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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.

-M. W.

December 2, 2011 [G. Harms response]

Dear M.,

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 few).

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 observed.

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.

Thank you,
A. M.
P.S. I apologize if there are grammatical errors, English is not my first language.

December 1, 2011 [G. Harms response]

Dear A.,

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

Hi Gregory,
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.

God bless,

M. L.

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 denominational dispute.)

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

Hi Gregory

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?

Thanks again

R. C.

October 18, 2011 [G. Harms response]

Dear R.,

Thanks for the note and the positive evaluation. I'm glad the book is providing what you were looking for.

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 imprisonment.

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]

Dear M.,

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 maintaining continuity.

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

Mr. Harms,
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 Palestinians?
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]

Dear M.,

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 Concepts.

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 world history.

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.

Best regards,


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]

Ms. S.,

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 an opinion.

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 purchase.

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 book.

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 literature.

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 subject.

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. 50)

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.

G. Harms

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!)

Sincerely, C

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 on CounterPunch:


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.

Best regards,


February 23, 2009 [G. Harms additional response]

Ms. C,

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.

Best regards,


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 everyday.

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 dispute.

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 United States.

Best regards,

Gregory Harms

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 laughter.

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 [1994], 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.

Gregory Harms

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]

Dear E.,

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.

Best regards,


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 Ottoman rule.

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.

Best regards,

C. B.

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.

Best regards,


* 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.


T. O.

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,

C. T.

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 devotions.

I hope I've answered your question.

Best regards,

Gregory Harms

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 assesment.

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 conflict.

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.

Yours Truely
D. T.

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 lean.

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 passionate.

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.

Best regards,

Gregory Harms

September 22, 2006

Hello there,

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.

T. H.

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 student responses.

One more question: What are your thoughts on Hamas being in power now?

Thank you,
M. A.

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!

M. A.

April 10, 2006

Mr Harms,

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). Ciao.

G. Z.

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 grateful.

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. Ciao.

G. Z.

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 some examples:

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 this man.

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 reasons.

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,
H. F.

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 century—not 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, effects.

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 mine—and 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 suspicious attitude.

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 subject—and one of the most humane—shouldn'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 authors.)

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 well—certainly 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.

Best regards,

Gregory Harms

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.

Very respectfully,
C. K.

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.

Very respectfully,
C. K.

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.

W. K.

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