I am not a touchy-feely person. It takes a great deal of effort for me to not laugh or at least roll my eyes at touchy-feely people. But what I have seen on Facebook today has really hurt me. I am literally crying as I write this. What is happening in Gaza is tragic, it really is. It is painful to watch. It has also engendered some real positive movement, like the food and clothing drive I contributed to today, and the decision of the Tareef Cycling Club to donate the rental fees for Friday’s ride to the Red Crescent Society.
Unfortunately, there has also been a lot of vitriolic response as well. I have seen a lot of hate on Facebook and elsewhere on the Web today, and it really pains me. I know that a lot of it is engendered out of fear, anger and frustration. I’ve seen fellow Goucher Girls rail at Palestinians out of fear for their families in Israel. I’ve seen my Arab friends, whether Palestinian or not, lash out at Israel with equal vehemence. It really saddens me.
After the 2006 Lebanese War, an interdisciplinary group of Arab and Israeli professors (and all good friends) was formed at Indiana University, calling themselves the Mid East Conflict and Reform Group, and they began a series of guest lectures with a panel of those same IU profesors on the 2006 Lebanese War. I asked in this panel discussion if it was not true that economics has a great deal to do with the Mid East conflict, that from the Arab side of the border, Israel looks like a green, modern paradise, built on unequal water rights, unequal treatment by the West, and unequal military power, and this frustrates many on the Arab side. The Lebanese political science professor, Dr. Abdulkader Sinno, said something to me that has really changed the way I look at this conflict. He said that life is not a paradise in Israel, that poverty and especially child poverty are very high, and that this is largely because Israel chooses to spend its money on fighting its neighbors rather than providing services to its own people. The Bank of Israel released this report 18 months ago, including the following statistic:
Child poverty, as measured by the relative indices, rose by 2 percentage points in 2005 to an unprecedented 35.2 percent, which is high also by international comparison. The high rate of child poverty not only harms the children’s current standard of living, but also adversely affects the creation of human capital, which is important for future earning power.
This is one of the highest child poverty rates in the West, right behind the good ole US of A!
I took a class on Palestinian nationalism from another member of IU’s Mid East Conflict and Reform Group, Dr. Shaul Magid, who grew up and raised his own family in Israel, whose son is in the Israeli Defense Forces right now, and who is blacklisted on the Internet as a “self-hating Jew” for his views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He told us a horrific story about a triathalon in Israel, during which a bridge collapsed under a dozen professional cyclists, who fell into the river; half of them died of the effects of pollution in that river. This is not, he assured us, the only instance of ecological disaster in Israel.
I am generally pro-Palestinian because I feel that they have definitely gotten the short end of the stick in this conflict. As a teacher, a woman, or simply as a human being, I cannot help but be touched by the plight of children in the Palestinian Territories, generation after generation of them, who have lived in fear and uncertainty all their lives, who are dealing with enormous and weighty issues of traumatic and post-traumatic stress, all because they were unfortunate enough to be born on the wrong side of some arbitrary line in some “Imagined Community.”
I simply don’t understand why this isn’t obvious to everyone! We don’t choose where we were born, we don’t choose our ethnicity, our mother tongue, or our childhood cultures. None of us did. We can grow up and change our language, our culture, our community, our identities (though not our ethnicities, if there even is such a thing), but Palestinian children are trapped in their parents’ hell, as are Iraqi children, Sudanese children, Zimbabwean children, Tibetan children, Kashmiri children, Afghan children, and many Israeli children.
I do not believe in collective guilt or collective punishment. Not for Gazans, not for Lebanese, not for Iraqis, and not for Israelis. When we close a border to basic humanitarian aid, when we bombard a civilian population, when we cut off the electricity or water to an entire community, when we pray for a painful New Year for an entire nation, whenever we inflict or call for collective punishment, and whenever we are silent and allow it, we are also condemning large numbers of undeserving children and adults who are victims of circumstance and genetics.
So I beg you, my Arab friends and my Jewish friends and all my other friends alike, that when you speak of this conflict in Gaza or any conflict anywhere, remember that every community is made up of a great many diverse individual stories, many of them only just beginning to be written!