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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).
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From Taking Sides to Bothsidesism

A Catalogue of Positions on the Middle East War

Frank Visser

In the current Hamas-Israel war we have two extremist parties who dream of obliterating their opponent. Israel would like to get rid of all Palestinians, and establish a Greater Israel. Extremist Palestinian factions want to erase Israel from the map. "Free Palestine from the river to the sea." This bodes poorly for any constructive solution.

But Israel is there to stay -- especially with the unconditional backing of the US and Europe. And Palestinians will not just go away, on the contrary, they will multiply demographically only more. How to make sense of this impasse?

One thing that divides the positions the most is between those who take sides -- either strongly pro-Israel or pro-Palestine -- and those who try to practice some form of "bothsidesism". Of course, here too, extremists abhor such a balanced approach, and speak of "false balance". Let's walk through these various positions one by one:

Table 1: Various positions on the Middle East conflict
PRO-PALESTINE PRO-ISRAEL
EXTREMIST RADICAL MODERATE RADICAL EXTREMIST
Anti-Semitism Anti-Zionism Right to exist / defend Anti-terrorism Anti-islam/ -Arabism

Radicals focus on a specific group, such as Israel or Hamas, where extremists generalize their feelings to an etnic group or religion as a whole. These distinctions are often lost. Anti-Zionism is often labelled as Anti-Semitism (which is often used to deflect criticism of Israel), and anti-terrorism can overflow into Islamophobia, as if billions of moslims all over the world want to eliminate Israel. These over-generalized sentiments destabilize society, on both sides of the spectrum.

But let's start in the reasonable, moderate middle. Both Israel and Palestine have the right to exist and to defend itself. But as justification of Israel's revenge on Gaza, we hear tons of media claiming that Israel "has the right to defend itself". But does this not apply even more to the Palestinians, who don't even have an official state, or an army. All they are left with is "terrorist acts".

The double tragedy is that the Palestinians are deeply divided among themselves, between factions in Gaza and the West Bank — going back all the way to pre-1947 tribal times. The Gaza faction is militant-moslim, the West Bank more moderate and "Western". Both hate eachother, perhaps more than both hate the Jews, as Dutch historian Els van Diggele wrote.[1] They don't have a "two-state solution" even within their own borders.

Israel, of course, has the right to defend itself against terrorism, and they have very sophisticated means to do so, the most spectacular being the Iron Dome. What do the Palestinians have? Rockets and drones. The more orthodox Jewish groups harbour a strong anti-Arabic and -islam sentiment. This makes it almost impossible to maintain a productive stance towards a solution of this conflict.

And yes, we see the same at the other end of the spectrum. Pro-Palestine activists groups argue agains Zionism, especially in its current expansive form. Again and again, Palestinian land is occupied by colonists, and this frustrates the Palestinian population to no end. There too, one can find extremist views, in which Jews are not tolerated at all to exist as neighbors. It is abundantly clear that extremist views are unhelpful to solve this decades old problem of closely living together in a small area. Hamas and the current Israeli administration are in a strangle hold with eachother. Where are the moderates? And should not the US, in this asymmetric war situation, put pressure on Israel to finally resolve this conflict in a humane and mutually acceptable way?

Some years ago, Ray Harris and Jeff Meyerhoff debated this very topic in the pages of Integral World. Harris took that position that Israel is a higher developed democracy, which has a right to be there. Meyerhoff pointed to the New Historians who overturned much of the official history of the foundation of Israel. I recommend reading through this back and forth, for it has not lost its relevance.[2]

According to this UN source, Palestine casualties in the years 2008-2020, compared to Israeli casualties, were a factor 20(!) higher (5590 vs. 251). And that doesn't even take the wounded into account, which massively outnumbers those on the Israeli side. And this doesn't even include the 2023 atrocities, which are now assessed as a factor 10 higher on the side of the inhabitants of Gaza (roughly 10.000 vs. 1000). Not to mention the indiscriminate bombing of infrastructure in Gaza. Does the horrendous cruelty of the Hamas attack make this less worse?

Michael Shermer recently commented on X on this war, taking an extremist view, in which he stated that Hamas was worse than Nazism, because the Nazis at least tried to hide their killings, whereas Hamas-warriors rejoiced in it and posted it on social media. Sam Harris speak of "a bright line between good and evil" because of the dangers islamist jihadists pose to Western society.[3] But it seems to me a little bit too easy to focus solely on this. It smacks to much of black-and-white thinking to me. In a conversation with Yuval Harari there is more balance.[4]

Sam Harris is strongly anti-islam, and he points to the real dangers militant islamic factions such as ISIS and Hamas pose to Western democracies (not to mention to other muslim groups). But islam, like any religion, is a spectrum, as Dustin DiPerna once documented on Integral World.[5] Militant jihadist islam is a mythic version, in its extremist type. Numerically it may be small, but in terms of getting the attention of the world it is highly successful. And islam definitely has a developmental issue, when it is stuck in medieval dreams of a Caliphate.

When a conflict like this drags on for 75 years, without a clear opportunity for a solution, we should zoom out and ask ourselves if responsibility for this conflict should be shared by both parties. It is an endless chain of action-reaction, which seems never to stop. Only a moderate and rational approach by a powerful moderator (not clear if that role can be played by the US, given its support for Israel and its lip service to the Palestinian cause). The two warring parties clearly can't handle this on their own. And most people just want to live in peace anyways.

And then, of course, there are those in the pro-Palestine camp who place most of the responsibility on the shoulders of the West. Didn't the West (Britain, UN) create the plan to divide Palestine into an Israeli and a Palestinian part? But as I said, we can't turn back the clock of history, we can only take a pragmatic approach that will include concessions both from Israel and from the Palestinians in accepting the rightful existence of the other. Expansionist Zionism, as sanctioned by the Israeli government, as well as a hell-bent denial of the State of Israel by Hamas will only make things worse.

Extremism of any form leads to dehumanization of one's opponents -- "Jews are money-hungry, Arabs are prone to violence." It is the human element that needs to be brought back into the discussion. All lives matter: Jewish and Palestinian. I know this is a soft recipe in a world of power politics, but is there any alternative?

Two examples from opposite ends of the spectrum, from people (both Jews) I respect:

Noam Comsky on the Palestine right to retaliate

NOTES

[1] Els van Diggele, We haten elkaar meer dan de Joden, Tweedracht in de Palestijnse maatschappij [We hate eachother more than we hate the Jews: Discord in Palestinian society], Singel, 2017.

[2] Frank Visser, "Integral Thoughts on the Middle East Conflict", www.integralworld.net

[3] Sam Harris, "The Bright Line Between Good and Evil", Making Sense podcast, episode 340.

[4] Sam Harris, "Gaza & Global Order, A Conversation with Yuval Noah Harari", Making Sense podcast, episode 341.

[5] Dustin DiPerna, "The Muslim Ladder: The Infinite Ladder: An Introduction to Integral Religious Studies, Chapter 9", www.integralworld.net

Christopher Hitchens: "What is otherwise a perfectly soluble problem, the division of Palestine between its Jewish and Arabic inhabitants, is made impossible by monotheism."






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