How John Green Failed to Understand the Israel-Palestine Conflict

Crash Course – an educational YouTube channel founded and run by brothers John and Hank Green. The channel has over 2.6 millions subscribers and more than 178 million video views. John Green is also a New York Times bestselling author, widely known for his books “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Looking for Alaska”.

After watching this video that was uploaded last week, I wrote this letter to John Green in defense of Israel.

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Dear John Green and Crash Course writers,

First of all, I appreciate how difficult it is to incorporate all facts and facets of a conflict into a 13-minute video. That said, I felt that in “Conflict in Israel and Palestine: Crash Course World History 223” many important facts were omitted and there were large inaccuracies. As a loyal viewer and fan, I’ve always taken what you’ve presented at face value and felt secure in that you try to be as unbiased as possible at all times. I don’t feel that you’ve succeeded in that this time around.

In the same way you put a lot of work into your video and would like people to take it seriously, so I have put a lot of work into this letter and would like you to take it seriously.

I’ve separated my comments according to the order in which the subjects appeared in the video. The first segment holds my primary point.

0:27 –

There are actually theological differences. Theological war is not about practices, but about the right to exist or co-exist as equals. Therefore it is indeed not about who the most important prophet was or when to fast, but more about this – quoted directly from the Hamas Charter: “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors. The Islamic world is burning. It is incumbent upon each one of us to pour some water, little as it may be, with a view of extinguishing as much of the fire as he can, without awaiting action by others…. For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield… until our enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails.”

Hamas is not synonymous to Palestine, but Hamas, as you mentioned, is a highly significant part of the Palestinian leadership. They are not seeking only land, as they say in article 28: “Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims”. This is anti-Semitism, not a territorial claim.

1:07 –

You said, “What we now know as Palestine”, when it is actually now known as “Israel”. An alternative, acceptable term would be “Israel and disputed territories”, as that is an apt description.

4:54 –

The Palestinians were not only upset with the prospect of waiting ten years for a state; they were upset over having to share it equally with the Jews.

5:20 –

The Jews agreed to the partition plan, even though according to the plan they would not have control over Jerusalem. The fact that they did is very important, because it highlights that if the Palestinians had only sought land they could have agreed to the plan and the current conflict would have been settled. The day after the U.N. accepted the partition plan, fighting broke out, and I felt that the video should not have skimmed over what the Israelis call the War of Independence (1948 Arab-Israeli war). The Israeli soldiers, many of them recent Holocaust survivors, were forced to fight against: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Arab Liberation Army. Had the conflict not been about religion, why would Iraq and Yemen (for instance) have been involved? These countries had nothing to do with the territories. This shows again that the conflict is related to religion and ideology.

This also emphasizes what Israel tries to avoid nowadays: full blown war with all of the Arab countries surrounding them.

5:45 –

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They did not “occupy” more land than they would have; they conquered it in the war.

7:17 –

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Arafat led Fatah and the PLO, as you mentioned. Surely you came across the terrorist acts committed by these groups as you researched the topics for this video, and probably left them out due to the time crunch, but here is a good timeline:

8:09 –

For the record, this is not what suicide bombings looked like. At all.
For the record, this is not what suicide bombings looked like. At all.

You mentioned that Hamas gained popularity because of its militancy but then immediately moved on to discuss welfare. Hamas is actually a recognized terrorist organization (recognized not only by Israel but by the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and many others) belonging to the larger Muslim Brotherhood Movement. Its social welfare programs built schools, mosques and clinics. However, they are known to store bombs and missiles in schools and hospitals, dig terror tunnels from inside mosques and more. Journalists staying in Gaza this past summer (2014) reported on this, and most only felt safe publicizing their findings after they left.

The Institute for Palestine Studies published a detailed report on the Gaza tunnels and reported that tunnel construction has resulted in a large number of child deaths. In addition, over the summer the IDF repeatedly tried to warn Gazans of bombings (aimed at tunnel entrances, missile stores and rocket launch sites), but Hamas refused to allow them to evacuate, wishing to use Gaza residents as human shields (and by doing such, increase the number of casualties, something that blackens the image of the IDF in international media).



8:40 –

The late 1940’s are known as “the era of refugees” because of the large number of refugees during that period. Amongst these were millions of Jewish Holocaust survivors who had no home to return to and the threat of death should they have returned to their (still largely anti-Semitic) former homelands. There were also almost a million Jews who were kicked out of the Arab countries they had been living in for centuries. When other refugee groups asked the UN for rights of return or reparations, they were denied any such rights (for example, the Germans from Sudetenland. More information on them here:

The Palestinians are the only group to inherit refugee status, though many other conflicts remain unsettled and there are a large number of other refugees in the world. Once again, we find ourselves asking whether this all has to do with the fact that Israel is Jewish.  If the conflict were only about land, wouldn’t we see this sort of conflict across the entire globe?

9:15 –

Israel once again agreed to give up land in return for peace, but the Palestinian leadership refused. Throughout the video you simply stated that things didn’t happen or didn’t work out, when it’s actually very indicative that they didn’t happen because of a lack of cooperation from one side: the Palestinians.

9:48 –

I found your wording here very un-objective. You make it sound as though Sharon was trying to capture the mosque. In actuality, Israel has had control of the area since 1967, and yet allows Muslims to pray there (while prohibiting Jewish prayer on the site out of respect). While what Ariel Sharon did was undoubtedly foolish and lacking foresight, his actions do not legitimize violence and murder as your tone implied.

The Tsarnaev brothers felt alienated and angry at America for its actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Does this legitimize their actions in the Boston bombings?

10:15 –

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You correctly said that Israel built the wall in self-defense, but the fact that the wall cut down the number of terrorist attacks drastically should have been included.

10:47 –

You focused primarily on the military actions of the IDF in Gaza, paying unequal amounts of attention to the pain caused to the Palestinians as opposed to that caused by the Palestinians. A discriminatory lack of emphasis was put of the latter, when in fact that was the suffering that necessitated military action.

For instance, the fact that rockets were consistently launched at Israeli civilians, as opposed to military, was not emphasized. Some 4,800 rockets have been launched since 2001, 4,000 of those after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. The rocket fire has continued during times of peace, and Israel does not respond to every terrorist action and attempted murder. Would any other country withstand constant bombardment for so long?

Over the past summer, Hamas broke every single cease-fire. See the rundown up to August 1st here (published before the end of the fighting, thus not incorporating information on the subsequent cease-fires):

10:50 –

Hamas has claimed many times that every Israeli is a target and they aim to hit innocent civilians. Human Rights Watch article on the matter: The IDF, on the other hand, aims for militants and tries to avoid harming civilians. Why wasn’t this made clear?


There is a lot more to be said about Hamas’ acts of terrorism (including against their own people and previous leaders), but I fully understand that these could not be included in this video. However, why were there no pictures of bus explosions in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, of restaurants and malls where Israelis were murdered, or of children and parents murdered in their beds? The imbalance of suffering portrayed through photos was significant. You showed only Israeli soldiers facing women and children, and no women and children murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

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In conclusion, I felt that by omission, wording and tone you took a side: the Palestinian side. John, you have been a role model to me. I have looked up to you as a writer, as a person who values family and good morals, and as an educator who understands the power of knowledge. This video does not eclipse that, though it highly dampens it.

Nothing I have said here has been with the intent of belittling the suffering of the Palestinians – that is very real and I don’t deny that. I simply felt that anyone watching your video with no prior opinion on the matter would surely come away supporting the Palestinian side because the Israeli side was not represented as well as it could have been.

You are an educator and your video is presented as being objective. Thus, those watching your video will believe that it is indeed an objective explanation of the conflict. I think I have pointed out significant facts that show you weren’t objective, and certain facts were omitted in order to promote an opinion.

In addition, I was shocked when I read the comments section of your video. Though you don’t control people’s opinions or how they express them online, I would have liked to see you have an influence on the comments on the Crash Course channel. Racist slurs and preaching for genocide (whether of the Jews or the Palestinians) do not help create a learning environment and are extremely offensive and upsetting, especially to the younger audience. Why can’t we keep the focus on education?

I hope to hear a response from you very soon. Like I said, your video deeply affected me and I worked very hard to put this together. I would like to see it given proper consideration.

Please, John. I really want to be able to admire you again.



Elisheva Stern (17)


About the Author
Elisheva Stern is in her senior year of high school. She made aliyah with her family in 2004 from Boston, MA. This past summer she interned in the Nefesh B'Nefesh marketing department.
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