Category Archives: Story Telling & Media Responsibility

A Simple Guide for Talking to Your Jewish & Israeli Friends

Here are some simple Do’s and Don’ts to help you discuss the current conflict in Israel with your Israeli or Jewish friends on social media. These suggestions are tongue-in-cheek. Except they aren’t. Because most everybody I know who lives in Israel has received one or more of these types of messages and folks – this is not helping.



Hey! I’m angry about this! Why is your A) country B) government C) army D) people committing A) genocide B) such cruelty C) racism D) apartheid?!


Hey, this is really awful, are you okay? Can you help me understand what is going on?



OMG! Be safe! Arabs are all A) terrorists B) animals C) stupid D) all of the above! You should A) get rid of them! B) hate them! C) cheer on the world to wipe them out!


Hey, this is really awful, are you okay? Can you help me understand what is going on?



I just love and support blessed Israel so much because the messiah and Jesus and stuff and bless Israel and I’m sending you a tee-shirt and our prayer group is praying for you because my agenda (aw, poor Jews) my agenda (if they’d only listened before) my personal belief system (this is so biblical!) my agenda. LOVE YOU!


Hey, this is really awful, are you okay? Can you help me understand what is going on?



Israel is totally committing human right’s abuses, dude. TOTALLY.  Oh btdubs you should totally “like” this amazing non-violence/positive thinking/rainbow/pro-peace/pro-Palestian Facebook page? Because I’m serious (pause to put down your Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino here) – if everybody just stopped and listened – this would not be happening! That’s what we did on my street in Beverwood when things got really heated about the parking permit situation. It’s like the POLICE are like Israel, right? And the people just trying to PARK are the Palestinians! It’s horrible, dude, what if YOU just wanted to PARK?! Anyway, I’m going to meditate about peace now, okay? And then I have yoga. Be safe, love you, bye!


Hey, this is really awful, are you okay? Can you help me understand what is going on?



I can’t believe you just posted that picture or video of  A) rockets and sirens B) Israelis running C) Gaza suffering D) your dog. What about the OTHER SIDE, why can’t you LOOK AT THE OTHER SIDE TOO?! How can you even POST that?!


Wow. A) that must have been frightening. B) That looks terrible. C) I like your dog. Are you okay? Can you help me understand what is going on?

Suggested responses:

Thank you for asking me how I am.
I am okay.
I am not okay.
Thank you for remembering that I live here and that makes it particularly confusing and painful for me.
I know a lot about this conflict.
I don’t know enough about this conflict.
I need a blueberry popsicle and can’t really talk about this right now, okay?

Resources to Read, Suggest and Share

*Send suggested additions to this list to or leave a comment.

Contested Land, Contested Memory by Jo Roberts: Probably the most important book I have ever read on the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Highlights the need for acknowledgment of the pain and the history of each side. Thoughtfully written, thoroughly researched with copious sources.

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman: a fantastic primer about the conflict, real politik and splinter groups of splinter groups in Lebanon, Israel and the Middle East in general. Complete with index and helpful timelines and maps.

Truth & Beauty in Wartime: FB page updated several times daily with diversity, personal accounts and credible sources.

From the Huffington Post: 7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict, by Ali Rizvi. A well reasoned and comprehensive article.

Be a Conscientious Objector in a Social Media War: An impassioned blog post from right here on Stories Without Borders about the massive and sometimes frightening influence of social media and how particularly during stressful times, we should use it wisely.

Learn more about Slacktivism and why it stinks. 


None of these absolutely true examples are meant to disparage anyone in particular or to intimate that the views of those outside of Israel don’t matter. They do.  You might be surprised by how an Israeli really feels about this situation (a few hints: upset. scared. defensive. confused. grieving. despairing. angry). If you truly want to have a conversation about this conflict and to learn more about it, don’t jump in with both feet and make sweeping statements or assumptions. You are entitled to your opinion but inviting a meaningful conversation of open dialogue with your friend doesn’t generally start with a sweeping statement or foggy ideals. Read up before you chime in. And if you don’t have the energy or time? Maybe just make sure your friend is okay.

Talking About Israel

Click here to listen to a discussion I had with Strength to Strength’s Sarri Singer and radio host Brian Jackson about the situation in Israel and the importance of narrative to influence, inform and sometimes even heal.

Discussion Link

Be a Conscientious Objector in a Social Media War

bradyWhen Mathew Brady published his photographs of the slain soldiers of the Civil War, America was shocked. Never before had we actually seen the torpid dead lying on the battlefield. Brady’s aching photographs brought war right into the living rooms of Americans and changed the face of warfare forever.

A lot has changed since Mathew Brady made war more personal. Never before have the opinions of so many been in the hands of so many – posting, sharing and disseminating opinions and inflammatory pictures and videos without taking the time to be analytic about just whose opinion we are championing or why beyond having had a knee-jerk reaction to it.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Or a video. But what picture? What words? In this age we have to ask if a picture has been doctored. Welcome to 1984. Orwell would be proud.

When social media and conflict collide, the result is a house afire. ISIS has a Twitter account. This is the age of “Performance terrorism”.

Violence. The word sounds just like what it means. Sharp but blunt, a cutting, tearing wound. And after the violence, blood, tears, trauma, pain.

There is a disturbing amount of verbal violence on Facebook about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am discounting the absolute hate-filled nutters – left, right and center. They are not worth discussing because they represent a vitriolic but tiny minority, in actuality. We know that.

No, I am talking about really nice, intelligent, caring people who think they are helping by reposting primarily pictures and videos the sources of which are not vetted, generally not credible, and most certainly not given in context. Context, you see, is everything. The chocolate ration is five grams today.

[Real time update: I just ran to a bomb shelter for what was, conservatively, the 25th time. I shall continue.]

For the most part, these helpful sharers of “information” about the conflict in Israel live comfortably thousands (and thousands) of miles from where this particular conflict is playing out.

I on the other hand, have no doubt in my mind that an invention called The Iron Dome is why I am alive to write this. And I am lucky. Because my fellow humans – 45 miles away from where I live? They do not have this invention. No. They are open to whatever falls from the sky.

One of many marked differences between me and my cousins in Gaza? Is that I have an air conditioner and a laptop and I can write this. And I write it for them. For all of us. Because you all out there? In Facebookland? You are missing the point.

With so much confusing and frightening us today, we are now offered a whole new way to cope – social media. But let us be cautious of these online pitchforks and torches.

Whether you are posting GO Israel! Go IDF! Or “My god, look at this video of Israeli soldiers doing this awful thing!”, you are not standing up for a problem, you just became a part of it.

I find myself posting on Facebook a lot – “I just ran from another siren! This happened to me! This is happening!” It’s my way of screaming WHY?!

And you? Who live thousands of miles away from the Middle East? You want to scream too. So you post something – some video – some logo – some protest. And you say LOOK AT THIS!

Social media is a powerful way for us to communicate and to express and it is good. Until it is bad. Every time you post something that isn’t your personal experience, you have just become a part of someone else’s agenda, of someone’s bias. Most often a bias like “kittehs are cute” or “this recipe looks great” or “I also liked this film” – but what if the bias is something larger, something really relevant – something that can even incite? If you incite for anything you should incite for peace, for understanding, for context and for compassion. Pointing out the likely photoshopped or out of context atrocity which rips your heart out of your chest is likely to incite someone to HATE whomever is deemed as responsible. Incite thought. Incite analysis. Incite critical thinking.

Before you repost something about any conflict anywhere, that you are not directly involved in, ask yourself a few questions about the source.

Warning: This all requires critical thinking, something that takes a moment. Bear with me: it’s worth it.

Is this a credible source? Is the source a person you actually know? A journalist? A peace organization? Or is the source an advocacy group? What or whom do they advocate for? Use Google to find out more.

Does the source have credentials? Does this source have academic, occupational, experiential or any kind of direct involvement in this issue? What do they stand to gain by your sharing the information? With whom are they affiliated?

Is context given? What else was going on in and around that picture, video, etc.? Be critical – LOOK for an agenda. What does your gut say?

What is the intention? What is the post seeking to have you now do? Share? Send money? Be angry? – what? Is/was there any attempt to speak to the other “side” of this issue or conflict? That was reasonable sounding?

Stop right now. Question me. Question what you are reading right this very moment. I have biases. I am a woman, a mother, a Jew, an American, an Israeli, a needer of sunscreen and a pretty good cook. I am from Northern California. I am a person with a history. Of course I have a bias about many things. Google my name. Check me out.

When it comes to the conflict in Israel many are being manipulated into thinking there ARE sides, and that you should – you must – take a stand. Because damn it, from all the way in Philadelphia or London or San Diego – you CARE!

It’s lovely that you care. We all care. But what shall we care about? Empathy fatigue sets in. We must choose something to care about. Abused animals, abused children, rape culture, the war in Ukraine, the war in Syria, the war in Israel, homelessness in the US (well, that one is too commonplace to get particularly worked up about anymore, isn’t it?)

How do we choose what to care about collectively and individually as our attention grows more and more splintered and overwhelmed. We humans tend to just pick up our pitchforks and join the crowd that seems to be going in a particular direction. That is easier, we don’t have to think.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. ~ Aristotle

The stories that we tell ourselves collectively and individually are powerful.

hiroshimaAs an American, I was brought up to believe that the bombing of the civilian populations in Nagasaki and Hiroshima were necessary to end a terrible war. Somewhere between 130,000 and 250,000 individuals – civilians – women and children, were vaporized in seconds. But it was necessary, right? That is the story I was told.

Let me be perfectly clear, if there were no Iron Dome, I would not be writing this. This is a fact. Why does Hamas siphon millions of dollars in aid into housing their absent leaders in luxury in other places? Why did Hamas not use millions of dollars to build shelters for their citizens? My government protects me. I am grateful. But I am not happy about what is happening – do not mistake my gratitude for condoning a war waged in a civilian population.

If you are interested in a diversity of thoughts and opinions about this particular conflict – updates that are serious, funny, sad and articles that are vetted, credible and contextualized, I suggest you like the Facebook page Truth & Beauty in Wartime.

If you’d like to do some in-depth reading and thinking about the conflict in Israel, here is a beginner’s reading list: Damascus Gate (Robert Stone) From Beirut to Jerusalem (Thomas Friedman), Contested Land, Contested Memory (Jo Roberts) The Lemon Tree (Sandy Tolan)

You feel sad and upset? Me too. You want somewhere to focus your anxiety and fear about the state of the world today? Me too. Let’s think globally, act locally and rise above the strong urge to make the conflict in Israel a simple one, with good guys and bad guys.

Criticize your country, where your problems are. Embrace non-violent communication. Exchange ideas. Put down your Facebook and put on your shoes. Go give a helping hand in your community. We don’t need any more torches or pitchforks in the Middle East, in case you may have noticed.

socialwarMost importantly, don’t be a mouthpiece for those who are really pulling the strings. Divide and conquer – when you get the populace too riled up to think straight, when they believe in this or that rhetoric – you wield great power. Just ask Nazi Germany. How could that have happened, we ask? How could ordinary Germans, Poles and Austrians have acted so inhumanely? Believe you me, if Facebook had existed preceding and during the second World War, the culture of fear and violence that blossomed into the deaths of over 12 million people would have been twice as effective in half the time.

History repeats itself. Just say no. Object to verbal violence on Facebook through your peaceful dissent of being herded into feeling MORE afraid and MORE separate from the “other”.

It’s not easy – I am telling you it’s not easy. I have a pounding heart on a daily basis. Either from running when another siren goes off, or from reading the local news in Israel, or from thinking about the suffering so very close to where I live. I feel angry! I feel heartbroken!

But the very essence, the very meaning of faith and grace and beauty, is to resist becoming a part of the ugliness, isn’t it?

I think many of us feel almost paralyzed about some of the news today. We want to help but what shall we do?

Here is what you should NOT do: parrot or repost Facebook updates that are on either “side” and that do not use any context. Even better? You can have a look around at the issues in your community and start pitching in there. It might not seem as urgent or exotic as WAR but it is what you can do from where you are.

Think before you post or repost or share the point of view of a “side”. Be part of the solution. If you are a writer – write it down. If you are an artist, paint it. If you are a musician sing a song to someone who is lonely and if you are none of the above, just put on your shoes, walk out the door and find somebody in your community who would like to be read aloud to, or who needs food donated.

Stories matter. Narrative is everything. Be a part of a better story by being a conscientious objector of irresponsible, inflammatory social media wars.

In the words of Mother Theresa:

“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

Moral Whiplash & Other Injuries

warIt is a truism (that most of us only reluctantly admit) that there are some experiences in life that we cannot actually feel or understand – ever – until they happen to us, personally.

Parenthood. Aging. Grief. War.

.לחצו פה להסבר על תרגום לעברית

About 45 miles from where I live, a ground invasion is happening in Gaza. It’s a hot July day, about 95F or so. While I am debating whether or not to use air conditioning, thousands of people are suffering – no – millions – all around me.

I decide to lie down and to try rest out the midday heat. My stomach clinches; my bedroom window faces the south and we haven’t had a rocket fired since yesterday, when we had three separate barrages. Will one happen now? As I am lying prone?

[Live update, nap abandoned, mid writing, five rockets did indeed arrive ingloriously, with house shuddering volume.]

How can I think such thoughts – it is obscene to be afraid myself when the people in Gaza are amidst rubble, and constant bombings and death. But I am afraid. Afraid and overwhelmed. Not for my personal safety – these cringes, this lurching stomach, these panic attacks are just my nervous system reacting to several shocks a day. It builds up and cascades into a rushing river coursing over saturated ground – it has nowhere left to go.

But I know the Iron Dome will protect me and I feel relieved and terribly guilty about that. Because the Palestinians don’t have an Iron Dome.

What I really feel is despair, I think. Existential despair that in the 21st century, war and violence are still actual methods of — no — I can’t finish that thought – it’s too precious and obvious. Of course war and violence are still the primary way we humans deal with conflict. I am not surprised at all. Are you?

I am despairing of the vitriolic level of public discourse about Israel’s conflict with Hamas. I am disappointed by the “fact”-flinging and soap boxes that seem to get pulled out of the garage and stood upon when the subject of Israel comes up. I am mystified that so many all over the world are obsessed with Israel but remain veritably silent when it comes to events in other places. Places like Syria, which, with a modest accounting of 170,000 dead in three years, has had more deaths than in all of every war, battle, or skirmish in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of 65+ years combined.

Ever the intrepid autodidact, I read as much as I can get my hands on. I realize that because I am a human being, I am prone to bias. I am an American living in Israel. I am an Israeli citizen. I am a Jew. I am a woman, a mother, a writer, a Californian, a Democrat, a righty, a redhead.

I have whiplash from reading this article and that – in support of Israel, condemning Israel, condemning Hamas, condemning Palestinians, condemning Israelis. I have read long, academic books and articles about the Middle East, Israel, Islam, strategy, fundamentalists and Zionism. About opinions and politics and media bias. About “moral” wars and “moral” armies. About the alluring belief in any kind of moral equivalency. Here’s a thing: war is immoral. Here’s another thing: it happens anyway.

Like anybody who hears thundering helicopters overhead and dull explosions and sirens on a daily basis for almost two weeks (with who knows how many weeks to come), I am having trouble sleeping. I am having trouble processing that this is real. I have a welter of unruly emotions ranging from guilt and shame that I should be so undeservedly frightened when I am not suffering in the same reality as the Gazans only miles away, to despair and anger to mystification and numbness. Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

I imagine some hardened soldier who looks like Christopher Walken glaring at me with narrowed eyes. You know nothing of WAR, he says with contempt before grinding his cigarette out under his boot. And he’s mostly right. But I know something of war now. Unfortunately.

I can imagine a tiny fraction of what Gazans are feeling. And what Israelis living just outside Gaza are feeling and going through. But only a paltry fraction. How DARE I complain, lo these many 45 miles away, of stress, fear or existential angst? I have no right. And yet these feelings are undeniably real for me, where I am. Just ask what remains of my nervous system.

Because of the cumulative mix of intense, unruly emotions and reactions within me, plus having 98% more adrenaline in my system than is medically okay at all times, I am sensitive to Facebook updates and comments from Americans and Europeans who weigh in on this conflict. Not necessarily friends of mine – I spend too much time on damnable Facebook, as I strive to understand – to connect.

How can you possibly comment – how can you possibly have an opinion when you have never lived the reality of this, I find myself thinking. SHUT UP SHUT UP you nice, neat, clean not-terrified person, I want to scream! It’s more complicated in the living of it than anything you can imagine. Anything.

Do YOU flinch every time you hear what sounds remotely like a boom or thud? Do you spring to your feet every time the whine of a motorcycle hits exactly the same pitch and tone of an air raid siren? Then shut your pie hole and go get a Starbucks!

I do not like this feeling. It’s not like me. It’s the stress, I’m pretty sure. True to my current state of emotional whiplash, I can see the value in outside opinions from those who are not currently shaking like a leaf but also the hypocrisy of same.

In particular, Americans – bless us – have an extraordinary ability to remain at arms length from the dirtiness of this world, the tragedy. We send drones into countries thousands of miles away and for us, “collateral damage” is an intellectual idea, not a horrible reality. America is big – so big – and we don’t know several people with brothers, cousins and friends in the fighting right this moment, as I do here in Israel. We do not feel the shift in the air, the gasp, the tear, when four young boys are killed playing on a beach, moments ago.

99% of Americans, if not more, do not know what I am feeling right now – nowhere close. But is that their fault? Of course not. Hard is hard said someone somewhere about something.

The problem with going through an extraordinary experience is that it automatically limits the number of people you can relate to about it. My world just got smaller.


Germany Gives Israel the Gift of Silence

.לחצו פה להסבר על תרגום לעברית

Germany gives Israel the gift of silence. Indeed.

Another great article by Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon member Oren Peleg (learn more about Oren and his writing here) in which Oren examines the role of sports and peace.

Littered with dramatic aerial views from the vantage point of Christ the Redeemer overlooking Rio de Janeiro and the iconic Maracana stadium, the broadcast of the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina had it all. There were near misses, clattering tackles, and moments of individual brilliance. No glaring officiating errors took away from the result. The goal that won it from super sub Mario Gotze was a cracking stunner that deservedly proved decisive. Lebron James, Shakira and Vladimir Putin were even in attendance. I defy anyone to come up with a more intriguing lunch trio. Putin, party of three? Right this way.

The entire world watched Die Mannschaft complete its conquest and neatly do away with the Argentines and Messi’s wizardry to claim the coveted Jules Rimet trophy.

Sport is an art of spectacle and the Germans matched up against the Argentines on the hallowed ground of the Maracana proved just that for two hours and change. The German football triumph of triumphs also provided a nation in peril with some much-needed quiet, as even Hamas operatives couldn’t look away.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Currently, the not so gentle melody of missiles flying overhead is heard throughout the land of Israel. No one wants this. No one wants to see innocents caught in the middle on either side. Those compelled to incite terror simply sat transfixed, insisting instead on watching the Germany game, giving everyone a break.

Some six thousand miles away, Israel briefly experienced some six thousand decibels of silence. The barrage of Hamas-fired rockets raining down on Southern Israel and even farther-reaching ones pelting the Tel Aviv area stopped. Israelis could hear their own thoughts and formulate new ones. Life has largely gone on throughout this turmoil, as is the nature of the Israeli spirit to do so, but make no mistake, this is shattering to the people. That night was a glimmer of hope.

Sport, in this case, football, played a vital role. Football possesses a seemingly unparalleled power to unify. It is the power of sport. Football is essentially twenty-two men equipped with thigh-high revealing short shorts and truly thespian tendencies chasing a tiny ball around a wide grassy field. That’s it, and yet somehow, it’s so much more. In the Christmas Truce of 1914 during World War I, warring German and British soldiers came together in the heart of no man’s land between enemy lines for a good natured game of football. It was the ultimate wartime chivalry.

Brazilian legend Pele came to play in Lagos, Nigeria during the country’s bloody 1967 civil war, which precipitated a two-day ceasefire so that the opposing factions could catch a glimpse of greatness. After leading his native Ivory Coast to qualify for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, beloved striker Didier Drogba got down on his knees on live television and begged for an end to the civil war. Soon after, leaders from both sides were in attendance for an African Cup of Nations qualifying match singing the Ivorian national anthem together. This is the power of sport. It is beautiful to behold.

The power of Hamas is characterized by ugliness. This hateful organization wields the power of fear. It endangers its citizens by placing them in harm’s way. It encourages civilians to form human shields. It fires rockets from underneath hospitals, religious sites, schools and homes of the innocent. It wishes nothing but death and destruction to a neighboring nation. It, in and of itself, is a crime against everything right in this world. It preys on the fear stricken and works tirelessly to strike fear in the hearts of those not yet conquered. They brandish fear, but fear alone cannot conquer. It can only lay ruin. Love alone can conquer. Even these fear brandishing bandits had to stop and watch the global phenomenon that is the World Cup.

Something feels different about this latest round of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians. The quiet of course didn’t last long. With the end of the game and the German players lifting the cup to celebrate the proudest moment of their lives, a forecast of heavy rocket rain quickly returned to Israel. Hamas resumed and both sides suffer now. That part feels familiar. The temporary quiet was different and something new. Maybe it went largely unnoticed because of the timing. Any event competing for attention with the World Cup final will slip into obscurity. We can’t forget that quiet. It’s pure. It’s everything we want. It’s everything we need.

Sport is a microcosm of society and how it is truly meant to function. Players come together from all corners of the world, from all different backgrounds and beliefs and compete, devoid of outright confrontation, but rather with mutual admiration and respect. The primal nature of competitive football drew wide-reaching interest upon its inception. Then every nation’s engagement in the game gave football its patented complexity. It is truly the international language.

Maybe it’s this age of accessibility we’re in, but this latest conflict is simply on more lips. It’s being discussed and people are taking notice. Debate rages. Sometimes this part of it seems good. Sometimes this part of it seems bad. I’m not of the mindset that my words can change anything. I’m just hopeful that things can quiet down, perhaps in a more meaningful way than in times past. We’re all painfully familiar with the narrative. Things escalate. There’s a ceasefire followed by some welcome downtime. Then things pick up again and we’re right back where we started.

Those two hours of silence Germany gifted all of Israel with during last night’s final are what make me hopeful. If twenty-two grown men chasing a tiny ball on grass can silence Hamas, then I am hopeful. Clearly, around the world football is something more than just sport. Here’s to hoping we all come out of this latest altercation with something more than just a ceasefire.



When Stories Become Truth


.לחצו פה להסבר על תרגום לעברית

You’ve heard the advice a million times in your life - believe in yourself. Have confidence.

The stories that we tell ourselves, about ourselves, about our worlds, are very powerful. We need them. When we believe our stories, we can cope with what we think is truth. And we desperately need some truth to hang onto.

If the narrative – the story – you are creating and defining is that of your business, your success, your life – GREAT – create a good one! A strong one! Never a story of victimhood or anger. That won’t help you succeed.

But if you are creating a story or contributing to a narrative of a larger story, of a shared story – be careful. What are you adding to the narrative?

On Saturday, July 12th at 8pm, Hamas informed Israel that in one hour they would rain down hell on central Israel. They were late. It started at 9:07pm. But what Hamas lacked in punctuality they made up for in the number and capabilities of the missiles fired.

I was on a safe room floor with 7 other Israelis. Suffice to say my Hebrew is not good enough to understand the panicked chatter as the building shook and sirens wailed.

When I emerged and naturally gravitated straight to Facebook to update my friends all over the world, I noticed a private message had come in. It was from an acquaintance that I have never met in person. The woman apologized for just having to get some things off her chest. She just had to. I read her long, inflammatory, angry rant about how awful Israel is while picking safe room dust out of my hair and listening carefully for more sirens. I couldn’t wait to check the news to see what was going on. I was (and am) ill knowing that Israel would most certainly strike back powerfully after such a provocative and heavy attack.

I was appalled, of course, to receive such a message at such a time and also to be the target of an emotional rant that has nothing to do with me personally. Unless I am in charge of political/military decisions in Israel and if I am, I would have appreciated some notice and at least a few sick days.

The next morning – I received a heartfelt apology via email.

I see this as a teachable moment – a chance for dialogue not anger, a moment that I could try, at least, to wring some understanding out of. Be the change you want to see in the world. That kind of thing.

This is what I said:

First, thank you for your apology, that is very nice of you. I know this is a heated topic, for all of us. Especially those of us actually living through it.

Strong feelings don’t bother me at all – it is natural to have them over such an emotional topic.

But one-sided arguments and intellectual dishonesty or laziness does bother me very much. I don’t mean you personally – although your argument was intellectually lazy. You are parroting things you have read or heard without questioning them and poking around the edges to look for agendas or bias. This is something that many of us do. We pick a narrative that fits our fears and preconceptions perfectly.  It’s the Arabs! They are terrorists! It’s the Israelis! They are bullies! That’s the truth! 

Americans have a complicated and emotional relationship with the idea of bullies and underdogs both. Bullies pop up on the internet, they have their own shows on Fox. We hate them. We are them. I don’t think this is only an American proclivity, this underdog/bully dynamic. And it certainly isn’t only an American knee-jerk to hold a powerful belief without knowing – or examining – why. All humans share that tendency. I understand.

Here’s a truth: there is no one truth about this or any situation. Its much more complicated. There are no good guys or bad guys except the gutless, self-interested leaders on both sides. All of the people suffer as our fears and paranoia of “other” gets fanned.

We are all human beings in this part of the world, and in Israel, there is a bitter dispute not so much over land (as it would appear) but over who really owns the narrative of this land. It is an argument that can never be won but this argument is exploited by political leaders and terrorist groups to maintain power and control. We are all victims in it.

Do not conflate Israelis with our right wing government and our poor leaders. Do not conflate Palestinians with Hamas. Examine the news with more intellectual vigor. Just whose “news” is this? Questioning what you believe and why is painful but necessary.

I don’t have an easy answer. Wrongs have been committed on both sides. Terrible wrongs. We should stop electing leaders out of fear or coercion. Not just here – all over the world. What is causing ISIS to come into such power so quickly? Fear, inequity, greed, poverty, a power vacuum. It was ever thus.

What can we do as humans? How do we control this flood of information instructing us as to who or what is right or wrong? We have to exercise our cold intellects, we have to information gather from many sources, we have to examine what we believe and why, and much more difficult, we have to accept ambiguities. Which are very hard to live with. That’s why we crave popular entertainment, action movies and the like. Because that’s where ambiguity goes to die. In the third act. With a great soundtrack.

What Hamas is doing is wrong – very, very wrong. The Israeli response is heavy handed but born of huge frustration and fear. Also wrong. There has to be a better way. But that way is not to belch forth one’s own fears and frustrations on a person who just got up off a safe room floor, who is dealing with this ambiguity much more than you are. Because there’s nothing ambiguous about a long range missile almost striking your house and there’s nothing ambiguous about the 100+ Palestinian civilians who have died in this.

I wish I could send a team of negotiators to both sides to wave a magic wand and hand out cold drinks, medical aid and stern, down to earth advice. I wish we could all get along. I wish we could lock the leaders on all sides into a big room together where they could work it out themselves and leave all of us alone while they do. Maybe it would be a little bit more pressing if their own lives were at risk – not everybody else’s.

And if wishes were fishes the sea would be full.

Be intellectually honest.  Vet the stories you hear. Is this part of a narrative that, like a train, takes us inexorably in this or that direction? Question what you read. Analyze it. Gather information from many sources. Then ask yourself which narrative you want to be a part of.

“Every time you tell yourself a good vs evil story, you’re basically lowering your IQ.”

-from Tedx Tyler Cowen: Be Suspicious of Stories.

I have to live with the ambiguity of this and so do you.

Let’s not fight. Let’s be the change we’d like to see in this world.


Truth & Beauty: Making Sense of Our Stories

.לחצו פה להסבר על תרגום לעברית

Recently I wrote an article in Script Magazine about emerging Israeli filmmakers and whether the situation in Israel affects their point of view and their filmmaking. Overwhelmingly, the filmmakers I spoke to wanted the world to know that they are filmmakers first and Israeli second.

Yet the situation in Israel does create a backdrop, a narrative that changes the day to day for Israelis. They don’t say “necessity is the mother of invention” for nothing. According to Start Up Israel there are several Israeli apps that have been developed in direct response to the situation.

Your environment affects your story, whether that’s fiction, a film, or you latest tech innovation. As story tellers, creators and innovators, we use what we know, where we are from and what we are curious about to build new narratives.  With the amount of social media available to use, we can even create disposable stories – meaning we can create something only meant to be used for a short time.

Because I wanted my American friends to know what is going on in Israel during Operation Protective Edge from a real, on-the-ground, human perspective, I created a Facebook page called Truth and Beauty During Wartime. There are several editors of the page and they update content with their personal views ranging from the political to the personal to the funny and ironic. Part therapy, part a human approach to share the point of view of regular Israelis dealing with any number of emotions as we are being bombarded – and as our government is bombarding – Gaza in response to over 500 rockets sent our way in the past four days.

But primarily, the page allows us the opportunity to try to make some sense out of this narrative that just keeps unfolding. To some how give it a framework for ourselves. Which is what you give to others when you create – a framework for their entertainment, for their needs, for the convenience. You are helping build a narrative every single day. What’s your story?




Israeli Film: Three Houses

I am very proud to know and have worked with Marc Grey, co-producer of this short film produced with the ACRI. The cinematography is brilliant, the stories heartbreaking and the film is important. It is through art that we reach for understanding.

The Not-So-Subtle Message in Game of Thrones and Why it Matters

When my friend Mat sent me this article, I was immediately struck by it. Mat is a gifted writer (find him on Goodreads) and long time fan of George R.R. Martin and Game of Thrones.  Perhaps it was current events like the shooting in Isla Vista and too many others, but Mat was struck by something in GoT – something that once pointed out, glares at us uncomfortably.  What is the connection between everyday sexism and media depictions of women?



I have an admission to make: in the wake of Isla Vista, as disturbed as I was by that young man’s murderous actions, I wasn’t sure what to make of the #YesEveryWoman movement. It’s not that I was against it – I wasn’t. I just wasn’t sure how to feel about it as a man. Leave it to a silly television show on Sunday night to clear my eyes.

In a Grantland article from 2013, Game of Thrones showrunner David Benioff proudly fended off any deep, thematical analysis of the popular series by quipping: “themes are for eighth grade book reports.” Perhaps he’s right, he is David Benioff after all. But that is precisely the problem.

I should probably start by saying that up until recently I’ve been a huge fan of Game of Thrones, and I am still, to this day, an admirer of George R.R. Martin. He’s a literary idol, and has a history of treating his fans with openness and respect. On top of that, his work has everything a fantasy lover could want in a series – whether the books or the show – action, romance (or at least sex), intrigue, dragons, and a touch of magic. That being said, I have, of late, run into the same problem with the show that I ran into with the books, which hit me at the end of Storm of Swords and the beginning of Feast for Crows. The grim message, written as much in black and white (and bloody red) as in subtext, deeply troubles me – to the point that I’ve lost sleep more than once. That message is this: The world is forever a shitty place – especially for all women any good men.

Before I’m ripped to shreds as one of those fools who can’t handle a solid dose of reality, or am filled with the childish need to have all my books, film, music, and TV sanitized with a septic Disney brush, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, great storytelling, in any form, must contain elements of darkness and dread, like that layer of grain over an image that makes 35 mm film look so much more like life than any digital camera can. Our eyes and our minds crave some level of dreary realism. Heroes without flaws are no more than false idols, and champions who never fail do not exist. Even the ancient storytellers in Greece knew that.

The issue is not with the idea that Westeros, meant to be a dim reflection of our own imperfect world, is a shitty place, because ours often is, but that it is a seemingly unalterable shitty place, founded on the fatalistic acceptance that “good people” must be perfect, or they will be destroyed, and that life is worse for anyone with any morals beyond survival of the fittest, and that being doubly true for anyone born a woman.

This theme is played out again and again in both the books and the series, that “the forces of good” – those fighting for freedom, justice, peace, or honor, do not simply learn or suffer for their mistakes, they are gruesomely and finally savaged for them, punished to a degree beyond edification, to ultimate destruction. Ned Stark gave in and admitted false guilt to treason, and was beheaded. Robb Stark married for love and broke a promise, and was forced to watch his wife’s pregnant belly stabbed repeatedly before being killed by the host who had sworn his safety. Catelyn Stark released Jamie Lannister against her son’s orders, and then watched that son die before having her own throat cut. Prince Oberin, lusty and arrogant though he was, is portrayed as a tolerant, just man, judging not on sexuality or dwarfism, in love with his paramour, willing to champion the weak, has his head crushed in while the Mountain gloats about raping Oberin’s sister, killing her children, and crushing her head as well, all for a brief lapse of hubris.

The wicked, meanwhile, Tywin Lannister, Cersei, Walder Frey, Roose Bolton, and his bastard, Ramsay, seem capable of living free of tactical error, or of somehow overcoming mistakes or strokes of bad luck with even more unbelievably good luck. Their help shows up at the right time, their enemies falter at the finish, and their lies and plans are as impenetrable as midnight. Perhaps there is some truth in this, as individuals with no moral compass, or a very shaky one at best, will so ruthlessly fight for their own survival at the expense of others that they have a better chance of winning it. But luck or fortune, if it really is luck or fortune, is an even coin toss – just not in Westeros.

But worse than even this grim theme, is the disturbing acceptance that women are destined to endure sexual violence at some point in their lives, and that the only power they will ever have in this world is sexual power. This was never clearer than in Sansa Stark’s story, so visibly apparent in the fourth season of the TV series. After enduring all manner of shame at the hands of Joffrey, Sansa finally emerges from the cocoon of childhood an “empowered” woman – baring the ample cleavage and knowing gaze to show it. She has grasped Littlefinger’s desire for her body with both hands and is finally ready to use it as weapon to her advantage. But even for Daenerys Stormborn, perhaps the most successful of the story’s heroes or heroines, her first battles were lost and later won on the bed of Khal Drago, and in her eventual victory, she uses the power of her beauty to command one of her loyal warriors strip and perform for her before sending him off to battle. We see little of Daenerys’s tactical or political ability beyond her possession of dragons – as the mother of dragons, her sons giving her the true power.

Does any of this even matter? I mean, it’s just entertainment right? And I’m probably beginning to sound like some street preacher bemoaning the evils of Hollywood. But as David Benioff said, themes are for eighth grade book reports – precisely because themes and messages, consciously or subconsciously, inform the audience of a worldview, and more easily so in the impressionable minds of the young. And this worldview posits that survival is easier (and perhaps even more rewarding) for the wicked than the good, and that mistakes for good people are infinitely more costly than for the evil, and that women must either take up their sexuality as a weapon or suffer at the other end of it. There is seemingly no hope in this message that the world can become a different place – a better place. And that is where I believe the message has gone wrong.

Admittedly, women do suffer violent acts more than men in this world, and a good heart and good intentions do not shield anyone from bad luck, misfortune, or death. And when change comes, it comes at an agonizingly slow pace, still leaving this world far from a perfect place it its wake. But here is the crux of the matter: change at a personal and world scale is possible – and our history, the history upon which Westeros is supposedly based, proves it. If we traveled back in time and asked any slave in any country one thousand years ago if ever would come a day when the civilized world, as one, would outlaw the construct of one human owning another, surely he would have laughed sadly in your face. If you would have asked a same-sex couple, even only fifty years ago, if ever they could marry under the law, and live openly, they would surely have doubted – but they would have been wrong, and growing more wrong by the vote. All these changes happened because good people did not give up, they fought on – and they won.

Yes, we need grit in our storytelling, and yes, we all need a dose of reality from time to time, and yes, there are no perfect people in the world, not even among the heroes, but if we’re going to change the real world, which is unbelievably hard to do, we should probably start in our fictional ones, which is so much easier. We cannot accept the idea, or teach our young women and our young men to accept the idea, that women are either and only sexual victims or dominatrices, or that this world is so unbelievably hopeless that we promote a “can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em mentality.

So what am I asking for? Just this: the story isn’t written yet, in either Westeros or on Earth, so why not add at least a little light? I don’t believe pioneers, scientists, or explorers took the first footsteps into a new world. Rather, those first steps were taken in the imagination; by eighth graders writing their book reports, and it is storytellers and their themes that led the way.

Sorry it took me so long. But I know how I feel now. #YesAllWomen

Find out more about James Matlack Raney on his website.