Israel, Palestine, and Facebook…It’s Complicated

24 Jul

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Months ago I wrote about the wonderful ways in which Facebook (and other forms of social media) could generate much appreciated support and sympathy for those, like me, who were going through a difficult time.  In that post, I happily observed that people could rise to the level of discourse in front of them and transform Facebook from a site dedicated to cat videos and clever comments about bacon, to one that created supportive, electronic communities of choice.  But if it is true that people can rise to the occasion on social media, it is similarly true that they (their comments, really) can also sink to the moment, as well.  Lately my Facebook page is awash in postings about the war between Israel and Hamas (is there any human experience lower and baser than war?). Sometimes these posts point to thoughtful articles, sometimes to foolish and callous works, and very often—too often—they are angry rants that either blame or defend Israel in nasty, snarky, or hate-filled commentary (it’s worth noting that I have yet to read any post or piece in my feed that defends Hamas).  All of it—the endless reposting of articles, the venting of spleen, and even the somewhat well-meaning postings of those who seek decency from belligerents who have no interest in being decent—has become maddening to me.  At first, I took part in these exchanges, reminding friends and colleagues of Israel’s right to defend itself and chastising others for their unwillingness to see the humanity in the Palestinian people, but I found the exercise painful and sad. I soon realized that, as one of our friends has noted, debating a hot-button issue on Facebook is like arguing via Post-It notes.  And so I opted out, refusing to “Like,” “Share,” or even discuss posts about the war—save for one brief and civil exchange with a former colleague from grad school.

Still, I am not willing to abandon my visits to the site. I use Facebook as a way of staying in touch with old friends.  I use it to watch my niece, my daughter, and others who are too young or too cool to hang out with me live their lives, to see picture of pets, to enjoy my friend’s vacation photos from around the world, and to learn of funny videos from John Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, John Oliver, and other comedians whose first names begin with the letter J.  And so I am loth to abstain from Facebook.  Still, to open up my newsfeed these days is to enter into the middle of an awful and angry war of words, an ugly, and in my opinion unhelpful, venting of anti-Semitism, anti-Arab hatred, and other forms of poisonous vitriol.

I am not particularly surprised by the racism and hatred that has been unleashed by this war. I get it.  People are angry, and so they lash out. I am angry about this war, too, but I am also quite angry about the social media discourse I have encountered these days.  In particular, I am angry (or maybe upset is a better word…I don’t know) because I find that many of my friends and colleagues have taken a complex human tragedy and boiled it down into simple bumper-sticker slogans, gotcha moments, and word games.  But I believe there is nothing simple about this war, nothing simple about the ongoing conflict that exists between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples and politicians, and nothing simple about the world’s reactions to all of it.  I believe these issues are intensely complicated, and I believe we would all be better served to remind ourselves of that complexity.

Below I list just a fraction of those complications. I don’t pretend to be particularly well-versed in the complexity and nuance of the Middle East, and I recognize that in creating this list I have created my own set of slogans and bumper stickers.  I guess I would observe, though, that I don’t see my pronouncements as being definitive truth (unlike so many vitriolic posts I have read in the past few weeks). Nor do they pretend to offer answers or resolutions (like so many simplistic statements I have read of late).  Rather, they are mere observations about how difficult, challenging, and possibly intractable these issues have become.  I assume that some of you may be angered by my post and some may dismiss me as naïve, ridiculous, and ignorant.  That’s fine, but I firmly believe that all human experience is incredibly complex, and the Israel/Palestine conflict is no different.

It’s complicated because one of the proximate causes of this most recent war was the inexcusable and unforgivable kidnapping and murder of three, innocent Israeli teenagers AND because in response to those murders, Israeli thugs murdered an innocent Palestinian kid, another inexcusable and unforgiveable act.

It’s complicated because many Israelis and the Palestinians object to their respective government’s actions AND because, still, someone elected these people to lead.

It’s complicated because Jews have a deep historic tie to and presence in the land AND Palestinian Arabs have a deep historic tie and presence, as well.

It’s complicated because, despite prevailing sentiment, this conflict is not about religion.  It is about national aspirations, politics, and race, AND despite what I just observed, I suspect that this conflict is still very much about religion.

It’s complicated because the conflict is asymmetrical, with Israel possessing far greater fire power and other resources AND because both belligerents have used that asymmetricality to their advantage in one way or another.

It’s complicated because criticism of Israel is often part of an awful and ancient anti-Semitic tradition AND because Israel, like all states, should be subject to critical scrutiny.

It’s complicated because so much of the criticism I have read about Palestinian Arabs is quite racist AND because many acts committed by Palestinian Arabs against Israelis are worthy of criticism and condemnation.

It’s complicated because I am Jewish, and as a Jew, I believe that Israel’s continued existence is of great importance AND because I am a human being and the suffering and death of Palestinian children and other bystanders, even in a time of war, is heartbreaking.

It’s complicated because Israel can and should defend itself from any and all attacks AND because Israel can and does make life incredibly difficult for the people of Gaza and the West Bank.

It’s complicated because Hamas has sworn to wipe Israel off of the map, because the PA actually does broadcast children’s television shows that encourage kids to kill all Jews, AND because respectable factions of the Israeli government have already signaled their unwillingness to cooperate in helping the Palestinian people create their own state. 

It’s complicated because the State of Israel is a reality.  It is a prosperous and powerful state, capable of defending itself from any and all enemies, which is as it should be.  AND the national aspirations of the Palestinian people will not go away.  They are a powerful, driving force that animates millions of people who will not rest until they are witness to the establishment of an independent Palestinian State, which is as it should be, as well.

There are countless other examples I could cite.  But why bother?  Too many people see this war and the broader conflict it represents as a simple fight between the forces of good and evil, between the legitimate and the illegitimate, between right and wrong.  I do not for one second believe they are correct, and I pray that one day the Palestinians and Israelis are led by politicians who understand the only simple truths I can think of at this moment, that life is sacred, and that all people should be given sufficient respect and space to live in peace and freedom.

As always, stay tuned.

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