UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Palestinians and Israelis compete in a backgammon tournament in Jerusalem last August. Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP/Getty Images

Middle East: 5 things we can (maybe) all agree on

A Christian critique of current affairs

By Michael Coren

Here’s some advice to any aspiring columnist: if you want to polarize your audience, to be accused of myriad insensitivities and provoke numerous letters, write about the Middle East. Because everybody is apparently an expert, and those “experts” are eager to label anyone who doesn’t share their view as either an anti-Semite or a Zionist oppressor. It’s often banal to say that the truth is somewhere in the middle, but on the Israel/Palestine issue, that’s partly the case.

I began visiting the region almost 40 years ago and, after the United Kingdom and Canada, spent the largest part of my life there. I also wrote a master’s thesis on the conflict and have interviewed Israeli prime ministers and Palestinian leaders. But you can bet your copy of Edward W. Said’s Orientalism or Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel that this won’t matter to those who have already made up their minds.

The truth is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex and nuanced, and empathy is vital, especially for anybody seeking a Christian response to an agonizing situation. But let’s outline a few basics:

1. While we have to understand the Palestinian struggle, we also have to appreciate the Jewish experience. In spite of what some might think, the creation of Israel was not some colonial or academic project. It was, to a large extent, an act of desperation from a people who had worked to be accepted in Germany, Poland, Russia and pretty much everywhere else only to be excluded, vilified and murdered en masse. It’s simply too facile to condemn Israel without at least some grasp of one of the greatest persecutions in world history.

2. The last people who should be held responsible for centuries of anti-Semitism are the Palestinians. The long, racist lunacy that culminated in the Holocaust was a gruesome mingling of perverted Christianity, forest tribalism and political instability. A Palestinian who hates Israelis is nothing like a fascist who hates Jews. To confuse the two is unfair to Palestinians and dilutes the sheer horror of authentic anti-Semitism. Of course, the Palestinians are angry and sometimes they hate, but the power dynamics, the reasons and the motives, are fundamentally different in cause and result.

3. Outsiders cause a lot of problems. This applies to over-confident left-wingers and to non-Palestinian Muslims with a misguided notion of solidarity. It applies equally to American Christian Zionists applauding every Israeli action out of a fetish for the end times but dismissing the cries of fellow Christians who are Palestinian.

4. Both groups have a right to be there. Polemicists will tell you Palestinians are really Jordanians or that Jerusalem has nothing to do with the Jews. They are spitefully wrong. These are excuses rather than arguments. While total harmony will be difficult, a workable, if clumsy, co-existence is still possible. I’ve seen it too many times to remain cynical.

5. We have to be radical in our attempts to find peace but reasonable in our grasp of human emotions, fears and needs. Feel for all, and ask questions. It’s better than pretending you have all the answers.

Author's photo
Michael Coren is an author and journalist in Toronto.
Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

Outrage is the new normal

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


October 2017

Fall from grace

by Justin Dallaire

Don Hume was a United Church minister nearing retirement. Then he tried crack cocaine.


September 2017


by Jane Dawson

Restless longing is at the core of the human condition, urging us onward through life. What happens when it veers off course?


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Promotional Image