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It’s time for leadership and vision

Betty Firth
Posted 4/17/24

People around the world are concerned and confused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has confounded peace seekers for years. I have joined them in wondering why a just, peaceful solution is …

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It’s time for leadership and vision


People around the world are concerned and confused by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has confounded peace seekers for years. I have joined them in wondering why a just, peaceful solution is so elusive. Since the Hammas attack on Oct. 7 and the massive Israeli response, citizens and leaders from many countries are condemning the ongoing atrocities as immoral, unconscionable, and unsustainable. A common response is, “What can we do?”
Some local residents have taken the initiative to bring attention to the situation, providing opportunities and resources to people in our region to increase awareness and understanding, hoping to inspire them to speak out. Valerie Myntti is one of those peacemakers, who stated, “We can’t stay with the status quo any longer. We have to support the peacemakers.  The United States and the European Union are so pro-Israel, wanting to maintain the status quo, that they lack the creative vision for a true and lasting peace for everyone.
This is not the fault of the citizens of Israel or Palestine. There is actually a groundswell of Israeli and Palestinian citizens working together for peace, security, and equality. It is a failure of leadership and imagination that has taken us to this point.”
Mary Louise Icenhour collaborated with Valerie in planning a presentation and compiling resources for the Northern Progressives meeting on April 3 in Tower. Mary Louise is an avid reader and contributed a list of books which she felt were worth reading. Valerie selected videos she felt were informative, well-executed, and balanced, with interviews and perspectives offered by Israelis and Palestinians, as well as relief organizations and books recommended by university departments of Middle Eastern studies.
I asked each of them about their particular interest the region. When she was 19, Valerie traveled to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. Her father did international consulting with minerals and mining all over the Middle East and Africa and was very interested in the region. Her sister, a professor in Lebanon at the American University in Beirut, did her PhD research in Yemen. Valerie recalled, “I was raised thinking of it as the tragedy of Palestine, but also with sympathy for the Jews who fled for their lives during the Holocaust. What I have experienced is that when you actually get to know people, you can see that peace is absolutely possible. If you only have heard generalized, biased opinions about groups, you don’t see them as human beings.”
Mary Louise also had personal connections with the region. Her son had a Palestinian college roommate, and hearing his stories first-hand about the difficulties of living in Palestine, she learned that his well-established family had been kicked out of their house and had to move to sparse living quarters. Mary Louise is friends to this day with a Jewish family that she met years ago in North Carolina, who had relatives living in Tel Aviv. She learned what life was like for them living with perpetual conflict. One grandson was so embittered that he wanted to join the military so he could kill Palestinians.
Both women are concerned about the dangers of simplistic thinking and knee-jerk reactions by people–including, and especially, people in leadership positions–who do not understand the complex layers of the region’s dynamics. They are hoping that we will all dig a little deeper to become better-informed. I asked each of them to name their top picks from their extensive lists of resources to give readers a place to begin.
Recommended books
• “The Balfour Declaration” by Bernard Regan. To begin at the beginning, this declaration in 1917 was a statement of British support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” culminating in the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. This extension of the author’s doctoral dissertation includes well-documented details of the study groups, commissions, and widespread (especially Palestinian) dissatisfaction with the arrangement. A notable, thorough work, but not an easy read.
• “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” by John Measheimer and Stephen M. Watt. Written by two Jewish authors, this book is very detailed and informative about the persuasive power of money through lobbies in shaping arms sales and foreign policy positions. AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee, America’s powerful pro-Israel lobby) “advocates for a U.S. foreign policy directly at odds with human rights and international humanitarian law. It has supported an unconditional flow of U.S. military funding and weapons to the Israeli government that have been used to support human rights violations against Palestinians.” (Al Jazeera)
• “The Hundred Year War on Palestine: History of Settler Colonialism and Resistance 1917-2017” by Rashid Khalidi. This fairly objective view by a Palestinian author reviews the modern history of the Palestinian struggle and the attempts to obtain the right of return, democratic rights, and establishment of a Palestinian State.
• “Tolerance in a Wasteland” by Professor Saree Mahidini, University of California Press. The author holds up to the light the contradiction between the violent project to dispossess Palestinians of their land and rights with well-documented evidence of human rights abuses, while Israel is embraced by the most liberal sectors of Europe and America as manifesting tolerance, plurality and democracy. She argues that “this miraculous act of political alchemy is a very specific form of political denial.”
• “The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What Everyone Needs to Know” Don Waxman, 2019. A historical overview by a Jewish author covering the conflict from its 19th-century origin through 2019. An even-handed and judicious guide to this dispute.
Recommended videos
To find, run a Google search on the titles.
• “Crash Course with John Green-Conflict in Israel and Palestine through 2015.” A rapid-fire review of the history of the region and the 124-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which makes the point that it is not an intractable problem that has gone on for centuries. Historically, Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together peacefully prior to the Zionists coming, and solutions can be found.
• “Sally Abed (Palestinian) & Alon-Lee Green (Israeli)” Interview at Congregation Sherith Israel, Berkeley, Calif., 2024. In 2015 Abed and Green started Standing Together, a grassroots movement of Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers working together for a peaceful solution.
• Ted Talks: “An Israeli & Palestinian Talk Peace, Dignity & Safety with Ali Abu Awed and Ami Dar.” Ali Abu Awed founded the Taghyeer Movement, (“change” in Arabic) and received the 2023 Luxembourg Peace Prize. Ami Dar is the founder and executive director of, which helps millions around the world to work or volunteer for causes they believe in. As non-violent peace activists working together, they believe both sides have deep roots to this land–ideologically, politically, nationally, and religiously–and nobody is leaving “Whatever solution we end up with has to include and encompass everyone who is there; the mechanics (one-state, two-state, etc.) are less important than peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.”
We can make a difference by supporting the peacemakers who are actively promoting a lasting peace in the Middle East. In addition to those mentioned above, organizations such as the Quaker groups: American Friends Service Committee and Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL); Indivisible; International Rescue Committee, Doctors Without Borders; American Near East Refugee Aid; Palestine Red Crescent Society; Oxfam; and International Committee of the Red Cross.
Take action
You can make your voice heard by contacting your elected representatives to urge action for humanitarian aid, a permanent ceasefire, and withholding money for arms among other actions. Your voice matters; they do tally up contacts from their contituents. Sen. Amy Klobuchar: Virginia office- 218-741-9690 • Metro office- 612-727-5220 • D.C. office- 202-224-3244. Sen. Tina Smith: Duluth office- 218-722-2390 • St. Paul office- 651-221-1016 • D.C. office- 202-224-5641. The White House: 202-456-1414 or 202-456-1111.