I haven’t written much of anything since the events of October 7th in Israel or the subsequent bombardment of Gaza because I haven’t felt I have much of anything of substance to add to the tragedy. And if there’s one thing we can all agree on when it comes to Israel/Palestine, it’s that anyone with an opinion is so entrenched in that point of view, there’s no changing their mind on the matter. In fact, attempting to do so tends to make folks dig in. Even my using the word “opinion” would likely anger some, because their point of view is a matter of fact or truth, not opinion. Everyone else is misguided, foolish, or willfully ignorant.
So I’ll sit back, I thought, and come back in when the time felt right. But I can’t imagine when things will feel right again. And to completely blow by it would feel just as wrong (although I’ve shared some things publicly and have, of course, had plenty of private conversations with friends and family).
For whatever reason, I now feel reluctantly compelled to share what I think, even though I know it will please precisely no one––including myself (which is precisely how I started off my Israel/Palestine video series earlier in the year). Because for whatever reason, this is the one geopolitical issue people demand 100 percent alignment on. Waiver, even slightly, and you’re part of the problem.
Nuance is as vibrant as a dodo. There is no gray area.
Holding two truths
Part of the reason I suddenly feel compelled to write is because a travel journalist I admire just shared a simple Instagram story that about sums up how I feel.
“Both can be valid, urgent, true,” read the line underneath the hashtags.
Social media, I’d argue, has done more harm than good for the issues related to Israel/Palestine. A wildly complex 5,000-year history gets whittled down to a snappy Instagram infographic. It doesn’t do anyone justice, but that never stops folks from sharing them because they sound true and align with pre-existing biases.
Most people I’ve spoken with think what Hamas did was the epitome of evil, that the hostages should be returned yesterday, and that Israel’s military response is problematic, judging an entire people for the actions of terrorists among them. End of story.
(For those who say that the Gazans voted for Hamas, the last election was 2006 and half of Gaza’s population is under 18, meaning most Gazans are children who didn’t vote for Hamas.)
What’s been most frustrating for me, from the comparative comfort of my Berlin apartment, is the seeming inability for people outside of Israel/Palestine to publicly hold both of these truths. If we can’t agree that killing innocent civilians, regardless of their nationality/ethnicity/religion, is wrong, then we’re all fucking doomed.
If confronted, people will more than likely say, “Yes, of course killing innocent civilians is wrong… But…” And that’s when it begins. The whataboutisms that seem to uniquely plague this corner of the globe.
This is why I left Israel/Palestine earlier this year less hopeful in a peaceful solution anytime soon. Confront Israeli history with the Nakba, forced evictions, and all the horrors Palestinians generally face in the West Bank, you’ll get, “What about Arabs expelling Jews from their countries!? Can’t exactly go back to Tunisia where they just set fire to a synagogue.”
Confront Palestinian history with Jewish connection to the land and forced expulsions from Europe and Arab lands, and you’ll get, “What about constant settler and military oppression!?”
It’s an indescribably painful history that makes it nearly impossible for, at least the loudest voices, to address problems in the moment rather than fall back to when ‘the other side’ did something terrible. On that trip in April and May, I could see the inability of people to hold two truths. For example, the lasting pain of the Nakba and forced expulsion from Arab-majority nations can both be and are the reality.
To be fair, I can intellectually understand why those living in Israel/Palestine would struggle or find it impossible to empathize with their ancient cousins. When you’re in the heat of a stupid argument with your partner, all you can think about is your perspective. Now multiply that by thousands of years and the death of your loved ones.
But for those of us not directly impacted by what’s happening, we can take a breath. President Obama summed up the sentiment I’m trying to get at in his recently released statement:
“Perhaps most of all, it means we should choose not to always assume the worst in those with whom we disagree. In an age of constant rancor, trolling and misinformation on social media, at a time when so many politicians and attention seekers see an advantage in shedding heat rather than light, it may be unrealistic to expect respectful dialogue on any issue — much less on an issue with such high stakes and after so much blood has been spilled. But if we care about keeping open the possibility of peace, security and dignity for future generations of Israeli and Palestinian children — as well as for our own children — then it falls upon all of us to at least make the effort to model, in our own words and actions, the kind of world we want them to inherit.”
I do not speak for Jews by any stretch of the imagination. I’m a late-bloomer, diluted Jew, if you will, with a sakh (as my Yiddish-speaking ancestors might say) of imposter syndrome whenever I do Jewish stuff. But I have been chatting with Jews since this catastrophe all began. And far more often than not, friends have expressed disappointment with the inability of their non-Jewish friends, who aren’t directly impacted by Israel/Palestine, to hold two truths. Many did come out from the beginning to express their sadness after the terrorist attack. Plenty of others stayed silent.
To be honest, I didn’t mind the silence. I don’t think it’s every individual’s job to comment on social media about every terrible thing that happens in the world. In fact, I wish more people wouldn’t, rather than jumping on the bandwagon and feigning some kind of expertise on the matter. (For what it’s worth, I do not consider myself an expert on Israel/Palestine. Far from it!)
But I do know that for some Jews, it was alienating to see those same folks who were silent about the Hamas massacre suddenly become social media activists, decrying the horrors of Israel’s military response, without simultaneously joining the call to bring the hostages home. These same Jews who’ve felt alienated largely agree that Israel’s military response has been unjustly heavy-handed.
But most can’t help but wonder why someone would choose to be silent about one horror and suddenly loud about another. It indicates, whether intentionally or not, that they view some lives are more valuable or worthwhile than others.
My immediate family was not directly impacted by the Holocaust. But I can see how for those who were, this apparent indifference to Israeli Jewish suffering triggers a painful historical memory that dead Jews just don’t matter to some people.
And if you view one life as inherently more valuable than another, then I go back to my previous statement: We’re fucking doomed.
I don’t have a neatly wrapped up ending for this, because clearly no such thing exists for the issues plaguing Israel/Palestine. If I had the answer, I’d have a Nobel Peace Prize hanging next to my obnoxious amount of (participation) race medals. Instead, it’s just the medals hanging over Moses’ dog crate.
My only hope is that people, especially those mostly disconnected from Israel/Palestine, suppress the urge to share anything and everything that comes across their face that instantly conforms with their biases. It only stands to further entrench people in their anger, their hatred, and makes a peaceful solution to the bombardment of Gaza and the safe return of Israeli hostages even more unlikely. Because I swear, it seems some people are more invested in being ‘right’ and, at times, dunking on social media friends and strangers on the internet than they are in the peaceful resolution of this war.
Not to mention ratcheting up that anger and can make life more dangerous for the many Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Palestinians, and Israelis living outside of Israel/Palestine. We’ve already seen it happen with the Palestinian boy in Illinois murdered and the sharp rise in antisemitism.
Don’t contribute to the rise of hatred in the belief that you’re supporting your side. If you truly view every life as important, as valuable, as worthy of dignity, then we’re ultimately all on the same side, even if it doesn’t always look like it.
Thanks for reading and I’ll return to my regularly scheduled nonsense ASAP.