When I was in college, I thought Israel was this crazy aggressive country. Like, ridiculously, over-the-top, oppressive and out of line aggressive. This was because whenever I heard about it in the news, it was always taking some harsh action against the Palestinians. I had no personal allegiance to Israel, and took the news at face value. I had friends who visited the West Bank, Gaza, who volunteered to go and help the people who lived there. We all tut-tutted together about plight of Palestinians. It is good to be empathetic, but my view lacked nuance.
Then I became interested in Judaism. Seemingly overnight, I became introduced to a whole other world of information about Israel, information I had never realized existed, that had never been hinted to me. It was astounding. This was my first clue that there was more to the story than I had been told.
When I mentioned my newfound interest in Judaism to an acquaintance from college, her face contorted into a mask of disgust, and she challenged me, “the next time you talk to a rabbi, ask him why the Jews think they have a right to the land when it says [in the Haggadah] ‘my father was a wandering Aramean.’ ” This was my first clue that there were people who would vehemently deny that Jews had any right to be in Israel at all.
Predictably, after becoming observant, I became unquestionably pro-Israel, in that never-deviating-from-the-party-line sort of way. This view, too, lacked nuance, and when a friend challenged my narrative about media bias, I was shaken. I realized that it was still necessary to look into things for myself, to educate myself about the situation and not just parrot what I heard from popular Jewish sites or organizations.
And so I started an informal education of sorts. Besides reading up more on the history of Israel, I became slightly obsessed (let’s say focused, that sounds nicer) with reading about Arab and Islamic culture and history. I wanted to understand more about the people and culture which surrounds, and is often opposed to, the tiny state of Israel.
I read about the lives of Palestinians living in refugee camps in Syria (well, not anymore), in Lebanon, in Jordan. I read memoirs of Iranians who experienced the revolution. I read about the rise of Wahhabism and the role of Saudi support of this ultraconservative branch of Islam, and how it’s impacting the world. More challenging is when I read social media posts from Arabs who live in Palestine, in Gaza, in Israel.
That one is often hard; obviously the viewpoints are often very different than mine. It gives me pause to know that there is a parallel narrative going on which is sometimes diametrically opposed to mine. And it confounds me how two peoples in such a tiny space can have such wildly different beliefs of what is true. But even with the cognitive dissonance it brings, I think it’s important to hear what they are saying too, even if I don’t agree with it.
Even after all this research, all this information that I have crammed into my already cluttered head, I still felt deeply hesitant about posting about Israel. I was still shaken by the knowledge that some of my friends would look askance at my support (yes, that’s my deep-seated need to avoid confrontation and to be liked by everyone rearing its head).
I rationalized my silence by telling myself that my posts will simply be viewed as yet another Jewish supporter of Israel, yet another predictable post lamenting media bias or presenting a one-sided view. That I shouldn’t get involved in politics. That I still didn’t know enough. That none of my online posts are going to change anyone’s mind anyways. That my links will be viewed as biased and dismissed out of hand as uncredible. That by flooding my feed with posts supporting Israel and detailing the very problematic idealogical challenges we face, I’ll just be viewed as another strident Jewish voice to ignore.
And so with the more recent flare-ups, I have been conspicuously silent.
But then I remembered that young, naïve college girl, the one who didn’t know there was another narrative besides the one on NPR, and I became ashamed at my silence.
I realized that I had a responsibility to share my side of the story, even though it’s just one side, even though it may cause people to roll their eyes. I realized that my friends in Israel look at us over here, with our American tendency to be politically correct, to go on with our life as usual, disconnected from life there, to be quick to condemn Jewish violence against Arabs, but not vice versa. They wonder if we care. And how will they know unless we show them?
And so I removed my cloak of silence and began posting. Not just calls for our own need to rise above the fray, to contribute spiritually to the solution, but also posts that are more critical, that publicize some of the threats and challenges that form a barrier to trust, to peace, to hope.
I pray for peace to come. I pray that someday the entire world accepts that the Jews in Israel aren’t going anywhere, no matter how many wars, how many terrorist attacks, how many ridiculous UNESCO resolution drafts happen. We are staying in Israel. We are not some European colonizer that has a country to return to when civil unrest reaches a boiling point. Israel is our country. It’s our homeland, a land we mention every day in our prayers, in our blessings. A land we’ve yearned for for centuries, a land I still yearn for.
And maybe when the inevitability of Jewish presence is accepted, Palestinians will stop supporting organizations like Hamas, which actively calls for the cessation of Israel, that actively promotes and effects terror. Maybe then they will stop calling for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.” Maybe clerics will stop encouraging stabbing attacks. Maybe there will be no more music videos calling for Palestinians to run Israelis over with their cars. Maybe someday people will learn what the words genocide, ethnic cleansing and apartheid actually mean and stop applying them to the situation. Maybe then we can really talk about a solution.
I don’t think that sharing information on social media is gong to create this acceptance, but maybe, just maybe, there will be one person here or there whose pre-conceived opinions will shift.
But note, this cannot be done through ad hominem attacks, and it will not be done by making derogatory remarks about Palestinians or through expressions of violence. It will not be done by supporting or encouraging vigilantism. It will not be done through sharing pictures without verifying their authenticity (even the most well-intentioned organizations can make mistakes in their enthusiasm to be supportive). It will not be done through snarky memes.
We are supposed to be a light unto the nations. We are supposed to act with decency, with empathy, with wisdom. So be smart online. Be calm. If you are too upset to comment nicely, take a break. Rest assured there will still be people being wrong on the internet when you come back. There is no urgency that warrants devolving to petty-name calling or nastiness. Educate yourself on the history of the land. Try to read a variety of sources. Try to see where the other side is coming from, to find a point where commonality can be reached. It is not always possible, but it behooves us to look.
And, most importantly, in my opinion, continue to work on your own personal spiritual work. This is the most potent tool we have, and it should not be neglected. Chaya Lester wrote about it beautifully over at Hevria. Lift up your holy spark. Do a mitzvah. Do another. What speaks to you? What calls your name? Lighting Shabbos candles? Making a blessing before eating? Saying Modeh Ani when you wake up? Pledging money to charity? Giving someone the benefit of the doubt? There are 613 mitzvos, surely you can find one to focus on and to perform with the intention to bring peace to the Land.
In the meantime, I will continue to support Israel publicly and proudly. Libi b’mizrach. My heart is in the east.