When I first read Samuel Spitz’s article, I was expecting to feel anger and frustration at his gross misrepresentation and oversimplification of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead, I felt profound disappointment. Has it really come to this? Have we really come to the point where the performance of a peace activist, who attempts to help people see a highly emotional and violent war from different perspectives to bring us closer to peace, is greeted with hatred and anger? I myself did not see the performance because I am currently studying abroad, but from Spitz’s description and what I heard from others, she simply was trying to illustrate both sides of an issue, an issue where people are traditionally blinded to other perspectives. Recently, an Italian pro-Palestinian activist was murdered by a terrorist group in Gaza. Even Justin Bieber has been thrust into the politics of the region. To me, what this article shows is not why we should all side with Israel, or why we should all side with the Palestinian cause, but the importance of exactly what Noa Baum was probably trying to convey with her performance. The terms of this debate need to change.
We all need to be able to see both sides. I was lucky enough to be raised in a household where political debates were expected to be thoughtful and based on fact, not sensationalist hyperbole. I am also lucky enough to have a father who studies the Arab-Israeli conflict for a living. When my family discussed the latest news from Israel and the Palestinian Territories, we often disagreed with each other about whether or not we agreed with Israel’s course of action, but we were expected to back up our arguments with facts, not blame.
Now, it is clear that Spitz’s article has plenty of statistics, but to me the most important facts were the ones not featured in the article. Yes, there were statistics about the horrible poverty the Palestinians live in, much of it a result of Israeli blockades. But where were the statistics about Palestinian efforts to put suicide bombers in ambulances when Israel made exceptions to the blockade based on emergency medical care? Yes, there was an out-of-context quotation from David Ben Gurion about forcibly removing Palestinians from their homes, a horrible legacy of the 1948 war that Israel still has not completely admitted to. But where were the quotes from the Hamas Charter, the charter of the party popularly elected by the Palestinians?
This charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and quotes the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as support for their violent vision for Israel. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery, claims that the Jews have a secret plan for global domination. This document historically has been used to justify horrible and violent acts of anti-Semitism, from pogroms to the Holocaust itself. Clearly, Israeli leaders are not the only ones who have issues with racism and prejudice. I am not trying to convince Spitz or anyone else to “side with Israel” or argue that the Palestinians deserve their horrible fate. Instead, with these facts I am trying to show that there are indeed two equal sides to this conflict.
There is another group that I believe got shafted in Spitz’s article: the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a horrible genocide in which millions of innocent people were murdered simply based on what family they were born into. Sadly, the Holocaust was not the first genocide and has not been the last. But to compare what is going on in the Palestinian territories to the Holocaust is a cheap shot and an insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
There are historical events that call to mind what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians, perhaps the British treatment of the Irish, or the conflict between Indians and Pakistanis when India gained independence, but the Holocaust was not one of them. I would urge Spitz to see the lecture given every year by Holocaust survivor Helen Sperling at Colgate or participate in the annual reading of the six million names of the victims of the Holocaust that happens on the academic quad every year in order to better understand why this comparison is so irresponsible.
To me, what Spitz’s article demonstrates is the heart of the conflict: misunderstanding. Whether we want to or not, we must understand both perspectives in a conflict. Clearly, throughout history there have been conflicts that have been one-sided, such as the genocide in Rwanda, but the Arab- Israeli conflict is not one of them. If you choose to look at what’s going on in Israel through the way Spitz recommends, picking and choosing the facts that help your argument and ignoring everything else, then you will probably come to the conclusion that there is only one side.
But the reason these conflicts are so messy is because all the facts and numbers don’t point to a clear solution. There are facts, historical evidence and tragedy to make you sympathize with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. Why should we have to pick?
In the end, it will be both sides, and world powers like the United States, that will have to make compromises and come to terms with the horrors they committed to make peace. If we look at history with an attempt to understand both perspectives, the path to peace will be easier. It is much easier to see everything as black and white, but it is also just as irresponsible.
We owe it to the suffering Palestinians, forced to live in poverty, shuffled through checkpoints with no regard to their dignity, ruled over by a government that is either pushing terrorism or corruption and sometimes both. We owe it to them to see things from their side. We owe it to the suffering Israelis, forced to live every day with the fear that when their children get on the bus to school a heartless suicide bomber could murder everyone onboard.
We owe it to the Israelis, who accepted a two-state solution in 1948, despite the fact that it did not give them Jerusalem, only to be invaded by their Arab neighbors who could not accept any agreement that included a Jewish state anywhere on the map.
We also owe it to them to see things from their side. And just as importantly, we owe it to ourselves as college students to treat this debate with the respect and academic responsibility that it deserves.