My Head Is Spinning as Gaza Burns: The Most Timely Book Review I've Ever Written


I was sitting in Philadelphia’s airport recently, awaiting a flight back home, the book I had been reading turned face down in my lap. Intentionally. I didn’t want anyone to see the cover. Didn’t want anyone to associate its cover with my views – these people I didn’t know, people I would never know.
I had just opened to the book’s second chapter – “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist as a Jewish State?” – and had closed it quickly. Shocked by the question. Shocked by my imagined (and false) notions of what a chapter with such a title might contain, by the prospect of a stranger seeing me reading it.
So I shut the book – Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine, which argues that only a bi-national state can justly end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and quickly hid it from those milling about.
It was an absurd scene, particularly considering this: I was returning from my book event at one of Philadelphia’s largest synagogues, an event local, right-wing Jews had tried to cancel due to my progressive views on Israel. During the event, a hulking, armed guard watched the crowd as I spoke about the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians. A staff member sheepishly told me just before things commenced, “We’ve never hired police for a book event before; please forgive us.”
The security was present because a handful of community members had, with unusual vehemence, demanded the synagogue not allow me into the building. Why? Because I believe that Palestinians’ nonviolent opposition to Israel, including the use of boycott, divestment, sanctions (BDS), is wholly legitimate. These people wanted me out of the building despite the fact that, as a progressive Zionist, I disagree with the BDS movement’s ideal of a single, bi-national state as a viable solution to the conflict, instead holding onto the dwindling hope of two states for two peoples.
However, the recent, unspeakable events of the past two weeks have begun to make me question whether a two-state solution is even remotely possible anymore, particularly as Israeli officials begin embracing various one-state solutions.
Such internal questioning reached a climax on Friday, when Netanyahu explicitly stated that he wanted Israel to control the West Bank indefinitely, marking his first-ever public rejection of the two-state solution and Palestinian statehood.
My jaw dropped.


As I write, Gaza is burning. And that’s not a metaphor.
Israel’s military is preparing for a ground invasion in Gaza, where over 150 people have already been killed by devastating air strikes in the past five days. More casualties are being promised by Israel as the escalation promised by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Friday – and the vengeance he promised two weeks ago for the deaths of three kidnapped Israeli teens – are being realized before our eyes.
The scenes coming out of Gaza are truly horrific, scenes I will not only refrain from showing, but will refrain from describing as well. (You can review the #Gaza hashtag to learn more on what’s happening in real time, as well as the #GazaUnderAttack hashtag, though the latter is image-laden and extremely disturbing.)
This recent madness began two weeks ago, when Netanyahu falsely blamed Hamas for the abduction and tragic killing of three Israeli teens, stating, “Hamas is responsible, and Hamas will pay.”
I’ve already written more than I can bear about how racist incitement in Israel led to the horrible kidnapping and revenge killing of a Palestinian teen, who was burned alive, and Israel’s violent repression of the protests that resulted.
Hamas, to its significant discredit, began its own incitement by firing crude rockets it cannot guide from Gaza into Israel (which fortunately have killed nobody to date). What has followed since is an unrelenting attack, by one of the world’s most powerful armies, into what essentially is an impoverished, densely-populated, open-air prison. During this time, Netanyahu has rejected any talk of a ceasefire, even telling President Obama, who offered to help broker one, No thanks.
Concurrently, Israel’s leaders have stated that the occupation may last forever, that Palestinian self-determination is a non-starter.
What the hell am I supposed to make of this, as a progressive American? As a Zionist who wants to believe in Israel’s democratic promise?
I feel defeated.


During all of this, I’ve finished reading Abunimah’s book, which is an intellectual treatise on why the creation of a democratic, bi-national state is the only just solution – for both sides – to this enduring conflict. It is not an anti-Semitic work, nor is it a work which advocates for Israel’s destruction. It is a rights-based argument by someone who I consider to be, essentially, a humanist in his approach.
While I can’t offer a comprehensive, chapter-by-chapter review, I do want to focus on the chapter I was so shocked by while sitting in that Philadelphia airport: Abunimah’s exploration of whether or not Israel has a “right” to exist as a Jewish state. Now, this chapter isn’t a hate-filled treatise on why Jews don’t deserve a to live in “historic Palestine.” Rather, it’s a counter to Israel’s argument that Palestinians recognize such a right, and Abunimah simply explores the concept of rights as they apply to nation states and international law. In doing so, he offers an interesting conclusion after exploring why, while Israel would like to exist as a Jewish state, no such legal right actually exists:

States either exist or do not exist and other states either recognize them or do not, but no other state has claimed an abstract “right to exist.” If Israel is indeed a normal state among the nations … then it has no greater right to exist than East Germany, Czechoslovakia, South Vietnam, or the Soviet Union. All of those states dissolved, and there is no one with any standing to bring a case in any forum that they be resurrected based on any abstract “right to exist” separate from their legitimate residents’ right to self-determination.

Now, while Abunimah’s presentation is compelling, and while he focuses on how to justly realize the democratic rights of both Palestinian refugees and Israeli Jews, Abunimah and I diverge on this. See, I view Jewish self-determination within my people’s historical context of intense suffering, and see the Jewish state not so much as a “right,” but as a historical imperative in a world in which peoples have risen up throughout history to want us dead.
However, Abunimah counters by arguing a) my so-called Jewish self-determination comes at the expense of Palestinian self-determination, and b) because of this, Israel as it currently exists can never be the safest haven for Jews, as evidenced by the violence and suppression of human rights it much support in order to be maintained.
And so Abunimah argues for a truly democratic, bi-national state in which the rights of all peoples are respected. A place to which Palestinian refugees can finally return and Israeli Jews can continue to make their home, a place in which legislation is free of discrimination and the rights of all are protected equally. It’s a progressive ideal I respect in theory; however, I just can’t envision it working in practice. Yes, as Abunimah argues, reconciliation happened in South Africa (not without myriad economic and social problems). But I just can’t envision it working in this context.
Not as I watch the news. Not as I watch extremist Israeli mobs chant “Death to Arabs” and extremists Palestinian mobs chant “Death to Jews.” Not as I watch Israel lay waste to Gaza neighborhoods and Hamas launch rockets into civilians areas.
However, I also look at Israel’s record settlement expansions, at its disinterest in making peace, and at its leaders making pronouncements that the occupation and its suppression of human rights may last forever, that a single state may be the best solution.
I look at all this and my head spins, my heart aches. I’m still not ready to give up on the possibility of two states. However, I also say this: if things fall apart, if the dream of two states officially meets its end, I would hope that Abunimah’s liberal, democratic vision is considered.


Just before my I boarded my flight out of Philadelphia, a burly farmer from Iowa sat down next to me. “What are you reading?” he asked, pointing to my lap.
“Oh, this?” I said, lifting the book, “just one side of a two-sided story.”
He inspected the title, looked at me and said, “Every story has two sides, and sometimes they’re both not only right, but need to be melded into one.”
I nodded and shook his hand as my boarding zone was called, not knowing which story will be told in the end, but hoping it will be one which ends in peace.
For everyone.


What Do You Buy For the Children
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.

26 thoughts on “My Head Is Spinning as Gaza Burns: The Most Timely Book Review I've Ever Written

  1. Here’s an idea for how to stop the terrible tragedy in Gaza:
    Hamas stops shooting rockets at Israel.
    No cease fire needed.
    Just Hamas unilateral action.
    Obviously it doesn’t solve the whole I/P situation but it would certainly save innocent lives.
    What do you think about that?

  2. Much-needed common sense here – always the case with your timely statements. I cannot comment further because, for some reason, most of my Comments for the DD never get printed.
    The webmaster has tried to fix problem but, so far, cannot locate the cause.

  3. Btw, Alice, many of my comments get trashed even when I am AGREEING with the author (which I admit is rare.) Yes there is some sort of system problem to do with IP #s or something.

  4. As to Gaza, I am still puzzled why the author and/or others here don’t suggest the obvious solution to this terrible gut-wrenching Gaza tragedy:
    Hamas should stop sending rockets to Israel and Israel won’t send bombs.
    It doesn’t require complex diplomatic negotiations — nothing more than for Hamas’s unilateral action — to stop and commit to not sending rockets anymore (unless it wants a full-fledged war.)

      • Right. The current violent exchange will then end, but the Zionist blockade of Gaza will continue. Blockade, incidentally, is an Act of War. When you drive two million people off their land, then pen them up in a concentration camp about the size of Central Park, it tends to breed anger and despair. And rockets.

  5. David Harris-Gershon, Have you reeads my review of Ali Abunimah’s “The Battrle for Justrice in Palestine”, in the June 11, 2014 Tikkun Daily.? I examine the concept of Palestinian Self-Detrermination,
    and suggest that Jewish Israeli Self-Detrermination could meld with it, and- in tandem- ithe joint ,movememnt could become Jewish Israeeli/Palestinian Co-Self-Determination; shorn of Jewish supremacy,
    and applicable to both the Holy Land and the Diasporas of both peoples.
    Much work needs to be done to bring this concept to earth and to fill in the details of future steps…
    Hopefully Palestinian activists and thinkers and Jewish activists and thinkers will separately and jointly take on and accomplish this task.

  6. David, one point has to be obvious to even the most naive observers: a bi-national state among two peoples who hate and are at least indifferent to killing each other is an impossibility. At this point, I must doubt the honesty and integrity of those who propose this.

  7. One other point: there is nothing iconsistent with progressive principles in calling on Hamas to immediately cease firing rockets into Israel. That is the best and fastest way towards a ceasefire.

  8. I also reviewed Abunimah’s book in Tikkun Daily /June 11, 2014. It concludes by callng for a Palestinian/Jewish Israeli Co-Self-Detrermination movement. Next, we need brainstorming and concrete
    suggestions and steps toward BRINGING IT INTO BEING.

  9. DMS–totally agree with you. Hamas started this by kidnapping the three kids and then compounded the whole thing by firing rockets into Israel, as they have been doing more or less continually for years. If the area wants peace, then Hamas should stop firing rockets—simple as that. We all know that Israel won’t continue the conflict. As to the two state solution versus the binational state. The binational state will not work. Any fool can see that The two state solution-no reason why it shouldn’t as long as the Palestinian state, whatever politics they choose, doesn’t keep attacking Israel or demanding its destruction. For Gods sake its a no brainer!!

    • For heaven’s sake, stop making sense. Don’t bark up the wrong tree. We all know that Israel is the source of all evil in the Middle East.

    • Maybe author of this article should be reminded that Israel not bombing West Bank for very good reason: West Bank Palis — while they don’t like Israel (and to be honest, with some legitimate reasons) are not sending rockets to Israel.
      I would love to hear a simple declarative sentence from Lerner, Harris-Gershon and other “We-are-so-sorry-It-is-all-our-fault” Jews that Hamas has brought it on itself by 1. commitment to destroy Israel and 2. sending rockets.
      That is both intent & action — the basis of all crime.

    • Irresponsible statement not based on proven facts are just hollow words and spreading of Hasbara garbage! If some one cares about the well being of the people of this conflict, they need to contribute legitimate, thought out information . There are too many incitements on the grounds, please see if you can add credibility to some of your comments. Lies and deception repeated are destructive even to Israel and Jews! Try to refrain so maybe you can get some people to believe you or listen!

  10. It is not known if the kidnapping was initiated/authorized by Hamas, even tho the criminals are members of Hamas., and certainly not the killings. I personally think Hamas would not have been so dysfunctional as to be the instigator, at this particular time.
    Israel, with no hesitation, proceeded to retaliate as if it clearly WAS instigated by -Hamas, and has engaged in full-force collective punishment, killing MANY innocents, as well as militants.. Palestinians, with considerable justification, assert that Israel has very significantly caused the all-out bloodbath it has become, and has shown little interest in stopping the violence–for whatever ireason.(s).

  11. DMS and Coddington seem to be self-professed simpletons with ‘charitable’ bias towards Israel. Probably one of those people who like to gulp Israeli propaganda because it suits their internal proclivity fine.
    Those rockets only serves the Hamas good when it gives them a few fleeting moments of self-indulgent pride when they light it up. Something you would expect from a people who are so pushed to the limit; Who are so desperate that every possible offense seems the ONLY way to put up a fight and let the oppressor know that it doesn’t agree with them. Even if it turns out to be self-immolation every time!
    Point is – stopping the neandrethal rockets from Hamas is not going to solve the problem. Because that is NOT the basis of the issue. Hamas did not start sending rockets one fine sunday morning at 10 and decided to stick to the chore because it felt good.
    The roots of the conflict lie in Israel’s decades-long illegal occupation, the building of illegal settlements in the occupied territories, the forced take-over of Palestinian homes, and the effective establishment of an apartheid system that systematically removes the most basic human rights of Palestinians.
    Every day for the past few decades, Palestinian children are being killed at the rate of one every three days.
    Stopping the rockets may stop the bombing for now. But as has been played out a zillion times, nothing else will change. Israel will continue to control palestinian lives and land. And they will continue to feel free to be able to commit every war crime at their whim with Impunity and there’s nothing the palestinians can do about that.
    Yeah, they could try a few rockets! But we have been there before, haven’t we?

  12. David,
    Thanks for your struggling article. I to wrestle with those who believe that more violence is the way to end violence. And those believers are on both sides of this decades long issue. One does need to look at the history, that of the Jews who for centuries have been castigated and dismissed out of hand by so many, including my fellow Americans. but one must understand the ongoing plight of the Palestinians who have lived in that land forever and in 1948 were also castigated and dismissed as not belonging there.
    With that background it does not take much to set off a firestorm and blame the other side. that’s today’s situation. It is too simple just to say, “Hamas should stop shooting rockets”. For that is to place all the blame on them. Israel refuses to understand the history every time it builds more settlements on Palestinian land. And that sets off the radicals in Hamas.
    I am thankful for those Israeli’s and Palestinians who choose nonviolent ways to engage with one another. And much of that engagement comes from deep pain on both sides. But those persons know that violence is never the answer. Until those persons with that type of commitment will prevail on their leaders to choose new ways of living together things will continue as they are.
    I believe a two state or a bi-national state are each possible but only if walls come down, both literally and figuratively, and arms reach out to embrace and not to hurl stones or grenades. It is past time that all realize that all the contending forces are human beings, precious in God’s sight.
    Let justice roll down like water and righteousness like a might stream In a land where water is so precious and at a time when tears are flowing without stopping it is time to remember the words I heard when I made my trip there 25 years ago. We met with the ex-mayor of Nablus, whose legs were blown off by an Israeli bomb. When I saw his condition I thought we were in for a lot of diatribe and hatred. But to the contrary, He said,” I know we can live together, because we used to”
    That sounds too simple but it is spot on.

  13. Israel is practicing and acting in violence since its inspetion,and maybe prepared for it from even before that, why, because it knew what it was planing to do. Israel did not win all its wars in the region just due to the weakness of the Palestinans and Arabs politically and militarily . The only difference now that most of the Jewish, Israeli and Zionist leaders don’t recognize that their ticket of servival as a legitimate safe and sovereign state, does not depend on its violent and aggressive nature, nor on its 200 or two thousands nuclear heads, but in its capability to restore, share and grant an honest deal with the Palestinians in one state under one democratic government where all its citizens have equal rights and obligations. Its has the power now and its the most secured guarantee for the Jewish people to restore with integrity what they have aspired for many years if that is their real and only intention as the have claimed for many years!
    Stop killing the Palestinians and stealing the land and blaming them for attacking you, it has not worked for a hundred years, and its not going to work for another thousand years from now. This is the time for a real change in the core! Then we can hold the world responsible for any other sentiments!

  14. ‘States either exist or do not exist and other states either recognize them or do not, but no other state has claimed an abstract “right to exist.’
    Absolutely! And, what is more, no state that I’m aware of has ever demanded that its neighbours recognise its ethnic/religious composition.
    No-one, for example, has ever demanded that the UK be recognised as an Anglican state (albeit a Presbyterian one in Scotland) or as belonging to the descendents of the Angles, Saxons, Celts, Danes, Picts, Scots etc.
    Nor has anyone ever demanded that France be recognised as a secular republic, belonging to the (largely lapsed Catholic) descendents of Gauls and Franks.
    All that the Brits and French ask is that their countries are recognised as existing.
    I can only interpret Israel’s demand that it be recognised as a “Jewish State” as a mere spoiler tactic in the game of avoiding peace talks.

  15. “I was sitting in Philadelphia’s airport recently, awaiting a flight back home, the book I had been reading turned face down in my lap. Intentionally. I didn’t want anyone to see the cover. Didn’t want anyone to associate its cover with my views – these people I didn’t know, people I would never know.
    I had just opened to the book’s second chapter – “Does Israel Have a Right to Exist as a Jewish State?” – and had closed it quickly. Shocked by the question. Shocked by my imagined (and false) notions of what a chapter with such a title might contain, by the prospect of a stranger seeing me reading it.”
    JL: How many progressive-minded “Whites” in the U.S. had to and do hide their reading materials about equal rights for ALL from their racist family members, friends, and other Whites?!
    Freedom of speech and thought…is indeed NOT pervasive in the U.S….and other places without such a constitutional guarantee.

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