Reader Response: Promoting the Well-Being of Israelis and Palestinians

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[Editor’s note: We welcome critiques of articles in Tikkun, and in this case, of one of the many books written by Tikkun editor Rabbi Michael Lerner. Rather than respond fully here, Rabbi Lerner will address some of the issues raised in our Spring 2017 issue of Tikkun, which will focus on the 50th anniversary of the Occupation of the West Bank.
Managing Editor’s note: As we have noted many times on Tikkun Daily, the articles posted here do not necessarily reflect the official positions or attitudes of Tikkun. You can read our official positions in the editorials in the print versionof Tikkun magazine (available by subscription post below is an example of the kind of discourse we rarely publish because it demeans a whole group of people, in this case the 1.5 billion adherents to Islam. The author states, “The religion of Islam must turn away from militancy. Just as Judaism and Christianity have matured and adopted the ‘Left Hand of G-d’ as the model for proper, praiseworthy human behavior, so must all branches of Islam.” The notion that Christianity and Judaism have matured and adopted the approach advocated by Rabbi Lerner’s book “The Left Hand of God” would be difficult to substantiate, particularly in light of the Jewish world’s support for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the Christian world’s long history of violence (i.e. the crusades and the inquisition), sexism, racism, homophobia, opposition to birth control, and attempts to limit women’s rights to control their own bodies. Additionally, the claim that Islam as whole is not equally “mature” is offensive and cannot be proven by referencing the small percentage of Muslims who support violence against other Muslims and non-Muslims. Frankly, all of these kinds of generalizations about any religion, national group, race, gender, etc., are likely to be false or unsupportable, and we normally ban such articles that contain them. It was only because this response specifically critiques our editor’s work that we are printing it, because we want to be a model of openness to such critiques, particularly of our editorial leadership and our public stances, in contrast to most magazines and newspapers that rarely allow for this kind of vulnerability – though we would have been much happier to print a critique that didn’t have offensive claims against other peoples and religious groups!]
I am happy to reply to Rabbi Michael Lerner’s request that I critique his book Embracing Israel/Palestine. The book clearly represents a well-thought-out and detailed account of factors leading to the present Israeli/Palestinian divide and proposals for solving the many issues that underlie the conflict. I do not pretend to have the detailed knowledge of the area that Rabbi Lerner possesses. However, I do have my own impressions from years of Jewish education, multiple visits to Israel, and pursuing my ‘hobby’ of understanding how children are taught to hate and how to prevent this reprehensible practice.
My Jewish education before bar mitzvah included regular attendance at the Shaar Hashomyim Synagogue and after-school sessions at the I.L. Peretz “Shula” in Windsor, ON. I remember watching a number of movies at the Shula where Jewish pioneers (chalutzim) in Israel made the desert bloom. I recall discussion of how the swamps were drained at the cost of many lives, apparently secondary to malaria. I was impressed on my first visit to Israel to see the eucalyptus trees that were planted to keep the swamps from recurring. So there were huge tracts of land that hadn’t born crops for centuries; the chalutzim changed that. With independence in 1948, I’m sure there were Arabs in Palestine who were displaced and that should be addressed. I will suggest how an honest discussion can occur to develop an accommodation for those, both Israeli and Arab, who have been wronged during the years of conflict.
There is one picture from the Shula that has stayed in my mind. In the auditorium where the movies were viewed, there was a large plaque. On the bottom of the plaque were big bold numbers in red “6,000,000.” I also remember that I once asked a question during a discussion of the Holocaust in an upper elementary grade conducted by the school’s principal. I asked, “Why did Hitler kill the Jews? Why didn’t he just make them work, wouldn’t that be profitable?” The teacher got very angry at the question, but I don’t recall an answer that stuck with me. Indeed, you can go to many Holocaust centers and not find much of a discussion of how the perpetrators could have brought themselves to that level of bestiality. Oh, you can find explanations from Goldhagen (Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1996) that it was anti-semitism (secular and religious), eugenics (i.e. the Master Race Theory), and Jews as a source of disease (especially typhus). There was also the thought that the Nazi executioners were just following orders or doing what their buddies were doing to be ‘one of the boys.’ None of these explanations made any sense to me, until I read the works of Lloyd deMause (multiple books and Journal articles) and Robin Grille’s book (Parenting for a Peaceful World, Vox Cordis Press, 2013). These latter publications detail the childhood traumas that allow the repeated false narratives to be internalized and acted upon.
Rabbi Lerner discusses “splitting” secondary to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as the mechanism to explain the repressed anger and fear that provides the fuel for aggression under certain circumstances. This mechanism is similar to the dissociative or split personality that deMause emphasizes. A similar theory that is, perhaps, more easily understandable is the Paranoid Shift described by Willard Gaylin (Hatred, Public Affairs, 2003). This theory involves a process that evolves from anger and fear. Commonly, as deMause so convincingly relates, the anger and fear are generated from authoritarian parenting and societies that regularly commit the indelible insults of corporal punishment, shaming, manipulation, misdirected praise, and sexual abuse. The resultant psychic energy sits in the right brain as a ‘powder keg’ ready to explode. The ‘explosion’ occurs because of the development of aggressive impulses toward a person or a class of persons. Central to the evolution of these aggressive impulses are the repeated false narratives that are accepted as fact. The hater becomes convinced that the fault lies in the object of his/her hatred (projection). Additionally, false beliefs minimize guilt and facilitate the perpetration of violent acts against the targets endorsed by society.
Empathy development is also another important consideration in understanding human interaction. Cognitive empathy (CE) involves knowing what will lead to approval or disapproval by parents and/or the society. Also termed, “Theory of Mind,” CE develops significantly by four years of age and then continues to mature. The other dimension of empathy, namely emotional empathy (EE), develops in infancy and refers to the vicarious sharing of emotions. Its development depends on a supportive, attentive communication between infant and parent (termed interpersonal attunement). “Over time, secure attuned attachments with other persons may enable us to love more and fear less, rendering us progressively more capable of sharing in the suffering of others and increasing the likelihood that we will take action to alleviate their misery” (Andrea Hollingsworth. Zygon,vol.43,no.4, Dec. 2008). A corollary should be added that suppression of EE may facilitate violent acts (Katzman G. Spartan and Sambian Societies: Psychosocial Development Stifling Emotional Empathy and Supporting Violent Behaviors. The Open Pediatric Medicine Journal, 2014, 8, 1-8).
So, it becomes clear that there are paths to benevolent and malevolent mindfulness. Which path is to be traveled depends on childhood experiences and the types of interpersonal relationships that occur. Samuel Oliner has found that the modeling of caring behaviors inside and outside the family will facilitate the benevolent path (Oliner S. & Oliner P. The Altruistic Personality, The Free Press, 1988). Such was the case in non-Jewish families who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
With the aforementioned psychological mechanisms in mind, one can begin to appreciate the psychosocial development of the Arab population of the occupied territories. Parenting is an important consideration. A high incidence of mental maltreatment of Arab children in the home has been documented (Khamis V. Child psychological maltreatment in Palestinian families. Child Abuse Negl. 2000 Aug;24(8): 1047-59). The education of these children for the past six decades has been coordinated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Funding of UNRWA comes from contributions mainly from democratic regimes around the world. UNESCO published a report in the 1960s about the textbooks used in UNRWA Schools that said, “The majority of the 127 textbooks reviewed by the Commission employed the deplorable language of anti-Semitism, distorted history, incited to violence, and were educationally destructive because … student exercises … [were] often inspired by a preoccupation with indoctrination against Jews rather than by educational aims.” The Syrian minister responded to the report: “The hatred which we indoctrinate into the minds of our children from their birth is sacred.” (Belth NC. A Promise to Keep. Times Books, 1979). What is difficult to understand is how little the contributing countries have done to reverse this conscious attempt to demonize Jews. You would think that use of financial contributions would be closely supervised by the donors. This lack of supervision has had devastating consequences. It has allowed the Arabs of Palestine to internalize the false narratives that lead to violence.
In 2005, I published a paper “A Bioethical Analysis of a Form of Psychologic Abuse: Teaching Hatred to Children” (Katzman G. Clinical Pediatrics, 44.2 Mar,2005:143-150). In response to the paper, sent to the Prime Minister of Israel’s Office, Dr. Ranaan Gissin replied on behalf of the Prime Minister, “The Palestinian communications and education systems – electronic media, newspapers, textbooks etc. – have been mobilized to instill hatred and enmity among Palestinian children, youth, and adults and to preach for the liberation of Palestine with blood and tears” and the destruction of the Jewish State. These harbingers of hate are constantly adding fuel to the flames and inciting the Palestinian masses to violence and martyrdom, through the murder of innocent people. Please be assured that the Prime Minister considers a cessation of incitement to be a primary pre-requisite to any political progress.” A recent documentary indicates that the incitement continues unabated (
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel edited a two volume work entitled Kotsk (Farlaga HaMenorah, Tel Aviv, 1973) that outlined the philosophy of the Kotsker Rebbe. One excerpt was entitled “Emes Ligt in Drerd” (i.e. Truth is Laying Under the Ground). “What do you need to plant to make the Truth Grow? If one buries the sheker (falsehood), the truth will blossom.” Subsequently, there is a sequel entitled “Mentshen Leben in Olam Hadimion” (i.e. People Live in a World of Imagination). Living with false speech results in holding the falsehood as truth. Living with falsehood and not knowing it, means that one is living in a world of imagination. So, the false narratives internalized by Palestinian children, facilitated by an authoritarian upbringing and culture, launch them into a dangerous world of imagination where death for the cause is valued more than life. As stated in a Palestinian textbook that contains Shahid’s Song which encourages death in war in the role of a shahid: “I will take my soul into my hands and hurl it into the abyss of death.” This “Culture of Death” is based on false beliefs instilled from early childhood. It has nothing to do with elevating the lives of the Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza where the culture thrives, but everything to do with promoting a second Holocaust and the destruction of the State of Israel. I have coined a term for the pathologic state of Palestinian children successfully indoctrinated in this manner as “Culturally Induced Psychopathy.” As with other psychopathic states, neuroplasticity and changing the mindset to one of true understanding and tolerance is exceedingly difficult.
Rabbi Lerner has developed the concept of the Right and Left Hand of G-d. The right hand refers to domination, often by force, whereas the left hand refers to interpersonal relations characterized by love, kindness, caring, and generosity. I experienced both in my first trip to Israel as a medical student in 1968. My attending, Dr. Mundel, a pediatric neurologist, invited me to accompany him to see patients in Gaza. After the Six Day War, referral to Egypt was a problem, so Israeli doctors helped out in consultation. The day of our visit several patients with neurological problems were examined by Dr. Mundel at the Gaza clinic. Halfway through the clinic, there was a break for a snack. Keeping kosher and not wanting to offend our hosts, I had a cup of Turkish coffee. On the way back to Assaf HaRofeh Hospital, Dr. Mundel and I encountered a roadblock. Next day, we learned that a house was being destroyed, since the inhabitants were involved with the Fedayeen who had been ordered by Nasser of Egypt to carry out terror attacks in Israel.
There are many examples on how Israel has reached out to help people in distress regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity. Palestinians with various maladies have been cared for in Israeli hospitals where advanced technology and care practices are available. Thousands of casualties from the present conflict in Syria have received medical care in Israel. Hadassah Hospital has physicians, nurses, and ancillary supportive medical staff of varying ethnicity working together to serve the patients from wherever they might originate and whatever their beliefs might be. It is well known that ‘first responders’ to disasters around the world include medical teams from Israel who set up field hospitals to tend to the injured.
In addition to medical care and advances, the people of Israel have also shared other technological accomplishments. Such advances include drip irrigation to increase food resources, water recycling, desalination methods, and solar energy among many others. These types of advances in science and technology were envisioned by the first President of the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, to be vital for Israel’s economic success (Trial and Error, Schoken Books Inc. 1966). One wonders if even he could have envisioned the degree to which these innovations have benefited human kind around the world.
Gemilut Chasodim is Hebrew for “Acts of Loving Kindness” and refers to using your heart and hands to help others. It is a core value in the everyday life of Jews. Fulfilling this mission is a pleasant and satisfying topic to describe. It is the essence of Rabbi Lerner’s “Left Hand of G-d.” What is painful, however, is describing the need for the “Right Hand of G-d.” The pain in this description is expressed in one of Prime Minister Golda Meir’s famous quotes, “When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.” This need for militancy at times is based on the Talmudic dictum, “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.” There is little argument among fair-minded, knowledgeable persons that Israel has had to resort to the military option on multiple occasions to defend its citizenry. Unfortunately, war will result in collateral damage, even though the Israel Defense Forces have done more in recent years than any other known army to prevent this occurrence. There have been instances in Israel’s military history where avoidable death and injury to Arabs has occurred. This is regrettable and clearly efforts are in place to prevent similar future events. There are today Israeli extremists who have taken it upon themselves to perpetrate violence on Arabs outside any clear need for self-defense. In addition to efforts to prevent such instances, perpetrators have been handled by the full extent of the Israeli Justice System. Such attacks are routinely denounced by the Israeli Government, when they occur. Unfortunately, frequent attacks on Israeli citizens, carried out by indoctrinated Arabs, have occurred over the years. Not only have they not been denounced by Arab leadership in the West Bank and Gaza, but horrifyingly, the terrorists have been glorified. Money is often paid to the families of Arab terrorists, soccer fields named after them, and their pictures appear on billboards depicting them as heroes for killing innocents.
Rabbi Lerner makes the point that neither side in a dispute is totally innocent and without blame. It is, perhaps, true. However, it is also apparent that there is much more work to do on the Palestinian side, before accommodation will be possible. Consider the view on how a future two state society would operate. Israel has already established how it works. Members of different groups have been integrated into every area of leadership in Israel, including the parliament (Knesset). A very vocal contingent of Israeli Arab members of the Knesset make this point crystal clear. Contrast this with President Mahmoud Abbas’s position that a future Palestinian state will have no Jews. Christians too may not have a place there. So, while Israel is falsely accused of being an ‘apartheid’ country, presently, Palestinian leadership has a mindset to create a society intolerant and free of minorities.
Although the Israeli/Palestinian conflict seems particularly bleak, there is a breath of fresh air that explains and holds accountable those who are responsible for mistakes, corruption, misrepresentation, human rights violations and counterproductive activities on both sides. In that regard, Bassem Eid is a staunch advocate for the rights of Palestinians who deserves close attention and respect for his work and bravery ( Mr. Eid has described excesses and unfortunate mistakes and regrettable actions by the IDF in the past. For his exposures of these problems, letters of apology have been sent and corrective actions have been taken by Israeli officials. The policies of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have also been a subject that Mr. Eid has addressed. For his veracity in this regard, Mr. Eid was detained by the PA in 1996. Intervention by United States Secretary of State Warren Christopher who apparently “read the riot act” to Yasser Arafat probably saved Mr. Eid’s life at that time.
In a recent talk in Detroit, Mr. Eid mentioned that many cities could have been built to house Palestinians now in refugee camps, if not for the corruption of PA officials in the past. As far as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), Mr. Eid has expressed his clear opposition (The Daily Nexus, 4/10/2016). He stated that “If BDS will succeed to persuade Palestinian billionaires who are living abroad to invest in Gaza and the West Bank, I will look at that as a huge help.” Mr. Eid also remarked that “The Palestinians living in the West Bank are not worried about settlements; they are worried about having a job and how they will feed their families.” Regarding BDS, Mr. Eid remarked, “You are destroying our economy.” Presently, over 92,000 Palestinian workers hold Israeli work permits and enter Israel to work for companies from which BDS seeks to divest. About 25,000 Palestinians work for Israeli companies on the West Bank. Mr. Eid pointed out that BDS forced Soda Stream to move out of the West Bank resulting in a disaster for the 1,500 Palestinians who lost their jobs.
Another important point that Mr. Eid made in Detroit, was that the Palestinians are not ready to manage a state of their own. They first need to develop the infrastructure and institutions required for self-government. Premature assumption of statehood could result in a take over from Hamas or ISIS, if safeguards are not put in place (my opinion). Although not a psychologist, Mr. Eid perceptively mentioned that Palestinian parents are often not providing their children with appropriate direction. This clearly is not helpful when there will be the need for future generations of Palestinians to contribute constructively and humanely to a Palestinian state that lives peacefully with its neighbors.
Contact theory developed by Gordon W. Allport in the 1950s provides another explanation why BDS is likely to have extremely negative consequences in narrowing the Israeli/Palestinian divide. The idea here is that communication among groups under proper circumstances should lower enmities ( As stated in Wikipedia, “intergroup contact is believed to reduce the fear and anxiety people have when interacting with the outgroup, which in turn reduces the negative evaluations of the outgroup … intergroup contact is hypothesized to increase people’s ability to take the perspective of the outgroup and empathize with their concerns …” This is why the work of Seeds of Peace ( could be valuable in the long term resolution of problems in areas of conflict. In the Seeds of Peace multifaceted program, teenagers from conflicted areas come together to play and have serious discussions about their differences. The effort needs to be expanded to enhance its impact.
An additional aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should be mentioned, namely the worldwide propaganda industry constructed with the express purpose of vilifying Israel. For example, the UK Media Watch ( commented on an article in the British paper The Independent that was entitled, “Ramadan 2016: Israel cuts off water supply to West Bank during Muslim holy month.” A similar article appeared in Al Jazeera. The Israel Authority in the Territories (COGAT) explained that, due to increased usage of water during the summer months, Mekorot (Israel’s water carrier) was forced to reduce the overall supply to ALL areas of the West Bank – including in Jewish communities. However, COGAT officials reported that in order to accommodate Palestinians during Ramadan, when Muslims can’t drink water during the day, “the water supply has been increased during night-time in order to meet the demands of the residents.” Additionally, “the water supply to Hebron and Bethlehem was expanded by 5,000 cubic meters per day in order to meet the needs of the residents.” There was one significant problem, when a pipeline burst, but this was repaired within two hours. Lastly, COGAT explained that water sources have decreased this year as compared to last year due to the declining water level in the mountain aquifer. This whole story is similar to the one that Israel is keeping food from the people of Gaza, when large numbers of trucks pass through to Gaza daily carrying food and other supplies. Israel seems to be losing this unjust war of falsehoods.
A final consideration is that of the religion of Islam. Although not a theologian, I am aware that Islam has been called a religion of peace. Indeed, Islam is one of thirteen world religions that have a version of the Golden Rule. In Islam, it is stated that “Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself.” Unfortunately, in radical interpretations of aspects of the religion, violence is advocated as opposed to a concern for the rights of others or a reverence for the value of human life. The article “Selling a House to a Jew is a Betrayal of Allah (by Khaled Abu Toameh June 20, 2016 is a case in point. According to the author “the renewed campaign against Palestinians suspected of selling real estate to Jews is also part of the belief that the entire land is Muslim-owned and no Muslim is entitled to give up one inch of it to a non-Muslim. In other words, it is forbidden to sell his home or land to a Christian or Jew. This would be the nail in the coffin of any Palestinian leader who attempts to make any territorial compromise as part of a peace agreement with Israel. This campaign raised fears that Palestinians may resume extrajudicial executions of suspected land dealers.”
“The land dealers should know that they would not be able to avoid earthly and life punishment. Not only will they not be buried in Islamic cemeteries, but their entire families will also be punished and it would be forbidden to marry or deal in any way with their family members (Palestinian National Work Commission in Jerusalem).” In the opinion of Khaled Abu Toameh, “This campaign undermines Palestinians long-standing claim that Jews “illegally seize” Arab-owned houses and land in Jerusalem. It seems rather than illegal seizure, Jews have been paying willing Arabs cold hard cash for the properties.”
Thus, it seems that Khaled Abu Toameh has exposed another major roadblock preventing an accord between Palestinians and Israelis. Islam can be used to promote enmity and divisiveness. It can also be a vehicle to make Arabs subservient to an abusive authoritarian philosophy that through coercion, intimidation and even the threat of death prevents Palestinians from dealing with Israelis. No compromise is possible with this “religious position.” This orientation maintains that Palestine will only be free from the Jordan to the sea, when it is all under the control of an Arab regime. Clearly, with this philosophy, there is no room for the State of Israel in the minds of these interpreters of Islam.
I enjoyed reading Rabbi Michael Lerner’s book Embracing Israel/Palestine. Rabbi Lerner’s detailed efforts to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are admirable. However, one problem is not adequately explored. That problem is the authoritarian Arab parenting of children that likely produces repressed fear and anger. Subsequently, these children are exposed to false narratives that vilify Jews, Israelis, and the “West.” The hatred and violence that occurs as a product of this indoctrination and incitement is reprehensible. The long-term solution to the problem involves abandoning militancy in favor of non-violent methods of conflict resolution and internalizing the virtues of love, kindness, compassion and generosity, when dealing with others. Such a paradigm shift is possible, if appropriate efforts are supported inside and outside the Palestinian community. As Bassem Eid stated recently at the University of California, “The only ones who will succeed to bring justice to the Palestinians will be the Palestinians themselves.” This is not to say that there is not an element in Israel that has developed militant attitudes. Authoritative parenting where discipline and direction is provided by reason, example and modeling caring behaviors inside and outside the family should be universally adopted. Corporal punishment, shaming, misdirected praise, and sexual abuse of children must be opposed and hopefully, eventually abandoned worldwide. As a result, the slippery slope that leads to subsequent hatred and violence could be aborted at its inception.
The religion of Islam must turn away from militancy. Just as Judaism and Christianity have matured and adopted the “Left Hand of G-d” as the model for proper, praiseworthy human behavior, so must all branches of Islam. There is urgency to this maturing process for Islam. The resolution of much chaos and terror in the world depends on it.
Israeli leaders have expressed a willingness to engage in negotiations with Palestinians without preconditions. Clearly, there are injustices on the Arab and Israeli sides that need to be resolved for peace to take hold. Such negotiations should also be expanded to involve other Arab countries in the region. One should not forget that up to 800,000 Jews were forced to leave Arab countries due to oppression and persecution.
The industry of producing false narratives to vilify Israel should continue to be exposed and opposed. This industry represents a destructive element whose resources could be better used in constructive endeavors. Living in a world of reality (Olam Hamitziut), as opposed to a world of dangerous imagination and false beliefs (Olam HaDimion) will “immunize” populations against many intolerant attitudes.
Saving the planet through attention to environmentalism to maintain clean air and water is essential. Support of efforts such as the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in the Negev is vital. This institute provides proof that peoples of different countries, races and ethnicities can come together for the benefit of all humankind.

Dr. Gerald H Katzman is a retired neonatologist/pediatrician who has had an interest in the psychodynamics of how children are taught to hate and subsequently develop a propensity to commit acts of violence. He has published three papers on the subject in academic peer reviewed journals and has developed a power point presentation entitled,”Understanding the Imposed Genesis in Childhood of Intolerant Attitudes and Violent behaviors.” Dr. Katzman can be contacted at for discussion or to schedule a presentation.
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