Samir al-Taki’s talk at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC

Samir al-Taki's talk at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC, July 23, 2008
Summarized by Joshua Landis

The three-man delegation of Syrians which is visiting Washington spoke at the Brookings Institute today. They are Dr. Sami Moubayed (Academic, jounalist), Samir Saifan (Economist, businessman), and Samir al-Taki ([Taqi] medical doctor and head of Syria's leading think tank). They have a busy schedule of meetings and talks with congressmen and other Washington types this week. Their meeting with the U.S. State Department on Wednesday was canceled. So was a meeting with leaders of AIPAC. Here is how the State Dept. explained the cancelation:

"Representatives from the State Department will not meet with this group from Syria," State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos told reporters. "Upon review of their program, and changes in schedules, ultimately, (it) did not work out."

Here are a few of the main points made by Dr. al-Taqi who gave a prepared comment of only 10 minutes before opening the floor to questions:

From 2001 until UN Resolution 1559 was issued in the fall of 2004, Israel and the US tried to end the Arab-Israeli confrontation by means of a unilateral peace. Sharon had decided to impose a peace pleasing to it on the Palestinians. Syria gambled that such a peace was impossible — "You cannot close the Arab-Israeli conflict without dealing with the core problems. There cannot be a unilateral peace," said Samir al-Taki.

We now have about eight collapsing states in the region. This means more asymmetrical conflict in the region. The regional problems are getting worse and are more over-lapping. The US and Israeli decision to use force to impose unilateral solutions on the area has failed. It has made the region more dangerous and the problems more intractable.

Only dialogue, negotiations and compromise will solve regional problems and attenuate the violence that threatens us all.

This was the gist of Dr. Taki's prepared remarks. I was unable to take proper notes on the questions. I will try to summarize some of the main categories of questions and give an inexact and highly condensed summary of the responses.

Question: What was the reason for resuming negotiations with Israel?

Answer: Because Ariel Sharon was given carte blanche to destroy the PLO and Palestinian leadership, he opened the way in front of all kinds of extremists. Syria needed to stop this trend. Only dialogue and mutual solutions can solve our problems and open a way forward for all states in the region.

Question: Compare Iran and Turkey as allies of Syria.

Answer: Syria has a right and obligation to seek out regional allies. When Syria thinks about allies in the region, it thinks of Iran. When it thinks of opportunities, it thinks of Turkey.

Question: What does Syria want from the US?

Answer: We need the US. We can discuss bilateral problems with Israel, but we need the US to discuss regional problems. The US is our neighbor now. In some ways, Fallujah is closer to Washington than New Orleans is. If Syria wants good relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other states of the region, Washington is an important part of the equation.

Question: Hizbullah. Will Syria shut down Hizbullah if there is peace with Israel?

Answer: Asymmetrical warfare is what is going on in the region. Hizbullah and non-state actors can make their enemies bleed, but what is the endgame of violence? It is to bring one's opponent to the negotiating table. Non-state actors cannot win or bring opponents to the table. For that you must have states and recognized governments.

As for whether Syria will "shut down" or "disarm" Hizbullah, Syria has left Lebanon. Hizbullah is Lebanon's problem now. We are not in Lebanon. Under the present circumstances, Syria must use all its options in its struggle to regain the Golan and secure its security and national interests in the region. Only when we are headed toward peace and assured of a real change in regional dynamics, will Syria choose between allies and make such difficult decisions, but Syria is ready to move — hopefully the need to make decisions will come sooner than later.

Question: Will Syria really support disarming Hizbullah and stopping its rearmament?

Answer: When the Lebanese as a society and one people are ready to integrate Hizbullah's militia into the army or to disarm it, Syria will be ready to support that decision.

Question: What is your advice for the next US president?

Answer: Appoint a US ambassador in Damascus. Put your considerable muscle behind land for peace – that is what we are looking for, land for peace.Iraq: Lebanon is no longer number one on Syria's agenda; Iraq is. The biggest danger for Syria is to have a weak confessional federation, like Lebanon, on our eastern border. This is our biggest concern and looming danger. Angry confessionalism and religious and ethnic violence have a way of spreading.

Question: Congressman Stephen J. Solarz explained that when he visited Syria and spoke to Foreign Minister Mu`alem, he asked the FM what Syria needed in order to give up riparian rights to the Sea of Galilee should Israel concede the northern strip of land along the lake to Syria? Mu`alem had told Solarz that Syria wanted:

1) more water from Turkey.
2) A water desalinization plant on the coast.
3) Syrian farmers on the Golan to be able to use water from some of the streams that feed Lake Tiberius. 

Solarz asked Dr. Taki if these demands were still on Syria's list.

Answer: Taqi smiled and said that whatever Mu'alem had told the congressman was undoubtedly true as Mu`alem is the source.

Then in a more serious vein, Taki insisted that the larger principle of getting all the land of the 1967 border was a separate question from the technical issues of what guarantees would be needed to achieve it. He insisted that most of the technical issues had been worked out and that remaining problems could be dealt with. He insisted that the principle of returning to the 1967 border was the important point in it all.During the last 10 minutes of the meeting, Sami Moubayed and Samir Saifan spoke.

Dr. Moubayed insisted that Syria is ready to be helpful and part of the solution to regional problems. He went through a number of examples of how and when Syria had used its influence and authority in the region to help solve problems in the recent past. He said that Washington needs to recognize this assistance and work with Syria. Syria is not looking for praise, he insisted. All Syria wants from the US is for it to halt its campaign to vilify and demonize Syria. "The US should not expect cooperation from Syria so long as it abuses Syria and seeks to demonize it," he explained.

Mr. Saifan explained that Syria wants peace in the region and wants to move ahead with its plans for a better and richer future. Negotiations and peace will benefit all sides. He thanked the leaders of "The Search for Common Ground," who had organized their trip to Washington and who had gotten them meetings with congressmen and leaders in Washington. He explained that the Syrian team had not expected such a warm welcome and such interest. They thanked Martin Indik, the head of the Saban Center, for hosting the Brookings talk.

Comments (325)

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301. Off the Wall said:


We may not have to write the 500+ words essay on corruption in Syria. The phenomenon, or better yet, phenomena as its is a synergy of more than one, is rampant throughout the Arab world.

When i googled the term “Corruption in the Arab World”, there were more than 4000 returns. Luckily, the first was a decent study by Paul Salem titled

The Impact of Corruption on Human Development in the Arab World

The study is available @

Granted some may not like the fact that it is general and it may allow us to escape the specifics. But it can be good start.

By the way, i have not yet figured how to add html tags into my post. It would be more elegant and will save us the long directory listing.

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July 30th, 2008, 4:17 am


302. Karim said:

Alex,why should we hide the reality ?we have to face the reality as it is and we are 80% sons of asad era…do you really fear me or an educated man like Ammar Abdulhamid ?or even do you fear the ikhwan?btw there is no more ikhwan party and nore more ikhwan members in Syria because of law 49 and those who were related to the party died or are old people.So how could you fear the sons of asad regime ?If 40 years of Asad regime didnt succeed to make the syrians love each others but instead it keeps trying to terrorize the minorities from the majority with apocalyptical scenarios ,is not the regime the central problem?
BTW ,allah yerham ayam souria el bien heureuse….Syria of our fathers….you know that 80%(according to my eyes and intellect) of the under 30 years old christians left Syria and often with one way ticket…what remained of the christian community ,only women ,and old persons?Is that not directly related to the regime political and economic policy which is determinated by the logic of the minority regime surival?
Alex ,Ugarit,Norman,tayeb i’m a Muslim and nostalgic of the islamic civilization and backward looking (thanks Ugarit) ,and i have no objection if you are elected president of Syria and i’m for the amendment of the constitution for allowing christians to presidency…so why fearing the other syrians ?you make happy bashar and his gang when you persist to remain prisoner of your minority complex.

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July 30th, 2008, 4:21 am


303. Majhool said:

Jad Said:

“What a twist, Majhool a hardcore islamist, “pro ikhwan” asking the help of Israel to interfere in his own country affairs so he can get to power”Jad,

Jad, I will try to have some restrain in respect for Alex rules of commentary and will clarify few things for you

First, I am not an Islamist, I am heathen Syrian Nationalist (my own and not of the SNPP). Some here know enough about me and will be able to confirm this fact.

Second, I am not pro-Ikhwan, not even close. My political views revolve around a secular and democratic Syria that guarantees the rights of every Syrian especially minorities.

As for “expecting the Israelis to interfere in Syria’s affair (to my dismay) “your blindness, anger, and … have led you to believe that I am advocating for interference against syria, while in reality it’s simply saying that I expect my enemy to interfere so I prepare for it or do something about it.

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July 30th, 2008, 4:27 am


304. JAD said:

Mr. Karim,
I fear you when you look and judge the religion or the sect or the politics background of the person before the human being in them
I fear you when you express your respect to someone who killed your Syrian brothers and sister with no right.
I fear you when you want the revolution without thinking of the aftermath
I fear you when you want to look at the history but not learning from our mistake.
I fear you because you are an educated person with a backward way of thinking.
I fear you most when I think that you are spreading the culture of hate and segregation instead of the culture of brotherhood.
I fear to loose my Syria because of your ideas

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July 30th, 2008, 4:50 am


305. Off the Wall said:


your views are feared because they are simply Stasist. A as you forbid ideas other than yours from being discussed on the “streets”, you do exactly as any other dictatorial regime would. You attempt to halt any possible evolution of society in directions that do not suite your vision and beliefs. Could excessive religiosity be a transient phenomenon in Syria and other places due to certain conditions, it could be, but according to what said, you will freeze the society at that 80% or whatever ratio, and we will never know whether it is transient, or as permanent as you claim it to be.

In a system that accepts banning contrary ideas as floor instead of ceiling, those you are willing to treat as incomplete citizen by preventing their point of view from being discussed “on the streets”, are robbed of participation and of their ownership of the street their tax money helped paved. In my syria, there are no half citizens. George, will have the same rights as Ahmad. And and Atheist book can stand on the same shelf with the memories of Tantawi. Neither would be forbidden.

Once you place any group in under suspicion, some one in your security services would think that it is wise to “observe” them so that they do not do or say anything that can hurt your sensibilities, and by that, damage the social solidarity. Then another more “faithful” person, would recommend that someone infiltrate their gatherings. Pretty soon, some of these rafidis, atheists, christians, alawis, assyrians, progressive kurds, will find their way into the same jail cells, under new management. We have have been watching and living this movie for 60 years, and your scenario is no different.

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July 30th, 2008, 5:03 am


306. Majhool said:


Try to understand that similarly Karim lost “his” Syria. Both you and Karim are victims of the Baath regime that caused this rift and unsubstantiated fear.

There is no way forward for Syria unless the root cause of the Ikhwani problem is solved. (i.e power sharing)

People sharing karim’s background ruled Syria in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. These were the golden days for democracy in Syria. If you keep your rhetoric the way it is, you will find nothing but Ikwan mentality ( a reaction)

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July 30th, 2008, 5:05 am


307. Karim said:

Dear OTW ,where did i say that i’m for the prohibition of the ideas other than mine ?What i meant is that any irresponsibility in sensitive subjects like religion could endanger the civil peace.For example ,we should not allow christian newspapers attacking Islam and the opposite too (and so was exactly the opinion of Awwa,the friend of Averroes ).
But i see no problem ,if Islam or Christianity are criticized in a academic context for example a debate between Atheists thinkers and Muslim thinkers in a civilized way.As for the books ,i myself enjoy reading Jean Paul Sartre,Gramsci,Marx,Nietzsche,Freud….and they influenced me.

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July 30th, 2008, 5:28 am


308. Majhool said:


You said addressing karim: “…you are spreading the culture of hate(..)”

Let me remind you that accusations of “hate” is not allowed here.

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July 30th, 2008, 5:28 am


309. Alex said:


I will strongly agree with OTW.

Sociological cycle theory argues that events and stages of society and history are generally repeating themselves in cycles, whereas you would like to freeze today’s “reality” because you like it the way it is (at a nicely large 80% to your liking).

Syria was different in the 50’s and 60’s … The world was different in the happy 50’s and in the revolutionary 60’s.

This is what many Egyptian actresses look like these days

And here is a typical Egyptian movie from the old (liberal) days

Things will change again … you will like half the cycle, and you will hate the second half.

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July 30th, 2008, 5:40 am


310. Karim said:

Yes Alex,we are back.Btw ,i dont believe in such determinist ideas or theory in human sciences.Even if this cycle theory was first enunciated by the great Ibn Khaldun.

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July 30th, 2008, 5:53 am


311. Zenobia said:

I can attest to the fact that Majhool is a genuine heathen. : )

by the way, Jad, I love that link to the categories of hijab on the Syrian street. It is hilarious, and oh so painfully true.
i especially appreciated the “abu rumaneh hijab” .. ie the chic girl with the veiled indonesian maid! i love it…lol.

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July 30th, 2008, 5:59 am


312. Karim said:

BTW Alex,nseet one thing ,so were Syria and Egypt inherited from the Ottomans ,which preserved a cosmopolitan and multi religious society….many of these filmakers were in fact Syro Lebanese christians,Jews,Greeks,European levantines……..what kind of Syria will we inherit from this regime?

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July 30th, 2008, 6:08 am


313. Alex said:


We will not inherit a Syria from this regime … Syria will continue to change as a result of an infinite number of influences … the regime is one of them. You are another … try to do your best to be a good influence : )

Tell us more please about Ibn khaldun and the cycles theory.

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July 30th, 2008, 6:16 am


314. Zenobia said:

you guys really love this thread don’t you. when are you going to part with it. It’s a symbol of being afraid to give up the old and move on to the new.

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July 30th, 2008, 6:17 am


315. Majhool said:

Mirvat Amin is super hot; Jad, see nothing to be scared from. I wish I can further my credentials by glorifying Arak. Unfortunately, I am an avid wine drinker.


Did you watch the movie Yacoubian Building? If not then you should. I believe it argues that radical Islamists are product of

1) The Revolution ( or mismanagement of it)
2) The Dictatorship
3) Corruption

Where does the cycle theory fit into all this? Aren’t we over-theorizing?

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July 30th, 2008, 6:25 am


316. Karim said:

Alex ,the regime has no positive influence other than it corrupt people and such people when they revert they often become Qaida and alikes.Dont be happy with Ali Al Deeek ,Festival al Mahabeh and prostitution …the people will hit back by more bigotery.
As for Ibn Khaldun theory ,google it and you will find many interesting pages…In Ibn Khaldun Theory ,when the regime becomes corrupt ,it enter in the decline process..but the problem here with our arab regimes is that they survive Ibn Khaldun fatality.So there is a problem somewhere.May be the international and Israeli cover on these regimes.

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July 30th, 2008, 6:30 am


317. Shai said:

Alex, Norman,

Reading the article above about Olmert’s comments to Assad (must choose between peace and isolation) makes me very concerned that he simply does not understand what this is al about. His words, and the message behind them, are terribly patronizing, and will undoubtedly be received coldly by the Syrians, and Assad himself. This is not how you build trust, understanding, or mutual respect, all of which are necessary for successful negotiation, let alone a peace agreement. Clearly, Israel will not move from a single inch of the Golan until it is assured by the Syrians that arms to HA or Hamas will not cross Syrian territory. That Syria’s military alliance with Iran will have to change. That perhaps housing Hamas and Jihad in Damascus might have to end, etc. etc. But to voice this out loud, in such condescending manner, and to suggest that the alternative is “isolation”, as if Israel decides if, when, or how Syria will be isolated, is both chutzpah and not self-serving. It shows at best a lack of sensitivity (zero grade on diplomacy), and at worst a pure lack of understanding which can lead to the breakdown in talks.

My only hope, is that this was not a “slip up”, and that Olmert does understand things correctly, but that he felt this had to be delivered in this fashion, for the purpose of those 70% of Israelis who reject a potential peace agreement (with a return of the Golan). As I’ve said in the past, there will probably be a fair bit of “marketing” going on by both sides, preparing their constituents for peace, even at the price of “slight” (or more than slight) deception. Every single Israeli leader that spoke with the Syrians about the return of the Golan, including Rabin, Peres, Barak, Netanyahu, Sharon, and Olmert, all started out telling their voters that they’d never withdraw from this territory… And those that needed to, bought it long enough to vote for these guys. The same might be happening here, but this time with the idea of Syria “leaving” the Axis of Evil. It’s an amazing lesson in what leaders have to do and say, in order to survive long enough to carry out their own policy. And the more amazing part is, that most people actually buy into it.

For the AIG’s and AP’s out there, watch carefully as Bibi does the same thing. Incidentally, Olmert is voicing his concern over the apparent behind-the-scene contact between high level opposition figures (from the Right) who allegedly have started making certain contacts with Syria, asking them not to close a deal with the Olmert government, and instead to just wait a while longer, and to do so with them… 🙂 Heresay? Maybe, but let’s not forget Bibi’s friend from America, who sat with Assad the father, and talked about the exact distance from the shores of Lake Kinneret to which Israel will withdraw… If Hafez had said yes back then, I would have been sipping Ahweh with Alex in Aleppo already 8 years ago!

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July 30th, 2008, 6:38 am


318. Majhool said:


Ali El-Deek is funny. He is the regime’s most liked singer.

Here is a snapshot at the new Syria many are scared to lose.

New Elite and new official culture.

Here is the old one

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July 30th, 2008, 6:43 am


319. Alex said:


Good morning, and don’t worry about Olmert’s “marketing” efforts. The Syrians also say some negative things like “Israel does not want peace, it is only interested in taking our lands” …

As long as they are advancing in Turkey, these things do not matter.

But there are many other challenges.

One day at a time.


I watched the movie before it was playing in the theaters. A friend of mine got it from Egypt.

I might have walked by that building too. it looks familiar to me.

In my opinion, the movie mostly represents one point of view … that of the Egyptian Elite… especially their longing for the good old days.

I don’t think I can exclusively blame corrupt regimes (or “the revolution”) for radical fundamentalists.

Anyway. Time to go to sleep for me.

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July 30th, 2008, 7:16 am


320. Nidal said:

I find the last exchanges between Jad, Karim and Majhool very interesting. In the essence, they are all proponents of a secular democratic society. Yet, Jad and Karim express their differences based on their fear of religious talk (or the lack of it) in public. For me, this sounds like déjà-vu: aren’t Turks actually living a similar thing in their own country, with a religious party running a secular government?

As Majhool said, Jad and Karim are more similar than they are different. The only thing that they have to build is trust. Their situation is so typical of the majority of Syrian society (and for that matter, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Jordan and Irak).

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July 30th, 2008, 1:39 pm


321. Majhool said:

well said Nidal

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July 30th, 2008, 1:51 pm


322. JAD said:

I agree with you on the Turkish example, yet I don’t agree in the way you see similarity between someone who doesn’t see the religion as an obstacle to move on and someone whose ideology and beliefs are blinding him from seeing the real mix we have and that we should deal with it rationally.
Good that you mentioned all the countries of our region, that will explain how dangerous the situation will become when you agree with some extreme ideas,
In Lebanon, they had democracy yet they end up having a sectarian war that they didn’t fix it yet
In Palestine, the situation went totally bad when they wanted to fix corruption with religion group taking power and forgetting to separate it from politics and end up loosing any focus on the main problem.
In Iraq, they are killing each other and spreading all kind of fatwa against each others, just because they can In the name of freedom!
Jordan doesn’t have that many sects we have in Syria, there problem is between the same sect, liberal/radical, and it shift to the definition of their nationalism.
As a result, do you doubt that being closed minded about your religion might cost you everything?
For me the fundamental strength of our country is in understanding, respect and tolerance to your other citizens.
I’m against any extreme ideology and those ideas shouldn’t be tolerated at all, your religion and belief is between you and your God not the Society and your God. it’s so wrong.
P.S. I know very well that there are more issues and complexity in those countries I mentioned I just wanted to showcase what happen when we don’t understand the situation and start tolerating extreme ideologies.

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July 30th, 2008, 5:58 pm


323. Nidal said:


I totally agree with your argument. You misunderstood me, or perhaps I wasn’t clear enough. Let me explain.

I see Karim as someone belonging to a group of people from whom their rights and privileges were taken away. They feel that they’ve been misrepresented for decades now. Furthermore, in that same group of people (it may not be Karim’s case), there are some that have become poor or underprivileged and are not being cared for respectfully. I understand that the natural reaction from them is to try by any means to get their frustrations out in the open in order to recuperate their rights. In repressive regimes, this often leads people to turn to their own religion. They try to find answers, solutions. (Again, let me reiterate that I am not targeting Karim, because I don’t know his background; I am simply trying to analyze the most general situation )

This is the case with young helpless disoriented souls joining AlQaeda-type ranks, or some other violent (or non violent like salafists) groups (other examples are hizballah in the 1980s, Hamas…).

This is also the case with fundamentalist jewish settlers. In their case, it’s more about trying to find an explanation to their actions and belief, and not necessarily about poverty. Their injustice is also a bit different, because as I try to analyze them, they believe that their injustice has been coninuing for more than 2000 years. (Shai, can you correct me if I am wrong? Thanks)

It is the case also with Christian groups… in the US for example with evangelicals, or in many other countries (I can think of the followers of Geagea in Lebanon, or the newly converted evangelicals of sub-saharan Africa; or also in Asian countries such as China where christianity is growing very rapidly).

This was the case with human beings throughout the history of mankind, when injustices have been perpetrated and inflicted upon groups of people.

I have seen this first hand as I grew up in Lebanon and Nigeria.

I must also add that ignorance often plays a major role, as well as not being well educated or well raised. But those are also products of underprivileged families and poverty…

In my opinion, looking at Turkish society (and at what Algerian society might have been if the islamic democratic victory in the early 1990’s had not been annulled and repressed), I truly believe that, with solid institutions and high levels of human development, everybody will prefer to live in a secular society. There will always be a minority of extremists, but they will be unable to gain any ground.

BTW, I am not a muslim. I was raised in a Lebanese maronite family, who had no political affiliations whatsoever (for those who doubt, let me say that my family and ancestors hated the Chamouns, Gemayels, Frangiehs… I only recall that they felt represented under Fouad Shehab). But I consider myself first as a human being, then a Lebanese-Canadian. Christianity (as you, Jad, say) is a personal and private matter for me and my family, as is the case with any other religion.

Again, I agree with your thinking and your arguments. I hope you understand mine. I think Majhool said it nicely above too (

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July 30th, 2008, 6:43 pm


324. Shai said:


You are correct. Most Jewish settlers live nowhere close to the poverty line. They are ideologists, most are strongly religious, believing in their “Right” to the land based on the ancient history of the Jewish people, and the tribes of Israel that inhabited and once ruled that land.

Of course it didn’t “help” that all governments since 1967 (Labor, Likud) gave plenty of incentives to those willing to settle the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan (tax reduction, grants, etc.) So you also have a mix of some who came purely for economic reasons (e.g. a young couple that wants to raise a family, wants to own their own house instead of an apartment, and live in beautiful rural surrounding, rather than in cramped cities… etc.)

The fact that they’d live surrounded by 2-3 million Palestinians wasn’t overly highlighted in the “brochure”…

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July 30th, 2008, 7:02 pm


325. fornetti said:

I do not believe this

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August 31st, 2008, 4:31 am


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