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Then It’s Settled

As someone who has been to Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank eight times as a human rights observer and peace activist, I was struck by Khalil Shikaki’s suggestion [“Israel and Palestine,” Forum, September] that the “strong” leverage available to the United States is a threat to cut all funding to the Palestinian Authority. In 1989, when I asked a progressive member of the Israeli Knesset what would be most likely to bring peace, he replied, “If the U.S. Congress held hearings on cutting aid to Israel, there would be peace at noon tomorrow.”

We have since witnessed international condemnations of Israeli policy by such organizations as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, and the World Court, none of which impacted Israeli oppression of Palestinians. When Shikaki said cutting U.S. aid to Israel was “not an option,” I assume he meant politically, but ending U.S. complicity with the occupation, home demolitions, and other injustices nonetheless remains integral to evenhanded mediation. In the absence of such fairness, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement offers the best hope to convince Israel that justice for Palestinians is in its interest.

Scott Schaeffer-Duffy
Worcester, Mass.

Your introduction to the Forum is misleading about the sequence of recent events.

You first describe the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers and the murder of a Palestinian youth, and then in the next sentence you state, “Hamas began launching rockets into Israel, and Israel bombed targets in Gaza.” Meanwhile, no mention is made of the arrest, by Israel, of hundreds of Hamas operatives and sympathizers in the West Bank, of the demolition of Hamas leaders’ homes, or of the killing of several Palestinians in the West Bank following the kidnapping, before Hamas fired any rockets. In any case, the timeline of actions by both sides is a matter of more debate than your article allowed.

Curtis Bell
Portland, Ore.

Police Force

The acts of torture described by Anand Gopal, if true, are deplorable [“Kandahar’s Mystery Executions,” Report, September]. They are not, however, representative of the brave men and women serving in the Afghan police. Like members of any professional force, Afghan officers found to have been involved in such acts will be held accountable.

Building a professional police force capable of enforcing laws and protecting the community is not a task that can be completed overnight. There were no police during the days of the Taliban, only vigilantes. Today, in many communities in Afghanistan, police are the first line between innocent Afghan civilians and Taliban insurgents who seek to harm them. Despite this near daily risk, police throughout Afghanistan serve because they believe in a common cause and goal, one that is shared with our partners in the United States and the international community — a stable and secure future for Afghanistan.

Eklil Hakimi
Ambassador, Embassy of Afghanistan

The General Regrets

Although I appreciated Daniel Bolger’s mea culpa [“Why We Lost in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Revision, September], he glosses over or ignores a critical element behind our Iraq and Afghanistan debacles: a failure to implement historically successful military strategies.

After defeating Germany in WWII, we used their existing police to maintain order. In Iraq, we discharged Hussein’s entire police force and military, members of which then looted armories and joined up with local militias. Many of them now form the backbone of such groups as the Islamic State.

Steve Juniper
Berkeley, Calif.

Free-Will Hunting

Edward O. Wilson unfairly portrays the philosophical contributions to the subject of free will and consciousness [“On Free Will,” Essay, September]. By pitting science and philosophy against each other, he seems to be treating science and philosophy as discrete realms of knowledge. He points out, rather sarcastically, that philosophers often refer to qualia, or subjective experience, as a means of combatting scientific “reductionism.” But he hardly addresses the qualia objection — he simply presses forward in his attempts to demystify consciousness by explaining the neurological underpinnings that give rise to conscious thought. These underpinnings, Wilson claims, are evidence that there is a material basis for consciousness.

It may be the case that consciousness has a base in the material. But supposing that consciousness is causally reducible to neural activity does not mean that consciousness is ontologically reducible to neural activity — neural activity can guarantee conscious activity, but this fact does not mean that consciousness and neural activity are the same thing. This is where the philosopher comes in; she explores the nature of consciousness from the realm of metaphysics.

Samuel Dabakarov
New York City

Dollar a Word

I am thrilled that John Crowley will be writing for the magazine regularly, and I loved his debut column [Easy Chair, September]. At first I was not sure whether this was the novelist whose fiction I have long enjoyed. Then I noticed a seventy-nine-word sentence — I paused my reading to count — and knew it was the right Crowley.

Alan Wexelblat
Burlington, Mass.