In Which I Finally Talk About Israelis and Palestinians (Sort of)
I have avoided talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years. I feel my reasons are good. It’s such a highly politicized situation that it’s really impossible to speak. Any words that suggest that Israelis are not demons are automatically called an apology for atrocities. Any words that suggest that Palestinians are only human are automatically called anti-Semitic. In the meantime, the pro-Palestinian politics of Europe and the pro-Israeli politics of the United States are both harmful and skewed.
Plus, I have no dog in this fight. I like people. I like Jewish people. I like Palestinian people. I’m a people person.
Here’s the thing, though. I have to watch my friends who do talk about the situation get skewered. Just in the past ten years, the situation has polarized. I see people becoming increasingly defensive and racist. I hear terrible suggestions. I can’t hear that and not call it out, so I end up in the conversation anyway, however hard I try to avoid it.
Both sides are convinced that they are right… and both sides are right, in some ways. Israelis need security. Palestinians need opportunity and freedom of movement. These are needs, not wants. Israelis have been victimized. Palestinians have been victimized. Congratulations: both sides are right.
So what does being right get you? It gets you an intractable conflict, everyone looking for an ideal rather than dealing with the facts as they stand. It gets you anger and bitterness, ultimately, and pain, and danger.
What is the alternative? What can Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, and everyone else do?
How about giving up on rightness and trying to be good?
Start small. Start by greeting a neighbor and seeing what he or she needs. Start by greeting the people in the shops you visit, being kind to staff, and slowly making a few fewer assumptions.
Don’t expect it to be easy. That coworker who drives you insane needs something, too, and it’s not easy to overcome that dislike enough to help. Remember that easy things are rarely worth doing in the long run.
I can guarantee you that you will not be ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or genocide, or war in general. At least, you won’t be ending it directly. But you’ll be slowly building a world in which it can be ended. That’s a world worth building. Try it. Meet the people who live next door. Refuse to laugh at someone who is mentally ill. Comfort a stranger crying on a subway. Talk to someone who is very different from yourself – like a fellow human. Build peace where you can, and count your victories small. That way, you’ll have more of them.