As spectators, outside of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, some question the continued bloodshed that has occurred on both sides of the human constructed boundaries that divide the land and people. Others take on the cause of one side of the people living in the region calling for continued death and destruction to the opposing side, often based on religious or ethnic affiliations. Glancing at social media, I was hit with a barrage of gruesome images of decapitated children, mutilated bodies, and typically biased opinions of the situation. I signed off my social media accounts, with the hopes that I would be able to close my eyes without the garish images haunting my dreams of the death and destruction that has ruled the region for almost 80 years. Fighting that has left generations scarred with pain, hate, helplessness, and hopelessness. Those living amidst the destruction do not have the luxury of closing their eyes to their immediate surroundings.
My own mixed cultural experiences have shown me that it is personally hard to hate another human being once you have had meaningful contact and developed an understanding of their worldview. I reiterate with this statement that I am referring to people, and not an entity such as a government. My experiences have also taught me that evilness does not lie in individuals based on their religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, or some other human constructed social group; evilness lies in greed and the need for power and control. Our everyday contacts with the world, as well as the pictures that are prepared and fed to us by media shape our views of how the world works.
My daughter came home the other day with her nose swollen and told me how she had been hit in the nose by another child. The other child through the years has inflicted physical pain on my child, but it is a situation in which I have been told, “They are just children”. In this situation, I am unable to respond, and yes, there are situations in which this can occur, because of the repercussion that can occur. We all catch ourselves in these situations where the cost of responding to an unjust and unfair situation only makes the situation spiral out of the context far from the original conflict. Out of frustration, I told my daughter “The next time she hits you…take her down and beat the hell out of her until she cries, she will think twice next time she decides to hurt you!”. Moments after these words flew out of my mouth in a state of frustration because of my inability to protect my child from pain, I felt I had betrayed my own ideals and values. I have always taught my children to play nicely, fairly, and take the pacifists route of peace, and yet I had just encouraged, and yes, instructed my 11-year-old to “beat the hell” out of another human being.
While the dilemma of my child does not have an ounce of the gravity and seriousness of the Palestinian / Israeli conflict, and by no means do I mean to equate it with childhood squabbles, it does illustrate some of the basic dynamics that have fueled the continuation of this gruesome, unjust, and humanitarian crisis. In the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, more powerful international players have remained in silence, or justified the continued aggression and expansion of Israel against the Palestinian people. Their silence and support has fueled the situation not only by neglecting to deal with their own actions of the past, but also the material benefits that are reaped by keeping the region destabilized. The old cliché “Divide and then conquer” has much relevance to this situation. The Holocaust indeed is a black period in the history of humans as millions of innocent people lost their lives under the fanatical thinking and actions of a lunatic. Just as a child that has experienced a traumatic event should not be given free rein to hurt others because of their history, neither should a government be allowed continuously to act out aggressively to a group of people. Making excuses and keeping silent does not fix an issue, but only escalates a situation in which the root of a problem will never be addressed.
As humans, we have both the gift and curse of memories that leave a lasting imprint in how we view our world, others, and ourselves around us. How we interpret and remember our memories is not only a product of the event itself, but also the feelings we associate with those memories. I recount my own reaction to my daughter’s event, of encouraging her to hurt another human being; my response was not fueled by this event alone, but a history of feeling that I had been marginalized, taken advantage of, boundaries crossed, and silenced. The human species has the unique ability to communicate, where not only our own unique experiences become a part of our memories, but also the memories of others as they are recounted become part of our collective self. The histories of both those that identify themselves as Muslim Arab Palestinians and Israeli Jews have experienced atrocities throughout history and into the present. Although currently, the number of Palestinians suffering death, loss of property, freedom, and destruction in their homeland is considerably higher than that experienced by Israelis. Although both sides, the number of Palestinians, who are mostly the innocent and vulnerable to the situation such as children, continues to mount on a daily basis.
I have heard such rhetoric as “the Palestinians lost their own land and need to deal with it”, or “Arabs have fought with each other for thousands of years and just cannot get along with others”, or “Arabs are terrorists”, or “When Palestinians care more for their children and quit making them terrorists peace will happen”. These superficial statements give no weight to the experiences of the people. In the past 80 years, Palestinians have lost their lives, home, property, and ability to move freely in a land that they have inhabited for thousands of years. It is an innate response to defend those aspects of our lives in which we are able to obtain sustenance to survive. For example, if China decided to move into the United States and take over the homes and natural resources, limit the movement of United States citizens, and bomb the civilians, would we call the people that retaliated back with aggression “terrorists”? No most likely they would be labeled as heroes, fighters or truth and justice, protectors, or defenders. Who is labeled a terrorist is dependent upon the worldview of who is viewed as superior in a situation, and who should have rights and access to material goods. Moreover, the people of Palestine, both Jews and Muslims existed peacefully until other world powers sanctioned the creation of “Israel”, disturbing the natural peaceful co-existence of the people of the region.
I admit that I am neither intelligent enough, nor arrogant enough to propose a solution to this gruesome conflict that has raged for years, but I do know that no people as a group are collectively or inherently evil by their religion, nationality, or ethnicity. My heart aches for the people of Palestine, but it also aches for the parents of Israelis who have lost loved ones in this conflict as well. On both sides of the boundaries, the average person, family, and community is trying to live, thrive, and love regardless of their beliefs or ethnicity. For most humans, our motivations and behaviors are driven by the need to connect to others and have affiliation with others in which we feel accepted, loved, and nurtured. On the darker side of human nature, we also have those that are driven by greed, power, and the need to control. As governments and popular media outlets (which are often controlled by those who have their own agenda) leak a story to the general public, listening closely to what they report, the words they use to report, and the images that are shown generally can illustrate their self-claimed “unbiased reporting”. Their reporting arouses feelings of hatred and anger among individuals that are typically compassionate human beings, but again, when an individual feel that they are in danger, they will collectively organize among socially constructed groups, spewing hate and violence of the “other”.
On a more positive note, I do see a glimmer of hope as individuals from both sides of the conflict have crossed over to foster human connections and support for their neighbors. The continued marginalization, murder, and imprisonment of the people of Palestine serves no other purpose than to continue profiting those that have benefitted from the situation in terms of economics, power, and control. These same individuals have manipulated the public through fear to resort to violence and hatred against others, using either religion or ethnicity as a base of whom “they should hate”. While I do not condone violence, I also understand the behaviors of Palestinians who send small rockets and shells into Israel, in which they generally pay a thousand times over from the strong military force of the Israeli government. When an individual feels threatened, manipulated, disrespected, imprisoned, and has watched as not only their history and continued existence threatened, striking back with violence is a reaction that most of us would make as well. Peace to all and may we learn to exist with our neighbors and respect our diversity, without the darker forces of human nature interfering with each individual human’s right of safety, love, and peace.