As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensifies, otherwise astute individuals trade incisive commentary for pandering to the lowest common denominator. People flock toward their respective sides, seeing only their own righteousness and only the evil of their opponents. It’s as though people want to reduce the conflict to a depraved mad-lib: the (Israelis/Palestinians) are (innocents/heroes) fighting against a (faceless/monstrous) enemy made of (Nazis/murderers/terrorists) who deserve to be (bombed/shot/whatever it is that’s happening to them because we don’t want to think about the details). I won’t argue against taking sides and I won’t pretend that these sides don’t exist. Personal relationships, ideological and political loyalties, and ethno-religious identities are real. We should stand with whichever side we belong to, but that’s no excuse for not speaking out against the barrage of vilification or the unwillingness to criticize our own side that are dominating the conflict.
We have a responsibility not to let our loyalty to one particular group limit us from seeing the other side as well. It’s a concept that most people I’ve spoken to claim to adhere to, but rarely put into practice. It’s the insistence on rendering our understanding of the conflict as an undemanding narrative, in which everything is reduced to a juvenile conception of black and white morality, of us-versus-them, that enables this conflict to continue. It’s this willful delusion that encourages the continued dehumanization of the other while perpetuating of the facade of innocence for one’s own side, two things which need to stop in order to enable the compromise needed for a negotiated end to the conflict.
I know that not everyone who identifies with one side or the other in the conflict is guilty of these maneuvers. I know that not all Zionists are racists and that not all those who express sympathy with Palestine do so out of anti-Semitism. As a Zionist who expresses sympathy with the Palestinians and is neither a racist nor an anti-Semite, I think such unfounded accusations insult the memory those who have suffered at the hands of the real racists and the real anti-Semites. But let’s not delude ourselves. If we fail to denounce the moral failings of our side, then we acquiesce to them. MP Ayelet Shaked of the Israeli Parliament recently called for killing the mothers of Palestinian terrorists. Pro-Palestinian activists are trending #Hitlerwasright. Failure to speak out without qualification against either is to say that you don’t find something unqualifiedly wrong in that which they say. Silence means that you accept these calls as legitimate expressions of your movement. Unwillingness to acknowledge the human rights of the other side is to spit in the face of the concept.