I would venture that a modern-day “Romeo and Juliet” remake set in Jerusalem would make a decent play or film. The plot: A young Israeli and a young Palestinian navigate their families’ cultural and ideological differences while their relationship develops.
At the very least, it might convince a few people split by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to finally see each other as humans.
My own personal interest is in the Second Intifada, which I discussed to exhaustion on a small gaming forum. A few dozen people would write long articles offering up a defense of their respective side, or a criticism of a tactic or atrocity committed by the other. Links to the latest news were also published, and underneath were heated comments trying to spin the news in their side’s favor. Each time it looked like one side might gain an edge, a new perspective re-balanced the debate.
Even after months of continuous debating, neither side budged. None of the pro-Israeli supporters became any more empathetic to the Palestinian side, and vice versa. As in World War I, both sides sat in their trenches unwilling to budge and unable to move the other side. I eventually realized that as with the computer in “Wargames,” the only winning move was not to play. It was futile to think one side was right and one side was wrong.
I confirmed this through a thought exercise: I pretended to be pro-Israeli and debate from that point of view and pretended to be pro-Palestinian and did the same.
I found that neither side held the moral high ground. Every time a pro-Israeli supporter brought up the Hamas suicide bombings, a pro-Palestinian would post the casualty statistics of the latest Israeli airstrike. Every time Israel’s tactics were questioned, Palestine’s tactic of firing rockets at Israeli cities was the counter. The debate about the validity of bombing structures that had both civilians and armed combatants was particularly tense. This entrenched stalemate continued ad infinitum for every angle and topic. What happened on that small gaming forum was a microcosm of the larger discussion of the conflict.
I was shocked to conclude that I could find reasons to support and condemn both Israel and Palestine. How could I only support one side after realizing this?
I further concluded that there can be no victor in this conflict. I find it pretentious when either side tries to claim superiority in a conflict that started during the dawn of civilization. If there was ever a tie in this world, the Israel-Palestine conflict is the leading candidate. And yet, like Bobby Fischer in a hopelessly drawn position, the two sides continue to battle it out, both in the Levant and in the hearts and minds of many others around the world (especially Europeans and Americans).
Viewing both sides as right and wrong is not a cop-out; instead, it is an opportunity to change the nature of the discussion. Palestine needs to police its own neighborhoods and help stop the radicals that are firing rockets at Israel. Israel needs to rethink how it treats Palestine, and know that for every civilian they kill, five more radicals are born from the anger. These were hard lessons that I (and the U.S.) learned in my studies of Iraq and Pakistan. Both Israel and Palestine, including their respective supporters, need to get their houses in order before pointing the finger.
The Israelis and Palestinians both know their survival depends on garnering popular support from countries around the world. The Palestinians want to end the U.S. aid to Israel, so their interest groups are trying to win enough popular support to convince politicians to cut that aid. Israel wants to maintain their U.S. support, so they fight back. The back and forth plays out in the media, in our politics, and through activism. They use propaganda and heavily skewed analyses that arise from their bias.
Whenever I see a pro-Israeli or a pro-Palestinian group on campus, I simply shake my head. The pro-Palestinian campaign of declaring a state of apartheid is a brilliant public relations tactic, but is dangerous to productive discourse; it increases tension and defensiveness.
Both the pro-Israeli groups and the pro-Palestinian groups seldom acknowledge the atrocities their own side has committed, by either ignoring them completely, or trying to justify them through comparison. The same groups neglect to talk about how 40% of Palestinians support the use of suicide bombings. In a similar sense, pro-Israeli arguments in the forum I read tended to downplay how Israeli military operations affect or degrade the living situation inside of Palestine. It is blatantly a “chicken or the egg” situation. Who fired first? Does it even matter? All I see are students, faculty, and administrators who have bitten hard on the propaganda.
Furthermore, the way that student groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, WesUnited with Israel, JStreetU, and Jewish Voice for Peace seem to approach dialogue with one another only furthers the entrenchment between the two sides. Until we, as neutral parties in the conflict, realize that the inability to speak openly about these issues is a part of the problem, the stalemate will continue. Neither side of those debates seems interested in a solution; they are interested in winning an un-winnable conflict. As such, neither side should receive our support.
I reached out to students and faculty about how the issue is discussed on campus. One student I spoke with, who requested to remain anonymous, expressed dismay at how groups often back out of discussions. Instead, as Argus articles demonstrate, both sides are more interested in lobbing public accusations at each other.
This sentiment of how poor the discussion between the interest groups on campus is was confirmed by a few faculty members, including John E. Andrus Professor of History Bruce Masters.
“The debate surrounding Israel/Palestine arouses strong emotions on both sides of the issue: Palestinian rights vs. Israel’s security,” Masters wrote to me in an email. “As such, the language employed by the partisans of either has often been heated and facts distorted. I wouldn’t say much has changed in the last ten years in that regard.”
I would encourage supporters on both sides to take a step back and look at the wrongs that their own side has committed. I would encourage them to stop playing the Oppression Olympics and trying to convince themselves that their side has been wronged more. I would encourage them to stop looking at the past 60 years of history and instead look at the past six thousand.
I would encourage them to enter debates without trying to point the finger, but instead trying to find solutions that work for both sides. I would encourage them to more often enter debates instead of sitting on the sidelines and firing criticisms from afar.
Stascavage is a member of the Class of 2018.