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.

  • J.D. Shatz

    Frankly, I couldn’t agree more with this piece!

  • AM

    Great piece. Well done!

  • Mike

    He didn’t actually give any reasons to defend a two-state solution. Everything in his argument can be applied to various one-state solutions as well. He makes good points all around until then, but why did he have to polemicize in the penultimate sentence, thus alienating a huge audience without providing any argument to back it up?

  • Anonymous

    There is no “Palestine”. There might have been, but they chose war instead-
    time and again: The would-have-been “Palestinians” would have had a state IN PEACE in 1937 with the Peel Plan, but they violently rejected it.

    They would have had a state IN PEACE in 1939 with the MacDonald White Paper, but they violently rejected it (and Jews would have even been restricted from BUYING land from Arabs).

    They would have had a state IN PEACE in 1948 with UN 181, but they violently
    rejected it (and actually claimed that the UN had no such mandate!).

    They could have had a state IN PEACE in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza from 1948-1967 without any Jews- because the Arabs had ethnically cleansed every last one; but they violently rejected it. In fact, that’s exactly when they established Fatah (1959) and the PLO (1964).

    They could have had a state IN PEACE after 1967, but instead, the entire Arab world issued the Khartoum Resolutions:

    A. No peace with Israel

    B. No recognition of Israel

    C. No negotiations with Israel

    They would have had a state IN PEACE in 2000 with the Oslo Accords, but they
    violently rejected it- as always.

    And as soon as Israel pulled every single Israeli out of Gaza, what did the
    would-have-been “Palestinians” do? They immediately started shooting thousands of missiles into Israeli population centers, they elected Hamas (whose official platform calls for jihad with no negotiations until Israel is destroyed) to
    rule them, and they have dug tunnels crossing into the Negev to kill and kidnap

    And even afterwards, Ehud Olmert made his subsequent generous offer that went far beyond even that of Barak. The would-have-been “Palestinians” rejected it.

    They had many chances.

    They threw them all away because destroying Israel was higher on their priority
    list. It still is.

    Oh well. That’s their choice.