Israel/Palestine – reflections of a tired peace activist

When things get to a certain ‘bullshit factor’ I think I subconsciously switch off. It is a sort of self-defence mechanism against insanity.

I think it happened about three years ago with climate change. I can tell you that climate change is the single biggest threat to humanity blah blah blah but I don’t find myself lying awake at night worrying about it.

To be honest, I only really think about it when one of my more solid activist friends tweets, writes or speaks to me about it. The rest of the time it swirls around in my head evading any solid thoughts, let alone actions.

I have been dwelling on this particular thought over the last few weeks, thinking I really should pull my finger out and do something about it when it suddenly struck me that I have also switched off about Israel/Palestine.

The observant amongst you will have noticed I have barely mentioned it in the last few months on these pages.  A very personal bombshell that I doubt anyone reading this will care very much about.

I have subconsciously wondered off from all those people whose hands I shook, coffee I drank and that I made all those ill-thought out promises to, “I won’t forget this hospitality”, “I will do everything I can”, “I will write” etc etc.

Staying for a short period of time in the West Bank was a deeply moving experience and one that I would recommend to most people. For me, it helped put a lot of things in perspective and yet, perversely, for some it also seems to annihilate all sense of perspective.

I still care passionately about the people that I met, and with less rationality, the people I didn’t meet that live in the troubled towns and villages that I visited.

But, as much as I try and muster the will power, I am simply no longer reading Ma’an News, I have stopped listening out for what Peace Now has to say and worse of all…I no longer feel the fire of injustice that burned so fiercely when I hear about arbitrary arrests, midnight incursions, rockets and all the other bullshit that occurs on a daily basis in Israel/Palestine.

What’s happened?

I don’t know exactly. Of course, partially time… I moved countries, moved jobs, got engaged. Life moved on and before I realised it the memories that loomed in my rear view mirror that once loomed so large slipped out of sight.

Partially disillusionment, my ‘moderate’ approach (showing empathy towards people regardless of their belief, religion, skin colour, nationality etc) seemed to win me surprisingly few friends and the few friends it did win me were, so I was told, sell-outs or people ‘pretending to be moderate in order to be extreme’ (an accusation that was also regularly thrown at me).

I guess most of all, I got as tired of talking to people who weren’t listening and the people who were listening got tired of listening to me.

Don’t worry; this isn’t me giving up just being honest with myself, with you.

Just because something is difficult it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The improbability of peace in Israel/Palestine remains a weak defence for the inaction of the majority. I will proudly call for the improbable and fight the uphill fight but, being honest with myself, I can see I will be doing it at a lower intensity…dipping in and out of the insanity, commenting when I feel the strongest and feel it to be strategic.

Perhaps that is what I should have been doing from the start.


Filed under Middle East

35 responses to “Israel/Palestine – reflections of a tired peace activist

  1. richardarmbach

    Steve I just have read your March blog about anti semitism among pro Palestinians. I was especially interested in your EAPPI comments and the changes that have been made. Can you explain how time in Haifa enhances ones experience of the occupation of the west bank ? You also say you know the three people employed by EAPPI in the UK. Would you tell me who they are I would like to write to them I assume it isn’t a secret. Cheers.


    • Hi Richard,

      I went with EAPPI just before the changes were proposed. I spent about a week in Israel (mainly Haifa but also in Sderot and a few other places) – I also chose to spend my days off in a variety of places around Israel.

      I personally feel it to be very important to visit Israel for a number of reasons….quickly, 1) When you live in the WB the only Israelis you meet are serving soldiers or settlers – this makes it difficult for EAs to meet and talk to Israelis let alone to really get to know many of them (although I did have some good conversations with some soldiers and occasionally settlers). 2) You get to glimpse how Israelis (who are not settlers or soldiers) live – this is important as Israel is a democracy and peace might well come from popular demand – understanding where we are now is important. I could go on. You can contact Helen Bailey or Lynda Maclnnes (both lovely) email or ring 020 7663 1144. Hope this helps. Steve


  2. Dick Gregory

    “I think there are some good abstract reasons to support one state, I don’t think this should be imposed if most Israelis don’t want it.”
    Sarah was asked some time ago why she thought it OK for a solution to be imposed on the Palestinians who had their land stolen in 1948, but she never gave an answer. Not surprising for someone so biased that she couldn’t see that writing piece after piece about Gilad Shalit and nothing about the thousands of prisoners held by Israel would be ‘balanced’ by writing a Palestinian prisoner also held in Gaza.
    This bias stems from her introduction to the Palestinian conflict through her friend David Hirsh, one of the leading advocates of shifting the debate from the rights and wrongs to finding Palestinians and their supporters to condemn, because they use describe Israel in derogatory terms. For years she put forward the argument that she wasn’t really an expert on what should be done in Palestine; she is either stupid or dishonest in not seeing that the purpose of her, her friends’ and their blogs’ propaganda is to weaken the Palestinian solidarity, not to engage in a real discussion about racism.


  3. i’m just making points almost randomly here but here goes.

    I don’t see anything from Sarah to negate anything I said except one little point on PSC to negate something I didn’t say. Obviously I don’t think she smears Palestine solidarity activists for the sake of it. I think she does it for the sake of the zionist project.

    Questions of blame and who did what historically are largely irrelevant once you’ve decided that Jews are entitled to self-determination because it’s that zionist principle which necessitates the colonial settlement of Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

    I know her tactics have changed over time when it comes to being friendly to those considered enemies by the bulk of the HP team but the politics are the same and the tactics are only tactics.

    I think she is very good at spotting naivety among well-meaning people. That’s nice for her and the racist project she supports but if it prises people away from just causes then of course it’s problematic for the supporters of those causes.

    I’d say this Socialist Unity post mentioning Sarah is as true now as when it was written –

    Her participation in the FUCU case – and subsequent misrepresentation of its findings also shows that her actions are often at odds with her words. In fact I mentioned this post by her – – earlier but didn’t link it.
    In it she manages to misrepresent both the FUCU report (to smear “pro-Palestinian activists”) and the working definition of antisemitism. The working definition doesn’t say that comparisons of Israel to the nazis are “likely to be antisemitic”. It says, subject to context, they are antisemitic)..

    And this is where Sarah’s definition of antisemitism is not simply wider than yours. It’s a different thing altogether. Antisemitism used to be racism against Jews. Sarah is very fond of hauling out this “context” proviso from the text of the working definition and yet when we see how it operates, racism against Jews is often given a free pass, eg, when Rupert Murdoch berated the “Jewish owned press” for not being supportive enough of Israeli atrocities. And yet when anti-racists object to Israel’s foundational crimes, racist ideology or its expansionism we are accused of antisemitism. So with Sarah and the likes of her, antisemitism has morphed from a vice to a virtue. The context for her is that if zionists don’t like you, you’re antisemitic and if they like you, you’re not antisemitic, even if logically you are racist against Jews..

    Anyway, I didn’t come here to spoil a blossoming friendship. Some of my best friends are dodgy characters. I just don’t let them affect my political judgement.


  4. There’s no reply function on your last comment so here’s the comment:

    I am not sure how else to say this – I oppose racism in whatever form it comes. Which is why I would argue against Zionism when it advocates for privilege within a state based on a persons ‘Jewishness’. A state should be there to provide for and protect citizens regardless of their ethnicity, religion or background!

    I am not sure I can be any clearer!

    You’re not being clear as to whether you believe zionism to inform the entire existence of The State of Israel or not. So you say you “would argue against Zionism when it advocates for privilege within a state based on a persons ‘Jewishness’” But that’s precisely the basis for Israel’s existence, there’s no “would” or if about it.


    • So yes, to spell it out, I do oppose the current laws and structures in Israel that give preference to a person because of the their Jewishness.

      What I am not so sure about is the assertion that this equates to the basis of Israel’s existence (this implies that Israel would cease to exist if the discriminatory element of it was removed). I see no reason why the state of Israel cannot exist, as a Jewish state (celebrating Jewish identity, holidays, history etc) without holding onto any of the discriminatory policy that is currently there…

      Do no Zionists support this view?


      • The “discriminatory element” involves barring from Israel a number of Arabs exceeding the number of Jews. If they were allowed to return they might not avail of their right to but if they did Israel would cease to have a Jewish majority and could, just could, cease to be Israel.

        This chap calls his blog Magnes Zionist and he appears to oppose the Law of Return which grants automatic citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere and he supports the right of return for Palestinians. I don’t know of any affiliates of the World Zionist Organisation/Congress who support the abolition of the Law of Return and the granting of the right of return.

        Israelis who are opposed to the right of return and the Law of Return tend to be known as post-zionists. They too are a tiny minority.

        These days most people who refer to zionists are clearly referring to people who support the idea of a state specifically for the world’s Jews though of course there are people who use it interchangeably with Jews and there are people who want to muddy the waters altogether.

        Anyway, thanks for your time there, Steve. Much appreciated!


        • Out of interest, Sarah, if you are reading this exchange, it would be interesting, for clarity sake, to have your view on all this.

          Am I right in thinking you self-identify as a Zionist?


          • Hello – yes, catching up after work. I identify as a Zionist because it saves time really. I am a member of Labour Friends of Israel. I suppose I view with ambivalence events leading up to the founding of the state of Israel. I sympathise with Jewish aspirations for self-determination while thinking it would have been preferable if circumstances in Europe (and I am not just referring to the Holocaust) had not made this such an issue. One of the things I took away from Nusseibeh’s book was that both sides were swept up in events partly caused by outside forces – in particular the British. I can understand why the Palestinians held out against the proposed partition. Neither side seems totally blameless – or the opposite. See my review of Adam Lebor’s City of Oranges.


            I support a two state solution because, although I think there are some good abstract reasons to support one state, I don’t think this should be imposed if most Israelis don’t want it. I was trying to find a very eloquent piece by Matt Hill in support of this, but I think he has deleted his early posts. I can’t disagree that it should combat discrimination – I read a story today about a Mayor seeming to endorse discriminatory policies.


  5. Steve, it’s called burnout. It is very common, and I have had it many times. The mind gets saturated, and in order to preserve balance, it moves away to look at something else. It’s OK. In time you will be back, refreshed, giving your positive contribution to the problem.


  6. Steve, you don’t seem to have seen what you’ve done over the past few months with regard to your approach to Palestine. I’ve noticed you have a tendency to pander to the supporters of Israel’s ethnic cleansing but when critics/opponents of the same raise queries with you you tend to avoid dealing directly with the questions raised. It suggests that your politics have changed, not simply your priorities. It also suggests that your comfort zone is more with the mainstream and all that it entails than it is with opposition to the mainstream.


    • @Levi9909

      I have never intentionally pandered to the view of supporting ethnic cleansing – the very suggestion that I might have repulses me (note for the record, that I think Israel’s discriminatory policies are based on ethnicity and although death is involved, Israel is clearly not systematically trying to wipe Palestinians out in the same way as – for lack of better example – the Nazi’s were in the 30s/40s). But, what I am proud to say I have done is tried to reach out to people who don’t think the same as me whilst at the same time distinctly not “pandering to them” (I would appreciate examples of where you feel that I have so I can either apologize or argue my case).

      Equally, I have never intentionally dodged a question – if I have, it might have been unintentionally (eg, it was a hard question and I wanted to give it some thought before answering and then forgot about it). Again, if you could let me have your examples I will do my best to answer any questions or admit that I not sure of my view/the answer.

      I don’t feel as though my politics have changed regarding Israel/Palestine (although of course who am I to judge). I am still pro-human rights and will fight for these through showing the human stories (on both sides) and how the violation of their rights impact their lives…I have tended to avoid the more macro politics (peace processes and such forth) simply because this is not my specialism and I worry about wading too far out of my depth on such an emotive subject.

      Lastly, I want to assure you that the mainstream is rarely where I feel comfortable. I don’t call for change for change sake, only when the status quo is not working. I struggle to think of an example better suited to this description than Israel/Palestine – we need change because what we have at the moment is so messed up. In that sense I suspect I will remain outside of the mainstream…of course, if one positions themselves far enough away from what most people think, it might appear to them that even those stood well outside the ‘mainstream’ might be part of it. A matter of perception.


      • Re the supporters of ethnic cleansing I was referring to Sarah AB and Bob from Brockley. Sarah justifies her support for it by claiming the Arab states ethnically cleansed Jews round about the time of the zionist conquest amd ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Bob from Brockley claims the ethnic cleansing didn’t happen because there are still Arabs in Palestine including within Israel’s pre-67 boundary. You might not know what they have said about the ethnic cleansing itself but you know they support Israel and you presumably know that Israel’s existence is predicated on ethnic cleansing. They certainly know.

        Unable to make a case for Israel because there isn’t one they smear Israel’s critics as being antisemitic. Your response was to do a post on antisemitism among Palestinians and human rights activists and soaked up the applause from Sarah and Bob who said you were “brave”. But it doesn’t require bravery. These two racists were saying a) that there is an issue with antisemitism among Israel’s critics, opponents and victims and b) the main tendency in the movement is to deny it. That is what I believe you pandered to. I think you were brave going Palestine. It’s not just unarmed Palestinians Israel targets and kills, it is also human rights activists and journos. They didn’t commend your bravery for going to Palestine, just for helping them smear the critics.

        Twice I challenged you on your post on antisemitism The first time you said that you did not equate hatred of Israel with antisemitism but you said it made you suspicious. Something like that. You didn’t say what made you suspicious of or why it made you suspicious. I’d say that was two dodges for the price of one. Someone at Mondoweiss picked up on that and you tweeted a link to Mondoweiss. You still didn’t take the opportunity to clarify what you were saying or why you were saying it but it was clear they thought you were simply playing Sarah and Bob’s game..

        All in all it looked like you were pandering to the two supporters of ethnic cleansing I mentioned above and dodging questions that go to the heart of Israel’s existence as a state based on colonial settlement, ethnic cleansing and racist laws.

        I could be expressing myself better but I’m knackered from work. I think I given you the gist of what I wanted to say.




        • Hi Mark,

          I have heard lots of people grumble about Sarah (I know little of Bob) and if, as you suggest (but then she denies) she tries to defend the massacres of 48 then I would strongly argue with her. What happened in 48 strikes me as being deeply wrong on many levels (although I would again be quick to add that my knowledge of what happened is limited to a handful of books – I am no expert!).

          In terms of Sarah in general (and Sarah I would welcome your comments here) I have to say that A) I don’t know her very well and that B) she has only ever been pleasant and friendly to me and struck me as being sincere in her willingness to debate (maybe I am wrong but I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt). I think Sarah and I have different understandings of antisemitism (hers being much wider than mine) and this in turn leads us to very different conclusions on some issues, but I don’t see this as being enough to fall out over. Whether or not she uses the term to “smear” people I don’t know. I get the impression that her understanding of antisemitism is sincere even if I do not agree with it myself (Again, these are just my inclinations, I didn’t follow a lot of the debate around the union definitions of antisemitism and the online debate that went with it).

          Now, my post on antisemitism in pro-Palestinian movement. There is no logic in connecting that post with your accusations about Sarah’s actions. It was a genuine attempt to highlight a problem of discrimination that I witnessed first hand. And, if I do say so myself, I do think it was brave to write, in a way much more brave than going to the WB. I understand bravery to be facing up to what you are afraid of. For many people going to the WB would be very brave but for me I was never scared (rightly or wrongly). I was however, nervous at least of publishing that blog because I anticipated the reaction.

          In terms of Sarah and Bob applauding me for that – what did you expect me to do…refuse to accept praise from someone because I disagree with them about something else?

          I still stand by that blog because I honestly believe that there is an issue of antisemitism among SOME critics of Israel (not to the extent that I think many Israeli supporters believe there to be) and that b) some within the movement DO have a tendency to either deny it, or perhaps not want to talk about it. This is especially true regarding Brits in the WB not wanting to address antisemitism within the Palestinian population (something that I witnessed a lot of and didn’t always manage to challenge like I would have liked).

          Re my point on criticizing Israel and antisemitism… I said it would raise my suspicion because of my personal experience. Most of the well thought out people working on Israel/Palestine tend to come at it from a specific angle (human rights, family relations, geo-politics etc). When someone is just interested in Israel and shows no obvious sign of why they are just interested in Israel and no other issue it does, I think quite rationally, raise my suspicion of antisemitism. This does not mean that I start throwing around accusations just that my guard goes up slightly.

          To be clear, I disagree with anyone who tries to conflate criticism of Israel and antisemitism as being inherently linked.

          Hope this clears some of it up – written in rather a rush on my lunch break.


          • Steve, re Sarah you have definitely confused apparent pleasantness with sincerity. When dog whistles and obfuscation aren’t enough she resorts to flagrant falsehood. You even tweeted a post of hers which mentioned you favourably whilst smearing the rest of the Palestine solidarity movement by misrepresenting the report of the industrial tribunal which rejected her and others’ false allegations of anti-Jewish racism against her union, the UCU. You noticed yourself, ie the pleasantness, you missed the complete lack of sincerity.

            What makes Israel a standout cause against others is that what happened in 48 is till happening now. The colonial settlement and the ethnic cleansing are on-going. I know of no other state that encourages and mobilises people from around the world to come and live there whilst denying that right to people who come from there.

            I also know of no other serial human rights abuser that receives as much financial, military, diplomatic and media cover as Israel.

            I’m also rushing for various reasons or I’d say more about the culture which demoralises oppositionists rather than singling out poor pleasant Sarah.


          • I do not attack Palestine Solidarity movements/activists for the sake of it. I note when they do something right (and I don’t think it would have been helpful for me to be any warmer than I was in this piece given that Lauren Booth was saying they were in bed with HP or some such)


            and I’m not a fan of Ali Abunimah, but I blogged on his rejection of Greta Berlin.



      • I don’t think I have ever objected to anything substantive Steve has said – criticisms of Israel’s actions, injustice in Palestinians’ situation. There is much that could be said about 1948 (and thereabouts) and I wouldn’t deny that there was ethnic cleansing but it was a long time ago and I think it’s more important to deal with the country/region as it is now. Matt Hill I think, doesn’t like the idea of different ‘narratives’ but when the facts are so complex and various it’s difficult to avoid them, and I am perfectly receptive to Palestinian narratives, such as that of Sari Nusseibeh, whose memoir I read recently.

        There does seem to be a lot of antisemitism (and, less egregiously, aggression and coldness) amongst some pro-Palestinian activism. There’s some appalling stuff on the pro-Israel side as well. I found it interesting to follow Luke Farley’s posts on the issue when he went to Ramallah as a volunteer, because he seems to approach things in an open minded way.


        • richardarmbach

          Harry’s Place is a racist cess pit just because Sarah AB flits around the blogosphere playing ” the acceptable face ” and sitting on a few fences doesn’t change that.


          • Richard’s comment really touches on what I am saying here. Sadly it appears that Steve would rather be on Sarah’s approved list of activists, bloggers and Palestinians than identify and campaign against the root causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This has involved fretting over the possibility of racism among Israel’s opponents whilst giving a free pass to the inherent racism of zionism and its supporters.


          • I am not sure how else to say this – I oppose racism in whatever form it comes. Which is why I would argue against Zionism when it advocates for privilege within a state based on a persons ‘Jewishness’. A state should be there to provide for and protect citizens regardless of their ethnicity, religion or background!

            I am not sure I can be any clearer!


  7. Anya

    This is a very useful and touching blog Steve. I have struggled with this around climate change for a while. Our ability to turn off from suffering and disaster is both deeply sad and deeply necessary for our own sanity. Those I know who cannot do it tend to be suffering from extreme distress and mental illness, which can also paralyse effective action.

    Just because we feel tired doesn’t mean we stop or forget how important an issue is. If we recognise that we are unable to consistently work tirelessly from a frenzy of outrage maybe we learn to actually work in a more strategic and sustainable way.

    We also learn to empathise (and therefore are more likely to appeal to) the silent majority who are not active on an issue but who we need to get on board. There is, after all nothing as off putting to others as an individual who cannot see that anything in life is as important as their one pet topic (be that save the whale, nuclear waste, Tibet….)


  8. It’s true that ‘normal’ life does take over, but we should never doubt the drip-drip effect of persistent, faithful people like ourselves (paraphrase of Margaret Meade). Justice and peace for all in the region may not come in our lifetime, but – when it does – it will be partly due to every talk we gave, every letter we wrote, every time we stood alongside those campaigning for peace….. It’s this thought that keeps me going – and the injustice of it, the injustice that gnaws at the bones and causes the heart to ache…. It will not let me be, even though it may be more like a sub-text a lot of the time.

    Never give up!

    Love to both



  9. I know what you mean Steve. I used to be very engaged too. With politics I’ve found 1) either you talk politics all day long thus most of the people you hang out with are politicos (e.g. I studied Middle East politics at SOAS and even did a sabbatical in the students’ union) and then you burn out, like I did or 2) you find the people around you are so uninterested that you’re banging your head against a brick wall – which leads to another kind of burn-out.
    As for climate change, when I lived in the UK, I recycled obsessively to within an inch of my life … in Uganda, bah! I haven’t renounced the recycling ideology yet… but while I live in a country with the world’s 3rd highest birth rate / low education levels / increasing consumerism / very poor rubbish collection etc etc – i.e. thousands more people being born every year/month/week/second… I ask myself: is it really worth little old me bothering to separate my organic waste and my plastics? I think I need a lie-down…


  10. richardarmbach

    I guess given you no longer give a chit you won’t be interested in the fate of the EAPPI programme


  11. XY

    Hmmm… I can understand you steve, and all who have commented on his post. I share some of your tiredness too of course. Thx for your honest words, but I has to be honest too:
    Your post makes me angree. We in our cheese and cocolate life (ok my one is maybe bit more like that…haha) are getting tired? So? We were and we still are reminding our friends, readers of our blogs (espez you Steve did that in great way!!!!) and last but not least ourselfes again again and again to not forget Palestine and Israel! And we as eyewitnesses are especially responsible to do so!
    So p(l)eace guys don’t get too tiered! we and they need you and us. Who else is gonna to do something? John “I don’t care”y?
    I’ll be on the ground this autumn. You are more than welcome for a refreshing coffee (not just in the physical way…)


  12. richardarmbach

    Good riddance. One less ” there are two narratives ” yawn maker to irritate us.


  13. Have both sides accused you of being extreme or just those on Israel’s ‘side’? It would be illogical for ‘Zionist extremists’ to pretend to be moderate and then say they liked your blog, because if they were really extreme then someone, like you, who criticised Israel while condemning antisemitism and also condemning more extreme Palestinian acts/voices would be unwelcome, surely, because more difficult simply to demonise or dismiss as racist. (Not that I’m taking this personally or anything 😉 … )


    • This would be true if all interactions were governed by logic. From my experience, people respond to the last thing I write or say and take my language (often moderate) as evidence that I am trying to hide something…


  14. David Heap

    You echo my experience Steve. I have found other, more personally touching, causes taking over my thoughts and energies. I read of the talks with only a faint enthusiasm. And a chronic condition is harder to maintain indignation for than an acute one. I’m still taking Unitarian services throughout the UK with a Palestine/Israel theme as my advocacy, but will admit to looking forward to
    when they end in the Autumn…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s