A modest proposal for peace in the Middle East: all are “in God’s image”

Tam Hunt
6 min readMay 6, 2024

A core tenet of Judaism and many other religions is that all people are “created in God’s image” and thus worthy of equal treatment as humans, but this concept has been lost in both sides of the current conflict due to inter-generational trauma

A Reform Jewish teacher in Houston, Texas, Sharon Wechter, likes to ask her students:

If I truly believe that each one of you is made in the image of God, then how will I treat you? How should we treat one another if we believe this is true? They understand what I’m saying; they know that I am talking about treating others with loving-kindness, respect, and dignity.

This notion, b’tselem elohim in Hebrew, means literally “in God’s image” and is one of the core teachings of Judaism. There is a similar notion in Islam, one of the meanings of fitra, which views all people as being one with God.

A more secular way of interpreting this message is that all people are created equal — a notion that is enshrined, of course, in the opening of the US Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

An Israeli peace group B’Tselem, founded in 1989, took this phrase as its very name and has worked for decades to highlight the degree to which Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories deviate from this core principle of Judaism.

But we are now at least 3,000 years in to major conflict between Palestinians and Jews in the Holy Land. Both sides have, through steady attrition after countless attacks by each side, become so enmeshed in anger and dehumanization that any notion of b’tselem elohim for the majorities on either side seems to have vanished into the air. Hamas leaders pledge the destruction of Israel and killing all Jews in Israel. Israel’s leaders pledge destruction of Hamas and some have stated their wish to kill all Palestinians because all are culpable for Hamas’s crimes.

Despite this deep inter-generational and racial trauma on both sides we nevertheless consistently see people who are able to transcend and call for peace, justice and comity — to recognize God and the good in each other. Simone Zimmerman is a young Jewish-American peace leader and co-founder of IfNotNow, one of the leading US voices for reconciliation and peace in the Middle East. She is featured in a recent documentary about the conflict, Israelism, and in a recent interview about this film she said:

The reason that there are so many young Jews fighting for Palestinian freedom is because we read the news and we see the horrors that are being committed against Palestinians. We’re asking questions about the mythologies that we were raised with and also just asking questions in the same way that other young people around the world are asking. …

Also for many of us it’s because of the Holocaust education that we were raised with learning about our own community’s history of dehumanization and discrimination and violence and displacement. We see echoes of things that we have been taught to oppose our entire lives happening in Gaza right now. It doesn’t have to be direct comparisons; we can still know dehumanization when we see it.

We can oppose state violence when we see it being committed on our phone screens every day. And those things for me are deeply Jewish values.

Indeed, these sentiments are at the core of b’tselem elohim and tikkun olam — the commitment in Judaism to strive to make the world a better place. The flipside of tikkun olam is b’tselem elohim.

A beautiful example of a similar ability to transcend racial hatred is Palestinian “stubborn” agitator Issa Amro, who some describe as a kind of Palestinian Gandhi. The New York Times penned a wonderful piece on this man in May 2024. Amro is:

a man who for decades has urged his followers, whether in viral online videos or in speeches before leaders at the United Nations, to take the path of nonviolent resistance forged by Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. That path, difficult in any environment, is a notably challenging one in the West Bank. Since Israel conquered the region in 1967, its military has forbidden nearly every form of protest, even things as small as gathering more than 10 people for a political conversation or simply waving the Palestinian flag.

Amro has taken the non-violent resistance ideals of Gandhi and MLK Jr. into his daily protests in the West Bank, suffering dozens of arrests, beatings and other forms of harassment:

The simplest acts of defiance can be seen as a threat: Amro once organized and videotaped an effort by a Palestinian man to pass through an Israeli checkpoint while balancing on his shoulder a large watermelon — a longtime symbol of Palestinian nationalism because its colors are those of the Palestinian flag. In the video, soldiers confiscate the watermelon and, as the camera zooms in, eye it warily as though it might explode.

But Amro’s protests often offer a more direct challenge to Israeli authority. He has repeatedly filmed Israeli soldiers at close range and been beaten and grabbed by the throat when he refused to stop. When armed settlers eyed new sites in the city on which to raise the Israeli flag, Amro organized local Palestinians to “occupy” the land first, often in the dead of night. Using the same tactics, Amro helped start a kindergarten, tried to open a cinema in an abandoned factory and persuaded multiple Palestinians to move into homes after residents had fled. Amro himself lives in one such home, surrounded by some of the West Bank’s most violent settlers.

“He’s trying to do to settlers what the settlers are doing to Palestinians,” Yehuda Shaul, a left-wing Israeli activist who has known Amro for nearly 20 years, told me. “He is an extremely stubborn person.”

There is another aspect to b’tselem elohim that I have long found even more powerful — the recognition that we are all, collectively, God, not just made in God’s image, but we are God itself. We are it (yes, this is a version of pantheism or more accurately panentheism, or “all is in God,” a view I wrote about at length in my 2017 book, Mind, World, God).

If we are all it, then hating or destroying another human is hating and destroying part of our Self.

How do we put b’tselem elohim to work? I’ve been greatly inspired in recent years by Jewish-American scholar and activist Charles Eisenstein. He argues that grand deeds aren’t necessarily required to change the world around us, to achieve “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” He consistently advocates rising above the petty politics of personal attacks and othering, to rise above the natural tendencies of our minds to make someone “bad” and others “good.”

Sometimes even the smallest acts, the tiniest of resonant vibrations, can ripple out and achieve substantial change. How could we harness these techniques with respect to b’tselem elohim? Well, a few ways we can incorporate it into our hearts and minds, and in those around us, could be:

— meditating on this phrase as a mantra and envisioning this idea wafting out into the universe to work its magic

— using this phrase as a greeting and departure rather than hello and goodbye

— using the phrase as a dinner blessing

— talking about it with your friends and family

— sharing memes and ideas about it on social media

— and more generally actively imagining everyone you meet, particularly those who annoy you or arouse some other negative emotion, as made not only in God’s image but being a part of you, literally, and learning to love every part of yourself.



Tam Hunt

Public policy, green energy, climate change, technology, law, philosophy, biology, evolution, physics, cosmology, foreign policy, futurism, spirituality