Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On Who to Listen to When Talking About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

I posted this on Facebook this morning. I appreciate any discussion of Israeli-Palestinian conflict on an American or Western European program that doesn't involve demagoguery or shouting. No one will become an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after a five-minute talk with Amos Oz. But hopefully a few people will listen to this, read a little more, and be more critical of the rhetoric from all sides. (I'm not going to say "both sides," because I know and you should know by now that there are at least a thousand sides to the issue.) You can still support BDS after hearing Oz's condemnation of it, but hopefully you will hone your arguments for a more liberal audience and maybe evolve your position, make BDS more effective.

I don't speak Hebrew or Arabic. I was in Israel once, when I was 13, for my bar mitzvah. I have read at most ten books in my life that concern Israel in some way, four of which are novels, two of which are by Philip Roth, and one of which is The Yellow Wind. I have met a fair number of Israelis, in college, in my travels in Europe, in gay bars, in grad school, and they all land at various points on the 12-dimensional political world that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I've met a few people who emigrated to Israel and then came back, disillusioned by what they saw. Among them, I count an old Slovene I met in Ljubljana. He went to Israel in the 1950s, in support of the Zionist project, and then came home to Yugoslavia, hoping to be part of the Yugoslav project instead.  

I don't know the "solution" to the conflict or if a solution exists. I don't know if I believe in a one-state or two-state solution, although I believe human rights takes priority over all other concerns when deciding the formation of nation-states. I also know that there are certain people who I won't listen to anymore: Anyone who has not spent a significant amount of time in either Israel or the Palestinian territories, and, if they have spent time in the country, not spent any time talking to any Palestinians or any Israelis. I will not speak to anyone who compares the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories to apartheid South Africa who can't write at least 30 good pages explaining in detail the history of apartheid South Africa. I will not speak to anyone who stereotypes one group or another, anyone who believes either Israelis or Palestinians are in anyway unique in their violent acts. I will not speak to anyone who thinks a verse in the Koran or a chapter in the Book of Genesis can explain everything, absolutely everything, about the behavior of Hamas, Abbas, or Netanyahu. I will not speak to anyone who doesn't know the name of a single Israeli pop singer or a single Palestinian novelist.

There have been thousands of pages written about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unless you are prepared to do the work, all you have is noise.

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