Promoting hope and challenging horror in the Middle East

The column below originally appeared in a number of APG of East Central Mn newspapers during October, 2023.

Promoting hope and challenging horror in the Middle East



There are several things that I hope families will consider doing to help youngsters understand what’s happening in the Middle East.

The Middle East matters. It matters to Minnesotans and Americans. I’m not a foreign policy expert but I am an American Jew who has traveled several times, including this spring, to the area.

First, I hope families help their youngsters understand the size of Israel.

At its narrowest point, Israel is about 9.3 miles across. Let that sink in: less than 10 miles.

You might help youngsters figure out what’s 9.3 miles from your home. It’s about 9 miles between St. Louis Park and Wayzata, or Elk River and Rogers. It’s 10.6 miles from Farmington to Apple Valley, and 11 miles from Little Falls to Royalton.

At its widest, Israel is 85 miles across, and it’s 270 miles long. Youngsters could map those distances from their home, too.

So an inescapable fact is that Israel is tiny. And this small size is extremely important.

Without endorsing everything the Israeli government has done — because I don’t — I do believe a statement widely attributed to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier, who grew up in the U.S.: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.”

Second, helping youngsters understand nuance is important. For example after being one of Israel’s neighbors that invaded and tried to destroy Israel in 1948, Egypt has made peace with Israel. However, Hamas has made clear that their intent remains to destroy Israel.

Third, you might help youngsters understand how much money the U.S. has given to the Middle East. It’s billions. The World Population Review which I believe is a reputable source of information, reports that in 2019, the U.S. contributed more than $47 billion to other countries. Most of the largest recipients were Middle Eastern.

We have a right to question how well this money is being spent.

Fourth, I think families ought to consider right and wrong, and the ability to think several things are true, using recent events as an example. In April 2023 I described some of what I saw and heard from Palestinians and Jews. I discussed efforts that are hopeful – such as cooperation to increase regional use of solar energy and produce more clean water. And I found some deeply regrettable things, some of which were being done by Israel’s government. The column’s here.

What about now?

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar told about 1,700 people, including me, on Oct. 10 in St. Louis Park, “This is an unimaginably difficult time.”

Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said, “It’s sobering, it’s somber, but it’s the truth: Saturday was the single largest loss of life for Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

Gov. Tim Walz explained at the meeting, “If you did not find clear moral clarity on Saturday morning, you need to reevaluate where you’re at.” He strongly condemned Hamas’ actions of going door to door, kidnapping and killing infants, children, women and senior citizens.

This going “door to door” also happened in Germany under Nazi rule. One of the reasons the United Nations decided to give some of the land in the Middle East to Jews and some to Palestinians is that both Jewish and Muslim people have lived in the area for thousands of years. Another reason is that some Arab leaders and their followers sided with the Nazis during World War II.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who has strongly defended Palestinians, posted on X (formerly Twitter): “I condemn the horrific acts we are seeing unfold today in Israel against children, women, the elderly and the unarmed people who are being slaughtered and taken hostage by Hamas. Such senseless violence will only repeat the back and forth cycle we’ve see, which we cannot allow to continue.”

She continued: “Just as we honor the humanity of the hundreds of innocent Israeli citizens and nine Americans who were killed the weekend, we must honor the humanity of the innocent Palestinian civilians who have been killed and whose lives are upended.”

Finally, families can use a UNICEF resource to talk with children about conflict and war.

This isn’t an effort to offer a solution to this complex conflict. It is a suggestion that families help youngsters learn more. And it is a suggestion that we urge members of Congress to fund governments and organizations that are working together for peace and economic opportunity.

Joe Nathan, Ph.D., formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome: