Just yesterday, I found myself in the middle of yet another Facebook debate, and of course it had to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (I know, I know, WHY do I even engage?!). Going into it, I somewhat knew how the conversation would unfold:
Me: “Well you know, try to look at it from this point of view…”
Other person: “Well, the facts say this so…”
Me: “But just try to consider why the other side might see it this way…”
Other person: “The land is ours!!!” or “They just want to kill us!!!” or insert any other overused justification for why this conflict continues to go around in circles
*Of course this is an oversimplification of the conversation, enhanced for dramatic effect, but you get the point…..
As someone who is completely unaffiliated with this conflict aside from the fact that one day I decided I wanted to study it (read: I am neither Jewish nor Muslim, Israeli nor Arab), I found that in situations such as this – where I am in a debate with someone “inside” the conflict – my opinion or point of view is taken with less value (or so it feels).
“You will never understand what it’s like!”
“What? Do you think you are just gonna come here and fix everything?”
Or as I heard in yesterday’s debate, any decisions made regarding the conflict will have “no meaningful consequences to me.” Because there is no way I have any Israeli or Palestinian friends, and even if I did, why on earth would I care about their future or wellbeing?! (Sarcasm…)
Yes, I do understand why people say these things to me. If I were in their position, I would probably be thinking the same thing. However, it helps to consider that people coming from the “outside” are clean slates. By seeing with their own eyes, they have the ability to bring a new perspective to the situation – a perspective that is not clouded by intense emotions, direct connections and personal tragedies.
It would be silly to say that the media does not construct preconceived notions for those who do not live here (and for those who do live here, but that’s another story). I have spoken with American exchange students who were amazed to find that I traveled to the West Bank, or that I have Palestinian friends. On the other hand, I have spoken with European volunteers in Ramallah who refuse to even set foot in Israel. Both of these viewpoints are problematic, therefore I urge fellow “outsiders” to try your hardest to be a clean slate – to come here with open eyes and ears, to visit both Israel and Palestine, and to form your own educated opinions. You will come to realize that it is not as black and white as you might originally think.
For those of you on the “inside” – Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, both living here and abroad – please try not to disregard or devalue an “outsider’s” viewpoint. Engage us in discussion; teach us things and help us to understand your side of the story. However, do so in a way that is not degrading or dehumanizing to the other side. And if we bring something to the discussion that challenges your viewpoint, please consider it. Do not accept it at face value, but understand that maybe we raise a point that you were unable to see before because of your “inside” status. I am happy to say that yesterday’s Facebook debate was cordial and perhaps productive (although Facebook debates rarely are). While discussions like this will probably not change your viewpoint entirely, they might help you to better understand your “enemy.”
It is difficult to be someone unaffiliated with the most polarizing conflict in the world today, living in the midst of the most polarizing conflict in the world today. It challenges me every day, and I know that I will never fully understand what it feels like. But it also teaches me. It teaches me that there are some complete wackos on both sides. But it also teaches me, every single day, that there are people willing to listen to the other side and to constructively work towards a peaceful solution.