The Rock Island Argus

Contempt Must Be Studied for Mideast Terror to End! 

By Ruth Oron, Harriet Bernstein, Zehava Fishman, Avi Gvili, 
Zvia Ratz, Rose Levy, Leah Shazar

As Israelis who love our country, we are ashamed of the brutality now being committed by our army under the current leadership. We join the global outrage, which includes thousands of Israelis and Jews around the world, in protesting Israeli tanks rolling from village to village in the West Bank, leaving thousands of Palestinian men, women, and children homeless, hungry, and many dead. As we grieve for our innocent countrymen killed as a result of horrible suicide bombings, more than ever we feel the urgency of asking with courage and honesty — Did 35 years of dominating over the Palestinian people, humiliating them, being oblivious and cold to their feelings, encourage hopelessness, fury, and a desire for revenge? There is no justification for the brutal killings of innocent men, women, and children by suicide bombers. It is sheer contempt for human life. But again, we have to ask, did our country's policy in the occupied territories have anything to do with it? It breaks our hearts knowing that this bloodshed and death on both sides never had to be. As we have written before — There is a solution to this vicious cycle of contempt!

The only thing that will stop war in the Mideast, we have learned, is the study of contempt described by Eli Siegel, the founder of the education Aesthetic Realism, as "a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not [one]self." It is, he explained, the "greatest danger or temptation of man." "As soon as you have contempt," he wrote, "as soon as you don't want to see another person as having the fulness that you have, you can rob that person, hurt that person, kill that person."

We say with great pride that through the study of Aesthetic Realism our contempt was criticized and we changed the way we see the Palestinian people. We are so grateful to Ellen Reiss, the Class Chairman of Aesthetic Realism, who in 1982 said with passion that for the world to be safe, it is urgent that people from opposing nations write a 500-word soliloquy, thinking deeply about persons they see as their enemy. She asked that Israelis write about: "What does a Palestinian person feel to himself? What are his hopes, what are his fears?" And Palestinians should write about Israelis. As each of us did this, the people we had seen with such contempt, as only different and inferior, we came to see as having full reality, with feelings like our own, to be respected and given justice.

It is unbearable that now Israelis with tanks and bulldozers are brutalizing people, demolishing ruthlessly one town after another in the West Bank. That we the Jews, of all people, should be doing this is a lesson in what uncriticized contempt can do. 

Ms. Reiss explains in The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known:

As Jews have been against the Holocaust, they have not been against the emotion which caused the Holocaust: contempt. This is not because they are Jews but because they are human; they are like persons of every religion and land. While people do not see what contempt is, our earth is not safe."  [TRO 1515]

As Jews who longed for a homeland, we should have been the first to want to understand the feelings of Palestinian people who are yearning to have a homeland of their own. The dear earth should not soak up any more blood to try to stop by force what is inevitable — that there will be a Palestinian State. And the land, so rich in its history and religious meaning, going back thousands of years, will be shared by both peoples. We want Israel to be proud of her purpose from this moment forward — seeing, as we have learned to see for ourselves, that being fair to what is not herself is the same as self-preservation, and will make for real security.

We see the following words as a blueprint for peace. In the historic issue #165 of The Right Of titled "What Caused the Wars," Eli Siegel wrote:

The next war has to be against ugliness in self. And the greatest ugliness in self is the seeing of contempt as personal achievement. Contempt must be had for contempt before squabbles grow less, terror diminishes. Respect for what is real must be seen as the great success of man.

You can get more information about this vital education taught at the not-for-profit Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City, 212-777-4490,