How I Became Pro-Palestine & Why It Matters.

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I was raised on U.S. network news and major newspapers.

For much of my life, “objectivity” meant reading both The New York Times and the Washington Post. I did not begin to seriously question U.S. Mainstream Media until the Iraq Invasion of 2003, and I had no reason to doubt the Mainstream narrative on the “Mid-East Conflict” until Operation Cast Lead in December, 2008.

By that time, I was augmenting my mainstream news with alternative sources and began to see discrepancies. First was the incredible disparity in numbers: death tolls of 100:1 and devastation on one side against trips to the air raid shelter on the other. Then it became clear that the Israeli Government was lying. The bombing of the UN school was a turning point, with the UN openly contradicting the Israeli narrative. Finally, the U.S. media was not reporting the facts and simply confirming the Israeli narrative.

I began doing some research and, about a year later, discovered Gideon Levy. Seeing an Israeli eloquently defend Palestinians and criticize Israeli policies and actions made it clear to me that there was not an Israeli and a Palestinian side to this “conflict,” but a right side and a wrong side.

Now I was determined to go see for myself. After a work opportunity appeared and a few months later, I was in Palestine. Like so many visitors, I was simultaneously overwhelmed by the friendliness, hospitality, thoughtfulness and gentleness of the Palestinian people and horrified by the excruciating injustice of their situation.

I was also stunned to see just how much I had been lied to all my life. The gates of Auschwitz were etched in my mind, yet I had never seen the gates, walls, guard towers and barbed wire that now surrounded me. “Bypass roads,” “flying checkpoints,” Kafkaesque permits required for seemingly everything wove a reality of which I had been told nothing. The Settlements looked less like “Little House on the Prairie” than like massive state-sponsored condos.

The infuriating stories every Palestinian had to tell were matched by the stories of foreign aid workers as well as my own observations. The taxi drivers at Ben Gurion (basically the only Israelis I spoke with), oblivious to the reality they drove through daily, spouted ignorance and stereotypes, even as the Palestinian drivers at work educated me on the complexities and nuances of Israeli society.

One of my first realizations was that Israel did not want peace; they wanted the land, and they did not want the local inhabitants. The map of the West Bank in my Palestinian boss’s office read like a death certificate for the two-state solution. The “Peace Process” was all process and no peace. This was a Colonial conquest in full swing, very calculatingly waged to balance attainment of the goal (“Greater Israel”) with dampening of foreign criticism. Furthermore, this was not confined to single administration, but intrinsic to Israeli policy, both Right and Left, going back for decades.

Over the next few years, I continued to visit to Palestine, learn more about the situation, and engage with others interested in the issue. I began to come into contact with Zionist ideologues online, their bone-chilling racism, imperviousness to logic, and sheer unpleasantness. The Palestinians I knew endured their situation with such grace, dignity, calm and even humor, and seeing them so savagely maligned was adding insult to injury. I began to see the Israelis and their supporters as in the grip of a collective psychosis, much as Carl Jung had described Germany under the Nazis.

I knew from the moment the Unity Government was announced on June 3rd, 2014 that something would happen, so the kidnapping nine days later and the precipitous descent into genocidal massacre that followed were completely predictable. At the Russell Tribunal a few months later I began to see Palestine as, not a question of human rights, but of incipient genocide.

Finally, as I learned about the Nakba and the history that preceded it, I became aware that not only Israel’s actions, but its very existence, were both legally and morally illegitimate. Israel was in fact a criminal state from the moment of its inception, built on terrorism, Colonialist aggression, theft, ethnic cleansing and genocide, for which the just solution was complete dissolution of the Israeli State and its replacement with a single Palestinian State in all of historic Palestine, right of return for all Palestinians, and restoration, compensation, reparations and justice for all wrongs done them.

I have walked you through my own journey because I believe these “conversion” stories are essential to the work of liberating Palestine. This is not a situation that can be resolved on the ground: the political, economic and military disparities are too great. It is the weight of world opinion that will tip the balance. The “Israel-Palestine Conflict” is a media war, its main battle ground is the U.S., understanding how people who have been fed a lifetime of propaganda come to change their minds is the key to victory.

My own story suggests that becoming pro-Palestine is a process that can take months or years and proceeds in stages. In this case, the basic scheme looked something like this:

1) Two sides are in “conflict,” objectivity lies in the middle, and two states is the obvious solution.

2) This Israeli Government is engaged in criminal actions covered up with lies and abetted by the Western Media.

3) Israel does not want peace and is engaged in a willful, strategic and programmatic Colonial project.

4) That project is not limited to one administration but endemic to Israeli policy in the long term.

5) Israel is itself a Colonial project with no legal and moral legitimacy.

6) The entire Zionist idea (i.e., an ethno-religious Nation-State for the “Jewish People”) is illegitimate. Israel has no right to exist as a “Jewish State.”

While the exact order of these stages may differ in individual cases, the realization that one has been lied to is the cork on the bottle of truth. Once I realized the Israelis had bombed that school and lied about it, the rest was only a matter of time.

It is also important not to forget that many pro-Palestinians today, at least at one time, accepted the two-state solution and may now be anywhere in this process. How does a broad global movement deal with these inevitable differences? One way is by never forgetting that only the Palestinian people can define the goal of their struggle and that outsiders can only support. Our personal positions will continue to evolve as we learn, and the patterns of their evolution are critical to understanding the trajectories of those we need to convince. But they are irrelevant to the Palestinian people’s determination of its own goals and struggle—after all, it’s not our country.




The Politics of Palestinian Possibility.


Author: Peter Cohen

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Author’s Own


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About Peter Cohen


24 Responses to “How I Became Pro-Palestine & Why It Matters.”

  1. Melina says:

    I like this. I would like it in my news feed since I don't have anything further to say, but I lost where it was on facebook. 😉

  2. mbh says:

    what I like precisely is that the most of the pro-Palestine cause always stick to the recent fact, they rarely bring the cause of the conflict and the injustice of the idea of the creating a statl in another one !

  3. juana says:

    I disagree. It has to change whether the zionist jews change their mind or not. They are not even 2% of the US population. It's about what the 98% think it's the right Foreign Policy for US.

    The timing of the Zionist Jews un-brainwashing is THEIR problem. The ball is in our court, not theirs at this point. They've fucked up our Foreign Policy for way too long to the detriment of EVERYBODY else.

    • Peter says:

      First of all, I am not a “Zionist Jew.” How I self identify ethnically and what my religion is are not discussed in this article, so I don’t see where you’re getting that assumption. What I am is a human being, and my coming to awareness on this issue as an american who grew up with the standard US narrative is as valid as anyone else’s.

      Second, I was never a “Zionist” – except in the sense that I accepted the two state solution. By that definition, if you ever accepted a two-state solution, you were a Zionist too.

      Finally, what is the value of people with Jewish names supporting Palestine? The fact is that many people will assume I identify as a “Jew” just because of my name. The value of that is that many Americans are still afraid to question Israel because they don’t want to be accused of “antisemitism.” When they see a “Cohen” or a “Blumenthal” or a “Finklestein” criticizing Israel – or even better, a “Barkan,” an “Efrati” or a “Peled” it makes them feel more comfortable speaking out themselves – and it sometimes makes them want learn more, as discovering Gideon Levy did with me.

      Only the Zionist want you to believe that this is a “Jew v. Arab” issue or a “Jew v. Muslim” issue, when what it is is a human rights issue.

  4. Albert says:


    I relate to what you have written about. Before your transformation began, what was your thoughts about the PLO? When I was growing up, I had no idea what the PLO stood for other than every time it was in our western media

    , it was tied to a death or conflict concerning Israel. Always the article stated the PLO attacking …… Starting a conflict……not wanting peace in the region.

    Like you, I became aware this is not the reality. Palestinian lives matter.

    Well done Peter!

  5. Tony Riley says:

    You've been had. Hamas used UN schools and hospitals to store weapons in, and to fire from within their grounds, knowing that Israel would always respond to those exact areas, as well as using them as Command & Control centres.

    Hamas has no interest in peace with Israel. Its Iranian owners would stop the money supply if that ever looked like happening, and Qatar would force its leaders to vacate their luxury villas and hand back their private jets, so that's never going to happen.

    You seem unaware that Hamas started the last 2 wars, as well as the 2nd "Intefada", and that no Palestinian would have died if they had chosen to negotiate a lasting peace deal with Israel. Apart from Gays, Fatah members, Christians and women fleeing forced marriages, of course.

    Hamas is the second richest terrorist group in the world, after Daesh. It has taken all of the tax revenues it receives from the goods passing into Gaza from Israel, and invested them in real estate in Qatar, where its leadership lives in luxury.

    Blumenthal is not a credible person. Like Pappe, he has seen that there is a lucrative market for Jews who criticise Israel and, basically, tell lies. Levy writes well, but has taken sides against Israel, purely because it is a Right Wing country, while overlooking the fact that Hamas is a Fascist organisation.

    • Scott L says:

      I'd have written a long reply, but you've said most of what I'd have said. To this day, the Hamas charter calls for "pushing the Jews into the sea." And just as the rich Gulf Arab countries aren't taking in any of the Syrian refugees, they've let those in Gaza and the West Bank sit where they are for decades. This isn't an accident; Israel isn't really fighting the Palestinians so much as it is fighting the surrogates of the Iranians (Shia) and the Saudis (Sunni). I'd suggest to Peter that he visit parts of Israel close to Gaza and get an up-close and personal experience with running to the shelter when missiles are on their way.

      • Peter says:

        This is akin to arguing that the US Constitution condones slavery. It does – if you ignore one pesky amendment at the end. The 1987 Hamas Charter was replaced in 2006 and no longer represents Hamas' current position. Their Truce offer of last summer, which Israel completely ignored, is a better guide to their current thinking. The Likud Charter, by the way denies the right of existence of a Palestinian State.

        In actual fact it is Israel is the one pushing Palestinians into the sea – quite literally during the Nakba, when they were fleeing attacks of the Zionist terror gangs through the port in Haifa. If Gazans were to try to flee today, their boats would be sunk by the Israeli Navy at the 6 nautical mile line.

        But again, Hamas is irrelevant. We know today that Israel supported the creation of Hamas, as a counterweight to the PLO, which it was trying to undermine. The PA fought a war with Hamas – yet, instead of supporting them and showing the people of Gaza the benefits of a cooperative approach, Israel has punished them and the people of the West Bank to the point where Abbas has lost all credibility. It is Israel that has strengthened Hamas through its brutal and intransigent policies. Hamas is a creation of the Occupation, its renewed popularity is a product of the hopelessness and despair that Israel has brought upon the Palestinian people. They are a symptom, not a cause, of the real problem.

        Israel will always find some way to blame

        By the way, Israel is taking absolutely no Syrian refugees – including those who fled the Nakba and the attack of 1967, which Miko Peled, son of one of that war's architects, shows with oral and documentary evidence to have been a war of choice, once against disguised as defense.

        A good friend of mine was living in Sderot last summer and he was so disgusted by what he saw that, even though he had made Alaya, he can no longer stand to be in Israel.

        One Israel child was killed by a Hamas rocket last summer, while 551 Palestinian were killed by the two Hiroshima bombs worth of ordinance dropped on an area smaller than Queens, New York. You ran to bomb shelters; Gazans died.

        Go ahead, continue to blame the Palestinians for their own displacement, dispossession, oppression and murder, as Israel, ever the victim, continues relentlessly to expand.The world is waking up to the racist Colonialist nightmare that is Israel, as it did to South Africa in the 1980s. Like all systems of oppression, this one too will fall.

    • Peter says:

      Yes, I was had for 40 years, until I discovered that all I had learned about Israel-Palestine in the US press were Zionist lies. I have have no patience for hasbara propaganda. Your attempts to blame Hamas – an organization formed 30 years ago as a reaction to what are now 67 years of racist violence, oppression and ethnic cleansing on – are laughable. The Israeli government lied about the human shields, the "terror tunnels" and Hamas' involvement in last years' hitchhiker murders among many other things. I would believe nothing they say without independent confirmation. You cannot bury Israel's crimes by citing Hamas. I'm surprised you hazven't mentioned Syria, the Holocaust and antisemitism – maybe in your next comment?

      And of course, in true Zionist style, you attack critics of Israel individually, seeking to discredit them as people. I had the honor of getting to spend some time with Max Blumenthal and I have to say he is absolutely brilliant, extremely clear-headed and objective. I also got to interact with Dr. Pappe and he is an extremely decent and generous man, as well as a serious academic. I have a Ph.D. from an Ivy League school and work for a major global institution, and I can say that both of these men are exceptional critical thinkers and people of conscience.

      Please add to the list of "not credible people" Desmond Tutu, Richard Falk, Cornel West, Jimmy Carter, Stephan Hessl, Vandana Shiva, Nelson Mandela, Roger Waters, Alice Walker, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Wolf, Chris Hedges, Naomi Klein, Brian Eno, Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, Eran Efrati, David Sheen, Ronnie Barkan, Tali Shapiro, Avigail Abarbanel, Nurit Peled-Elhanon, Richard Silverstein, Dan Cohen, Norman Finklestein… and myself – I would be honored to be personally attacked along with these great people of conscience.

      • Tony Riley says:

        How unsurprising that you didn't publish my response to your post.

        • elephantjournal says:

          Tony, we only publish commentary that is constructive or contributes to the discussion around the article, even if it is critical. We are not afraid of respectful disagreement, but If you personally attack the author, we don't publish. If your comment is degraded or abusive in any way, we don't publish. If your comment was none of the above, we may have overlooked it in error. We are human too. ~ Khara

  6. Reuben says:

    As a one time member of a labor Zionist organization, and now a supporter of a one state, Palestinian, solution, I applaud your article and stand in solidarity with you.

    • Tony Riley says:

      That won't save you, when you meet Hamas.

      Isn't your real problem the fact that Israel elects Right Wing governments now?

      Well, if you think that's bad, maybe somebody should let you know that Hamas isn't a Fair Trade Socialist Group, but actually a bunch of Islamofascists who would kill you because you are a Jew.

  7. Cheyane Reisner says:

    Hi there. I really appreciated this article and would love to further discuss this complex topic. Please let me know if you’d be interested in exchanging emails at some point. Thanks!

  8. Peter says:

    Thank you. The easiest way is probably through Facebook.

  9. Richard Handel says:

    As an American with Jewish roots, I have taken a similar path to yours (see my redacted post from Palestine below). But the blinders are coming off as people recognize that an ethnocracy that perpetually ethnically cleanses and harshly discriminates against the native people is not what we, as Americans, are supposed to endorse. Thanks for your eloquent piece. In a separate message I'll try to post a portion of my travel post from late 2012 (it's too long for this space)

  10. Richard Handel says:

    Here's my redacted travel post
    Ramallah is strange and, to me, often surprising. Although cluttered and dirty, it is filled with a warm and hospitable people who have been so very kind. We have experienced several instances of people going out of their way to help or offer help (one boy walked blocks with us with no expectation of remuneration just to show us the way through the maze like streets, today, the English speaking young guy at the cafe where I bought coffee yesterday morn after an ATM ate my card (expect to recover it tomorrow when the bank opens), offered to lend me money and/or go to the bank with me if I needed help … Although he doesn’t know me, he said "I am here for you, whatever you need;")

    After more than 50 years of occupation, many Palestinians seem to be trying to make lives that work for them (as JFK famously said ",,,we all cherish our children's future"). The streets are full of life, shops bursting with wares arrayed on tables lining the sidewalks. The people appear busy, and in most respects, reasonably prosperous. Some who I've talked to explain that this reluctant acceptance of the status quo is necessary if they are to live any kind of worthwhile life.

    Yesterday, we traveled the ten miles of back roads to the nearby village of Bil'in to witness the well known weekly demonstration there against the occupation. When we arrived early, we were greeted with the usual Arab hospitality and invited into a home for tea and conversation. As we waited, we were delighted to encounter and speak at length with Emad Bornat, the film maker whose autobiographical story is the subject of the film "5 Broken Cameras" which I highly, highly recommend for its humanism and affecting artistry).

    After a couple of hours, a small group of villagers, Ramallans, some Israelis, and internationals such as ourselves formed for the procession out of the village, through the outlying olive groves that cover the dry rolling hills and arroyos for about a kilometer or so, until we neared the Wall– an about 15 or 20-foot cement wall that "protects" at least 3 expansive settlements built in Palestinian lands. There is no gate or other opening there. So the demonstrators stopped some 50 feet from the wall and chanted peacefully although a few youth threw rocks harmlessly at the immense stoic barrier to no actual or possible destructive or injurious effect. Notwithstanding the complete lack of any threat to person or property, after 2 or 3 minutes, we saw Israeli soldiers suddenly appear on the top of the wall far to our right. Then, huge gouts of "skunk water" sprayed over the wall from the Israeli side. Then it began to rain tear gas as the Israelis fired at least 30 canisters directly into and over the peaceful crowd. All ran to escape, dodging the plumes of gas like punt returners, although one Israeli who was part of the demonstration was struck glancingly on the forehead and incurred a laceration and huge swollen bump.

    So what have we seen? We have seen a country divided by inherently discriminatory policies. Every Palestinian in the west bank has his or her ethnic background printed on their IDs — legends that say "Arab Christian," or "Arab Muslim". If you are born Arab, there are places you can't go, rights you don't enjoy, and regular discriminatory indignities you are forced to accept. (imagine how we would react if US IDs said "Jew," "Latino," or "colored" AND if there were legal consequences because of such racial/ethnic distinctions).

    We have seen the streets of Hebron where Arabs can't walk so the 800 settlers in their midst can feel secure and seen the Jewish-only subsidized settlements that "necessitate" the prison like separation Walls that often separate a village from its surrounding agricultural lands. We have witnessed the water tanks on the roofs of most Palestinian homes in the occupied territories necessitated because the Israelis (without notice or regular schedule) turn off the water for two or three weeks every month (while the nearby settlements enjoy uninterrupted water supplies). And of course there are the limitations in movement. Checkpoints. Peremptory requests for ID and long delays for no reason.

    As someone who believes in the virtues of "liberal democratic" systems (lowercase of both words intentional), I cannot help but be moved, saddened, and outraged when I confront this still existing Jim Crow system that contradicts such basic American/democratic notions that all people are created equal and should not be subjected to constant discriminatory de jure and de facto treatment based solely on their ethnicity and/or religion. It was WRONG in the US and South Africa. It is wrong here. I really can't see ANY other way to fairly regard it.

    Our country, with its votes at the UN, and it's HUGE financial support, enables and blesses these unjust policies. Only when Americans understand these facts on the ground can we work to help Israel find the "better angels" of its nature, adhere to the principles it professes to espouse as "the only democracy in the Middle East," and achieve a just solution to this interminable injustice.

  11. Teri says:

    Wonderful descriptive pieces on Occupation. Thank you for mentioning over and over the hospitality of the Palestinian culture. It was my experience as well. Bless you as you tell their stories.

  12. Peter Cohen says:

    Yes, beautiful!

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