish take-over of the Temple Mount not been made, or had there been no lies about hundreds of Arabs being butchered by Jews. The history of this land might have run a different, happier course for everyone.
In part 2 of this article we will go deeper into this premise and examine whether the Israel’s generally unfavorable status in the world has any bearing on the ability of humanity to cope with all the serious global problems that threaten our future well-being and existence.