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Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough

Cain and Abel (left) the first Abraham Accords (right) (painting by Paul Reubens)

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough.

Once again there is war in the Middle East. Once again Israel and Hamas threaten to drag the world into their conflict. At this point there seems no end at sight. There is no end in sight for the current round of fighting. And there is no end in sight to the number of rounds to be fought. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for this forever war. Only intervals of peace while the combatants prepare for the next round.

During this time, talking heads fill the airwaves. Besides the updates on the facts of the ground, there are the more historic-related comments about this being a conflict that has lasted forever or at least for centuries.

First, let’s get the facts straight and then let’s propose a solution.


Prior to 1948 and the creation of Israel, Palestine was the name of an administrative unit much as New York State is within the United States. In this case, Palestine was the name of a political unit within the British Mandate and prior to that within the Ottoman Empire. It had no racial, ethnic, or religious significance any more than being a New Yorker did or does.

If you lived in the district of Palestine than you were a Palestinian. You could be a Palestinian Jew, a Palestinian Christian, a Palestinian Moslem as well as a Palestinian Arab. It was the same as being a New York Jew, a New York Christian, a New York Moslem, or a New York Arab. After World War I, biblical scholars from Europe and the United States created the Palestinian Oriental Society. The name had nothing to do with the race, ethnicity, or religion of the members. It had to with the fact that the organization was located in Jerusalem which was part of the administrative district of Palestine under the British Mandate.

During the 20th century, the more Jews advocated for carving a Jewish state out of Palestine – see the Balfour Declaration – the greater the hostility between the Jews and the Arab Moslems. Once the Jews succeeded in establishing a State of Israel, the remaining land from the district of Palestine maintained its name. Now Palestine began to acquire a racial, ethnic, and religious characteristic that it had not had before.

The word “Palestine” itself ultimately derives from the Peleset, better known as the Philistines. The plst in the Egyptian record were a people the Egyptians fought. Ramses III (not Ramses II of the Exodus) was particularly vigorous in his campaigns against the plst not that he was the first Pharaoh to have contact with these Sea Peoples as the Egyptians called them. Scholars still debate the origin of the Sea Peoples including the plst. Wherever it was, the plst were not Semitic yet alone Arab.

Of course, it is as the Philistines (look at the consonants) that the people became best known. Think of Samson and David and their encounters with the biblical Philistines. Eventually these people gave their name to the land where they settled roughly in the Ashkelon area today. That name carried forward in history from Assyrian conquest to the British Mandate to today. The Philistine people themselves vanished into history and the archaeological record. But the name stuck and expanded to encompass an even larger area than the Philistines had ever ruled or settled including over the land and kingdom of Israel.


The Arabs are latecomers to this story. The first known existence of an Arab in the land of what is now called Israel/Palestine occurred in 716 BCE. It is possible to be that precise because Sargon II, the Assyrian king renowned for the destruction of Israel and the relocation of the so-called Ten Lost Tribes, moved Arabs into the former kingdom of Israel. Sargon II absorbed the Israelite military, in particular, its chariots, into the Assyrian army. As for the Arabs he moved into Israel, they apparently disappeared in history probably through assimilation and intermarriage.

The expansion of the Arabs with which people are most familiar is after they became Moslem. At that point they began a series of conquests throughout the Middle East including Jerusalem in 638 CE. That was over 1300 years after the relocation of Arabs by Sargon II which had not included moving Arabs into Jerusalem. The city was the capital of the still independent kingdom of Judah at that time. In Woke terms, this became a time of settler colonialism where the winners imposed their way of life on the losers. They succeeded to such an extent, that people often think the Arabs as having been around on the land of Palestine since time immemorial.

Here and there, pockets of resistance held out. There is still an Assyrian community in Iraq for example. Obviously there is a vigorous Christian community in Lebanon which sees itself as predating the arrival of Moslem Arabs in the land. Further west, there are Berbers. Even in Egypt, the Arabs only provide a veneer to a people who date back thousands of years.

The point of this digression, is that one needs to be careful in the use of terms when referring to the history of the land and who lived on it over the centuries and millennia. For a long time “Frank” was the term used to refer to Palestinian people who were descendants of the Crusaders and might have blue eyes.

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough

With this history background in mind, let is turn to the situation today. It is safe to say that no one has a solution now, not even Tom Friedman! To offer a hope of what one would like to see happen, is not the same as offering a roadmap as to how to get there.

The country of Israel exists and Hamas will never accept that. But what about the Palestinians in Gaza who have paid the price for the Hamas obsession for the destruction of Israel? Have they had enough? What do they want? They know that any rebuilding in northern Gaza will take years and will be destroyed again in the next round of fighting.

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough.

The issue is not what the political leaders want. The issue is not what the international diplomats want. The issue is not what the talking heads think is best. Instead the issue is what do the people directly involved want.

Do they want to live together in peace and somehow a way has to be found to accomplish that goal?

Do they want river to sea or to expel the other from the land and will not cease fighting until victory is achieved?

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough.

The time is long past due when they should be asked directly. I am referring to a plebiscite on the choices of Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael. A secret ballot vote probably to be conducted by the United Nations where the people are asked the most basic of questions. There is no constructive purpose served by having politicians talking about a one-state or two-state solution when there is no mandate to do so. It is the people themselves who have to seize the moment and declare for all the world to see in a secret ballot what their preferences are.

Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote! The world has been held hostage long enough.

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