Derek Sivers
Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth - by Noa Tishby

Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth - by Noa Tishby

ISBN: 1982144939
Date read: 2023-08-20
How strongly I recommend it: 9/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

History of modern country of Israel, written by someone whose grandparents were part of its founding. Unapologetically pro-Israel, but also pro-Palestine and anti-Hamas. Well-written though the occasional unnecessary adjectives (“horrific” / “brave”) remind you that it’s clearly biased and personal. Despite that, it’s really a great history book, riveting throughout.

my notes

Free Gaza from Hamas. I am pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian, just anti-Hamas.

While some of Israel’s neighbors are rich in natural resources, there is nothing in the ground in Israel. No natural treasures at all. No diamonds, gold, or oil.

In 1903, a document called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, created by the tsar’s secret police force, claimed that the Jews were part of a global conspiracy to take over the world. At the time, there were about 10.6 million Jews in the world compared to a population of 1.6 billion. In other words, Jews were 0.6% of the global population, and they were highly restricted, discriminated against, and persecuted. This document is still held up by conspiracy theorists worldwide.

The word Zionism comes from one of the 70 biblical words used to describe Jerusalem - Zion.
Jerusalem is the city’s first name; Zion is its second. It has 68 other names.

The term Zionism was coined by writer and journalist Nathan Birnbaum in 1890 and was cemented into history in 1896 by Theodor Herzl, the man behind the invention of the modern State of Israel.
He organized an event called the First Zionist Congress, which took place on August 29, 1897, in Basel, Switzerland.
208 delegates from 16 countries showed up to discuss their collective future.
50 years later, almost to the day, the United Nations voted for the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel.

A dream and an action are not as different as people tend to think, for all of human actions are initiated into completion from a dream.
The Holocaust wiped out 3% of the world population and almost half of the Jewish population.

Jewish tradition answers a question with a question and encourages us to debate each other and philosophize.

In 1910 a small crew of two women and ten men settled on land (bought by the Jewish National Fund in 1900) located by the south bank of the Sea of Galilee and invented a totally new way of living: a kibbutz.
The kibbutzim became one of the foundations on which Israel was created.
Even though they were actually a small part of the establishment of the country, only 8% of the general population, the kibbutzim made a huge impact both on the ethos of the country.
They paved the way for the basic economic system under which Israel still operates today - capitalist yet also a light social democracy. Like Warren Buffett spiced with a dash of Bernie Sanders.

Israel’s prime minister Golda Meir was only the world’s third female prime minister (the first was Sirimavo Bandaranaike in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and the second was India’s Indira Gandhi).

By the time the first Zionists arrived at the turn of the century, there were some people in Palestine (mostly in the old cities and spread out in villages), but large tracts of the land were empty and highly inhospitable. This was the land that the Jews legally purchased from local landowners.
Even though the lands were legally bought from Brits, Turks, Bahais, Christians, or Arabs, it was still a major change for the neighborhood.
The Arab residents of Ottoman and British Palestine were mostly unhappy with the changes.
In 1909, on an empty sand dune by the Mediterranean Sea, a bunch of pioneers drew seashells out of a box to divide plots and break ground on Tel Aviv.

We think that we use our words to describe our world.
We actually use our words to create our world.
How a country is declared into being in words is an actual blueprint for its future society.

David Ben-Gurion was Israel’s first prime minister.
Israel was created to be a secular country, not exclusively Jewish, but open to all religions.

Musa Alami, a prominent Palestinian leader, said: “I choose that the land would be desolate and poor even for a hundred more years, until us Arabs will be able to develop it ourselves.”
But with a group of people coming out of the Holocaust and pushed out of their Arab countries; the Jews just didn’t have the luxury of time. The country had to be built now, not in a hundred years.

Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq, with the help of Saudi Arabia and Sudan, and Lebanon, invaded the new state in order to destroy it.
The Arab countries were fighting a thorn in their butts, while the Jews were fighting to survive.
In July 1949, all the invading Arab nations had retreated and signed temporary truces with Israel.

The local Arabs did not go back to the UN Partition Plan to ask to establish their own state, and so an Arab-Palestinian state was never established.
Instead, Egypt took the Gaza Strip, and Jordan took the West Bank, even though the Partition Plan allocated these territories to the local Arabs (the Palestinians) for a state of their own.

Historian Benny Morris is called both an anti-Zionist and a Zionist propagandist, depending on whom you ask, which is a strong indication that he’s actually plenty balanced.

750,000 Arab residents of the land were permanently displaced.
This is the birth of the Palestinian refugee problem.
750,000 displaced people who lost their homes and valuables, went for help to those neighboring Arab countries, where they were stuffed into refugee camps.
The very same countries that had started the war, that had encouraged these people to abandon their homes, now refused to grant these refugees any help or rights.
In some cases, most notably Lebanon, Palestinians were denied citizenship and were (and still are) banned from working in numerous industries. They intentionally cemented the refugee problem.

850,000 Jews were expelled from Morocco, Yemen, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, and Egypt.

The Arab refugee problem was caused by a war of aggression, launched by the Arab States against Israel in 1947 and 1948.
If there had been no war against Israel, there would be no problem of Arab refugees today.
Once you determine the responsibility for that war, you have determined the responsibility for the refugee problem.

Nakba is a branded term, used to attribute victimhood and heroism to a loss in a war that was initiated by that same losing side.

The Six Day War (June 5–June 10, 1967) Israel took:
* the Golan Heights from Syria.
* the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.
* the West Bank from Jordan
This included the Old City of Jerusalem.

Israel and Jordan Peace Agreement (October 26, 1994).
Jordan did not request the West Bank back as a condition for peace,

There actually hasn’t been an “official” war since 2005.
Just many terror attacks, rocket and mortar-shell attacks, military operations, and bloodshed.

Abraham Accord (2020): Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain signed a peace deal.
Acknowledging publicly that Israel is not the biggest threat in the Middle East. The Iranian regime is.

If the Arabs put down their weapons there will be no more war.
If Israel puts down her weapons, there will be no more Israel.

Every time a peace process starts, radicals on both sides resist the attempts.

750,000 Arabs were displaced by the War of Independence and were put in refugee camps under UNRWA control.
Since UNRWA has enabled refugee status to be inherited, there are now 5.6 million registered Palestinian “refugees.”
To be clear, we are now discussing the “rights” of 5.6 million people to return not to the Palestinian territories or to an independent State of Palestine to be created in a two-state solution peace agreement, but into Israel - a country whose entire population is only about 9 million people.

In the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, once a land is under Muslim law it belongs to Islam and can never be given to nonbelievers, so a land that was once Muslim is forever allowed to be invaded by Muslims.
The word Jerusalem is mentioned in the Old Testament 659 times, but not mentioned in the Quran.
It is written in the Quran that the Jews will return to the Promised Land. Quran, Surah Bani Isra’il 17:104.

The West Bank is under “belligerent occupation”: lands which were captured in war, are under military control, and were not officially annexed by the winning side.
Legal gray zone since 1967.
These were the lands that would have made up the independent State of Palestine had the Palestinians agreed to them. But they didn’t, so they never formally “belonged” to them.
Jordan took the West Bank, but there was no international recognition of these lands as officially belonging to Jordan, so borders were never settled.

In negotiations in 2000 and 2008 Israel did offer the Palestinians the Old City of Jerusalem (excluding the Jewish Quarter) as a capital - and was refused by the Palestinians.

Jews need *a* land, not *all* of it.

In 1986 the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a religious fatwa in favor of transgender surgeries, gender-confirmation therapy, and hormone-replacement therapy.
Yes, you are reading this correctly.
They found a religious basis to issue a fatwa, explaining that if God made people that way, then it is God’s government’s responsibility to take care of this issue.

One place universally agreed upon as the number one hummus: Abu Hassan in Jaffa.

Arab Israelis are a natural part of the fabric of society in Israel.
The Arab-Israeli Palestinians, the West Bank Palestinians, and the population of Gaza - are totally different in terms of their freedoms, rights, governance systems, national standing, international standing, political alliances, and foreseeable future.

The first time the Palestinian people were referred to as a nation, by themselves or officially by the international community, was in 1964.

At the end of 2020, Israel had a total of 9,246,000 people:
74% Jews, 21% Arabs, and 5% other - all having equal rights.

In Israel, every single street sign and every single product is written both in Hebrew and in Arabic.

For four hundred years, until 1917, the entire region was a small part of the huge Ottoman Empire.
After World War I, Britain received a mandate from the League of Nations (the precursor to the UN) to control the region all the way to Iraq in the east, the mandate for Palestine.
In 1922, the Brits divided their mandate by using the Jordan River as a border and created Transjordan out of all the land east of the river.
In 1948, Jordanians took over the territories on the West Bank of the Jordan River (the West Bank).
They attempted to annex these territories, but the move was not accepted by the international community (excluding Iraq, Pakistan, and Britain).
In 1967, after Israel was attacked by its neighbors, including Jordan, Israel took the West Bank territories in the Six Day War.
In July 1988, King Hussain of Jordan unilaterally disengaged from the West Bank and renounced all claims to the land, stripping the Palestinians of Jordanian citizenship and freezing financial and other assistance.
In June 2002, after the terror and bloodshed of the Second Intifada, Israel began to build a wall around the West Bank.
No one is happy. But suicide bombings in the cities stopped.

Since the West Bank was not annexed by Israel, and since the Palestinians have not accepted a peace deal to establish their own independent country, this territory is in legal, political, and social limbo.

Palestinians living in, for example, Ramallah or Nablus are fully under Palestinian control. But Israel still controls building rights, water rights, and travel rights,

Israeli security forces and the Palestinian Authority security forces work very well together, since neither is interested in Sharia-minded extremists arriving in the West Bank the same way Hamas took over Gaza.

Bashar Masri is the entrepreneur, founder, and executor of one of the most impressive projects the region has ever seen.
Bashar Masri, born in Nablus in 1961, graduated from Virginia Tech. Moved to Ramallah but still felt unfulfilled. “I wasn’t making enough of a dent.”
So he imagined, funded, and built an entirely new city, from the ground up, in the West Bank: Rawabi.
This is the first city that has been built entirely by and for Palestinians.
It is a planned community, aimed at the middle class, with affordable apartments, large office spaces for the tech community, and a high-end retail area.
Today, many Israeli entrepreneurs and private companies are doing business in Rawabi.

BDS is the acronym for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions on Israel.
BDS is American Muslims for Palestine, or AMP.
AMP’s legal structure allows them to avoid federal filings that would make their finances more transparent, and they are funded by “Americans for Justice in Palestine Educational Foundation (AJP)”.
At least seven individuals who work for or on behalf of AMP have worked for or on behalf of organizations previously shut down or held civilly liable in the United States for providing financial support to Hamas: The Holy Land Foundation, the Islamic Association for Palestine, and KindHearts.

In 2007 Soda Stream CEO Daniel Birnbaum opened a factory in Mishor Adumim in the West Bank, which employed 1,100 workers - 850 Palestinians and 250 Jews.
BDS movement protested, so in 2015 the factory closed and moved to the Negev desert.

There is nothing a social justice warrior loves more than being heard.
It’s a unique new human breed created and amplified by social media, where everyone has an opinion and facts aren’t as important as adopting a seemingly noble cause - an admirable cause, one that makes you look like you actually care about humanity.
They will share a rough personal story to create a one-sided narrative that would rightfully infuriate anyone with a beating heart.

A standard to separate legitimate criticism of Israeli policies from antisemitism: Delegitimize, Demonize, Double Standard.

The population of Israel at the start of 2020 was 9,246,000 people:
74% Jewish: 45% secular, 25% traditional, 16% religious, and 14% ultra-Orthodox or Charedi.
21% Arab: 84.8% Muslims, 7.4% Christians and 7.8% Druze.
5% Other
Among Arab citizens of Israel, 12.1% define themselves as secular, 55.2% as traditional, and 29.5% as religious.
“Traditional” is like an American Christian who goes to church on Easter but not each Sunday and aims to keep a life aligned with the teachings of Christ.
In Israel they would lean toward keeping mostly kosher (so not so big on pork and shellfish), and while they’ll chill on Saturdays to celebrate the Sabbath, they might still drive the family for a hike or to watch a soccer game. They’re interested in the “spirit of the law” but aren’t observant in a technical way.

May the melting pot not melt us all.
Israelis are a bunch of refugee mutts living side by side while creating an entirely new breed.
A worldwide experience in refugee assimilation and migration, blending cultures while constantly on the defensive.
Israel is also a casual society that doesn’t waste time on unnecessary ceremonial decorum.
No topic is off the table.

Ben-Gurion knew that cultural assimilation usually took decades if not centuries. Without the luxury of time, he decided Israel must do it yesterday.
1948: government wanted to create one collective identity for the new nation, so they modeled that identity on that of the pioneers and Zionists who had been there before a state was created. On themselves.
THey ignored and dismissed thousands of years of other traditions, mainly North African ones. Their vision was idealistic, but the implementation was god-awful.
The first Israeli narrative that was forced on everyone was completely foreign to millions of people who came over with their own stories.
Everyone was expected to change their name and drop every old cultural tradition they had.

Sabra is the Hebrew word for the fruit of a cactus tree.
Through the spikes and rough peel, the pulp inside is surprisingly soft and sweet.
This is the metaphor for the new Israeli.

Charedis live in closed-off communities and maintain an Old World way of living.
Charedi in Hebrew comes from the word chared, which literally means “afraid.”
When people are afraid, they push back hard.
The Charedi system follows the strictest version of Judaism, a puritanical take on the law that aims to follow all traditions to a T.
They’re actually a relatively new phenomenon. The Charedi movement developed in Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a resistance to the Enlightenment Period.
The Charedi community has grown faster by age than the secular community, and they’ve joined the Israeli political game to establish their own political parties.
After the establishment of the country, the new secular government and the old-school rabbinate agreed to give the boys who wanted to go study some Torah a pass from their military service.
Now tens of thousands of young boys are automatically exempt from military service and receive other benefits like tax relief and child support.
Both the Charedi community (14%) and the Arab community (21%) of Israel are automatically exempt from mandatory military service.
That’s 35% of the Israeli population.
The average Charedi family has 7.1 children, and the average secular family has 2.2.
Charedi school system precludes math, English, science, and computer science.
This creates a built-in dependency on the state for financial support.

Tradition often justifies the repression of women as respect for women.

Jewish legacy is such that all dissenting views were and are systematically documented.
Judaism explicitly encourages questioning one’s faith. Maybe this is why Jews always answer a question with a question.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has killed over four hundred thousand of his own people, in the Arab Spring of 2011.

Over two hundred thousand Syrians have been treated in Israel.

MASHAV - Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation.
“Training the trainers”:
providing courses on early childhood education in Kumasi, Ghana
beekeeping courses in Rwanda
drip irrigation in Kenya
the Center for Agricultural Excellence in Haryana, India
generating income and women’s empowerment in Guatemala
establishing neonatal units in Ghana
establishing trauma units in Haiti and in Kisumu, Kenya
building an eye surgery hospital in Nepal.

2009 bestselling book “Start-Up Nation”. They asked the question “How is it that Israel produces more start-up companies?”
A society that is under constant threat, thereby forcing young people to take responsibility and follow through on their goals.
A society that uses elite military units to train future talent, giving them the opportunity to practice and achieve high-level tasks at a young age.
A society based on constant waves of immigration that infuses the population with new ideas and inspiration.

In 1948, there were fifty-eight states who were members of the United Nations.
Today there are 193 members of the UN, 53% of them non-democracies.

Arab nations prevented Israel from participating in UN committees.
From 2015 to 2019, the United Nations General Assembly adopted more resolutions against Israel than against Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Russia combined.
Israel was officially condemned 96 times, Syria 7, North Korea 5, and Iran 5 - and China was condemned 0 times.
Is Israel really the biggest, baddest wolf on the block?
But you don’t see passionate picket lines against Dubai or Turkey or even Russia. The one country that’s consistently singled out is Israel.

Zionism is about having a Jewish state, not an exclusively Jewish state.

Being an anti-Zionist has become a popular way for some people to describe how they identify with the underdog while claiming to facilitate change.
I would like to think that my self-described anti-Zionist friends are unclear about the term rather than advocating for a massacre.

Maajid Nawaz coauthored “Islam and the Future of Tolerance”, with Sam Harris.

Josephus wrote a book to fight pagan antisemitism and misconceptions about the Jews - and that was in AD 93–94!

Jews are only 2% of the United States population, but they are the target of 50% of national religion-based hate crimes.
People do not feel comfortable with Jewish self-determination.
Anti-Zionism is the politically correct version of antisemitism. It’s this new and improved concept - anti-Israelism.

Israel and Pakistan were both created as a safe haven for persecuted groups: Jews and Muslims.
They are both engaged in land disputes.
They both control religious sites of other religions.
And they were even established only a few months apart.

Israel is a refugee state.
In 1948, the UN gave both Jews and Arabs a land.
The Jews accepted and the Arabs declined.
The Arabs’ first act was to declare war.
They did, and they lost.
Many Arabs suffered and still suffer greatly, but there was no Israeli desire, systematic or otherwise, to eliminate the Arab people.

Israel didn’t invest too much thought or too many resources in good old PR.
This left Israel with incredibly strong brand recognition and incredibly bad brand association.