First a disclaimer: What follows is the personal opinion of the author and should not be taken as the official position of TC Jewfolk or anyone associated with Jewfolk Media. For more info visit our policies page.
Like most of you, I’ve been following along with the news about what’s happening in Israel and Gaza. How can I not be? I’m a proud and vehement defender of Israel and wish for its safety and well-being with all my heart. I believe that a strong Israel is fundamentally vital, in a very literal sense, to my life as a Jew. To the extent that I hate anything, I hate Hamas and hope for the day when no violent fundamentalist element in Palestine (or anywhere) has any real power.
But I don’t want to talk about hate; I want to talk about peace. I started writing this piece after reading this article on Tablet.com. The article does a good job of representing the majority of pro-Israel opinions I’ve seen so far. And to be clear, I mostly agree with everything this author says. I think its unfair to blame Israel for this current round of fighting and rocket fire—or draw any type of “moral equivalencies”—when Hamas is clearly (and proudly) using civilians as human shields, and firing rockets with impunity and without warning on civilian-filled Israeli cities and towns.
On the other hand, you can’t have any talk about “responsible parties” or “innocent lives” without acknowledging the Occupation (which that author does), or even Lydda, Ramle, and the mass displacement of Palestinians from their homes 66 years ago (which that author doesn’t). The immediate cause of these current rockets may be the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teens, followed by the vengeance killing of a Palestinian boy. But the kidnapping itself wasn’t random. It was just the next chain in a line of cause-and-effects that can be traced all the way back to Lydda, 1948, and even earlier.
Palestinians demand, as a condition of peace, their Right of Return. Realistically, as long as Israel exists, Palestinians will never get that. And to reiterate, I believe in Israel’s right to exist more than just about anything else in my entire life. I believe that I am (literally) alive and well, due in no small part to the fact that there is a country in the world where Jews will always be free to live as Jews. But I’d like to think that I’ve spent 26 years learning how to think critically, empathize with those I don’t initially seem to agree with, and get beyond the “he said, she said” of playground politics.
For instance, it’s easy to say, from outside of Gaza, that Hamas is despicable for encouraging its innocent civilians to be human shields. And yes, they are. Absolutely. But make no mistake, this is a war, one without a traditional “front line.” From what I understand of Gaza, nobody who’s lived there this past decade can truly be called an innocent civilian anymore. Everyone has been negatively affected in some way by the Israeli occupation. Everyone has fought a battle, if just a mental one, with Israeli martial law. And if you’ve fought a battle, you’re a soldier. If you’re a soldier, you sometimes get called on to protect the front line. In that context, if remaining in (or returning to) a targeted building helps the war effort, what would a solider do?
I’m not saying it’s right. None of this is right. The murder of a human being at the hand of another human being should never be OK; regardless of who is responsible. Rockets won’t solve anything. Even the exercise of trying to assign blame, or faulting one side or another is the wrong thing to be doing.
Disagree with me if you want, or call me an idiot. But I’m positive that focusing on, as I’ve seen written, the fact that, “Israel uses its weapons to protect its civilians; Hamas uses its civilians to protect its weapons,” won’t solve anything either. Yes, it’s a pithy phrase, and ostensibly factual. But please believe me, or at least hear me out, when I say it misses the point.
When I’m not working on TC Jewfolk, I do improv here in Minneapolis. In improv, the foundational principle of every good scene is the concept of, “Yes, and…” It means that whatever was just said is correct [yes], and the rest of the players in the scene will now build off that and add new information [and]. Assigning blame, finding fault with someone or something— these are forms of negation that kill the positive energy needed for good, engaging scenes. If you come into a scene saying you’re a doctor, but I tell anyone who will listen that actually I’m the doctor and you’re my patient; then that scene has failed. In order for a scene to work, the scene partners need to first learn to stop pushing back against each other and all get on the same team.
I obviously don’t think that if we just got world leaders into a room to do a two-hour improv workshop, all these problems would be solved. But improv has taught me how to be more respectful, more compassionate, more empathetic. It’s made me realize that so much more can be accomplished once we can agree to be on the same team. Scenes are peaceful that way, and life, as a byproduct, becomes peaceful. And if peace is really our goal, then let’s get on the same team. Let’s stop the blame; stop the hate; stop the finger pointing. If you’ve ever been on a playground, you know nothing good ever comes from the phrase, “But he started it!”
This situation is, and always has been, more nuanced than that pithy, but simplistic quote above. And we do ourselves a disservice by not at least acknowledging that.
Ultimately change will rest in the hands of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. But I can’t reach them, I have no influence over them. If you’re reading this right now, then hopefully I have some influence over you. I don’t care when you tell me that Hamas uses its civilians as human shields. I don’t care that the IDF does more than any army in recorded history in trying to minimize civilian casualties. I don’t care when you tell me that Israel needs to be fairly represented in the media. All of these things create blame, and shift that blame to the “other side.”
I don’t care who you think started it, or what side you’re on—because I have news for you, if we want this to end then we all have to be on the same side. So get on my side, I’ll get on yours. If we can stop fighting, then maybe, hopefully, one day, Israelis and Palestinians will too.