A minor skirmish that took place this past week between two different student groups involved in the Israeli-Palestinian issue hammers home why we need to move past the language of blame.
If you happened to enter Usdan in the last week or so, you may have noticed two sets of posters that stood apart from the usual ambient collage of witty fliers and clever advertisements. The first cluster was set up by the Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that advocates for Palestinian rights and levels harsh criticism at Israel and many of its policies. The group’s posters are focused solely on attempting to level blame at Israel for the Palestinian refugee crisis. A retaliatory set of fliers was put up by Wesleyan United with Israel, a group committed to advocating for and defending Israel on campus. The group’s fliers focus on exonerating Israel, arguing that the crisis happened in spite of rather than because of Israeli actions. Their posters, taken in full, lay the blame for the Palestinian refugee crisis at the feet of the U.N., allegedly deceitful Arab regimes, and the Palestinians’ own shortsightedness: anything and anyone, in short, except Israel.
I know it is not immediately clear what Buddy Wakefield and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have to do with each other, but I have found myself thinking about them both more and more lately. I had the privilege of seeing Wakefield some time ago, and his emotional performance included a line I’ll always remember: forgiveness, he said, is giving up hope for a better past.
This statement resonated with me for many reasons, but what I love most about it is its focus on the future. The past is past, and blame will not right the wrongs done to those who came before us, nor will it create a future worthy of those who will come after us. This sentiment, I think, is lacking in the wider discussion about Israel and Palestine, including the one that takes place here on campus.
The two sets of posters may portray two wildly different versions of history, but they share a common denominator of blame. They are, at their cores, attempts to slander and vilify the people and groups seen as enemies, and they attempt to lay the responsibility for a terrible situation at the feet of someone else. What makes blame so truly destructive is that it dehumanizes those whose misery should generate our concern. The suffering of millions of individuals becomes nothing more than a means with which to defame your opponent. Individuals cease to be human beings and instead become clubs with which to beat the other side into silence and submission.
I don’t know about you, but I am tired of blame. I am tired of trying to figure out whose fault it is that so many Palestinian children have lived their whole lives in refugee camps without permanent homes, citizenship, or rights. I am tired searching for whom to blame for the fact that millions of Israeli children live in fear of an air raid siren that will send them scrambling for their lives to the nearest bomb shelter to wait until the rockets directed at their homes and schools have fallen. I am sick of this pointless exercise, and I suspect that most of you are as well.
Blame will not deliver the rights or the state Palestinians so desperately deserve, and it will not deliver Israelis the safety and security that they so anxiously crave. We need a conversation that focuses on alleviation of this suffering, one that seeks to bring about a lasting solution to this conflict and stops trying to rewrite history. We need a dialogue that demands democratic rights for every citizen in Israel and Palestine. We need a solution that recognizes the humanity and legitimacy of both peoples, and the necessity that each have a country to call home. The only resolution that can guarantee all of these things is a two-state solution, and blame and finger-pointing will not move us one inch closer to that goal.
There are many simple, concrete things we can all do to counter the tactics of blame. I urge everyone on campus who cares about this issue to attend every Israel/Palestine-related group meeting and speaker lecture. Instead of asking whose fault the conflict is, we should all ask how we can advance the cause of peace built on democratic rights and self-determination. We need a little more Buddy Wakefield in our lives, because I believe that if we can all agree that a better past is beyond our reach, we can remember that a better future is very much within our power.