Common Grounds

Our Friday News Analysis | What the World Reads Now!

December 29, 2023


A Shared Identity (Part 5 of 5): Cut from the Same Cloth



The Hague, The Netherlands 29 December 2023 | If you know of any story that is decisive, tell the world. We're still searching.



Tamar Shamir and Mohamed Abu Jafar tried for years to bring Jews and Palestinians together. Now, they wonder if the two sides ever understood each other.

Our Friday News Analysis | What the World Reads Now!

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Tamar Shamir and Mohamed Abu Jafar tried for years to bring Jews and Palestinians together. Now, they wonder if the two sides ever understood each other.



By Susan Dominus
The New York Times Magazine
14 December 2023


“I feel betrayed on such a deep level.” Tamar Shamir read the message on her phone in surprise. Another followed: “I just want to puke.” Shamir, a 53-year-old peace activist, was at her home not far from Haifa, in northern Israel, on 8 October, the day after Hamas’s deadly attack. Already half-mad from grief, Shamir grew agitated as more angry messages streamed in, and other recipients signaled their agreement by adding heart emojis. Shamir was checking in on a WhatsApp group of young adult Israelis, members of a program Shamir often worked with called Young Ambassadors for Peace. Many of them had attended a summer camp that Shamir co-directs for teenagers from Israel and the West Bank, some of whom have lost loved ones to the decades-long conflict. They had compared sunburns at the beach, belted out songs from “Frozen” on karaoke night, and stayed up late laughing, weeping, and sharing stories of their losses. Now, the Israeli WhatsApp group was flush with hostility toward their Palestinian friends.


Shamir chain-smoked and paced around her house, phone in hand, forcing herself to follow the conversation. “I don’t know how I can continue being in contact with those people,” she read. On social media, a Palestinian in the program had reposted a widely shared image of a Palestinian flag alongside the date, 7 October, and a message in Arabic that translated to: “Officially the greatest day in the life of all of our generation.” One of the Israeli Young Ambassadors informed Shamir that she had seen an Instagram story from another Palestinian in the group with a visual of a flaming tank and an Israeli soldier dead beside it, accompanied by a laughing emoji. She told Shamir she was appalled.


Shamir could not bear the sense of finality of the messages. “It destroyed my heart,” she says. “I didn’t know what to do with it.” These were not just any friendships imploding but particular, carefully cultivated bonds. They were small and private but had been exceedingly rare footholds of mutual understanding. The project she held dear now seemed to be on the brink of collapse.

Her phone was also pinging with messages that brought her some solace — Palestinian friends expressing concern for her safety, including, in his way, her co-worker, Mohamed Abu Jafar, with whom she ran the weeklong summer camp as well as the regular reunions that continued throughout the year. “I know you are OK,” he wrote, “because you are a northern girl.” Shamir and Abu Jafar lived far from the attacks on the southern border. “Stay safe,” he wrote. His text wasn’t effusive, but it reflected their shared dark humor, their inside joke that they were both survivors. Abu Jafar had endured years of military violence in Jenin, the city in the West Bank where he lived; Shamir, a far-left activist in Israel, had been tear-gassed, kicked, and spit on.

That night, Shamir and Abu Jafar attended an emergency Zoom meeting called by the Parents Circle-Families Forum. This nonprofit runs the Young Ambassadors for Peace program and the summer camp. The Forum, founded in the mid-1990s, brings together Palestinians and Israelis, most of whom have a family member who died in the conflict, to share their stories and their common humanity and to provide a model of reconciliation. A slogan for one of its campaigns was “It won’t stop until we talk.” The group had a regular staff meeting scheduled for the following day. Still, leadership did not want to wait even that long to bring the Israeli and Palestinian colleagues together to remind one another of their shared mission before strong feelings escalated.

The Zoom call was tense and emotional. Everyone felt confusion and also some dread, fearing unprecedented reprisals from Israel in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israelis were grieving, stunned by the brutality of the attacks, the extent of which they were all only starting to grasp. It would prove to be the single deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust: About 1200 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed, and roughly 240 were taken hostage, according to Israeli officials. But on the 8th, the full scope of the attack was not yet clear, especially to the Palestinians. Some of the Israelis on the call shared that, in addition to mourning, they were also feeling personally wounded — hurt that their Palestinian co-workers had not reached out to them in solidarity or to make sure they and their loved ones were OK.

Abu Jafar, who had reached out to Shamir but not others, was taken aback. On the 7th, he was not thinking about the nonprofit; the world had been turned upside-down, and he had no way of knowing how severe the Israeli military’s reaction would be. That day, as he took in the news on his phone, alone in his bedroom, his feelings were mixed. He was a peace activist, but he was also a Palestinian whose brother, at age 16, was shot and killed outside his high school by the Israeli military during an incursion in 2002. In the months leading up to Hamas’s attack, the Israeli Army had escalated its raids to root out militants in Jenin’s sprawling refugee camp, bringing in drone-fired missiles and ground troops and causing civilian casualties. In time, Abu Jafar would understand that many Israeli civilians had been killed on the 7th. Still, on the day itself, he was seeing only footage of Hamas attacking the Israeli military, and he had a lifetime’s worth of reasons to hate the IDF.

Abu Jafar was in charge of quality control for the health ministry of Jenin, and by the 8th, he was already busy trying to accelerate plans to build emergency clinics in anticipation of Israeli retaliation. So no, he had not stopped to text the ten or so Israeli staff members. At the meeting, he made clear he was affronted — he felt they were reading something sinister into his silence. “I told them they were in shock,” Abu Jafar says. He found it hard to understand the attack the way many of the Israelis did — as an existential threat. This unprecedented, barbaric assault had decimated whatever precarious sense of security the country had previously had. Abu Jafar was struck that in all the years he’d been with the Forum, years in which Palestinians had suffered attacks, lost innocent loved ones, had homes bulldozed, no emergency meeting had been called.


“The Israelis would talk about peace with urgency, not as a luxury, because now they see how the war is painful,” Mohamed Abu Jafar says. Credit: Ahmed Abu Jafar

Most staff members on the call heard each other out with empathy and respect, as they typically did. Palestinians and Israelis who collaborate in peace organizations regularly confront tensions and differences in their perspectives, which they talk through or simply let lie to continue their work. But it was painful and frustrating for each side to understand the other’s response, especially as the facts were still unclear. In the weeks after 7 October, deep divides would emerge among many regional coexistence groups, leading to explosive exchanges. Though the Forum operated under the principle that open dialogue was the first step in reconciliation, the staff agreed to abandon their usual approach temporarily. They would pause the conversations in which they brought together small groups of Palestinian and Israeli members. Talking, they decided, had the potential to do more harm than good.

Over the next several days, Shamir picked up the phone and called many of the Israeli Young Ambassadors, including those who seemed to be severing their bonds with their Palestinian friends, and urged them not to give up. She knew it was too early for what the group called a binational meeting, a meeting of Palestinians and Israelis, always the ultimate goal of the Forum. She encouraged them instead to have one-on-one conversations, which were less likely to turn ugly than group calls that might devolve into tribalism.

She tried to explain to them that Palestinian news sources were not emphasizing the brutal images of Israeli victims that were flooding Israeli media; instead, their Palestinian friends’ social media feeds were already filling with images of Gazan victims of the Israeli bombing campaign. “They are not seeing what you are seeing on Israeli TV, and you are not seeing what they are seeing,” she told them.

On 7 October, in the West Bank, jubilant rumors were flying: Crowds in the streets of Bethlehem were shouting for joy because they believed a false rumor that Palestinians had been liberated from the Shikma prison in Ashkelon, an Israeli city near the Gaza border. Videos went viral of Hamas fighters who purported to be caring for small Israeli children on 7 October — propaganda that appalled Israelis but was persuasive to many Arabs in the region. Word of a massacre at the Tribe of Nova music festival was not widespread among Palestinians for several days, according to Nadine Quomsieh, the Palestinian co-director of the Forum, and even then, she said, the event was presented in Palestinian media as a “party for soldiers.”

Shamir explained this media gap to the Israeli Young Ambassadors. “I think they understood,” she says. “But it took time.” A massive role reversal happened on 7 October, she told them: The Palestinian kids were steeped in a longstanding story in which they were the victims; making the shift to seeing Israelis as vulnerable would not be easy.

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Editor’s Note | Choose one side. Justice!


The task is no longer a question of 'who is right' but to focus on building a path that will be best served for all. Let's start fresh and new. The timing is opportune. We need stability in the Region. If peace is possible there, it is possible everywhere.


So, our only choice is that all the good people in the region must work toward reconciliation. Pursue justice!


More from the New York Times


• Pro-Palestinian protests block traffic at New York and Los Angeles airports.
• A war cabinet member warns that Israel could open a new front against Hezbollah on the northern border.
• In yet another war of words, Turkey’s leader compares Netanyahu to Hitler.


What is the Side of the Story that is Not Yet Decisive? Edited by Abraham A. van Kempen.




We Fight; Therefore, We Are …” Menachem Begin



By Abraham A. van Kempen
29 December 2023


A Double-edged Sword


When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian Quest to Co-Exist, try separating the theology – the three Abrahamic Faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – from the geopolitics!


Impossible! It’s a double-edged sword.


On one side, a volatile cocktail fuels the fire that enflames the defining feud in our times.


On the other lies the prophetic ideals, carved in stone of an ancient faith, proposing but not imposing the truth, the way, the blessings, of living side by side, our only hope.


If false myths tempt one in our times, he or she has no eye for the living riches and the hope hidden in creation, the wonderful gift of divine providence for all mankind” (Saint Pope John Paul II).


How Many Stars? Too Many to Count!


We read in Genesis, chapter 15: "The Lord came unto Abram in a vision … And Abram said: 'Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go hence childless'… And He brought him forth abroad and said:


               'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if thou be able to count them'; and He said unto him: 'So shall thy seed be'… 'Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs'…"


How many stars shine from the heavens? Certainly not a mere 15 -20 million, the number of all the Jews alive today. God can't possibly be referring to only the Jews.


Could God have exaggerated to emphasize that Abraham is the Patriarch of a Promised Land meant to be bigger than 'for Jews-only, to include Gentiles?' There are billions upon billions of stars in the 10 billion galaxies of the observable universe! The number of stars in a galaxy varies, but assuming an average of 100 billion stars per galaxy means that there are about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 1 billion trillion stars in the observable universe.11


And what could God possibly have meant by 'Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs?' Could it be that the Good people in the region, albeit the silent majority, are tyrannized by a minority of Bad people with lethal weapons and loud mouths?


How does one become estranged from God? By rejecting God! The few but powerful rotten apples in Israel and around the world deny God today and in ancient times. They are the strangers "in a land that is not theirs."


Menachem Begin, writing in 'The Revolt the Story of the Irgun,' states unequivocally:


"We fight; therefore, we are. Out of blood, fire, tears, and ashes, a new specimen of a human being was born, a specimen completely unknown to the world for over eighteen hundred years - the fighting Jew! First and foremost, we must take the offensive. We attack the murderers. A generation shall be raised proud, generous, and strong with blood and sweat."


A Dark Side of Judaism


Systematically and mercilessly, Israel perpetrates crimes against humanity by displacing and dispossessing the Palestinians from their homes, seizing their properties, and rounding them up to be caged behind iron curtains in concentration camps. Whenever I give a talk on Israel–Palestine, I start by quoting Yasser Arafat: "Its causes do not stem from any conflict between two religions or two nationalisms. Neither is it a border conflict between neighboring states. It is the cause of a people deprived of their homeland, dispersed, uprooted, and living mostly in exile and refugee camps." 5


How does one explain the obsession for possession, the ecstasy, the deification of the Jewish State, their Golden Calf, as an end at this late hour in the Jewish people's history and the world? How much of historical Judaism – how deep, how old, how Jewish – is there behind the new-fangled 'Jewish' ultra-nationalism? 6


Pagan Zionism, to many revealed as a dark side of Judaism, rules and dominates the Israeli zeitgeist, beguiling and chaining many Jews into believing in something they are not meant to be. This aberration torments and inters the indigenous Palestinians into concentrated encampments to live in hell on earth. If not officially, certainly subliminally and often dared in the glare of world television, religious ultra-nationalists fused with the secular ultra-nationalists wave the banner of Holy Goodness, eliciting the worst human instincts. Pagan Zionists intend to build a 'glorious, divinely ordained' Greater Israel for Jews only over an obliterated Palestinian society and directly or indirectly drive out the Palestinian population.


Zionist leaders from David Green, aka David Ben-Gurion to Benzion Mileikowsky, aka Binyamin Netanyahu have, according to world public opinion, taken many wrong turns in their territorial obsessions – their rage and blind ambitions – to expand their lebensraum, coveting the land without the indigenous people. Instead of triumphing in peaceful harmony, they have capitulated to tribal warfare on a collision course against their Judaic conscience.


Zionism, meant to be a light in the world, has become a prayer without end.


The British Government explicitly assured the Arab world that the Jewish settlements in Palestine would only be allowed in so far as would be consistent with the political and economic freedom of the Arab population. King Hussein ibn Ali al-Hashimi, the Sharif and Emir of Mecca from 1908 and also King of the Hejaz from 1916 to 1924, called upon the native Palestinians to bear in mind that their sacred books and their traditions commanded them to observe the duties of hospitality and tolerance and exhorted them to welcome the Jews as brethren and cooperate with them for the common welfare.29


Meanwhile, the long, protracted peace negotiations occurred at the Peace Conference in Paris. Most work there was done behind closed doors— horse-trading along classical, shady ‘diplomatic’ lines.30


Cut from the Same Cloth


The Pharisees in Modern Israel are like the rabbinic circles in the 1st Century Jerusalem. The Pharisees, then and now, hold mixed breeds in Galilee and Samaria with contempt, enforcing the presumption and fantasy of a pure race among the Jews.


However, for 1,900 years, the Judeans, who left the land in the 1st Century, intermarried throughout the diaspora with pagans who converted to Judaism. Today, all Jews are half-breeds, remnants of Israel like the mixed breeds in Galilee and Samaria 2,000 years ago. Most will show in a DNA test that they are genetically linked to just about everywhere other than Israel-Palestine.


Most Jews who wandered into the land in the 19th to 21st centuries were led to believe that they entered a ‘land without people for people without land.’ Instead, the indigenous remnants of Israel continued to till the soil and took care of the land. They, together with the recent half-breeds who colonized the land, now populate Israel-Palestine. They are distant cousins.


According to the Christian Gospels, as confirmed in the Quran, the remnants of Israel – the indigenous Palestinians – are the descendants of the Northern Ten Tribes of Israel that have defected from Israel and intermarried with Gentiles (Isaiah 9: 2-3; Romans 2: 28-29; 9: 6-8; Galatians 6: 15-16; Matthew 4:13-14; 24-25). Their religious worship does not conform to the standards of the elitist Pharisees. Many are ancestors of today's Palestinians. Ancestry, for the Pharisees in Judaism, then and now, is foundational to their system of theology. The Christian' Pharisees' are often just as condemnatory. And, then and now, the region is a center of nationalism and violent patriotism.44


The Pharisees, characterized by their strict observance of the letter of the law, rites, and ceremonies, who worked with the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate saw in Jesus a menace to their vested interests: a rebel, an unobservant Jew, a 'dangerous communist.' Did he not preach that the people must give up their property because it led them to greed and sin? But did he not also speak reverently in the name of God, the Torah, and the prophets? The police of the priests turned Jesus over to the Roman authorities, who quickly declared him a revolutionary plotting to become King of the Judeans, and off he was led, first to be flogged and then to carry his cross to be tortured and murdered.45


His disciples believed in him. He encouraged faith and boosted hope. His martyrdom was taken as proof of his innocence, holiness, sincerity, and divinity. Jesus the Messiah pleaded their cause, was murdered, and resurrected. In hazardous and treacherous times, he sermonized the same ideals and injunctions that the old prophets had preached in their trying times. Jesus ridiculed the hundreds of Jewish religious observances and precepts that focused more on socio-economic issues of the day than on faith.


According to Jesus, this was no time to hide their heads under the sand, plunge into the quicksand of meticulously performing and observing the rituals of Judaism, and keep on adding to the hedges and safeguards built on top of and around the Torah. Were Amos, Isaiah, and Jeremiah living in the time of Jesus, they too would very likely have responded to the iniquities and ruinous order of things as Jesus did and would probably have met the same fate.46


A Revelation Greater Than Jacob’s (Renamed Israel) …


The Disciple Nathanael47, while sitting beneath a fig tree, ponders the story of the Patriarch Jacob, whose name meant 'the deceiver.' How can God be so gracious, imparting a revelation to a devious character like Jacob, "the ladder leading to heaven, upon which the angels of God descended and ascended" (Genesis 28: 10-16)?


Later on, Jacob wrestles with, some say, an angel; others say, the pre-incarnate Lord. A spiritual transformation takes place. Because of his persistent faith, Jacob finally prevails and receives the blessing of God that he seeks. God changed his name from 'Jacob' to 'Israel,' meaning "one who wrestles with God" (Genesis 32: 22-31).


Jesus tells Nathanael that Nathaniel will also see a revelation from God, even more significant than Jacob's, because of the spiritual condition of his heart, his faith, not his ancestry. He will also experience "the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" and see the heavens open with the power of the Kingdom of God in Jesus' ministry (John 1: 51).




Hope for Modern Israel


"When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, he said about him, 'Here is a real Israelite; there is nothing false in him!'" (John 1: 47 GNT)." Nathanael, not a schemer like Jacob, not prone to trust in his guile and cunning, is like the renewed 'Israel,' who struggles with God in faith and experiences His blessings.


Nathanael is typical of "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" – the believing remnant of Israel. Faith, not ancestry, is what brings the salvation and blessings of God.48


“… For Truly to See Your Face Is Like Seeing the Face Of God.”


In ‘Reconcile … Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians,’ author John Paul Lederach suggests: “Learn to reconcile from the biblical Jacob and Esau!”


Hint: surrender submit to God!


The biblical scoundrel, ‘Jacob,’ reconciled with God at a place “where I have seen God face-to-face.” After making peace with God, God changed Jacob’s name to ‘Israel.’


It’s time to face his brother, Esau, after fleeing from him for twenty-five years. The former Jacob, the renewed Israel, has swindled and conned, fleeced, and duped Esau from his birthright. Jacob, the proverbial fugitive, feared for his life and expected Esau to kill him.


“Jacob then crosses the stream, climbs the plateau, and puts his wives, children, and servants behind him. Across the plateau, he sees his brother, Esau, coming with hundreds of men.


Jacob then kneels on the ground, crawling and bowing before his brother seven times. But Esau, seeing his brother, leaps from the horse and runs to lift him. They embrace, kiss, and weep.


“Why were you sending me all these gifts?” Esau asks.


“I wanted to find your favor,” Jacob answers.


“I have enough,” Esau declares.


“No, please … accept my present from my hand,” Jacob says, “for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God” (Genesis 33: 10)


God blessed both Esau and the renewed Israel. Jacob wrestled with God and said, “I won’t let go until you bless me.” Esau must have wrestled and reconciled with God, too. Both brothers must have seen the face of God in the face of the other.


And throughout history, the pendulum swings back and forth.


Destroy Your Enemies by Becoming Friends


What if the Israelis rediscover themselves and build the Zion of my parents' dreams, a heaven on earth, a Zion belonging to all of Abraham's descendants, God's children, the God of all humankind? In this light, they can and will destroy their enemies by becoming friends with all the give and take to make and keep the friendship. The collective memory of NEVER AGAIN, the Israeli ideology so genetically encoded in their collective history and hysteria, can be changed from "we will fight to the end if we must …" to "do what's right."


To be continued




This groundbreaking work deconstructs the age-old legends surrounding the ‘Holy Land’ of Israel—and the prejudices that continue to suffocate it.



What is a homeland, and when does it become a national territory?


Why have so many people been willing to die for them throughout the 20th century? What is the essence of the Promised Land? Following the acclaimed and controversial Invention of the Jewish People, Shlomo Sand examines the mysterious sacred land that has become the site of the longest-running national struggle of the 20th century.


Sand’s account dissects the concept of ‘historical right’ and tracks the invention of the modern geopolitical concept of the ‘Land of Israel’ by 19th-century Evangelical Protestants and Jewish Zionists. This invention, he argues, not only facilitated the colonization of the Middle East and the establishment of the State of Israel; it is also what is threatening the existence of the Jewish state today.




“Anyone interested in understanding the contemporary Middle East should read this book.”—Tony Judt, In praise of The Invention of the Jewish People


“Perhaps books combining passion and erudition don’t change political situations, but if they did, this one would count as a landmark.”—Eric Hobsbawm, In praise of The Invention of the Jewish People


“A thought-provoking, readable, and important work.”—Publisher's Weekly


“... there is much to enjoy and learn in the evidence in the potentially incendiary material [Shlomo Sand] assembles here.”—Electronic Intifada


“[Sand] critically considers how the Zionist colonization of Palestine and the establishment of the State of Israel have been justified by claims of ancestral lands, historical rights, and millennia-old national yearnings, all of which he proceeds to critically undermine as either justifiable reasons for mastery over the land of Palestine/Israel or even representative of longstanding mass Jewish aspirations.”—Book News


“This groundbreaking new historical work from a highly controversial author undoes the myth of the Jewish people’s historical right to the ‘Land of Israel.’”— --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition.


Sand is an Israeli academic with a talent for outraging holders of mainstream Jewish opinions both within and outside of Israel while providing fodder for anti-Zionists. In his previous work, The Invention of the Jewish People (2010), he described the Jewish people as an artificial construct grafted upon disparate groups adhering to a religious confession.


About the Author


Shlomo Sand studied history at the University of Tel Aviv and at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, in Paris. He currently teaches contemporary history at the University of Tel Aviv. His books include The Invention of the Jewish People, On the Nation and the Jewish People, L’Illusion du politique: Georges Sorel et le débat intellectuel 1900, Georges Sorel en son temps, Le XXe siècle à l’écran and Les Mots et la terre: les intellectuels en Israël.




Rashid Khalidi’s chronicle of the Israel-Palestine conflict and Netanyahu's latest desperate moves


Citizens bury the bodies of Palestinians killed during the war in a mass grave on Tuesday in Rafah, Gaza. / Photo by Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images.


By Seymour Hersh
27 December 2023


“The unanswered question in all of this is why the issue of Hamas’s intent to attack, as articulated by Unit 8200, wasn't followed up.

Too little resources?

The crush of day-to-day reporting?


Or was it a conscious decision to look the other way?

Whatever the reason, those who desired an excuse to attack Gaza and push the Gazans out got what they wanted.”


I first came to Beirut more than a year after the 9/11 attacks in New York City and Washington, when it was clear that the men then in charge in the White House—George Bush and Dick Cheney—were going to respond to the fanatic Osama bin Laden by going to war against Saddam Hussein’s secular government in Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. I conducted the first of several lengthy interviews with Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah. His Shiite militia provoked anxiety and fear throughout the Middle East, as well as in official Washington. Nasrallah’s initial message to me was one I’d heard earlier from a prominent Middle Eastern oil man: America will not change Iraq, but Iraq would change America—forever.

That trip was the first of many to Beirut, and there were further meetings with Nasrallah over the following years, but what never failed to startle and then depress me were the leftover signs of the 15-year civil war that eventually involved Israel and Syria, as well as the various political parties and military factions inside Lebanon. The apartment buildings on both sides of the Green Line, a main thoroughfare that had divided the Christian and Muslim communities, were filled with bullet and rocket holes, some patched and some not. I had European friends who lived in one of the pockmarked buildings, and it was unsettling to visit there as if I were in bombed-out Berlin in the aftermath of World War II. It turned out that the Israeli bombing that shattered Muslim society in 1982 had been justified by Israel’s phony allegation that the PLO had targeted an Israeli diplomat in London. Israel got what it wanted with its bombs: the forced exile that summer of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and more than 8,000 members of his battered army to Tunis.

All of that history was alive for me. I had written earlier about Henry Kissinger’s disregard —maybe contempt is a better word—for the PLO’s lack of understanding that the only Middle East issue of importance at the time for the White House was to hold off Russian influence there. Arafat, Kissinger dismissively noted in his 1979 memoir The White House Years, was demanding the creation of a “democratic secular state” in Palestine, “theoretically permitting Jews, Arabs [Muslims], and Christians to live together with equal rights.”

Israel’s murderously disproportionate response to the October 7 attack by Hamas brought me back to the works of Rashid Khalidi, a charismatic and much-respected professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University. I knew Khalidi slightly as a former University of Chicago professor, one of many liberal and even radical academics there who had befriended Barack Obama and his wife while teaching at the law school there. Obama dropped many of them, very coldly, during his meteoric rise from state senator to a US Senate seat to the presidency.

I knew Khalidi far better for his academic writings and public statements on America’s refusal to be an honest broker in the constant Middle East conflict. His now seminal study of the PLO’s struggle for survival, The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine, published in 2020, includes a brutal analysis, from a Palestinian’s point of view, of how the leaders of Israel achieved their goal during the 1979 Camp David peace talks led by President Jimmy Carter. That goal, Khalidi asserts, was to put the “Palestine issue on hold” in return for getting Israel to agree to restore the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and effectively remove Egypt from the Arab-Israeli conflict. As Khalidi shrewdly writes, that agreement “completed Egypt’s shift from the Soviet to the American camp, defusing the most dangerous aspects of the Superpower conflict in the Middle East.”

Carter’s intentions as to the fate of the Palestinians may have been noble. Still, the widely praised peace treaty that emerged, Khalidi writes, “signaled US alignment with the most extreme expression of Israel’s negation of Palestinian rights.” It was “an alignment consolidated by Ronald Reagan’s administration.” Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and his successors in the right-wing ruling Likud party—Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu—were, wrote Khalidi, “implacably opposed to Palestinian statehood, sovereignty, or control of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.” Palestine belonged only to the Jewish people, “and a Palestine people with national rights did not exist.”

Flash forward to June 4, 1982, a Friday: Khalidi was at a meeting at the American University of Beirut, where he had taught for six years. Suddenly, 2,000-pound bombs, clearly from Israeli aircraft, began falling. The usual panic was to round up wives and children and get them to safety. There had been no warnings of the intense attacks, which continued into Saturday on targets in Beirut and in the south of Lebanon, which was firmly under Hezbollah control. An Israeli ground invasion of Lebanon followed. “During the siege,” Khalidi wrote, “entire apartment buildings were obliterated and large areas devastated in the western [Muslim] half of the already badly damaged city.” Nearly fifty thousand people were killed or wounded in what was the most severe attack on an Arab capital since World War II. It would not be equaled until America invaded Iraq in 2003.

During the ten weeks of fighting, which ended in mid-August of 1982, more than 19,000 Palestinians and Lebanese, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 30,000 wounded. Three sizeable Palestinian refugee camps were attacked by Israel or its Lebanese allies in the following weeks, including the infamous Sabra and Shatila camps, whose refugees were slaughtered. Water, electricity, food, and fuel also were cut off to survivors by Israel.

It was a murderous playbook that would be repeated in Gaza forty years later. Then and now, Khalidi writes, America was all in for Israel, with weapons, advice, and money. The Israeli government made the 1982 decision to invade Lebanon, Khalidi acknowledges, “but it could not have been implemented without the explicit assent given by Secretary of State Alexander Haig or without American diplomatic and military support, combined with the utter passivity of the Arab governments.”

Khalidi’s criticism of the moral and political failures of America and the Arab nations is validated, in my view, by his willingness in his book to blister the PLO’s leadership for what he calls “its heavy-handed and often arrogant behavior” that had significantly eroded popular support for the movement. The PLO’s retaliatory attacks inside Israel, he writes, “were often directed at civilian targets and visibly did little to advance the Palestinian national cause, if indeed they did not harm it.” Khalidi specifically faulted the PLO leadership for its inability “to see the intensity of the hostility prompted by its own misbehavior and flawed strategy, which was among the greatest shortcomings of the PLO during this period.”

The New York Times published a warning essay by Khalidi on its op-ed page eight days after the Israeli invasion of Gaza. He cautioned the Biden administration to think carefully about its offer of what amounted to unconditional support for Israel in the aftermath of the Hamas attack on October 7.

“The last time,” Khalidi wrote, “a president and his advisers allowed an unimaginable loss to drive policy was after September 11th, when they unleashed two of the most disastrous wars in American history, which devastated two countries and resulted in the death of a half-million or more people and brought many people around the world to revile the United States.”

Khalidi has not graced the Times op-ed pages since, and I, after a careful rereading of Khalidi’s book, am left with the puzzling fact that the Israeli bombing of Beirut in 1982 was not in direct response to a specific act of aggression, as was last fall’s invasion of Gaza. The Israeli leadership believed then that the mere presence of the often assertive Arafat and his PLO justified the all-out bombing that took place.

Did the autocratic Hamas leadership, who were secretly subsidized by hundreds of millions from Qatar, with high-level Israeli knowledge and approval, pose the same immediate threat in 2023 to Israel as Arafat did in 1982? If not, was a casus belli necessary to justify the end of another Palestinian threat once and for all?

There has been a series of stories in the Israeli media about high-level Israeli intelligence reporting, based on intercepts and other technical intelligence, that provided details about Hamas’s planning throughout much of last year for a cross-border invasion into southern Israel. The feared attack came to pass with shockingly little resistance, and the Israeli leadership, led by Netanyahu, has repeatedly assured the Israeli public that there will be a full inquiry into the failure of the intelligence community to assess and forward those reports adequately. It was also made clear that any such investigation will not take place until the ongoing war in Gaza has ended.

The inquiry issue has faded from the headlines as the planned assault on Gaza turned into bloody house-to-house urban warfare, with a steadily increasing number of Israeli combat deaths amidst the untold number of Palestinian innocents who are the collateral damage, in every way, as in every war, of the violence.

I have often written about American secrets over the past seven decades. I am left with two pieces of information that, when placed side by side, suggest either gross incompetence by the Israeli politicians and generals now running the war or a plan to draw the Hamas leadership into an attack and a war it could not win.

It has been widely reported in Israel that a bright, watchful female officer attached to the country’s highly classified signals intelligence group, Unit 8200, began observing and reporting last summer on what was a Hamas training program whose intent was to find a way to break into Israel and seize military hostages. Her reports went nowhere, and she took them public. There have been stories galore in the local and international media, with official explanations ranging from—I’m only exaggerating slightly about the first one—the notion that the officer concerned was just an excitable girl to the idea that there was just no way Hamas could pull off such an operation. What she was seeing was just an exercise in possibilities.

I had been told independently in November, as the Unit 8200 issue dimmed, that America’s highly classified and high-powered satellite cameras and sensors had delivered a video of the Hamas training that Israeli officials had debunked. The American video showed that Hamas had set up a simulation kibbutz, similar to those murderously attacked on October 7, and the resulting video was complete with dialogue.

The New York Times was later provided with copies of the original Unit 8200 reports and concluded, in a front-page dispatch, that the attacking Hamas units had “followed the blueprint,” as laid out in the initial Unit 8200 intelligence reports, “with shocking precision.” The Times also reported that it was “unclear” whether Netanyahu, the man running the war, also saw the original Unit Unit 8200 documents.

As a well-informed Israeli source has told me this week, Netanyahu did “see and read” the Unit 8200 assessment. He was made aware at the time by the Israeli Army’s intelligence branch that his “regime-changing scheme was becoming a major theme in high-level internal discussions”—intercepted by Unit 8200—“in Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. And they are accelerating plans for an attack on Israel in the belief that the Israeli military and public have been significantly weakened by political division and animosity.”

The Israeli source said that Netanhayu “is now engaged in a desperate last-ditch campaign to stay in power by blaming the military, Shin Bet, and Mossad”—Israel's two central intelligence units—“for hiding information from him.”

I learned forty years ago while reporting on a sensitive story for the New York Times involving an illicit shipment of nerve gas to Germany, the home of Zyklon B, that Netanyahu, then the deputy Israeli ambassador to America, was the go-to guy for the Times Washington bureau on the most secret of American intelligence.

I had left the paper in 1979 to write a book, but Abe Rosenthal, the paper’s executive editor, loved stories that made news and allowed me to jump onto the paper’s front page anytime I had the goods. (Abe told others it was like getting the milk from a cow without owning the cow. My view was I was getting stories in the paper without being on the paper. It worked for the both of us until Rosenthal retired.)

Any story dealing with Germany and a death-dealing gas was harrowing, and a senior reporter told me for the Times Washington Bureau to see Bibi. I called and was invited to meet with him at the Israeli Embassy in northwest Washington late that night. I had a brief chat with the man, who was bright and quick, and he told me that he would be in touch. The next afternoon, a large envelope was delivered to me at the Times, and it contained two very top-secret satellite photos of crates loaded with nerve gas being unloaded somewhere identifiable in West Berlin. The images I did not use were the evidence I needed to get the story published. (I was writing about American intelligence, and the top secret satellite photos—part of a project known as TALENT KEYHOLE—were not meant to be shared with foreign governments.) What other reporters at the Times did was none of my business, but I was troubled by the interaction.

I chased intelligence, if necessary, to get a story that the public needed to know in print. I believed then and still do that Bibi was going all out to ingratiate himself with the Times, America’s most influential newspaper, because he saw a political path to the top in Israel. The Times was an essential asset in that ambition.

The unanswered question in all of this is why the issue of Hamas’s intent to attack, as articulated by Unit 8200, wasn't followed up. Too little resources? The crush of day-to-day reporting? Incompetence? Or was it a conscious decision to look the other way? Whatever the reason, those who desired an excuse to attack Gaza and push the Gazans out got what they wanted.




Israel has vowed time and again to eliminate the group responsible for the brutal Oct. 7 attack, but critics increasingly see that goal as unrealistic or even impossible.


An Israeli artillery unit in October near Netivot, Israel, firing toward Gaza. Credit...Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images


By Neil MacFarquhar
28 December 2023

Standing before a gray backdrop decorated with Hamas logos and emblems of a gunman that commemorate the bloody Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Osama Hamdan, the organization’s representative in Lebanon, professed no concern about his Palestinian faction being dislodged from Gaza.

“We are not worried about the future of the Gaza Strip,” he recently told a crowded news conference in his offices in Beirut’s southern suburbs. “The decision maker is the Palestinian people alone.”

Read more: NY Times News Analysis




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