Israel-Palestine Project: Humanist Society February Talk

By Robert Bernstein

The Humanist Society of Santa Barbara February talk covered the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Here are my photos.
This conflict is often seen as beyond solution. But, what if we could re-frame the entire problem from a fresh perspective?
Jack Berriault had such an idea and in 2003 he created the Israel Palestine Project (TIPP) to advance that idea: To create a single historical narrative that both sides could agree upon.
Having such a shared historical narrative does not in itself solve the conflict. But it is hard to imagine any solution to a conflict where even the most basic facts are in dispute. Our own country is consumed by conflict today as a result of certain factions deliberately creating “fake news” and “alternative facts”.
“A Common Historical Narrative” is the aim of TIPP. The original texts were developed in dialogue between an Israeli and a Palestinian representative who prefer to remain anonymous.
They worked in dialogue for a year. Their work was then passed to two prominent historians: Moshe Ma’oz (Professor Emeritus in Middle East History and Islam at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem) and Palestinian historian and author Philip Mattar (President of the Palestinian American Research Center in Washington D.C.).
The Narrative currently has 35 chapters. Four of those chapters are available for viewing at their website.
Those finished chapters are:
1)       Claims of Palestinians and Israelis to the Holy Land
2)       Early Jewish immigration, the birth of Zionism, and impacts on the indigenous population
7)       Never Again: The Holocaust and the origins of Modern Israel
9)       The Deir Yassin Massacre – a triggering action of the Palestinian Al-Nakba, 1948
Some Chapter 1 points:
At the beginning of the 20th Century, most of the inhabitants of the “Holy Land”, the land we now know as Israel and Palestine, were Muslims, with a large minority of Christians and a smaller minority of Jews.
In the 1880’s, Jews of the fledgling Zionist movement made a claim to Palestine as their homeland and later, in conjunction with Great Britain through the Balfour Declaration (1917), asserted their ownership of the land as an act of reclaiming what was taken from them by the forces of history.
The Jewish immigrants bought land from Palestinians with large landholdings (mostly absentee owners) and from other resident Arab landowners. By 1948, 7% of the land of Palestine had been purchased by Jewish-Zionist organizations.
Chapter 7 deals with the Holocaust. Most Americans are familiar with the Holocaust, at least in general terms. We know that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazi government of Germany in the 1940s solely because of being Jewish.
But this history is surprisingly disputed by Palestinians. Many claim it never even happened. Hence the need to document it in this shared Narrative.
In contrast, the 1948 massacre of Palestinians called Al-Nakba is central to Palestinian history, yet is largely unknown to others. Many Israelis, including some leaders of state, deny it happened. Again, this made it an essential part of the shared Narrative, listed in Chapter 9.
Nancy Black is the Communications Director of the Israel Palestine Project (TIPP).
She spoke to the Humanist Society of Santa Barbara with this information and she took questions from the audience.

One question: How will this information get out? Hebrew University is greatly respected by Israelis. And Philip Mattar is greatly respected by Palestinians. Getting the information out will be the easy part, once the Narrative is completed.
The Narrative will be published as a single book in English, Arabic and Hebrew.

Others questioned how much a shared history will solve. Ms Black acknowledged the Narrative is just a tool. Leaders and peace makers will have to use the tool effectively.
She also expressed her view that the conflict is not primarily about religion. It is primarily a conflict about land.
She explained Jack Berriault’s view of transformation versus change. Change is about incrementally altering circumstances that are rooted in the past. With change, in a sense, the past persists into the future as a burden and limits what is even possible. Transformation is about creating what does not yet exist starting with a blank canvas and free from the constraints of the past. Creating a future free of the past starts with an acknowledgment of the facts of that past (i.e. “this is what actually happened”).
Humanist Society President Roger Schlueter questioned whether it even is possible to talk of a single shared history.
Roger is standing with Nancy in this photo:

“Are there really facts?” Roger asked.
Ms Black said, yes, there really are facts. How many were killed on a certain date at a certain place. Based on testimony and evidence.
Some compared the situation to what happened to the Native Americans. We rarely hear their version of history.
One Humanist Society member revealed that her parents were Holocaust survivors. She did not know until just before her mother’s death about their family members who were murdered. She wondered if that was true for the Palestinian survivors of the Nakba.
Ms Black did not directly answer that question. But she noted that young people give her hope. She said they are not burdened by the past. They care about vital issues like Climate Change. She would love to give young people this Narrative as a tool to talk to their elders.
She ended by thanking people for their engagement and understanding. Too many people are cynical about any hope for this conflict.
Please go to for more information, including how you can support the project.
I will close with another observation. In 2015 we were in the Holy Land.

Every one of our tour guides offered almost the exact same words of wisdom. “Remember: In the Holy Land stories are more important than facts!”

Let us hope that the Israel-Palestine Project can bring the stories of the past 150 years in the Holy Land in line with facts that all parties can agree upon!


Written by sbrobert

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  1. Thank you Robert for another succinct review. I have confidence in your relative objectivity. And especial thanks for the quote that in the “Holy Land” stories are more important than facts. This a summary of religion–stories not facts. And religion is the source of this and most conflicts in human history–imagine a world with no religion…..

  2. Thank you for the kind words, RHS. Yes, I would like to imagine a world beyond religion, too. I agree with the speaker that the conflict is more about land than about religion. In any case, I am grateful for any fresh new idea to deal with this conflict. Developing a shared history is certainly a fresh approach that can only help.
    Best wishes,

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