The best solidarity is no solidarity– On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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Count the buildings associated with a religion or ethnicity in this picture. There are a lot more in Jerusalem!

    These days, everybody is prompted to pick a side: Israel vs Palestine, Jews vs Arabs, Jews vs Muslims, Jews and Christians vs Muslims, Jews vs Christians and Muslims, and so on. Because the issue is a lot more complicated than the simple ‘good vs. evil’ routine, I try to refuse to pick a side. However, I often end up on the opposite side of the people I am debating, who, of course, are all Westerners. When they are a pro-Israel crowd and focus on Israel’s right to defend itself, I start wondering what this right entails, since the death toll is utterly disproportionate, and ask if an occupied people has no right to defend itself in the same manner. When they are pro-Palestine and compare ‘the Jews’ to the Nazis, I ask them why they are making this about a religious group, how a Jew in Europe can be called responsible for the actions of a government s/he didn’t even vote for, and remind them that it was the actions of their very own ancestors that caused the ancestors of the Israelis to seek the security of an own state, since their neighbors would not stop persecuting and killing them every other decade or so. (Not to forget that the neighboring states of the newly founded Israel surprise attacked the state more than once. The Palestinians, however, didn’t.)

It’s not that I don’t want to be firmly in one camp. I just can’t. The conflict is way to complex, and, as I have said, the talking points of both camps seem flawed to me. I don’t see how you can rightfully pick a side in this conflict, unless you belong to one of two groups of people: Palestinians and Jews.

“Wait a minute!”, you might say, “Aren’t you the one who is making this about a religious group now?”. Yeah, kinda. But what is important, is context. If you protest the actions of the Israeli government in front of a synagogue in Paris instead of, say, the Israeli embassy, you’re making people who deliberately are NOT in Israel and do not stand for this state in any official function responsible for a state they are not living in and might even be highly critical of. (You might also be better advised to protest the actions of your own governments. If we all did that, we might all be better off.) If you yell “Death to the Jews!” you are blaming people, whose ties to a country you have constructed and who are not and have not identified as representatives of the Israeli government. You are actually criticizing them for actions they have no control over whatsoever. (It’s like blaming Edward Snowden for the actions of the US government.) And yes, if you, person living in the West or anywhere outside of the Palestinian Occupied Territory, shout such slogans, you are acting antisemitic and thereby strengthening the position of Zionism.

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If this happens to your country, you’re allowed to be upset at the very least.

Why this regional exemption? Because the Palestinians in those regions are at war, oppressed by a state that stresses it’s Jewish identity, and everything those people say is said out of desperation and justified anger. The current Israeli government is not simply trying to make their state safe, it is trying to bomb the Palestinians in Gaza into submission, much like they have put their heal on the necks of West Bank Palestinians who are being slowly driven from their land and out of their homes. Spewing anti-Jewish statements in response is not nice, it’s not building any trust on the Israeli side, and it isn’t doing justice to the complexity of the situation, but I understand where it’s coming from and I will be the last person to tell Palestinians to stop it, as they think of all their relatives in Israeli prisons and mourn their dead. (It’s kind of like, how, under very specific circumstances, a white person gets to use the N-word.)

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Theodor/Benjamin Zeev Herzl loved by Jews, hated by Jews. Admired by Zionists. Loved/hated/admired/ignored by Israelis.

When people shout the same slogans outside of these areas, I think they are happy to channel their general frustration to the one target group which was safe from criticism for a while because of the crime of the Shoa, but can now be attacked once again. And I believe that if you don’t understand that there is a difference between ‘Jew’, ‘Israeli’ and ‘Zionist’, you shouldn’t be talking about this topic in the first place. Work for peace, but don’t you dare call for the death of anyone. (Unless you seek to achieve world peace by total annihilation of the human race. Then go ahead, you’re right on track!)

“Blablabla, f***ing hypocrite! Why do the Jews outside of Israel get a pass then, if there’s such a big difference between Zionists, Jews and Israelis?”

First of all, don’t cuss on my blog, dude! And to answer your question, because I kinda understand the perspective and the emotional attachment of Jews to the State of Israel.

I’m the black son of a white single mom, born in one predominantly white country, raised in another predominantly white country, and never felt at home anywhere. There is no landscape or street or buildings that makes me feel at home and safe. There is no such smell or sound either. All I have is a sense of unease, which is sometimes stronger and sometimes not so strong. When I hear my mother’s language spoken in a different country, I don’t want to approach my compatriots, because I know they would ask me, as so many times before, how I knew this language, as I obviously could not be from their country. I will never fully be one of them. That much has been made very clear to me and all black people and other non-white people in this country I live in. And, in time of economic struggle and other troubles, they turn against people like me. Too many black people have been killed in the last years by racists. Too many drown on the doorsteps of Europe for me to fool myself into believing black people were seen as fully human by the white European majority. And way too often have the police and other organs of the state shied away from naming it what it was.

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In Yad Vashem, a sculpture commemorates the exile experience.

I think this is what a Jew feels like (or: I think most Jews understand the feeling I’m describing in the following). Never feeling certain that their neighbors won’t turn on them, as they so often have without warning, much less reason. Just imagine your family having to have fled every other generation and never feeling safe once they had settled down somewhere else. Always knowing that, if you were recognized as a Jew, you might have to face the ugly true faces of your friends. Or silently listening to their disgusting ‘jokes’ deathly afraid that they might ask for your opinion about the rich/filthy/untrustworthy/deceitful people you call your own. It is hard to describe the feeling you have, when someone tells you something blatantly racist and dehumanizing and expects you to find it amusing or, worse even, agree with the sentiment. Then you only have the option to keep silent or alienate yourself from their society by speaking up. People tend to be blind to their racism and racist structures of thinking. And they become very offended, if you point those logical fallacies out to them, as they simply cannot see why you are now attacking them personally. Which, of course, you’re not doing, but that’s another thing they won’t understand.

And to be frank, if I were a Jew, I’d be a Zionist for those very reasons. If you are not safe anywhere, sooner or later you’ll grow tired of running. I would probably still be highly critical of the Israeli government’s policies and actions, but I’d be living there and feel somewhat more safe. And being the majority for once must be a beautiful, refreshing and freeing feeling.

To me Zionism, defined as the idea that Jews should have their own country to live in because there is no safety for them anywhere, is related to the Pan-African ideas of black people outside of Africa. Because black people are victims of violence and oppression all over the world, some seek this safe space, a unified home continent and want it to be strong enough to defend itself against all outside forces. And this is the true core of Zionism as well: people sick and tired of being the eternal victim of a majority that hates them for no reason.

I am not a Jew, however, and this is precisely the reason I am not a Zionist. Any Zionist who is not a Jew makes me wonder about their motives. I can’t help but think that non-Jewish Zionists don’t truly care about Jews as human beings and individuals or their safety and well-being. This is very much true for Christian Zionists, for whom Jews are basically Judgment Day bait. The only reason they want a strong Israel, is that they fear Islam and want to pressure God into His Coming by putting all the Jews in one place. On Judgment Day, the Jews are then to convert or go to Hell. Theologically, I find this blasphemous. On a human level, it simply disgusts me.

The political non-Jewish Zionists, on the other hand, are hypocrites to me. They are basically saying that their societies are so hopelessly antisemitic that all they can do is kick out the Jews, ‘for their own safety’. If they thought Jews were unsafe in other parts of the world, but safe in their own respective countries, they should logically ask all Jews to join them quickly. Since these are the countries of the same people who argue against immigration because the ‘aboriginals’ will feel sidelined and act out violently if ‘too many foreigners’ came to their shores, I have a hard time seeing their concern as genuine. Or – to give them the benefit of the doubt – their position is simply not thought through consequently. If the commitment to tolerance and acceptance goes only skin deep and is not strong enough to counteract those violent, uncivilized impulses, your society is in deep, deep trouble and not worth saving in my book.

As a Non-Zionist, I want Jews to feel safe anywhere in the world. Supporting their ghettoization within an iron dome is, to me, at the very least giving up on humanity, and at it’s worst a ‘humane’ method of ethnic cleansing. To be clear, I don’t believe that Israel has to disappear from the map. But it’s identity as an ethnically and religiously homogenous state (which it never was!) has to change, just as much as Palestine can never be a Muslim country (since there have always been many Palestinian Christians and Jews in this area) or an Arab nation. We need to accept the fact that these two peoples need to reach peace and have to (re-)learn to live together. This is idealistic, I know, and perhaps just plain naive, but if people who are not part of this conflict would stop picking sides and spewing hate at the others, if they would stop enabling the destructive behavior of either side, if they would understand that working for peace in the Middle East means to open channels for communication, offering perspective and positioning oneself between the parties, so that they cannot harm each other, a small step towards a lasting peace in this part of the world will have been made. And then perhaps we could do the same with all the conflicts we keep ignoring, because they don’t lend themselves to such great headlines.

When I lived in Jerusalem, Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence put the conflict into a parable. He said we had to picture one man fighting another. The first man had wrestled the other man to the ground and was holding him down. The one on the ground was trying to shake him off, but couldn’t. Obviously, the man on the ground was in a bad position. The first man, however, knew that he would have to fight the man again and might not be able to defeat him again, should he ever let him get to his feet. As the man on the ground grew angrier and angrier, the man on top was becoming more and more cynical. Now a third man entered, viewing the situation. Shaul said that this man could not give any good advice and that all his pleading for the man on the ground would fall on ears deaf (out of the fear of the one currently on top). And I agree. We all would be appalled, if he cheered the first man on. We would be annoyed and irritated, if all he did was talk to the first man and kindly ask him to stop. The only viable action, I think, is to grab the first man and remove him from the one on the ground and then immediately keep them from each others throats by standing between them, holding them apart and waiting until they calm down enough to truly talk things through. However long it takes. And it will take a long time.

You see, a lot of people miss this important fact: Their will be no solution negotiated within a couple of weeks. This will take time. And their will be no solution as long as Israel has almost absolute control over the Palestinians. And their will be no solution, if the Israelis fear that we will let them at the mercy of the Palestinians and the opportunism of their other neighbors. Their will be no peace as long as we refuse to actually invest time and effort into letting both sides catch their breath and gain trust in our solidarity with both sides and our siding with neither.

In short: This war, as so many others, will not be stopped by people joining either side. It will only end if people who are not a part of it, who have no stakes in it but their love of peace and humanity, go where it is most dangerous, into the middle, take flak for their positions and help to reopen the tunnels and channels for discussion which have been leveled by rockets and mortar shells.

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About buildingzeelowly

Should you wonder about my name, it is an anagram.
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