The first real conversation I ever had about Israel and Palestine happened on a Tuesday. I was doing laundry and talking on the phone with my one of my closest friends, “H.” He wasn't going on our summer camp´s trip to Israel and I was mad about it.
“What do you mean you´re not going. We have been planning this forever. It's going to be amazing!”
“You’re right. It will be amazing, but I can't go. I just can’t. I feel that if I do, I'll be supporting a government that isn't good and isn't right. I´ll be contributing to the problem instead of fixing it. I just can't do it.”
I kind of knew what he meant, but over the course of the next hour, he explained to me everything he knew about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; everything he felt about a country that I called a second home. We discussed and argued and cried and then discussed even more and, by the end of it, I realized how little I knew and how much I had to learn about a country I thought I understood so well.
After that conversation, I started thinking about Israel and Palestine more frequently. I began noticing how ingrained Israel was in Judaism. For example, an Israeli flag can be found on the bima in my synagogue and in most across the U.S. What are flags doing in my place of worship? When talking to other Jews, it was almost as if when I questioned Israel I was criticizing Judaism as a whole. Having a Jewish homeland is very important, so questioning and criticizing the Israeli government was a personal attack.
Whenever I started talking about how I didn't agree with a new law passed or settlement started, I felt like I was insulting my people, like I was spitting in the face of all the Jews before me that had suffered with no country to take them in. I was so confused! Especially with the news that Israel planned to deport 60,000 African refugees or face harsh consequences, thoughts about the Conflict engulfed my mind constantly. I had so many questions that needed answers. So many perspectives and events that I didn't understand. My Jewish day school education provided me with a lot of knowledge on the good things Israel does, but if you asked to describe the Conflict, I wouldn't know where to begin. So I talked to friends, read articles, and watched possibly every youtube video out there on the Conflict, trying to grasp what was going on; who was right; who was wrong.
I live in a small and very Zionist Jewish community in the midwest. Growing up, no one ever talked about Palestine; the maps were even drawn to engulf the occupied territories. I thought Israel was a land that could do no wrong, but no country, especially Israel, is perfect. The information I learned showed things and pictures I didn't want to see, that I didn't want to be true. I found out about how the Israeli government violates countless international laws to justify its occupation in places like the West Bank. Palestinians oftentimes have difficulty even accessing basic necessities like water and health care. For Palestinian residents, gaining Israeli citizenship is practically impossible. The pictures I saw looked eerily familiar to ones taken during the Civil Rights Era of black men and women protesting in the face of the police. The abuse of power, the cycle that humanity is too used to, was spinning again. I felt so angry and stupid and frustrated. Angry that a country I loved could do such harm, but even more angry that I didn't realize how ignorant I was until now.
Palestinian political violence has harmed Israelis, but does that justify all this cruelty? Israel does a lot of great things for our world, but its treatment of the Palestinians is unacceptable. How did a country built by refugees become a place of no refuge? I didn't know what to think; both sides have valid narratives and the Conflict in and of itself is a complicated mess. I honestly felt ashamed to resent Israel. By acknowledging that this country I love ignores and harms the existence of an entire people, I felt as though I was doing the same to my own people. Just because a government is bad doesn't mean the people it represents are. There is so much death and war and anger; both sides having valid points but neither able to work anything out. I was stuck between two extremes, unsure what opinion to form, unsure what place I held in the mess that is the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
I love Israel a lot. Being there is like living in a dream. Fresh apricots and the sea, barbecues with friends and family. The quiet and comfort of Shabbat and late nights on the hammock made up my time there. I think that's why it hurts so much to learn about the Conflict. Not only was I so ignorant about the injustices many face from the Israeli government, but the fact that my version of Israel is so different compared to others’ cuts deep: African immigrants sitting in detention centers, the slums of south Tel Aviv, Palestinian teens only a few years older than me, celebrating their birthdays in prison. My vacations to Israel sound cruelly sweet in comparison to their reality. It hurts to admit a place you care about does wrong. It's scary to know about all the things that no one ever told you, for fear they would change you, or worse.
As time passed, I was able to make up my mind a bit, but in a different way than I expected. I didn't come up with a definite opinion or solution. Instead, I realized that most of my frustration came from the fact I was so clueless. I didn't even have the tools or information to form my own opinion about the conflict, but just listened to what people around me were saying. Since that talk with “H,” I educated myself on the state of the situation to form a true opinion of my own. It's something that's difficult to do, but ultimately the most important part of understanding the world today.
My perspective on Israel has changed. Even though I still love it, I also understand its flaws and I won't support it blindly. I understand the legitimacy of Palestine and the injustice faced by Palestinians everyday for the right to exist in a land that is home for them, too. That is something I would never have realized if I just listened to what the adults around me were saying. I know I can't change things alone, but trying to comprehend the legitimacy of each historical narrative, understanding the unjust treatment and oppression faced by Palestinians, the fear and grief faced by others, and learning in general is one step closer to peace. Crybaby’s print editor, Maggie Wilde, said it best, “Education is super important in dismantling your own ideas of other people and the world around you.”
To that end, whatever issue is close to your heart, learn about it. Try to understand it as best as you can. Talk to people, read, watch, listen, get out of your comfort zone, understand your point of view, and learn all that you can about the other side as well. It's the only way to truly grasp what's going in this crazy world, and the only way to begin to change it for the better. As for me, I know a lot more about the parts of Israel my community doesn’t want me to see, and that's a good thing. I challenge long held beliefs and racism I see from Jews around me. I’ve found organizations like “If Not Now” and tons of others that work towards creating peace in the Middle East and between Israelis and Palestinians. At my summer camp, I talk with counselors and campers alike about their point of view. I try to educate others around me about Israel and I listen to what they have to say.
I am so proud to be Israeli, because I know that it is a country filled with people capable of love and change: Jews, Arabs, Christians and Muslims alike, all capable of forgiveness and compassion. I have learned that the opposite of war is not peace, but creation. Violence does not lead to understanding, but just more violence and resentment. Israel is a country I love very much but, but I refuse to accept or support the fear based oppression that takes place there. I support the end of the occupation and eventually a Palestinian state, because what I have learned shows me that's the right thing to do.
Ultimately, I’ve learned this: The truth is hard. The truth takes time. The truth is complicated. The truth hurts, but the truth changes us and, in return, allows us to change the world for the better.
Illustration by Justine Seo