Category: Reflections & Analyses

Walking the Leftern Wall to Listen: A Blogalogue

This is: a meeting of minds, of dear friends, of aspiring writers, realized wonderers, and marmots. Well, not marmots, but they are welcome should they happen to stumble down into the Lone Star Café from the looming Sierras above looking for some friendship and Powerade here in Lone Pine, California. We, Andrew Forsthoefel and Moriel Rothman, have pursued radically different paths since graduating together a year ago from Middlebury College; Andrew has spent the year walking across the United States to listen and learn, Moriel has relocated to Jerusalem to struggle for justice via direct action and activism. We’ve been blogging our years, reflections, journeys and ruminations at Walking to Listen and The Leftern Wall, respectively. Thanks to Moriel’s heroic sojourn [MR: Not that heroic: I flew into Fresno and rented a car through Enterprise…] we are here now, together, for the first time in over a year. We thought it’d be cool to reflect, in a blogalogue of sorts, on the lessons we’ve learned and questions we have.

[The following conversation was the product of nearly six hours of passing the computer back and forth with no plan, no prompt, and no verbal communication. Enjoy!]

Part I:

Moriel Rothman: Hey man.

Andrew Forsthoefel: Yo bro. Are you distracted by Dr. Oz playing on the TV hanging above us?

MR: Didn’t know it was Dr. Oz. Now that you mention it, the TV-voices are gnawing little holes into my sanity. It’s taken me like four minutes to write this sentence. Can we move tables?

AF: Please. [Move to a dark, Dr. Oz-less corner of the café]. I can’t believe it took us that long. Yeesh. So, I’ll say first that it’s a complete refresher to have you here. One thing I’ve missed most during these past ten months on the road has been the presence of old friends, people who know me in and out, through and through, and who, equipped with that knowing, push me into different thoughts, feelings, epiphanies, places where solitude simply cannot go. And that’s what this little conversation is all about, right? Going where no Andrew-Moriel has gone before? I’m feeling two paths right now. Number one: Solitude. Number two: Dr. Oz. Choose your own adventure.

MR: Number two. For sure. I choose the Doctor. Ha. Honestly, I don’t really know who Dr. Oz is, although I gleaned from our little listen-in that his show has a sticky, hyperpopular, hyperlonely quality to it, not unlike the show hosted by a man whose chanted name haunted many of my American Days (“Maury! Maury!” “Well, actually it’s ‘Mori,’ as in ‘Moriel,’ as in ‘God is my Teacher’ in Hebrew…” Blink. Blink. “Maury! Maury!”). On this note, I am feeling pretty alienated from American culture and America these days. Your journey, though, and your writing has kept me connected to the parts of America that I love, and has shown me breathtaking, distinctly non-Ozian parts of America I had never come close to encountering in all of my 12 years in the Midwest and four in New England.

Pragmatism or Dogmatism: Hamas and the Dynamics of Ceasefire (An Academic Essay from 2010)

{Foreword: As contrasted to most of my blogs, which are short form, informally written, and not fact-heavy, this piece is an 8,000 word research paper I wrote during my final year at Middlebury College, in 2010, for a seminar on Political Islam. The basic argument, as stated in the conclusion is “that Hamas’ Islamic roots, while offering important frameworks for mobilization, do not determine its policy. Just as votes for Hamas must be largely understood as protest votes, Hamas’ actions must be largely understood as political actions. While Hamas’ rhetoric has been and continues to be radical and violent, its actions, as analyzed through the lens of its participation in ceasefires and lulls, have not lined up with its most radical declarations, and it can thus be concluded that Hamas would find a way to Islamically justify virtually any political position it desired to take. Hamas’ guiding framework can thus be described as pragmatism portrayed as dogmatism.” I decided to post this paper for a few reasons: 1.  Because it is still a relevant- and I think under-understood- way of viewing Hamas and forming policies and opinions. 2. Because I now have a readership I did not have when I first wrote this paper and I want to share my work. 3. As proof that at least some of my opinions are based in study and research. :) So, this piece is probably 20 times longer than my usual pieces, so if you want to read it, maybe print, or save in a different window. If you try to read it as you’d read a blog, you will likely despair wicked quick}

Pragmatism or Dogmatism:

Hamas and the Dynamics of Ceasefire

What has led Hamas to abide by ceasefire with Israel in certain circumstances, and what can this teach us about Hamas, and about the ‘how’ of future engagement with the Islamic Resistance Movement?


By Moriel Rothman

Political Islam

Professor Quinn Mecham

Middlebury College

December 2010

Introduction: Is Hamas Primarily Dogmatic or Pragmatic?

“Hamas is an idea,” according to Israeli author Amos Oz, an idea that “grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians.”[i] Oz, in his June 2010 article criticizing the Israeli government’s response to the Turkish Flotilla seeking to break Israel’s siege of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, went on to write that because Hamas is an idea, the notion that it could be forcibly defeated is misguided. Thus, the only way for Israel to deal with the threat Hamas poses is by negotiating with Hamas, either directly or, “more realistically,” following its integration into Fatah [with whom Oz recommends Israel negotiate a peace deal post haste]. Oz’s analysis of Hamas corresponds with a theory by two scholars of Islamism, Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori, which argues that Islamism, or political Islam, is in essence protest.[ii] It is an effective channel for the expression of grievances- or perceived grievances. A fundamental assumption of Eickelman and Piscatori’s argument, and of Oz’s, is that Islamist groups with nationalist goals -like Hamas- are ultimately rational actors, and that they are motivated more by politics than by faith, more by reason than by dogma.  Oz’s analysis paints Hamas not as a conduit for Palestinian Islamic fervor, but rather as a result of Palestinian political and social frustration. It is important to note that the designation “rational” in this context is not a value judgment: a political strategy based in massacre could be as rational as one based in dialogue and cooperation.[iii] In other words, the fact that Hamas’ tactics are despicable should not cloud an analysis of the extent to which the organization is pragmatic and flexible.

Oz’s argument, however, is by no means representative of the mainstream Israeli analysis of what Hamas is and how to deal with Hamas, and his article was attacked by another high-profile Israel writer, Ben Dror Yemini. Yemini, writing for the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, challenged Oz’s basic premise that Hamas’ existence had any connection to Israeli action. “There is no greater lie than the assertion that Hamas was established because of Israel,” Yemini writes, “Hamas arose as part of a worldwide awakening of political Islam.”[iv] The implications of Yemini’s conclusion are clear, especially when juxtaposed with Oz’s argument: Hamas, as part of the “worldwide awakening” is fundamentally irrational, and its supporters are driven by religious dogma unconnected to Israeli action.

Ein Prat: “Forging a New Paradigm for Israel” (at the expense of Bedouin children)

At Ein Prat, which has both pre- and post-Army programs, young Jews from all different backgrounds, American and Israeli, secular and observant, liberal and conservative, come together to study canonical texts, both Jewish and Western. Nestled among rolling hills, these youngsters gather to “forge a new paradigm for Israel,” and in their spare time, some of them take part in a fun and funky Jewish music group called The Fountainheads.

Where does such a place exist? For some odd reason, Ein Prat’s location is not listed anywhere on its English-language website.

Here’s why:

Ein Prat’s programs, which attract many liberal-leaning American Jews, are located in Kfar Adumim and Alon. Kfar Adumim is a settlement, as is its satellite settlement Alon. Anyone who chooses to study at Ein Prat chooses to directly benefit from and support the continued military occupation of over two million Palestinians.

Picture from Ein Prat’s website.

To be clear: the people of Ein Prat, its faculty and students, could very well be -and indeed probably are- thoughtful, complex and kind people. I assume the same about most settlers, and most people. My criticism is not leveled at the character of the individuals of Ein Prat (many of whom I know personally), but rather at the system which Ein Prat necessitates just as much as do more explicitly ideological settlements like Yitzhar (home to Torat HaMelekh and active groups of “hilltop youth”). Indeed, without checkpoints, roadblocks and the denial of an entire people the right to vote for the regime that controls both their day-to-day life and their destiny, neither Ein Prat or Yitzhar could be where they are.

Of course, the students of Ein Prat would never go and beat up Palestinian children. In fact, Ein Prat probably encourages dialogue with Palestinians. And yet, the violence enacted by both places is, at its root, disturbingly similar: a systematic, structural violence.

Picture of Khan Al-Ahmar’s elementary school, which Ein Prat’s Host Settlement Kfar Adumim wants demolished.

Ein Prat students grapple with a whole range of issues, but do they grapple with the issues going on right around them?