On Paralysis

January 6, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Posted in International | 4 Comments

Jeffrey Goldberg explains why he hasn’t been writing more about the conflict in Gaza:

I actually feel too close to this problem, a problem that symbolizes all problems. It’s true: I have friends in Gaza about whom I worry a great deal; I’ve seen many people killed in Gaza; I’ve served in the Israeli Army in Gaza; I’ve been kidnapped in Gaza; I’ve reported for years from Gaza; I hope my former army doesn’t kill the wrong people in Gaza; I hope Israeli soldiers all leave Gaza alive; I know they’ll be back in Gaza; I think this operation will work; and I have no actual hope that it will work for very long, because nothing works for very long in the Middle East. Gaza is where dreams of reconciliation go to die. Gaza is where the dream of Palestinian statehood goes to die; Gaza is where the Zionist dream might yet die. Or, more to the point, might be murdered.


My paralysis isn’t an analytical paralysis. It’s the paralysis that comes from thinking that maybe there’s no way out. Not out of Gaza, out of the whole thing.



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  1. I’m curious–Do you agree with Goldberg that the primary source of the problem is “an interpretation of Islam that disallows the idea of Jewish national equality?” That seems like a terribly blinkered way of looking at it.

  2. Hi Maria,

    No, I don’t agree with Goldberg on that point and I also disagree with him on the broader question of the peace process. Hamas is hardly an ideal negotiating partner; its behaviour is often deplorable, its intentions are far from pure, and it’s a reflection on the failure of international diplomacy these past eight years that the uglier, more extreme and more religiously fundamentalist factions in Gaza have become more powerful.

    However, unless Israel succeeds in completely destroying the group (and it won’t), there’ll never be peace without Hamas at the negotiating table. That inevitably brings the response of “but Hamas won’t recognise Israel’s right to exist”, which is true, but misses an important point: if Hamas does engage in negotiations with Israel, either directly or through 3rd party mediation, that action brings the implicit acknowledgement that Israel exists, that it will continue to exist, and that only through negotiations with an existing Israeli state will the Palestinians ever find the freedom and security they crave.

    What is to Goldberg’s credit, though, is that he’s honest enough to admit to being a little too close to the conflict to write objectively, which is in marked contrast to the vast number of commentators who use their own ‘closeness’ (Jewish ancestry, family ties etc) as a shield of legitimacy to support Israel’s actions and condemn critics. You could see it a few weeks ago, for example, when TNR’s Marty Peretz accused Ezra Klein, Spencer Ackerman etc of ‘hating their ancestry’ (or something like that) because they came out against the air strikes. It’s really the most apalling and divisory of tactics, and Goldberg’s refusal to play that game is to his credit, even if I’m more likely to disagree with him when it comes to specifics.

    Happy new year, etc.


  3. I couldn’t agree with you more about the peace process. The demand that Hamas formally recognize Israel’s right to exist is a guarantee of failure. There seems to be some chance that the Obama folks understand this, and will try to brings Hamas into the peace process via a third party, without asking them to jump through some kind of rhetorical hoop. In other words, they’ll engage in actual diplomacy!

    About Goldberg, I see your point about his honesty. It takes some courage to resist the appeal to blood loyalty–which is not so different from the appeals to “patriotism” which bullied so many Americans into silence about Iraq and the rest of the WoT. “Appalling” is right. Still, it’s troubling to me when smart people resort to such simple-minded remarks as Goldberg’s. The public discourse on Palestine here is almost completely removed from any historical and political context. That needs to change.

  4. Still, it’s troubling to me when smart people resort to such simple-minded remarks as Goldberg’s. The public discourse on Palestine here is almost completely removed from any historical and political context. That needs to change.

    Yeah, I can certainly sympathise with that, and judging by the public rhetoric in the US over the last few years, there certainly needs to be more balance, more historical context and more confidence to say what might not have been sayable under the days of Bush.

    If it’s any consolation, whilst I think our televised media is probably better (I’d take BBC over ABC any day), the US has got by far the better blogs. It’s just a nightmare trying to have a decent, rational conversation about Israel/Palestine on a UK blog…

    …well, hopefully apart from this one!

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