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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Livin’ in the world today: Torn by the Holy Land

<e’s nothing that forces a person to understand the complexities of an issue more than having to argue both sides of a debate. Often we try to simplify problems into a binary choice – we’re either for or against something. This simplification, however, is rarely helpful. Usually, it just polarizes interested parties, distorts issues and prevents people from finding solutions. Today we see this unhelpful type of discourse all the time when in reality the issues are far more complex.

The Middle East is a region of the world whose problems are well publicized. Yet, specifically in the case of Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians and the rest of the Muslim world, we seem to not quite understand the complexities embedded in the various narratives of the “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict. Having a Jewish father and an Iranian mother has forced me to understand Israel, to really feel its conflict within myself, in a whole new way.

Going to a Jewish high school, I found myself to be one of the most critical voices of Israel around. Israel is arrogant and treats the Palestinians horribly. How can we Jews persecute a people so brutally when we fled to Israel to escape brutal treatment? How can we possibly be the force of evil to the Palestinian people when throughout our history—our narrative, our story—we were segregated and killed when all we were doing was minding our own business and looking for ways to survive and prosper? What about that whole thing of having humility and treating others with dignity because we were once slaves in the land of Egypt? These were all contradictions in the Jewish and Israeli narratives that I constantly brought up. In addition, why can’t Jews break the victim narrative that is making us so defensive in our protection of Israel; do we not realize that the most powerful nation on Earth has our backs?

But then I arrived at college, and to a place that consistently holds Israel much more accountable than my past environment. Now, hearing people say they are anti-Israel is commonplace. Suddenly, the tables have seemed to turn; I now find myself being the ardent supporter of Israel, pointing out critics’ contradictions.

The first and most recent issue is the war a year ago in Gaza where, over a span of a few months, Israel bombarded the Strip with almost everything it had. The criticism of this offensive is well known: it was disproportionate, killed civilians and exacerbated an already desperate human rights situation, among others. And let me first say that I opposed the conflict too, not only because of these things but because I do not believe it aided the long-term prospects for peace. It is important, however, to try to think about Israel’s position and how really impossibly hopeless it often is. Imagine living in a neighborhood where you lived in constant fear of a rocket flying through your house, destroying your home and any people in its way. Would you not want your government to do everything it could to stop this? Then, imagine those conducting these attacks are not a normal militia, ready to fight its opponent directly. The force sending rockets into your neighborhood, rather, is an enemy that forces women and children to stand in front of them to maximize the casualties and tragedies the western media will report. In addition, they store their weapons not in military arsenals or bases, but in mosques, schools, and civilian homes. How do you defeat these people whose only wish is to see your nation destroyed?

In addition, I am infuriated by states like Iran who cry for the plight of the Palestinian people yet do nothing to actually help them. I would ask Iranian officials, how can you claim to care for them as your Muslim brothers when all you do is supply arms to organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah? How many schools have you built, how many businesses have you helped develop in the Palestinian territories? These are efforts that would truly help a people whose majority is less interested in destroying Israel and more so in feeding their families and living in security. Don’t they realize that by fueling the conflict they do not help the Palestinians but make it worse? Indeed, the real concern is not about the Palestinians, whom surrounding Arab states have consistently refused to accept, but really about fighting a proxy war against the Great Satan, the U.S., as part of the ongoing “clash of civilizations” narrative of the Western versus Muslim World.

The next time Americans raise concerns about Israel’s conduct, how about asking what we have done recently to help Indigenous Americans in our own backyard? Having experienced comparable trauma and poverty, how many Native Americans have blown themselves up in American buses or other public places? What would be our reaction if they did, if it was our lives, our families and homes at risk? Would we excuse their behavior as some have the acts of extremist Palestinians? Many argue Palestinians are doing all they can do to fight for their rights, but Israel withdrew from Gaza a few years ago, giving Gazans a choice to build and prosper peacefully as neighbors, with a minimum of interference from Israel and aid pouring in from around the world. But Hamas chose instead to exert its dominance and turn Gaza into a base for daily terrorist rocket barrage on civilian villages. These acts of war are the only reason there is such an embargo and retaliation on Gaza.

Now, by this point in the article, you are likely feeling a range of emotions. The point, however, is to get you to think and to not pick sides. Making a binary, polarizing decision in a conflict such as this does nothing to help reach a resolution. Rather than allowing people to find the integrative solutions and reach the painful compromises that peace would bring, the polarization enforces the status quo, which everyone would agree, is horribly unacceptable. Breakthrough requires a measure of compassion for both sides and deep acceptance of the complexities: one can be pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli at the same time.

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