With the news of ceasefire, we believe it may be useful for us to share with our readers some of our personal experiences since violence escalated last week. We have had many personal conversations outside of this publication which we have led both of us to a deeper understanding of the source of violence and the root of our disagreements. We both hope that the ceasefire not only holds, but also leads to a resolution of the roots of violence, rather than simply a postponement of violence for another three years.
Hani’s Personal Reaction
“When Israel launched Operation Cast Lead almost four years ago, I was a sophomore in high school. Then, as recently, a feeling of helplessness pervaded my mind. Aljazeera and other live blogs overtook Facebook as my biggest distraction, the violence consuming my focus and emotions. At that time however, my actions were limited to “facebook activism.” This was not entirely as unproductive as it may sound, it did eventually end in co-hosting a debate between a Palestinian and Israeli speaker for my high school’s “Seminar Day.” However, my activism largely ended there.
This past week, while being equally (if not more) trying on my emotions and concentration, has developed in a very different way. After Israel’s assassination of Ahmed Al-Jaabari, and Hamas’ subsequent retaliation, the urge to engage with every Facebook status I saw supporting Israel’s actions rose within me again. While I cannot deny that I uniformly resisted this urge, I thankfully had more effective and productive outlets at my disposal that I did not have four years ago.
The first of these was my campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine. During Cast Lead, I felt alone and isolated among peers who, to no fault of their own, did not share my pain or my frustration. This time, the SJP family has come together as a collective rock for its individual members. Activism in America for the cause of Palestinian justice has its limits. However, I cannot downplay the pride I felt seeing 30+ members of the Tufts community march not once, but twice, in the streets of Boston in solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza. These demonstrations were not only therapeutic but reinvigorating. (See a video here) As five hundred of us knelt in front of the Israeli consulate on Tuesday night, raising our fingers to the sky in a sign of peace and victory, I silently prayed that both the people of Gaza and Israel would somehow see us. We did not scream for a Hamas victory or agree to an unjust peace, rather we let the silence of our voices and the symbol of our hands speak for the victory OF peace.
This blog provided my second outlet. Immediately as fighting began, Noam and I recognized the necessity that we confront these events head on. Necessity however, does not imply ease. I speak for myself, but I wouldn’t doubt that Noam had similar sentiments, when I say that I did not want to work on UNYIJ when violence erupted. How ironic that my last letter in our correspondence focused on “normalization.” I had no desire to converse with someone whose views I knew would not align with my own while people died in Gaza. I also hesitated out of guilt. Before we realized the extent of the violence, we had essentially “patted ourselves on the back” for recent coverage of our blog in the media. In contrast to the violence consuming the region that our blog focused on, and the silenced voices of so many people there, we had the luxury of getting news articles written about us in America. Could we still be taken seriously, not only by our American readers, but especially by those viewing from Israel, Occupied Palestine, and other countries more immediately affected by conflict?
However, Noam and I quickly realized that not saying anything would mean a tacit admission that our project was doomed for failure, something neither of us believed destined to happen. To not tackle the moment where we diverged so rapidly and extremely would only give credence to those who falsely propagate this conflict’s eternal and unsolvable nature. Thus, we came together to produce a post that not only included a wide variety of news sources, but also a concrete plan for an immediate cessation of hostilities as well as a long-term solution for tackling the root of the violence. The document was not perfect, nor as completely thought out as it could have been. However, we did pinpoint the key areas that any ceasefire would focus on. Imagine our surprise upon hearing that the recent agreement included many of the specific points that we included five days before an accord was actually reached, especially the renunciation of Israel’s policy of targeted assassinations. The simple fact that our link was shared 71 times on Facebook (the most of any of our posts so far) showed me that people not only hear our message, but believe in the same conviction that spawned and continues to inspire this project as well as my personal life; that the status quo is untenable for both Palestinians and Israelis, that perpetual violence is too much for either side to bear, and that Palestinians and Israelis can one day live in peace, justice, and equality in the land that they call home.
Noam’s Personal Reaction
The past week or so was an extremely confusing, enlightening and frustrating time for me, I was shaken emotionally and was constantly questioning my thoughts and feelings. In addition to my feeling of helplessness, I felt guilty: there were people actually living this conflict, people in Israel and Gaza living in fear and who had every right to be shaken. I got to sleep in my college dorm room in complete safety, what right did I have to be so distressed? I had to deal with a constant barrage of news updates and opinion articles and youtube videos of rockets falling while people in Israel and Gaza had to deal with a barrage of actual rockets and missiles. Even though I knew how lucky I was, it couldn’t alleviate the tension that consumed me.
As an American-Israeli who has never actually lived in Israel, I have a very unique perspective that is not shared by the majority of Israelis. It is a perspective that is not informed by the realities of living the conflict but rather driven by my convictions which were fostered in a country where relative peace exists. The majority of Israelis would not agree with most of what I say. There were times over the past week when I felt as if I was betraying my second home and my Israeli family: when I saw the number of Gazan casualties rise above 100 as the number of Israeli casualties stayed below 10 I couldn’t repress my feelings of animosity towards the IDF strikes on Gaza. I had so many questions: Israel has a right to defend itself and the people of Southern Israel who are terrorized daily, but the military firepower possessed by Israel is so much greater and the results of a single Israeli strike are more devastating, so why can’t Israel perform fewer air strikes to decrease the number of Gazan casualties? I know Hamas hides behind the civilian population, deliberately putting militant strongholds near civilian centers, but the IDF is supposed to be one of the best in the world at preventing civilian casualties, why are so many innocent people dying? Sometimes, my thoughts would flip-flop, however, and I started having thoughts like this: Hamas started this recent outburst of violence, if Hamas stops launching rockets, Israel will stop and there will be peace, but if Israel stops its air strikes, Hamas will continue to fire. And: Israel ensures the passage of tons of goods and air to Gazan civilians even during war time, isn’t this a clear example of Israel’s intentions to eliminate a terrorist organization (Hamas) while protecting civilians on both sides verses Hamas’ intentions to terrorize and destroy Israel, purposely aiming at civilians? My thoughts vacillated between these two opposing opinions constantly. I saw the pro-Israel, pro-IDF posts on facebook from my Israeli family and Jewish-American friends, and I felt pride when I saw them and I wanted to share them myself, but I just didn’t feel right doing it. I was trying to balance my love and patriotism for Israel, my desire for peace and understanding, facts and my extremely liberal opinions (opinions cultivated in a war free America) on what justifies violence and it was tearing me apart inside.
One night, when I was doing homework in the library, I got sidetracked looking at updates on the conflict and watching videos of rockets falling in Israel. I just started crying right there in the library, I couldn’t help myself. I just kept asking myself, why? Why does it have to be like this? I had cousins in Rishon who saw rockets fall right by their house. I had cousins called to the IDF reserves in case a ground attack on Gaza was launched. My American aunt and uncle went to Jerusalem last Sunday despite my pleading with them not to go. I prayed for my family every day and for the safety and wellbeing of every civilian. Still though, I felt utterly lost and alone.
Like Hani, I found solace in our blog and our personal conversations. Talking to Hani, also an American who cares about peace as much as I do, I found I was able to begin to sort through my feelings. I didn’t feel as if I had to feel a certain way about things like I did when I talked to my Israeli family. It didn’t matter that we were on opposite sides of the issue, we were two people who wanted to see violence end and we were willing to talk to each other about it. He would challenge me which sometimes helped me see things in a new light and sometimes it reaffirmed my previous feelings on an issue. Our communication helped me to begin unpacking some of my emotion and confusion, and I truly feel that I am a more informed and rounded individual because of it. That’s the beauty of our friendship and this project.
I apologize if my part of this response seems jumbled or hard to follow, I’m still very torn and confused about a lot of issues and I think I’m using this space to share my reactions and continue to work through my thoughts. Even if it’s not perfect or easy, as Hani pointed out, we must continue to have this dialogue. We must continue to write and talk and share because dialogue is the only way to spread the message of peace. As Martin Luther King said: “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” There is still a lot of work to be done. There is still hatred between Israelis and Hamas and the threat of future conflict is still very, very real. The culture of conflict must be changed, and while it will take a long time to do that, it starts with educating people (particularly the next generation) about peace and compromise. It will be hard, but large scale change is never easy. There may be people who disagree with this blog, people who actively oppose it and people who just do not care, but we must never be silent, and we won’t be.
I pray the ceasefire holds and that this is the first step towards a lasting peace.