Plea by concerned Israelis for “outside intervention” on behalf of Palestinians gets a response from Canadian Jew


“The State of Israel is facing a catastrophic situation, which could, alarmingly soon, lead to extensive bloodshed. It is time for the international community to act decisively. Substantive external pressure – political, economic and cultural – offers the only chance of emerging from this impossible situation before it is too late“, wrote Dr. David Harel and Ilana Hammerman in a recent article in the London based Guardian newspaper. Hammerman is an Israeli writer and translator and Harel is vice-president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

“We represent a group of intellectuals and cultural figures central to Israeli society, several of whom are world renowned in their fields. (…) We fully intend to stay here and continue to contribute, but we are horrified by the situation and fear deeply for our lives and those of our offspring, and for the lives of the 13 million Jews and Arabs who live here and who have no other homeland”, they argue.

What makes their public appeal especially interesting is that Harel and Hammerman are both Zionists, though of the “soft’ variety. They believe in the idea of a Jewish State of Israel. But they are genuinely concerned about the situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank which Israel occupied in 1967, and believe that only ending the occupation can save Israel from what they see as an impending catastrophe.

as israelisTheir focus is solely on the issues arising from the occupation of the West Bank. In their op ed, they make no reference to the other issues facing Palestinians, including the over 5 million refugees who cannot return to Israel because they are not Jewish, nor to the laws inside Israel which permit or even promote discrimination against its own citizens of Palestinian origin, culminating in the flagrantly discriminatory Nation State Law which the Israel Knesset just passed.

They make it clear that while they support a boycott of goods from Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank, they would not support BDS, or any boycott of Israel itself.

(However, in a recent telephone interview with Canadian David Kattenburg, Harel did go further, indicating that he would not oppose a 1 state solution if representatives of both Israelis and Palestinians could work out some agreement that ensured equality for everyone.)

Not surprisingly, Harel and Hammerman’s call for outside pressure on Israel generated a huge discussion among Jews,both inside Israel and in the Jewish “diaspora”. The article has been recopied hundreds of times. Thousands have responded to their appeal, including this letter from Sylvia Laale, a concerned Canadian Jew living in Ottawa. Her letter to Harel is reprinted with permission.

To: David Harel and Ilana Hammerman
Re: June 29/18 article in The Guardian: As Israelis, we call on the world to intervene on behalf of Palestinians

I write this as a diaspora Jewish woman who in the last 2 decades has become increasingly concerned and troubled observing Israel treating West Bank Palestinians and Gazans in ways that remind me of how Jewish people were treated in Europe for almost 2 millennia. My family of origin is Ashkenazi Jewish…many of whom emigrated from Poland to Canada before WW2 and some who unfortunately remained in Poland.

Over the decades my willing embrace of Israel’s behaviour towards Palestinians and Gazans has diminished significantly. I now see such behaviour in the same way you describe in your article–it contributes to an ongoing, unending mistreatment by ‘us’ against ‘them’–it cannot and will not lead anywhere but to disaster for both Israel and the Palestinians. And I believe you are correct that ‘there will be no future and no life for [you] or the Palestinians’.

In the last few years, I have come to the conclusion that the only way for Israelis to be safe in their country is to ensure that the Palestinians have all the rights, benefits, safety and freedoms that Israelis have, including a country that is equally theirs (irrespective of one state or two states). While I understand that you are pleading with the world to step up to the plate, I do not see that happening in the short term…unless you, the group you represent, help us understand at a profound level what is actually going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians…and exactly how this will lead ultimately to calamity at a level of destruction that seems incomprehensible right now.  We cannot yet imagine it, therefore we have trouble believing it.

You have asked the us to intervene as individuals, and as organizations and as countries. I would like to suggest that people in North American need to be ‘educated’ about your situation as well as that of the Palestinians. That being said, are any  members of your group interested in or willing to come to Canada and speak to people across this country about what is going on and why you are so deeply concerned?  And we live in Ottawa, our nation’s capital which may offer other benefits in terms of speaking perhaps to politicians.

I deeply appreciate your openness and honesty and your profound concern for both peoples. Like you, many of us know that this cannot go on…that we are headed for disaster. We need your voice here to help us get your message across.

 Sylvia Laale, Ottawa


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue. We accept guest columnists from time and encourage brief comments (under 100 words) from serious readers. To learn more about what we do, contact us at






  1. Sylvia,

    Frankly, I think David Harel (whom I have known for many years) is more valuable in Israel than he would be here. When I first heard of his sympathies for the Palestinians, he was not speaking out. He took me aside to tell me of his actions (bringing fruit to farmers who could no longer reach their trees); he seemed unwilling to have his Israeli colleagues learn of his actions. Those colleagues showed sudden anger at me (a visitor) when they saw that I thought Palestinians deserved our sympathy. Now David Harel speaks and writes openly. As an officer of an important scientific organization, he can reach people that we cannot reach. As someone who moved from England (where he was born) to Israel, he has credibility among Israelis that those of us who did not “make Aliya” cannot have. He is a rare voice in Israel and needs to be there to speak out. There are many Jews here who know enough about Israel and can speak clearly enough to make it obvious that support for Palestinian rights is not anti-semitism.

  2. Perhaps you are right, David.

    However he does have a perspective that is not mainstream among diaspora Jews yet. His voice here would be helpful. As well, he could speak to parliamentarians and perhaps have some influence with our government.

    1. Hey Sylvia and David, I think I agree more with Sylvia on this one. The KEY constituency to influence is NOT Israeli Jews, but diaspora Jews. Canadian policy won’t possibly change until a significant number of Canadian Jews are speaking up. Right now, there is only a tiny group of (courageous) Jews in Canada who are daring to do so. And non Jews will defer to the Jewish establishment until there are 2 voices in the Jewish community. Its coming, I think. But my guess is that 90 % of Canadian Jews are still supporting the Zionist program. Even if they have doubts, they won’t express them publicly.

      1. Peter, Both are important. If we cannot change the understanding of Israelis (Jews and others), and try to make changes without substantial support, blood will flow. Nothing good will come from that. Luckily David Harel could come here briefly, add his voice, and then return where he is badly needed. If I had to choose, I would choose that he stay there but we don’t have to choose.

  3. January 19, 2018 – Haaretz
    Opinion: “In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism” by Zeev Sternhell.**
    “I frequently ask myself how a historian in 50 or 100 years will interpret our period. When, he will ask, did people in Israel start to realize that the state that was established in the War of Independence, on the ruins of European Jewry and at the cost of the blood of combatants some of whom were Holocaust survivors, had devolved into a true monstrosity for its non-Jewish inhabitants. When did some Israelis understand that their cruelty and ability to bully others, Palestinians or Africans, began eroding the moral legitimacy of their existence as a sovereign entity?”

    Opinion: “Gaza Border Killings Expose Israel’s True Mentality. And Bezalel Smotrich, like the cynical face of Avigdor Lieberman, reflects our own face, the face of Netanyahu’s advance guard for the West.”
    Zeev Sternhell Apr 27, 2018 – Haaretz

    ** Zeev Sternhell is a Polish-born Israeli historian, political scientist, commentator on the Israeli– Palestinian conflict, and writer. He is one of the world’s leading experts on fascism. Sternhell headed the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

  4. Very sorry to say that no honesty appears to me in this document. What I understand, is a mutual fear, panic and anxiety of what may get unfold if the apartheid state continued its occupation and genocide.

    Who created this catastrophic situation in Palestine? Who have been horrified by the killings and murders that have deeply affected the lives of Palestinians for generations? Who lived under military power where towns, schools and homes were destroyed? Why precipitously it became so significant now to end the suffering of Palestinians? And why the Zionists start to recognize that they are genuinely concern about the imminent clashes and struggles that Palestinians will have? My doubts are high and I am not sure if these liberal Zionists are indeed truthful and honest in their plea to the outside world. I will not be surprised if this would be a cover up and deceitful propaganda by Zionists who simply want empathy, compassion and appreciation from the sightless and immoral world leaders like US, UK, Saudi, Canada and alike. Or a hoop-la making it firm and smooth to implement the only-Jewish state status allowing every single discriminatory law to apply that will further segregate and divide Palestinians in their own country. This is another cry to protect their lies and crimes committed by generations.

    These intellectuals, scholars and academics and writers should have left the apartheid state long time ago and lived where they come from – no Israel.

    1. Hey Muazzam, Lots of people live with doubt. People’s ideas also evolve.

      Five years ago, I was one of those who thought a Jewish State was oK. I supported a 2 state solution, in which one of those states would be a Jewish State. Over time, I have become aware of many other aspects of the problem, (refugees, Pals of ’48, Jerusalem, etc.) and now feel that a 2 state solution cannot possibly resolve things because the heart of the problem is the very notion of a Jewish State.

      Whether that Jewish State is big (i.e. all of palestine) or small (i.e. only 78% of Palestine) doesn’t change things.

      My ideas have evolved over time. It sounds like Dr. Harel’s have too. I think that is a very good thing. He should not be criticized for it.

      1. I don’t think Dr. Harel should be criticized for his ideas, but I do believe Muazzam’s points ought to be well taken. I am convinced of the sincerity of Dr. Harel’s perspective, but that is also precisely the problem: as Muazzam points out essentially, Dr. Harel as a “liberal Zionist” now wants a better, more ethical Israel, not to right the wrongs it has done in dispossessing the Palestinians.

      2. Please explain more. How do you get a more ethical Israel without righting the wrongs you have done? How do you know that David Harel does not want to do the latter. Even before he went public he was trying to do just that.

    2. In this case, and only this case, I have the knowledge that comes from knowing David Harel. He had real concern, and was trying to help individual Palestinians, long before he began writing. He is not driven by fear but by concern.

    3. Intelligent and informed Jews such as David Harel see the writing on the wall. The well documented horrors that Zionism and Israel have inflicted on Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants for over 70 years are rapidly becoming screamingly evident to people everywhere, including Jews, and they are shocked and disgusted. No wonder Jewish immigration to Israel is in free fall and emigration is soaring. Thanks to Trump, and Zionist zealots such as Sheldon Adelson, Haim Saban, et al, Israel is currently flying high, but it is headed for an inevitable crash.

  5. These discussions amongst Israelis and other Jews such as Sylvia are really important…for them.

    Recent history has proven that Palestinians will never have peace, let alone justice, if they depend on Israelis to generously give it to them. And no justice will come based on pursuing it solely because it’s good for Israel or “soft Zionists,” much less waiting decades for that crowd to face reality.

    The solution can only be principled. Not least that Palestinians are no longer excluded from the fundamental principles of human dignity and of the applicability of international law. Jonathan Kuttab gave an excellent presentation to the Canadian Churches on this recently:

  6. Very interesting comments of which I conclude:

    The vast majority of Jews inside or outside Israel are zionists, whether soft or hard, and believe in the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel. The only non zionist Jews are the extreme orthodox or a few liberals who have completely given up on the Jewish state or been summarily excluded from it.

    Those progressive Jewish voices, inside Israel and outside, like the ones quoted may be legitimately concerned about and are bravely acting on behalf of Palestinian rights (and even statehood) in its own right and in the context of the sustainability of the Jewish state of Israel. They remain nonetheless humanist zionists and understandably conflicted or confused about conceiving of and advocating a specific solution that sustains Jewish Israel but grants the 7 million Arab Palestinians from the sea to the river full equal and democratic human rights..

    They can influence but cannot overcome the hardline Israeli political system supported by the still majority uncritical pro Israel lobby, which now denies and defies a UN mandated and internationally accepted two state solution: Jewish state of Israel and the Arab state of Palestine with human and minority rights guarantees (ideally with with West and East Jerusalem their respective capitals and with some sort of internationalization of the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
    This hardline view which undermined the Obama initiative prefers the status quo of eternal conflict war and human rights violations rather than making any concessions to Israel’s full control over all th 7 million Palestinians in order to enforce a claim to all the “promised” land through occupation settlements and notwithstanding false claims about security, Pal non recognition or refusal to negotiate.

    Only a concerted international effort at the UN and in the UNSC and elsewhere, utilizing all available resources, can reach such a solution. In so doing it will have to overcome hardline Israeli rejectionism and Palestinian apathy, disunity and delusion that anything useful can be accomplished at this point.

  7. I have read the Kuttab article Robert Assaly attached to his most recent comments. The Paradigm Shift concept works for me and I can support the principles this document articulates, although I’m sure more could be added.
    However wherever/whenever this kind of transformative thought and action has evolved it has been led by an exceptional person…and I do not yet see such a person on the horizon. Where is that person?

Comments are closed.