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Note: Replies by Gregory are only included here when it is felt the visitor might benefit, namely, responses
to criticisms, questions pertinent to the history, etc. Also, names have been substituted with initials and may not be actual initials.
No edits have been made.
December 2, 2011
Hello, Mr. Harms. I'm sorry
to bother you, but I've just finished reading The Palestine-Israel Conflict: A Basic Introduction,
and I have a question about it if you don't mind. My name is [name withheld] and your book was
required reading for my honors university history course. We discussed it in class today, and our
professor gave us an interesting exercise. We split into groups of two, with one person assuming the
role of Palestine and the other the role of Israel, and we were told to create an ideal peace
agreement that would attempt to resolve several issues while still maintaining and emphasizing what
is important to each group. After a while of that, the entire class split into two large groups, one
of each of everyone who had represented Palestine and everyone who had represented Israel. Once
together we all discussed the conclusions we had come to in our own small groups and then we drew up
an ideal plan that combined the best elements that people had decided upon in their small groups.
Then the two sides negotiated as best we could. It was all sort of like a model-UN situation, very
appropriate for a college classroom, and of course it was all accomplished because of your book.
The thing that struck me about class today was this: almost everyone seemed to be very
pro-Palestine. When we first partnered up, I heard echoes across the room of most groups arguing
over who would represent Palestine, just because that seemed to be the easier side to defend. Even
our professor didn't hide her own feelings that Palestine "got gypped." We had all read your book,
and almost everyone came away from it with sympathy for Palestine, and not nearly as much
understanding for Israel.
You speak about balance and objectivity in the preface, and you mention that you were seeking to
avoid bias while writing your book, and while reading it I thought you did an excellent job and I
didn't think the facts and research were presented in an unbalanced way at all. But then it
surprised me in class today when the majority of people also shared my feelings about Palestine.
I came into your book with very little knowledge about the Arab-Israeli conflict, so I have no basis
with which to compare your work. I don't know if it's natural for a group of people to impartially
view the facts and decide for the most part to have more understanding toward Palestine, or if it
was some way that the facts were presented in your book that made so many of us sway that way. I
feel like I'm accusing you of bias, but that's really not my intention. I very much enjoyed your
book and I was just curious about your thoughts on why so many of us would read it and be left with
fairly polarized feelings.
After class I tried to think of examples of possible bias in your book, but I really wasn't
successful. All I could remember from reading it was thinking that it was perhaps odd that events
such as the Holocaust and 9/11 did not get a little more attention, as they both seemed relevant.
But you explained each one and your reasons for not going into extreme detail on either, and it all
made sense to me. So I'm really just curious how and why my class's bias toward Palestine
originated. I was expecting more people to be adamant Israel supporters.
Thanks for your time and sorry to bother you. I really did enjoy reading your book, and I certainly
learned a lot.
December 2, 2011 [G. Harms response]
Thanks for sharing your classroom experience. Sounds like it's been a productive one.
As for most of the class becoming "pro-Palestine," my take is that they didn't. After going through
the book, weighing the evidence, and examining the diplomatic possibilities, what most of the class
became was aware of the basic facts, aware of the injustices, and thus drew a realistic conclusion.
This conclusion is not "pro-Palestine" as such. It's pro-Palestine, pro-Israeli, and in actuality
pro-United States as well. The conflict harms all three countries, to varying degrees. Obviously
it's most harmful to the Palestinians; it is they who are under occupation, are forced to go through
checkpoints, are in political and economic isolation, and so on. The situation in the West Bank is
bad; the situation in Gaza is worse. However, the occupation doesn't do Israel much good either
(lives, money, international alienation, etc.). And US sponsorship of Israel's role in the region
doesn't do America many favors. US-Israeli relations are part of a larger geo-strategic picture, and
after 9/11 (and many other items in the negative column), one could certainly say that US
manipulation of the Middle East hasn't produced much in the way of positive results (except for a
When the class discusses this issue and begins doing an accounting of the illegalities and
injustices being visited upon the Palestinians, you're not engaging in bias. You're just doing
history in an analytical and honest way. In the United States, we are encouraged to divide issues
that involve US interests into two sides. And therefore "objectivity" and "balance" have been
accomplished. There are two sides, and it's commonly asserted that "the truth is somewhere in the
middle." However, this "medianism" as it's called goes out the window when the discussion turns to,
say, China's conduct in Tibet. One can say whatever one wants about China, or Russia, or pick any
Third World country that isn't a US client. But when US interests are involved, the treatment
changes. It becomes protective. And then "objectivity" (a forced two-sided narrative) must be
A number of Israel's founders - and many heads of state since - have made honest, unvarnished
remarks regarding Israel's aggression and unwillingness to live in harmony with its Arab neighbors.
Harmony, especially concerning the Palestinians, was never part of the plan. Would we accuse David
Ben-Gurion and Abba Eban or (later) Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon of being biased and "anti-Israeli"?
Probably not. Though I would argue that the anti-Israeli label is appropriate here when used
precisely, because, as I mentioned, Israel's agenda does the country harm and threatens the state's
future. In general, I avoid use of the pro and anti labels on account of the problems they cause;
they encourage polarized thinking and are usually used incorrectly anyway. Defending Israel's
policies is precisely anti-Israeli, not pro.
A professor in Ramallah, West Bank, wrote a review of The Palestine-Israel Conflict, and her
evaluation was that I was too neutral and didn't go far enough; that I was working within a
"conflict paradigm" and that the approach was too "even-handed." I wrote the book as an
introduction, which meant I had to take into consideration my audience. Most of my readers would be
going in cold, and with a certain mindset encouraged by mass media, films, the intellectual culture,
etc. But the reviewer had a point, and if anything, the book is conservative in its presentation of
the history - which is far worse than what I ended up presenting. One need only spend about 15
minutes in the West Bank or Gaza to realize the true scale of the situation.
Thank you very much for writing. And if you have any further questions, don't hesitate.
December 1, 2011
Dear Mr. Harms,
My name is [name withheld], I am an IR undergrad who is about to graduate. I just read a large part
of the 2nd ed. of your The Palestine-Israel Conflict and I really appreciate the clarity of your
exposition. I also plan on purchasing your third book.
I have a question thou:
On page 173 you write
"Both religious (Hamas, Islamic Jihad) and secular Palestinian groups (Tanzim, al-Aqsa Martyrs
Brigade) have engaged in acts of violence aimed exclusively at harming and killing of Israeli
civilians." You seem to specifically avoid the word "terrorism." Why?
I am familiar with the
argument by Robert Pape that terrorism is a strategy and not some irrational fanaticism, which seems
to be valid argument. This is why I am puzzled as to why you might avoid the word "terrorism." If
you chose to point out an article that answers my question, rather than spending time on writing an
explanation, I will be thoroughly satisfied.
P.S. I apologize if there are grammatical errors, English is not my first language.
December 1, 2011 [G. Harms response]
My choice of the word violence in that sentence was, I'm guessing, an attempt to not overuse the
word terrorism. It was likely a writerly decision. I use the term terrorism in a number of instances
in the book in connection with Palestinian actions (p. 119, 130, 140, 147, 156). Appropriately, I
also use the word terrorism to describe acts perpetrated by some of the early militant Zionist
groups (e.g., Irgun).
The word terrorism is problematic, as are most terms in the humanities. For example, defining
physical-science concepts like "velocity" or "sublimation" is much easier, and more precise, than
defining "civil war" or "justice." In the case of terrorism, the term is more often used
judgmentally. In other words, the label is generally reserved for the low-tech and deliberately
violent actions of one's enemies. According to these criteria, what the United States or Western
Europe does could not be construed as terrorism. They use state of the art equipment, never intend
to kill innocents (despite the thousands and thousands of exceptions), and one certainly wouldn't
self-apply the word terrorist.
A basic definition of terrorism (retrieved from the dictionary on my Mac) is the following: "the use
of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims." That seems suitable enough. So if
I'm at all inconsistant in my application of the concept with regard to the Palestine-Israel
conflict, it's concerning US and Israeli behavior. The occupation and punishment of the West Bank
and Gaza and the prevention of Palestinian statehood satisfies the definition's criteria: violence
(check), intimidation (check), and the pursuit of political aims (check).
I'm guessing your international relations courses work within the standard paradigm. (Most academic
work does.) If we're truly analytical about these subjects, the history and facts become too
uncomfortable, and therefore they need to be altered by modifying or restricting the vocabulary. We
then spare ourselves the judgments we reserve for others.
I hope this helps. And I'm glad the book has aided your studies.
November 28, 2011
I recently became very interested in learning [more at depth] about the Palestine-Israel
conflict, mainly because of a conversation I had with people who are supporting one of the nations
without a shadow of a doubt and based upon their religious beliefs. I respect their opinion but I
differ with them in that I believe we should pray for peace and unity for both nations and for the
entire region as there are innocent and kind people on both sides of the conflict. This, needless
to say, did not fare well with them.
I started researching the conflict, and just today, I came across your book in Amazon.com. I will
read it, particularly because of something I read while browsing through the information and which I
wholeheartedly believe in:
"Lastly, I am grateful to the people in Israel and Palestine who, far too numerous to list here,
showed me hospitality, friendship, and openness during my time researching there during June 2002.
It is in these qualities and people that their leaders can - and must - find an exemplar".
I look forward to reading your book.
November 28, 2011 [G. Harms response]
Dear Ms. L.,
It sounds like you're going in with an open mind, which is critical for understanding the conflict.
Cheering for one side doesn't allow for comprehension; it only makes matters worse. As for religious
considerations, the conflict only happens to divide along religious lines - Israeli Jews and
Palestinian Arabs, most of whom are Muslim - but has nothing to do with religion per se. (The
conflict in Northern Ireland basically divided along Catholic and Protestant lines, but was hardly a
The Zionists sought a state in all of Palestine. Someone was already there: the Palestinians (Muslim
and Christian) who also wanted their own state. All the surrounding areas became states except for
Palestine because of British colonial interests. Hence, a conflict ensued.
Any just solution to the conflict will benefit both Israel and Palestine. As a number of Israeli
heads of state and members of their intelligence community have indicated - and it stands to reason
- Israel's policies in the Palestinian territories are not good for Israel. So to defend Israel's
policies is to work against Israel's well being. The term "pro-Israeli" usually means the opposite.
A number of realistic peace plans have been proposed, so we know basically what a solution will look
like. Prevention of these solutions from taking shape has come from the United States and Israel,
with European support, for reasons I spell out in the book (and more so in my second).
I hope the book provides what you're looking for. And good luck with your research.
October 18, 2011
I have just finished reading your book "The Palestine Israel conflict" after developing a new found
interest in the subject. I would like to thank you for providing context and clarity over a subject
that I was aware of but knew nothing about.
Please could you advise me on how to keep myself up to date with current developments?
One note of interest, I was in Turkey last week. I was in my room watching BBC World News. It was
announced that the Israeli soldier Gilhad Shalit was going to be released by Hammas as part of a
prisoner exchange with Israel. Naturally this interested me because of my new found interest in the
subject. The next day, I resumed reading my book starting at page 189. I turned the page. As I
continued to read, I could not believe it when I began to read about the capture of Gilhad Shalit.
What are the odds?
October 18, 2011 [G. Harms response]
Thanks for the note and the positive evaluation. I'm glad the book is providing what you were
As for keeping current, I sometimes have trouble myself. There is always new information, new
developments, and so on. And the conflict attracts a lot of coverage and commentary, so it adds up
quickly and doesn't take weekends off. That being said, for someone who wants to keep an eye on
things without totally immersing yourself in the subject, the BBC is a good place to start. I also
recommend Al Jazeera. If you just read those two online (or on your mobile device of choice; they
both have apps, naturally) you could consider yourself up to date. As for print media, see pages
239-40 (2nd ed.) for suggestions.
The Shalit issue is an unfortunate one. If Israel didn't occupy Gaza (internally, then externally
after 2005), the territory wouldn't be in the condition it's in. As a result, Shalit would quite
likely not have been taken prisoner in the first place. Moreover, one facet of Israel's occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza is the ongoing arrest and incarceration (without due process) of
Palestinians in what Israel calls "administrative detention." See B'Tselem's statistics:
So while Shalit should have been released a long time ago, Israeli policy accounts for thousands of
Palestinian prisoners, with hundreds now in administrative detention. That Israel casually struck a
deal calling for the release of over a thousand prisoners reveals the questionable nature of their
There's of course much more to say, but I'll keep it short. Good luck with your future reading.
June 19, 2011
Thank you for your thoughtful responses. I, like many Americans knew about this conflict vaguely
through various media outlets, which seemed to be all very pro Israeli. The Palestinians were deemed
to be the bad guys. I just returned from Palestine last month and after visiting with several
Palestinians and hearing their stories, this struggle has consumed my thoughts, and has changed my
perspective. Your book was perfect for me and I just ordered the book you mentioned below.
I have a few more questions:
1. When I hear about '1967 borders', in the news as a starting point
for negotiations, are they referring to the borders before or after the six day war?
2. In September
the PA will seek statehood at the UN, some articles I've read has decried this as something they
don't want to do or shouldn't do. Why is that, why shouldn't they do it? What are the effects?
3. What is your opinion on the whole conflict? What resolution do you think would benefit all for a
fair and just solution?
June 21, 2011 [G. Harms response]
The media outlets of which you speak (presumably American) are merely reflecting official US
interests. If the executive branch ever decided to wash its hands of Tel Aviv, you would see an
abrupt change in how Israel is discussed in the press. When clients fall from grace, the news
organizations reorient themselves accordingly.
1. The 1967 borders, also known as the Green Line, are the 1949 armistice borders which designated
the West Bank and Gaza. After the June 1967 war, Israel occupied those territories, which had
previously been under Egyptian and Jordanian administration. Security Council resolution 242 (signed
by the United States) calls for Israel to withdraw to the Green Line, that is, from "territories
occupied" during the 1967 war. This has been the point of departure in all diplomacy ever since.
2. The Palestinian Authority is known for its cooperation with the United States and Israel, and is
likely looking out for its own preservation. The decision to approach the General Assembly has more
to do with the Arab Spring movements (preservation), but there could be a US-Israeli backlash should
the PA go through with it. The United States does not, and never has, wanted to internationalize the
conflict. (If it did, there'd be no conflict.) The occupation since 1967 has basically, if you go
through the diplomatic record, been sustained by US-Israeli obstruction. The PA (namely, Yasser
Arafat) were brought in from the cold by Israel during the 1993 Olso talks, and have known their
place ever since. The General Assembly will likely have symbolic value, but the Palestinians have
been punished in the past (e.g., for electing Hamas) when they attempt to steer their own course.
How it will ultimately play out is anyone's guess; but President Obama seems quite adept at
3. The conflict does harm to Palestine, Israel, and the United States. Resolving the situation would
benefit all three. We know roughly what the diplomatic solution will look like. It will likely be
something along the lines of the Clinton parameters issued in 2000 during the final weeks of his
presidency (p. 172, 2nd ed.). In summary: a two-state solution, with "Palestine" consisting of Gaza,
most of the West Bank, and the Arab parts of East Jerusalem; Israeli settlements in blocks;
settlement of the refugee issue, with return to Palestine, maybe limited return to Israel, and
compensation for those not returning. But finding a solution is not the issue. US-Israeli
willingness to implement said solution is the issue. The most powerful country on earth is
sponsoring a world-class military power in its occupation of "the most foreign-aid dependent society
on earth" (Christian Science Monitor, Feb 27, 2006). This is not a balanced conflict between two
equal parties who "can't get along."
June 11, 2011
Hello, I just finshed reading your book (second edition), and I have a few questions
(maybe I missed it, but):
1. In 1947, the UNGA set out the Partion Plan, at that time, they set
'proposed states (Israeli and Arab), why didn't they just declare them states at that time?
2. Why was the US so quick to recognize Israel as a state when they declared statehood in 1948?
3. Why does the US continue to support Israel, irrespective of their violations of human rights towards the
4. Israel is not a third world country, why does the US aid them with $3 billion a year, what would happen if that aid stopped?
I found your book to be an amazingly thorough, concise, informative book. Thank you.
June 14, 2011 [G. Harms response]
Thank you for writing. Let's look at your questions:
1. General Assembly resolution 181 was a non-binding proposal for solving the Palestine question;
only the Security Council can pass legally binding resolutions. In addition to 181 being
non-binding, the resolution was questionable to begin with on account of its decision to cut up the
already existing mandate country of Palestine. As you'll recall, Palestine was the only mandate not
granted sovereignty. After 181 was passed the 1947-48 war began, which dramatically changed the
situation along with the boundaries; the 1949 armistice lines are the Green Line, which people tend
to forget. In the middle of the war, Israel declared statehood, was recognized, and what was left of
Palestine was placed under Jordanian (West Bank) and Egyptian (Gaza) administration.
2. Up until 1948, the US intelligence and defense establishment was not entirely thrilled with
partition or the Zionist project for matters of regional stability. It was after the Zionists
performed well in battle that they got Washington's attention. Policy planners surrounding the
president (any president) seek and court states that are able and willing to aid Washington in its
international pursuits. Israel showed martial proficiency and therefore the ability; the willingness
was a matter of time. I cover this in more detail in chapter 4 of my second book, Straight Power
3. This is a continuation of answer 2 above. The region is of immense strategic value and therefore
needs to be managed properly. Israel therefore aids in projecting US power into the Middle East.
There is much to say here, but in summary, Israel's job is to buy US weaponry, dole out regional
punishment, and discourage deviation from US interests. Ancillary to these roles is being
uncooperative and intractable - but not too much. Israel is in essence an arm of the US military,
one used for doing some of the dirty work. But Tel Aviv's unrepentant, militant posture, so the
thinking goes, draws attention away from the United States and allows Washington to turn to the
international community and plead inability to control its client. US concern for the Palestinians,
aside from them being diplomatically useful now and again, is basically zero. If things get out of
hand in the territories, or threaten the status quo, sometimes adjustments need to be made to
restore balance (inertness). But the occupation is part of Israel's militant existence. And the more
militant Tel Aviv is, the more hardware it wants, which benefits US arms manufacturers and creates a
way of regulating Israel's behavior. There's a lot to cover on this topic. Again, I would direct you
to the second book.
4. Israel could be considered a Third World state, which doesn't necessarily mean "underdeveloped,"
though many Third World countries struggle in that area. Bear in mind that the $3 billion comes with
the stipulation that most of it be spent on US weaponry. (An interesting gift to the defense
industry provided by American taxpayers.) Effectively, Israel is something of a welfare state and
would have difficulty functioning in any kind of healthy way without its attachment to the United
States. Not just in matters of aid, Israel is also connected to the American high-tech R&D sector,
financial institutions, and so on. As recent as 2004, a Congressional Research Service brief stated
that Israel was "not economically self-sufficient." This of course renders rather curious the
assertion that Israel and its lobby are controlling the foreign policy of the most powerful state in
I hope these short answers offer a little clarity.
I'm glad you found the book helpful and appreciate you taking the time to write.
October 19, 2010
Hi, I am a Jew born in Russia and your book seemed pretty interesting to me at the beginning, as it
offered non-biased approach. My observations:
you spend a lot of time on Muslim religion and your coverage of Judaism is not that extensive. I
skipped your chapter on Crusades, that's pretty boring...as well about Jesus from Nazareth....
Also you call Jewish action in Yassin brutal, though acknowledge that Arabs did violent things
before that too....
They did not want Jewish people there in the first place, so intimidating them after they've carried
on their violence toward jews was result of rage that jews felt toward them. I never been to Israel,
but I don't like Arabic people, not all, with a few acceptions.
Al they want is a jihad. Not good for any side. Sorry for their children, but they want to kill
Jews, do you want them to treat arabs as kind people? They have no more rights for this land, then
Jews, though if you listen to them, what do they say?
Go to England, go to sea, come back from where you from and the same sh**** for sixty years. Why
jews would want to tolerate that? I never liked president Olmert and all presidents before him, but
whom did Arabs have?
I can't tell you how much I despise these people that cause Jews problems? Should jews feed them so
they keep firing shells in their cities...come on.....what human rights you are talking about?
Also, as for six-day war, Israeli did not carry pre-emptive strike, so international opinion would
not see them as aggressors, and the war was still success...
I'd rather get a book that is on the side of jews, then the one you wrote.
October 20, 2010 [G. Harms response]
The goal in producing the book was to condense the history of the conflict. The central issue of the
conflict is Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories. And any number of Israeli heads of
state - throughout the country's history - have said this. It is neither a secret, nor a theory, nor
My project was not to say, suggest, or imply that one side is better or worse than the other.
Strictly speaking, the book is not about Jews or Arabs. It's about the conflict. If you were seeking
a text that reinforces your negative feelings about Arabs, yes, you probably made the wrong
To summarize: The best way to reduce regional instability and violence is for the occupation to
stop. Presumably, this will only happen with US involvement. The only way to influence the US is for
its own population to speak up. But in speaking up, they need to know the basic facts. Hence the
By discontinuing the occupation and resolving the conflict, both sides stand to benefit. In
particular, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment in the region will greatly be reduced. So in
actuality, my book is pro-Arab, pro-Palestine, pro-Jewish, and pro-Israel.
ps. I cover Islam more than Judaism on account of the conflict taking place in the Middle East; I
wanted to offer sufficient background of the region. Also, Americans, generally speaking, are less
familiar with Islam than they are with Judaism.
June 23, 2010
Dear All, [publisher]
I happen to go through the second edition of "The Palestine-Israel Conflict" by Gregory Harms and
Todd M. Ferry.
I had to stop reading at page 28 which gives a brief discription of our beloved Prophet Mohammed
(P.B.U.H.) life, however the writer's words "Muhammad now had things in order: a wife he loved and
the money he needed." are completely false and malicious. The Prophet never needed or wish to have
wealth/money in his entire life. The writer should have studied the life of the Prophet before
making any comments.
The Prophet as known is from the then ruling Hashemite clan, and their was NO need for him to go
behind luxary of life/money. If you study the history of Islam(the years the Prophet Mohammed
p.b.u.h, spent in Mecca) you will find that he was offered many big posts in the ruling Hashemite
Clan, he was also offered hudge sum of wealth. The propeht did NOT accept any of these. The reason
being, his mission was the mission of Allah to takeout the mankind from the darkness of ignorance
and show them the light of wisdom(Islam)
Request you to make required amendments to the text. The wordings "Muhammad now had things in
order: a wife he loved and the money he needed." should be removed.
The wordings on page 31 last line and 32 first 2 lines need to be removed "Muhammad, in this event,
caused little shock in his brutality, but surprised everyone by his fearlessness of reprisal."
The Prophet p.b.u.h was never brutal in his entire life. If the writer has studied Bible to analyse
the Middle east situation, I would also want him to read the Quran before commenting about the
Prophet. The Quran says that the Prophet has been sent in the world as a messanger of peace for the
entire mankind and universe.
Expect a prompt reply and action from your side. I also request you to please provide the e-mail
address of the writer with whom I can discuss further about the above.
June 23, 2010 [G. Harms response]
Dear Mr. K,
Thank you for writing and expressing your concerns. My motivation in writing the book was to provide
a general readership with a fundamental history of the region and the conflict. In addition to my
work, I have taken a personal interest in Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. So naturally, I view quite
seriously any evaluations of my writing on the subject.
My discussion of the Prophet is based on some of the leading English-language accounts. Therefore,
the book's descriptions of Muhammad's life are merely reflections of what appears throughout the
Three books I used (among others) are:
1. W. Montgomery Watt, Muhammad: Prophet and Statesman (Oxford University Press, 1961). Watt is
considered a leading scholar on the Prophet's life, and is routinely cited in other books on the
2. Maxime Rodinson, Muhammad (The New Press, 1980). Another standard biography, Rodinson's book was
described by the late Edward Said as "the major contemporary Occidental work on the Prophet."
3. Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 10th ed. (Macmillan, 1970). This text is considered
throughout the field of Middle Eastern studies as a masterpiece.
Watt states in his book: "An orphan, with no able-bodied man to give special attention to his
interests, had a poor start in a commercial career. ... By traveling to Syria with Abu Talib
Muhammad gained some experience, but without capital [money] there were few opportunities of using
this experience." (p. 8)
He then states: "In this world of unscrupulous business men, how was a poor orphan, however gifted,
to make his way? The one possibility was to find a rich woman to marry him, so that he could, as it
were, enter into a business partnership with her. ... Muhammad probably set about looking for
something of this sort." (p. 10)
And then Watt concludes: "This marriage [to Khadijah] meant a great deal to Muhammad. For one thing
it gave him an opportunity of exercising his gifts in the main form of activity open to a Meccan -
commerce." (p. 12).
Rodinson in his account quotes Khadija's friend Nafisa bint Munya, who is "credited with saying": "I
said to him: 'Muhammad, is there any reason why you should not marry?' He told me: 'I possess
nothing to marry on.' I answered him: ' And suppose there was someone who had enough for two?'" (p.
Rodinson then summarizes, on the same page: "His marriage to Khadija was the saving of Muhammad and
opened the door to a brilliant future. He had no further material anxieties."
. . .
Such descriptions are standard and, like I said, appear all over the English-language literature. (I
would have used Arabic sources, but learning Arabic is taking even longer than expected.)
Before the young Muhammad became the Prophet, he still needed to make a living in Mecca, and
therefore he needed money. This is not to suggest he was pursuing riches and luxury. Philip K. Hitti
mentions "his struggle for a livelihood" (5th ed., p. 112). And the principal reason he hadn't
married yet was because of this lack of livelihood. Being an orphan in Mecca made for a hard life,
which likely explains the protective attitude the Prophet had for orphans as an adult - also a
recurring theme in the Quran.
As for the issue on pages 31-2, I state that "by all accounts this sort of policy [the execution of
the Jewish Qurayzah males] was rare for Muhammad. The whole purpose of his preaching was to unite
the people of Arabia and move society away from this sort of barbarism." Beheading some 600 people
seems to satisfy the dictionary's definition of "brutality." And again, my descriptions in this
passage are in accordance with the scholarly literature.
However, I remain sensitive to readers' responses, and in the next edition I will reexamine the
language and attempt to better clarify these points.
February 21, 2009
Dear Mr. Harms,
My name is [name withheld] and I am a sophomore at the University of California, Santa Cruz. My major is
Community Studies (a social justice major) with a focus in genocide and human rights. A requirement
of this major is a full-time, six month internship with an organization and I will be conducting
mine with Amnesty International.
I am creating my own individual study course called "Mankind's Evil: The Denial of Human Rights" in
order to prepare me with my internship. In my course, I will be reading about and analyzing the
Chinese occupation of Tibet, the Nigerian Oil Crisis, and lastly, the Palestine-Israel Conflict. The
reason I am emailing you is because I do not want to choose a biased book for my class that blames
everything on either Palestine or on Israel. I support what Amnesty International says about the
conflict and how BOTH sides are committing war crimes and human rights violations. I have had a
difficult time especially at my university because so many of the students are brainwashed into
thinking that Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinians, and that is NOT the case (at
least not yet) and Hamas as well as Israel forces are using civilians as human shields.
I have read reviews of your book and am really liking what I have read so far. But I just want to
hear it from the horses' mouth if your own book is biased in any way, and maybe what your personal
beliefs are on the issue.
Thank you so much, and I am really excited to delve further into this conflict and learn as much as
I can about it (hopefully with your book!)
February 21, 2009 [G. Harms response]
Dear Ms. C.,
The issue of bias is a serious problem concerning the Palestine-Israel conflict. In the United
States, there is a tendency to impose symmetry on the conflict and proceed according to what is
called "medianism," that is, assuming the truth is located somewhere in the "middle." To impose this
framework is in itself a biased mode of analysis. The Palestine-Israel conflict is not a situation
where two sides of equal strength "can't get along." Israel occupies the remaining 22 percent of
what used to be Palestine - the West Bank and Gaza - and is directly and immensely supported by the
US. So you have the world's sole superpower (the US) and its primary client in the Middle East
(Israel) stacked against "the most foreign-aid dependent society on earth," i.e., the Palestinians
(Christian Science Monitor, Feb 27, 2006).
I suspect you will find in your studies that the conflict is fairly straightforward, well
documented, and that there isn't much dispute or disagreement as to the core facts. Aside from the
endnotes, in the back of my book I run through some of the literature and suggest to the reader
titles for further study.
In the scholarly and academic literature, I also think you will find a different approach than what
one encounters in the public discourse, televised commentary, etc. This is not to suggest that all
books in the scholarly realm are equal. But, on balance, they cover what most commentators tend to
either ignore or not know: history. And, it's worth noting, some of the best work on the subject is
being done by Israeli historians.
Another good glimpse into the conflict is through the Israeli press, and internal remarks made by
Israeli heads of state. The coverage there is much different than it is here. As for the country's
leaders since 1948, power always knows the truth. As former prime minister Ehud Barak said, had he
been born Palestinian, "at the right age, at some stage, I would have entered one of the terror
organizations and have fought from there ...." (Clayton Swisher, The Truth About Camp David, p.
155). Being the most decorated military officer in Israel's history, he knows well the situation in
the occupied territories. Quotes like these abound in the historical record.
Which brings us to the present. Yes, Hamas has been responsible for human rights abuses and crimes.
Their use of rocketry in the Negev is morally corrupt, militarily useless, and politically asinine.
However, we cannot be terribly surprised by these kinds of responses given the conditions in Gaza,
which are even covered decently by the American (print) media at this point. The situation has
become so bad there, it's hard to ignore. (It was under similar conditions, in 1988, that Hamas
emerged as a resistance organization in the first place - a point worth keeping in mind.)
Charges of bias regarding the China-Tibet issue are hard to find, because the matter is clear and
doesn't involve US interests. For further comment on this very point, see an older article of mine
A more recent piece speaks to some of what I touch upon in this email:
There's much more I could say, but will opt for brevity. The book was written for people like
yourself looking to gain some basic familiarity with the contours. What you'll find in the text is
basically a distillation of what one will find in the scholarly and academic literature, making the
long story short for a general readership. I hope it is helpful for you.
Best of luck with your course and internship at AI. If you have any questions, let me know.
February 23, 2009 [G. Harms additional response]
I feel I should have commented on the issue of genocide you raised in your email.
Applying that term to the Palestine-Israel issue, in my view, moves the conversation away from where
it needs to be. I also suspect that the word is being used out of frustration; this is
understandable, but not entirely constructive. In cases such as Rwanda we (correctly) invoke the
charge of genocide. It's clear, and accurately describes what was going on. Thousands of
Palestinians have been killed, thousands more jailed, they are collectively punished, in Gaza they
are shut off from the world, etc., so aspects of the term may apply, but its use is ultimately not
helpful. It creates a debate and shifts the subject to the definition of genocide.
What's being done to the occupied territories and their inhabitants is an attempt to prevent a
vibrant Palestinian state. What was a desire to retain the West Bank is now an attempt to ensure
that a likely state of Palestine is crippled and easily controlled. So settlement construction
continues, infrastructure in Gaza is bombed, etc. Given the demographic eventualities - the Arabs
soon becoming a majority between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, and perhaps within Israel
proper in 40 or 50 years - Israel is planning ahead. There needs to be a Palestine, and better it be
a subjugated one.
Charges of ethnic cleansing can and have been appropriate; the refugee problem of 1948 is an example
of this. "Collective punishment" applies. The state of Israel would be agreeable if the Palestinians
packed their bags and walked into Jordan - or the Mediterranean. As Yitzhak Rabin said in 1992: "I
would like Gaza to sink into the sea, but that won't happen, and a solution must be found" (BBC,
http://news.bbc.co.uk, Nov. 20, 2000). The solution has been to make the Palestinians miserable,
involving a variety of tactics. But I wouldn't say genocide is one of them. The term in this case
is, like I said, more an expression of justified anger, but using amplified language can cause
damage and delay - something the conflict's victims don't need.
January 24, 2008
Mr. Harms, I've just finished your book "The Palestine-Israel Conflict -- A Basic Introduction." It
is very readable and excellent; thank you. As you can see by the below if you have time to read it
(especially [name withheld]'s prefacing comment), I was led to the book by your CounterPunch
commentary of Nov. 2, '07 (titled above, pasted below).
I'd have to say, if anything, that the book is, or rather becomes, too assiduously objective -- just
the facts -- as the never-ending, always-repeated litanies of Israel's fever to rid itself of its
"Palestinian problem" are laid out for the reader. I believe it was in Chapter 8, the recounting of
Israel's machinations in and around Lebanon in the late '70s/early '80s, that I (even with 44 years
of outraged observance of Israel's MO) found myself turning pages and muttering "God: Israel has a
playbook, and no matter the conflict it sucks the Palestinians, or the Egyptians, or the Lebanese,
or the Syrians into, it simply pulls out the playbook, once again invading with massive and
disproportionate force, counting on America to back it and resupply it to the hilt, blasting beyond
ceasefire deadlines, lying, parsing words, mouthing diversions and red herrings, etc., etc. -- and
coming out of it with arrogance intact, just waiting for the next chance to deepen the dispossession
of the Palestinians." Your book, of course, couldn't address the 2006 destruction of Lebanon, but
any student of the area could have confidently predicted the direction and course of it with hardly
a degree of deviation.
Given that, I expected, and admit to disappointment, toward the end where I thought a recap and some
observation -- by you, the compiler/author -- that it is Israel's poisonous presence, and constantly
repetitive application (always with impunity, of course) of its poison, which is roiling the entire
landscape of the Middle East. I guess I'd opine that blandness can be appropriate, but not in this
situation where blandness is simply not adequate to the enormity of Israel's crimes. Meanwhile, the
hapless Christians and Muslims of Palestine are endlessly tormented at ground zero....
Early on, where you offered the E-mail address I'm using (page xv) and soon thereafter where you
recited the countries making up the Middle East (xviii), I made a mental note to take you to some
task for not mentioning Algeria and Tunisia. I thought there might be additional editorial comments
I might make to you as I read along, but, other than the niggling sense of "Why doesn't Mr. Harms
clearly and loudly identify the bad guy whose unremitting evil obviously tips any balance of
rightness or wrongness here?", I could find no other item on which to challenge you. That left me
deflated, with the Algeria-Tunisia omission becoming a mere and almost not-fit-to-be-uttered carp!
I'd guess the noted "second edition in spring 2008" at the conclusion of the CounterPunch piece will
include the Hamas 2006 election, the Lebanon 2006 debacle, and generally update your terrific
explication of a tragic morass. The "least of us" Christians and (especially) disadvantaged Muslims
-- children, women, men -- of Palestine really deserve a break.
Sincerely, B. S.
January 25, 2008 [G. Harms response; article in question]
Dear Mr. S.,
I see your point and understand your reaction. However, to clarify, my approach to writing the book
was nothing outside of practical. I saw a hole in the literature, and one that I felt needed to be
filled. Moreover, the book was an expression of my assumptions about people in general: When they
are given clear and accurate information, they generally tend toward the just. In other words, I
would argue - and there's much evidence to suggest - that humans have an inherent sense of sympathy
and morality, and, when presented with something as clearly unjust as the Palestine-Israel conflict,
will usually draw the appropriate conclusions.
The problem, however, as I discuss in the CounterPunch article and the preface of my book, is that
the picture of the conflict in the US is badly distorted, and thus affects how we view it and
respond to it. That said, polls show that Americans do support a two-state solution and view -
despite their feelings about Israel - the Palestinians as being treated unfairly. And this is the
response within the haze of obfuscation. If the facts were clearly understood and the realities
reviewed on the evening news, one can only imagine the reaction.
I suspect that if you go through the article, you won't find much in the way of opinions. It is, of
course, a short essay addressing an issue, where the book is a sequential, episodic history. So the
language in the article might be more to the point. Either way, I'm not a huge fan of opinion pieces
or editorializing. As I indicated in the essay, the room for opinion is fairly narrow if one sticks
to the historical record. Where views are being hotly debated and commentary is being thrown back
and forth, e.g., on popular cable television or radio programs, history is typically inadmissible,
thus allowing an abundance of latitude for "perspective." Readers (especially American ones) are
already inundated with opinion, debate, and the rest of it. What they need is information, and have
it delivered in a rational way. No one needs to hear my two cents, nor should anyone much care what
my two cents are. If the US is sponsoring and/or committing aggression, let's look at the specifics.
Adjectives should come last. But, like I said, I understand your reaction. The subject is
infuriating and it's strangely gratifying to hear things described in a way that fits the occasion.
In answer to your other concerns, yes, the second edition does address Hamas and summer 2006, among
other topics. Also, my inclusion of Morocco but not Tunisia and Algeria is inconsistent. This has
come to mind in the past, actually. I think if we do a third edition, I should make a separate note
about northern Africa. Thank you. No carp taken. (Also, I apologize for the article linking the $75
hardcover. I hope those interested found the much cheaper paperback option.)
Thanks for writing and I appreciate your and [name withheld]'s words of encouragement.
November 2, 2007
Dear Gregory Harms,
I am really happy that you are involved with the freedom struggle of the palestinian people. However
I think you are doing a disservice to the truth and the tibetan people when you compare the two
struggles and even suggest that tibetans have more support than palestinians. Please check your
facts. The Palestinian struggle is covered by worldwide news every day and has powerful and wealthy
supporters in the arab/muslim world.
Why don't you look at the support of Asian nations to Tibet? Except partly India, there is NO
support whatsoever, and even India banned Tibetans from demonstration against visiting president Hu
Jintao in India. South Korea doesn't even dare to give Dalai Lama visa, and Japanese leaders are
silent. Nepal doesn't even give 4000 tibetan refugees living in Nepal exit permit from ,even when US
government says they will give them US visa. All of them are afraid of China. The population of
Palestinians and Israeli are almost equal. China has 1300 million people.. Tibet only 4 million
people. China's final solution for the tibetan people was revealed in secret chinese government
papers in the mid-90's. It is to flood Tibet with chinese people. There are rumours that after
building the railway to Tibet, China will bring 1 million (!) chinese into Tibet. This is so
critical for the surivival of the tibetan people, you can really not compare it to the Palestinians.
If you look 50 years back and fast forward to today, the Palestinian struggle is coming closer to a
resolution, if you look at the tibetan situation, the situation has deteriorated and tibetans are
getting closer to total extermination and marginaliation by the Han-Chinese.
Inside Tibet, if you are caught with a picture of Dalai Lama you are risking jail. Even if you only
say "free tibet" on the street or if you wave the tibetan flag you will be put to jail and tortured
and maybe even killed. Are Palestinians who wave their own flag put in jail? Can Israeli jail really
be compared to Chinese jail? I think Chinese jail is 1000 times worse than Israeli jail. For all its
worth, Israel have some sort of democracy and a public opinion. There are even ex-Israeli soldiers
who are meeting with ex-palestinians prisoners and making public appearances in Israel and even TV
debates. Can you EVER imagine something like that with PLA soldiers and ex-tibetan political
prisoners? Did you ever talk to chinese about Tibet? You will not find the same amount of openness
as most Israeli have discussing the Palestinian issue.
Please don't make this comparison, and if you make this comparison don't be untruthful and make the
impression that the tibetan cause has so much support. There is barely any financial support for
Tibetans compared to the support Palestinians recieve. Yes, the Tibet issue has public symphathy in
the USA, but NO support or recognition from any government in the world as an occupied country. On
the other hand, Palestinia is recognized as an occupied country by many countries, even has
representation in UN and Olympics. You might be colored by the fact that the Palestinian view is not
much exposure in USA, but in Europe the Palestinian issue is covered extensively in the media
Thank you, with hope for more objective and truthful writing
November 3, 2007 [G. Harms response; article in question]
Dear Mr. P.,
While I understand and sympathize with your apparent concerns regarding Tibet and what its people
have suffered, it seems you read more into my essay than was there. I in no way compared the two
conflicts as such, nor did I assert or suggest that Tibet globally receives more support. I merely
chose the China-Tibet issue as a counterpoint in order to highlight and examine the discourse
surrounding Palestine-Israel in the United States. My facts are in order in that, on balance,
Tibet is more easily discussed, and China more easily criticized, in this country. This is beyond
You are correct in noting that there are many differences between the two issues. Nevertheless,
there are enough basic similarities that allow Tibet's introduction as an analogue. As I stated
in the piece, "the example of China and Tibet isn't perfect, but the principle obtains." In other
words, regardless of how much they might differ, discussion (verbal and print) of the two issues is
not on equal footing in the US. The Palestine-Israel conflict receives far more media attention,
true enough, but within a narrow set of ideological parameters. Inversely, Tibet receives much less,
but the discussion is generally more honest and accurate. What I am addressing in the essay isn't
the volume of attention they receive but the kind of attention they receive. And again, in the
August 7, 2007
Just read your book and have to say it was so biased in the language and content used that rather
than anger me and my Jewish relatives, it gave us a good laugh !! Your photo on your web page is
very apt ;)
I don't have the book to hand because it's currently being passed around, but your excuses for not
mentioning the holocaust, 'forgetting' to mention the 700,000 Jews expelled from Arab states, post
1948 (~equal to the Palestinians displaced), alluding to Mohammed's massacre of Jews as being brave
because he lacked 'fear of reprisal' are a few things that spring to mind.
The tone generally is just so transparent. Every time you speak of the West or Israel you use
graphically violent language. When referring to Islam / Arabs it almost reads like a religious
leaflet one would be handed in the street. I read contrasting parts of this out in bed to hoots of
My wife is an English teacher and she plans to use some of the passages to educate young people
about how critically appraise newspaper articles and specifically to root out the surreptitious use
of hate language.
Oh one more thing - get a thesaurus, please !
August 9, 2007 [G. Harms response]
Dear Mr. S.,
Even serious generalities are something I cannot do much with, but will briefly touch upon some of
the specifics you enter into the second paragraph of your brief assessment.
1. I do in fact mention the Holocaust (p. 81, 196-7n20), though I do so briefly, as it is a less
than central part of the conflict's history. In such a short presentation of the conflict, my goal
in writing the book was to capture as best I could the essence of my subject. While the Holocaust is
indeed a grave and serious chapter in modern history - one that receives substantial attention - it
doesn't factor into the Palestine-Israel conflict to the degree many assume it does; close
examination of the historical record makes this apparent.
My aim was never to pen a history of the European Jews, but to instead render the conflict for a
general audience, including deep historical context for purposes covered thoroughly in the preface
and first chapter. The Holocaust receives roughly proportional treatment, as does the 1991 Gulf War,
September 11, and other subjects (and no, I'm not equating these three events). Nevertheless, I
supply in a substantive footnote titles of works on the subject for the curious reader, in
particular on the "appalling" topic of the US shutting out many thousands of Jewish refugees during
WWII - a subject that deserves more discussion.
2. Other readers have brought to my attention the issue of the post-1948 emigration of the
Mideastern Jewish populations. Again, given the focus and brevity of my account, this emigration
from the surrounding Arab countries (as well as many European Jews) is more ancillary to the
conflict, and does not equate with what befell Palestine's Arab population during the war. This is
in no way to suggest there wasn't harsh mistreatment of Middle Eastern Jews in this period, or that
the evacuations and migrations were devoid of hardship. But aside from a significant increase in
Israel's population in the post-1948 period - between 300,000 and 400,000 in the first few years
after Israel's independence - the story of Jewish movement from 1948 to roughly 1951 is quite
varied. Flight from persecution was one reason among many that Jews left their home countries.
Moreover, the populations were simply allowed to leave (at times under severe duress), not expelled,
and were airlifted by Israel in agreement with the regional regimes; this applies especially in the
case of the Yemenite (47,000) and Iraqi Jews (113,000), whose groups together formed the
preponderance of Middle Eastern émigrés. (For figures, see Howard M. Sachar, A History of Israel,
2nd ed. [1996, 2002], 398-9; cf. discussion in Mark Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian
Conflict , 308-10.)
This being said, and owing to the recurrent citation of this subject, I feel and agree that at least
some mention should appear in my book regarding the external consequences of the 1947-48
Arab-Israeli war, and the influx and subsequent effect on Israel's population, which I will consider
for a future edition.
3. In no way do I judge Muhammad as being brave for his acts of "brutality" and "barbarism" (my
words in the book). My discussion of Muhammad and the Jewish Qurayzah clan adheres to the standard,
scholarly account of this episode. The context was a politico-military concern, as it existed in
seventh-century Arabia, and cannot be viewed through the lens of twentieth-century anti-Semitism.
Among noted specialists - whose evaluation I am using; it is not my personal take on the matter -
this interpretation of Muhammad communicating his fearlessness of reprisal by killing the males of
the clan corresponds with the particular circumstances, the time period, and the culture. I cite
relevant sources for further reading in the chapter.
Unfortunately, this is all I can offer in the way of response, but I hope my reply has been
satisfactory in helping with any confusion.
January 20, 2007
Dear Mr Harms,
I have read your book and i have found it very informative and exactly what
was needed to send me on the right track. I am a university student
researching the law of investment in Palestine in the hopes of elucidating
the possible role of the law in helping to rebuild the war torn economy. I
was wondering if you may know of any reading to suggest regarding the
economy? I hope to hear back from you soon.
Sincerely E. W.
January 23, 2007 [G. Harms response]
I'm glad to hear you found the book helpful; thanks for the encouraging words.
Two names that come to mind immediately regarding the economy in
Palestine, in particular, and in the Middle East, in general, are Sara
Roy and Roger Owen respectively. Roy is a researcher at Harvard who
has done serious work on Gaza, and her book The Gaza Strip: The
Political Economy of De-Development (1995) is a standard. You might
take a look at her October 2006 information brief for The Palestine
Center, entitled "The Gaza Economy":
Owen, also from Harvard, has written and published extensively on the subject.
My advice would be to contact these two scholars and see what they
have to say and suggest. They are certainly more qualified than I and
should be able to provide you significant direction. However, if you
write them and get the academic cold shoulder - or if they simply
don't check or use email - write me back and I will contact some of
the scholars I know to help you with some sources for your research.
December 31, 2006
Dear Mr. Harms,
I would like to inform you of an annoying typo on page 72 of your book.
"... promises, one of which ..." should read "... promises, none of which..."
I have enjoyed the book. I didn't have much knowledge of the subject before.
The impression I am getting is similar to one of the US government appropriation of Native American
lands. I am left with a sense of injustice acted upon Palestinians by Zionists, but also with a
great sense of resignment to an appropriation that has already occurred and cannot be undone.
One thing I notice is that around page 100, when discussing events of the late 1940s, you begin to
refer to "Palestinians" almost as a people, whereas the impression I had got from the text leading
up to that point was that those people were merely Arabs left without a nation in the vacume of post
If indeed there was a coherent identity where those arabs residing in the province of Palestine
regarded themselves as "Palestinians" strongly enough to regard themselves as a nation by the late
1940s, then your book has not sufficiently explained this.
The sense I got from your book was that they were simply a people living in an administrative region
of the Ottoman empire and were not really distinguishable from the surrounding provinces. They
seemed no more a people than Oregonians vs. Washingtonians.
Thus, it seemed strange to find them referred to as Palestinians when my impression from your book
up to that time was that they were just Arabs of a culture more or less the same as in the
surrounding areas and did not regard themselves as being part of a distinct nation.
Anyway, your book is great and I have learned a lot. Thank you.
December 31, 2006 [G. Harms response]
Dear C. B.,
There are certainly parallels between the plights of the Native
Americans and the Palestinians; though caution is always advised when
comparing two historical narratives, the similarities between these
two are fairly significant. For an interesting read on this subject, I
would suggest Norman Finkelstein's The Rise and Fall of Palestine
(University of Minnesota Press, 1996). In particular, see Part III of
the epilogue (p.104-21) as well as the corresponding endnotes, which
are as informative as the main text.
Regarding your concerns about Palestinian nationalism and my use of
terms, I would first-off suggest looking again at the discussion
appearing on page 58 and the top of 59. The national identity of any
group of people is an evolutionary process. Palestine's is therefore
no different than any other nationalism. Moreover, historians, for
ease of discussion, apply national terms to people who, before a given
state's official establishment (and even after), probably cared little
beyond their villages and localities. My use of the term
"Palestinians" (a) reflects the existence and level of this national
identity as of 1947-48, (b) corresponds to the geopolitical
designations made by the League of Nations' Mandate, and (c) is much
easier than referring to Palestinians as those "Arabs left without a
nation in the vacume [sic] of post Ottoman rule" - a bit clunky on the
one hand, and not entirely accurate on the other.
By 1922, a "national" entity called Palestine had been created by the
League of Nations alongside the other previously non-existent states
now comprising the modern Middle East. We talk of Jordanians, Iraqis,
et al., in the post-mandatory period, but the term "Palestinians"
still seems to rankle in some groups. (Unlike the other regional
states, Palestine never became a formal nation-state, but this in no
way has mitigated against their nationalistic feelings; consulting the
views of any and all Palestinians makes this patently clear, but their
views are of little consequence as history has abundantly
illustrated.) After support for partition was voiced by the UN General
Assembly in 1947, the national consciousness of the Palestinians
became all the more pronounced. However, it should be emphasized - and
what is discussed in my chapter 5 - is that the genesis of this
national consciousness predates 1947-48 by decades.* I hope I've
addressed your questions.
The annoying typo on page 72 was not a typo at all but merely a case
of inelegance on my part. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.
And thank you for your overall assessment; I'm glad you found the book
helpful and appreciate you taking the time to send your reactions.
* For fuller treatment on this subject I would recommend chapters 5
and 7 in Rashid Khalidi's Palestinian Identity (Columbia University
Press, 1997). His recently released title, The Iron Cage (Beacon
Press, 2006), might also be of interest to you. As for the issues of
nationalism, nation-states, etc., two standard texts on the subject
worth examining are E. J. Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since
1780, 2nd ed. (Cambridge University Press, 1992); and Benedict
Anderson, Imagined Communities, rev. ed. (Verso, 2006). Both titles
are quite short but can be challenging.
December 30, 2006
Dear Mr Harms,
I have never been moved to write to the author of a book before but I have just completed your book
on the Palestine Israel Conflict and found the text to be so exceptionally clear and informative
that I want to thank you and Todd Ferry for it. So much of world's view on the conflict is so
distorted by misinformation and confusion (not least due to the misconception that the problem has
existed for thousands of years) that it is difficult to see how it can ever be resolved. If only
everyone could read your book, I feel that the chances of resolution would be greatly improved!
The only criticism I would have of the book is that, in the Pluto Press edition which I read, the
maps are far from clear. This could be improved by better choice of colours/shading, clearer and
more comprehensive annotation and, indeed, more maps. It is unfortunate that, while the text is so
clear and contains very useful explanations of those words and phrases which you considered that the
reader might not understand, assumptions seem to have been made about the reader's knowledge of the
geography and political demarcations.
Perhaps you would consider some improvement of the maps in any future editions.
Thank you again for a first class read.
October 02, 2006
Dear Mr. Harms
I was reading about your book and I was wondering what you thought about the role of Christian
Palestinians in the conflict overseas. I'm a Christian Arab that has lived in the US my entire life.
My family has been in the Ramleh since the the late 1800's and when the Jews invaded Palestine we
were one of the few families that did not leave. So to this day my family lives in the now Israeli
city. So I never understood what side we were on. We didn't side with the Jews because of our
history with them and we don't side with the muslims because they are fighting for a completely
different cause. So if it wouldn't be to much of a bother I wondered if you could give me some
insight into how Christian Arabs fit into to the conflict overseas.
Thank You in Advance,
October 02, 2006 [G. Harms response]
Dear Ms. T.,
In a broad consideration of the conflict and how it is configured, it could safely be said that
there really isn't much of a religious divide among Palestinians vis-a-vis the occupation. As for
Israeli Arabs, such as your family, there aren't the direct factors of occupation, but much has been
written on the second-class status of these Israelis regarding civil rights, etc. So there are
effects of the overall view of Arabs which exist inside Israel. As for relations between Muslim and
Christian Palestinians, I would be hesitant to speak to that for lack of expertise.
It is remarkable that your family has been there, presumably without interruption since the Ottoman
years (judging by your email), when Lydda and Ramleh were, for all intents and purposes, emptied of
Arabs in July 1948 - Christians and Muslims. (There aren't many people who can make that claim.) The
expulsion of Arabs across Palestine included Christians and Muslims alike. Today the occupation
affects them equally. So when you say that the Muslims are "fighting for a completely different
cause," I'm not sure if that is one hundred percent accurate. Yes, there are Muslim groups fighting
Muslim causes, but much of these resistance movements are in response to the occupation, and
Christians are in the same situation; they are dealing with the oppression and feeling much the same
way - the ones I've talked to.
Like I said, there may exist cultural divisions or distinctions between the Arab Muslims and
Christians, but it must be kept in mind that those divisions exist under external military
occupation, at least in the West Bank and Gaza. In the state of Israel, there are still civil rights
issues that make it clear that it is the indigenous Arabs that are unwanted, despite their spiritual
I hope I've answered your question.
ps. Here's a link to an interesting article on Lydda and Ramleh by Donald Neff:
September 29, 2006
Dear Mr. Harms,
I am teaching a high school course on Asian Studies and I have been reading
your book, in addition to a number of others, in order to prepare for a
section on the Middle East. I appreciate both the effort that must hve gone
into the research as well as the insight for the need of such a book. I
have found it very helpful in my decesions of what to include and what to
exclude in my course.
As it is obviously a highly emotionally charged and complex issue, bias is
unavoidable. First, I would like to commend you on keeping a very objective
tone through the book. Having said that, it is dissapointing that your own
bias is never clearly stated anywhere in the book. Personally, I am a
Canadian with very few strong feelings towards either the Israeli or
Palistinian positions. I was looking for a factual overview of the
divergent positions. All in all, in my opinion, you have done a relatively
good job at this. Unfortunately, once I reached page 109 at the end of the
first paragraph of the 2005 Pluto Press edition, I lost respect for your
The term "begging the question" is not equivalent to "begging for the
question to be asked." If you are unaware of this basic point in logic and
reasoning, I find it hard to accept your analysis as credible. How can I
trust that you have understood the various complexities of the situations
and have understood the original documents (that you have claimed to be so
complex and contradictory as to be unintelligible). Shame on your editor
for not having caught this. Granted, this misuse of the term is rife in
contemporary conversational language but your book is porporting to be a
guide for the novice. Unfortunately, in "this" nivice's eyes, you have lost
all credibility. The unfortunatelthing is that you may actually have a good
understanding of the issue and your general account may be valid. However,
I can no longer use your book as a basis for my course in anything other
than a general guide for what to include in the ancient background to the
I am not writing this mail from any political perspective. Having a degree
in Philosophy and Comparative Religion (from a phenomenological school), I
recognize that there is a lot of good research behing the book, and it is a
shame that such effort is spoiled by a basic misunderstanding of both the
English language and reasoning. "Begging the question" is a basic logical
fallacy that any first year philosophy major should be able to explain to
you. I only write this so that in future editions of your fundamentally
good book, you can correct this error and strengthen your credibility.
September 30, 2006 [G. Harms response]
Dear Mr. T.,
Thank you for the feedback and kind words on the portions of the book you found valuable. To touch
on the main points of your email:
Regarding your disappointment over my never having stated my bias, I cannot claim to have one. I am
neither Jewish, Muslim, nor Arab, and have no personal stake in the matter, as such. If I have any
view, it's a critical one toward US foreign policy, and therefore the conflict falls squarely into
an area about which I am concerned. Another "view" would be one that stands opposed to all military
occupation. Curiously, the Palestine-Israel conflict garners immense suspicion over bias like none
other. Had I written a primer about British colonialism in India, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, or
Russia's conduct in Chechnya, it is doubtful anyone would have much to say in the way of which way I
I'm sorry to hear that your prescriptivist feelings about petitio principii were strong enough to
reduce my credibility, in your view, to zero. However excessive and doctrinaire this may seem to me,
it is ultimately your decision - one you have clearly made, based on feelings that are clearly
As for my asserting that the original documents are "so complex and contradictory as to be
unintelligible," I don't recall saying any such thing. There is an instance where I indicate that
the various promises and agreements in Chapter 6 make little sense when examined as a collection
(p.67). I then quote from them liberally so as to allow the reader to decide for his or herself.
Interpretations and the wording of UN 242 are discussed (p.113, 115). I also make mention of the
literature reporting death tolls (for Operation Litani) that "vary widely" (p.203n28), and again
cite all pertinent sources for the curious reader to check out. But nowhere do I say or suggest in
these few instances what you attribute. And in these instances - none of which match your
description - I provide ample quotation and notation to supply the reader with the necessary
material. This was endeavored in an attempt to create sufficient transparency, instead of presenting
myself as an oracle who renders "complex and contradictory" original documents "intelligible" -
something with which you could be accused of tacitly charging me, for reasons that fail to emerge.
Once again, I do truthfully appreciate you taking the time to write. And I am thankful for the
kinder remarks about what you see as the book's strengths. That page 109 "spoiled" the text is
difficult to take seriously, and therefore I won't attempt to do so. It would be similar if I judged
your email by it containing precisely 10 typographical and/or spelling errors; "similar" because my
use of the phrase "begged the question" is at least defensible. However, suggesting that this defect
"spoiled" your letter would be unreasonable of me, and instead I chose to address its content and
overarching points, which I believe to be a more productive and honest approach.
Good luck with your course.
September 22, 2006
Firstly apologies for the unannounced email (how else i'd announce it, i dont know!), but my name is
[name withheld]. I am a 26 year old from the UK currently living in Dublin, Ireland. I recently
purchased your book on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. After hearing so much about it and not
knowing what was going on at all, I wanted to educate myslef on the subject (indeed, this has
sparked off a period of education generally in my life right now!) and came across your book. It was
just what I was looking for as I tend to get muddled and confused when it comes to foreign politics,
and your book communicated the history and situation there in a wonderful language, so thank you!
Secondly, I wanted to write to you, more to clear my head and maybe a little advice. There was one
part of the book, towards the start which meant so much to me and made so much sense, a trigger of
sorts. It read -
'Irrespective of how conflict is presented or written about, none of this is hard. If you can follow
a drama or soap opera, you can comprehend Middle Eastern affairs, policitcs and foreign policy. Its
as easy as it is important, and the world desperately needs us to understand it'
I am at a period right now where i hear, read and see so much injustice and terrible situations in
the world. It comples me to do something, to take a stand and to try and help with whats going on.
I studied Film/Photography at university, and after a break from this, I am looking to get back into
my work and now want to use this medium and combine with my developing passion to help with whats
going on. Maybe in a documentary sense, film-making or so forth. But when I hear about whats
happening, all I can think of doing is speaking to the highest person in the world and telling them
to stop the problems and the suffering. Obviously that isnt going to happen!! So I dont know where
to start. I dont know how to. Which is why I loved the above quote. It made me realize that I can
begin by educating myself. If we are unaware or simply ignorant about conflict, how can we begin to
solve it, right?
But where do I go from there?
I dont know what I hope to get from this email. Maybe just a beginning of a dialogue, as I feel
slightly lost and don't know where to start.
Anyway, many many thanks in advance.
April 27, 2006
Dear Gregory Harms,
I am a professor of Islam and Judaism in Los Angeles, I came across your book a few months ago and
am teaching it tomorrow at Antioch University in a workshop entitled: Palestine and Israel". I just
wanted to congratulate you for summarizing so well and providing a solid lens for students in 180
pages bravo! It is the perfect book to teach. I could not have done it! I look forward to the
One more question: What are your thoughts on Hamas being in power now?
April 29, 2006 [after response]
Your book worked very well yesterday! Although some students were overwhelmed by the information,
they walked away with a basic understanding of the conflict! This i believe is a huge accomplishment
for many american students who came in with no prior knowledge but many media images. We also
included your Hamas op-ed, and some poetry from Palestinian and Israeli writers. Please keep me
posted with your work. Again, thanks!
April 10, 2006
I just finished reading your book and I believe you achieved your goal of creating a reader for the
reader. I felt engaged and interested throughout your book. I also appreciate your suggested reading
section and found your bibiliography to be quite scholarly. I am currently wriiting a paper on the
conflict for a class entitled "Transforming (Allegedly) Intractable Conflict" and your book has
provided me with focus and clarity. Again, thank you for this fantastic volume (or lack thereof).
April 10, 2006 [after response]
I am currently studying Political Sciences at Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, PA. The class I am
in is being taught by Professor [name withheld] of the Sociological and Anthropology Department. We
examined the conflict in Northern Ireland/the North of Ireland as a case study in intractable
conflict. For our final paper, we must examine an intractable conflict and discuss facets that make
it so as well as attempts to transform the conflict into a more tractable conflict.
In my preliminary research for my paper, I was searching for a comprehensive yet easy-to-read volume
on the conflict in its entirety, and yours seemed to be everything I sought. Upon reading your
Preface, I realized you had set out to make the book for which I was searching, and for that I am
On a serendipitious note, my mom is attending the JFK School of Government in Boston. She is
attending a 10-month program designed for professionals who wish to go back and receive their
masters. Most in the program are in their thirities and forties and hold very prestigious positions.
Two very different Israelis that are in the program (different in the sense that one is of very high
rank in the IDF and the other believes Israel is an illegal occupation) both recommended the book to
her as the "best, impartial account of the entire conflict." Hence, when I visited here and she saw
your book, she took out her copy and we had a surreal moment. I just thought you liked to know.
January 14, 2006
Dear Mr Harms,
First the good news. Congratulations for assembling so much
information into a compact and readable (if at time patronising) book.
The first section on background history is possibly useful, but even
more useful would have been an examination of Islam's traditional
attitude towards Jews.
However, in my view, the bad news greatly outweighs the good and
greatly limits the value of your work.
In your Preface you make the statement that this conflict is "the most
notorious conflict of the twentieth century". Of course much depends
on how you interpret the word 'notorious', but by any standards to
regard this as more worthy of note or well-known than World War 2 (or
even WW1) is quite extraordinary. You also claim to have attempted to
"present the history of the conflict in a balanced and actual light",
a claim that withers increasingly as you approach the present time.
You claim too to avoid "grossly polemical texts", yet you freely use
the publications of notorious (!) anti-Zionists like Chomsky, Fisk,
Said and Finkelstein, while ignoring prominent pro-Zionists such as
Martin Gilbert and Alan Dershowitz.
Much more serious than your inclusions are your omissions. Here are
1: Haj Amin al-Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem from about 1921 until
discredited by his alliance with Hitler during WW2, was the
Palestinian leader you failed to identify (you claimed they were
leaderless). Husseini was a rabid antisemite and responsible for
orchestrating mob violence against Jews. His malign influence remains
with groups such as Hamas for whom he is a great hero. He was the
personification of traditional Muslim antisemitism, which you also
fail to note. Segev ("One Palestine, Complete") has much to say about
2: As well as the approx. 800,000 Palestinians displaced by the 1948
war, after the defeat of the Arab armies, a similar number of Jews
were expelled from Arab countries such as Iraq (where their ancestors
had lived millennia ago), or they chose to leave because of
intimidation. Most of these people, certainly the poor, were absorbed
into Israel, though weakened by Arab warfare, while Arab refugees were
consigned to high visibility camps, to be exploited for political
3: The Arab armies in 1948 were less feeble than you suggest. The Arab
Legion was a well-equipped army led by British officers.
Of course, a small book cannot include everything, but the first two
omissions are critical to a balanced understanding of this issue, and
suggest that your choice of material has been heavily influenced by
your pro-Palestinian sympathies. Indeed, had it been otherwise, I
doubt if Pluto Press would have published your book.
With all good wishes,
Milton Keynes, UK (not a historian, but, now retired, taking an
interest in trying to understand this matter.)
January 16, 2006 [G. Harms response]
Dear Mr. F.,
Thank you for the email and your willingness to share your thoughts
and reactions to my book. It's most helpful to receive feedback, and
these matters need to be examined and re-examined if we value an
accurate historical record.
Your semantic concerns regarding the conflict's notoriety are
understood, and I too had similar concerns, sitting on that sentence
for a while. World War II, US involvement in Indochina, among others,
were in mind, but the Palestine-Israel conflict holds a special and
prominent place in the media and world politics, and had for much of
the past centurynot to mention the current one. Using "notorious"
and "conflict" I was addressing the reader's likely awareness of
Palestine-Israel's unparalleled reception of worldwide, long term, and
constant attention owing to its regional, and at times global,
Regarding the issue of polemical texts, the capacity in which I used
the works of Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein stands on its own. If
I have reported inaccuracies as a result of my citing Professor
Chomksy (frequently along with other sources in agreement), I would be
eager to see the research refuting mineand his. I present Professor
Finkelstein's position as contrapuntal to Benny Morris' conclusions
about his own work, not Morris' figures. Finkelstein's appraisal of
Morris' conclusions is both noteworthy and valuable to an honest
attempt at gaining an understanding of the history. I use Benny
Morris, whose violent personal views are no secret, but whose research
is reliable; Finkelstein stands against colonialism and ethnic
cleansing, but also manages to produce quality work despite his
Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation I suggest as further reading, and stands
as one of the best and most honest accounts of Israel's invasion of
Lebanon. And my suggestion of Edward Said as a key writer on the
subjectand one of the most humaneshouldn't be difficult to
understand for anyone who has read and considered his work closely.
(This applies to all four writers. It's generally more informative to
focus on the data and analyses than generic characterizations of the
Martin Gilbert, a well-respected historian to be sure, didn't have
titles I found useful given the scope of my project. What Professor
Dershowitz has published and/or said on the subject can be useful, but
not to projects attempting accuracy.
Points 1 - 3:
1. I gave a fair amount of thought to Hajj Amin al-Husseini, but
decided that for the size of the chapter, his influence wasn't enough
to rate review. Though aware of his activities and Nazi sympathy, I
wanted to present the contours of this period without bogging the
survey down with various actors' personalities, etc. For this reason I
also elected not to review Zionist-Nazi points of contact as wellcertainly
part of the history, but for a chapter that's less than 20
pages long, a bit out of scope.
2. The issue of Jewish expulsion and movement after 1948 I will
consider for a second edition. I appreciate your comments, and will
give the matter serious consideration.
3. I don't know if I follow your meaning here. My review of the
international phase of 1947-49 makes fairly clear the numbers (with
ample citation: 199n19) and expository circumstances surrounding the
war. Glubb's comments (p.98) should also be considered.
I hope my reply has been helpful, and once again I appreciate you
taking the time to share your thoughts.
November 18, 2005
Dear Mr. Harms,
My name is [name withheld] and I am a junior at the US Coast Guard Academy. I am in the process of
reading your book, "The Palestine Israel Conflict," while working on a paper for my International
Relations course. The book has helped me better understand the conflict and the history behind it
because I too, like many other people, was under the impression that these issues were rooted more
in history than they truly are. Since the book was published before the recent Israeli pullout, I
was wondering if you could comment on what you think motivated this action, how Israel could benefit
from it and what it could mean for the region in the future. Thank you very much, Mr. Harms and I
appreciate your time.
November 18, 2005 [after response]
Dear Mr. Harms
Thank you very much for the information. I will be using it in my
paper. To answer your question, I discovered your book while searching
for books about the conflict on Amazon.com. Actually, it was one of the
first to come up and I decided that an overview of the history of the
region and conflict would be more beneficial than a heavy, in depth,
textbook especially because my main focus in the paper is the current
issue. Since my previous email I have finished the book and am pleased
to say that I found in it exactly what I was looking for. Again, thank
you for the reply and have a happy Thanksgiving.
October 3, 2005
Dear Mr. Harms,
I am an intern in the Publications Department of the [name withheld] Institute in Washington, DC.
One of my duties at the Institute is to write short annotations of books related to the region for
the [name withheld] Journal. Today, I came across your book The Palestine Israel Conflict: A Basic
Introduction (sent to us by [name withheld] of [name withheld] Press).
I ended up spending a sizable portion of the afternoon skimming through you work, and took it home
with me tonight. Before I even got to the main content of the book, however, I was hooked by the
sentiments you expressed in the preface: the world needs average people to understand what is
going on, and for that to happen, the crucial information needs to be accessible to average people
in a form that they can understand and have time for.
I had come to the same conclusion in recent years, and have devoted myself to making it happen. In
fact, it is the very reason I am interning at the [name withheld] Institute (its goal is to educate the
American public about the Middle East without taking any institutional positions on issues in the
region). However, I do not feel that [name withheld]'s work is actually intended for "average" people, whereas
your book is (hence my excitement upon reading it).
I realize that this is a long shot, but if you would ever consider turning this book into a series
(i.e. something like The War on Terror: A Basic Introduction or The Darfur Conflict: A Basic
Introduction), please let me know. Whether it be in the form of books, a monthly publication, a
website, a lecture series, or anything else, I would like to contribute in any way that I can
(perhaps as a researcher, editor, or co-author). If you are interested, attached to this email is a
very short article I wrote for a political science publication at my university in which I summarize
(for the "average" person) Osama bin Laden's reasons for attacking the United States. I will be
graduating from the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point this May if you are interested in
continuing your project.
Either way, I would like to commend you for your work; it is incredibly valuable.
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