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The Israeli-Palestinian Balancing Act

(Nomi Conway) – I have great respect for both Michael Flaster and Caroline Katba, who have shared their views on a tragically difficult issue with ostensible passion and chutzpah. Nevertheless, I wish to assert that the voices of an aspiring Israel Defense Force soldier and a Gaza native provide only a mere fraction of the voices floating around in the marketplace of ideas. My goal, therefore, is not to praise or refute specific statements that either student set forth. Rather, my goal is to remind the Amherst community that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is multi-sided, and as a result, no person should feel obligated to pick one side. It is not only acceptable, but also healthy, to identify with both narratives recently published in The Student, despite their conflicts and contradictions. This entire situation is a set of conflicts and contradictions (see Conflicts and Contradictions by Meron Benvenisti for more on that idea), and I urge Amherst not to lose itself in the confusion.

Admittedly, I was raised in a Jewish home where my grandparents’ and parents’ love for Israel entirely drowned out the Palestinian narratives. And don’t get me wrong. I love Israel, too. I’ve been there three times, I have tons of friends who are serving or who have served in the IDF, and I read and talk about the country constantly. Not to mention, I have transferred my love for Israel to the Amherst campus by founding the Amherst Israel Alliance and serving as a campus intern for the World Zionist Organization. I give you this background only to put my inherent biases on the table.

But love is a confusing thing. Also since arriving at Amherst, I have taken to reading anything about the conflict that I can get my hands on in an attempt to undo my childhood biases. Though I have not yet attended a pro-Palestine conference, I have attended numerous pro-Israel conferences hosted by a variety of organizations, hearing from some that we must support Israel with great fervor and from others that we must make it better by criticizing it. Over the past three years, I have learned how to resist these tugging pressures from the left and the right in order to formulate my own, nuanced views.

The last time a peace agreement seemed even remotely realistic was on that fateful day in 1993 when Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat shook hands on the White House lawn as an affirmation of the Declaration of Principles. Who drafted this Declaration of Principles? Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals from moderate camps. If these actors had only spent their secret meetings in Oslo obsessing over the validity of statistics or the morality of war tactics, they would have never achieved their final product. Instead, they focused on how to immediately establish an interim structure of self-government for the Palestinian people with the eventual goal of discussing more emotional “final status” issues such as borders and refugees. The Oslo process has festered and arguably drawn to a close, but we can learn a lot from its successes and failures.

So, when presented with Flaster’s “pro-Israel” narrative and Katba’s “pro-Palestine” narrative, I choose both. I could point out the exact statements both authors made that caused my stomach to flip in discomfort or my heart to ache with sympathy, but such nitpicking, which has already begun in the comments sections online, will only cause us to lose sight of the larger picture. As I see it, we are facing a disheartening stalemate in one of the most volatile regions of the world that has caused Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, and frankly, the rest of the world to lose its patience. I don’t know if a resolution is possible in our lifetime, but I do know that in the meantime, we have control over the manner in which we handle our frustrations.

Instead of feeling the pressure to identify with one op-ed over the other, I challenge all of you to read both Katba’s and Flaster’s pieces with a critical eye, and understand that in the end, neither side will benefit from a perpetuation of the status quo. Instead of fooling ourselves into believing that this muddled conflict is black and white, we must uphold our duties as members of an intellectual institution and educate ourselves about the issues at stake. Go to the library and take out a book that expresses views entirely contrary to your own. Push yourself to sit down for coffee with someone who comes from an opposing political camp. In short, don’t acquiesce by convincing yourself that your opinions are natural and justifiable emotional reactions. Force yourself to qualify your views, and at the same time, put yourself in someone else’s shoes. I know that I have, and I thank Flaster and Katba for providing me with this opportunity to once again reconsider and reshape my position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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7 comments on “The Israeli-Palestinian Balancing Act

  1. BB
    December 10, 2012

    “Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals from moderate camps..”? Yasir Arafat was not an intellectual, and he was certainly not moderate. He was well known for inundating his people with Arabic-language propaganda encouraging them to help kick Jews and Israelis out of Israel, and he contributed to the suffering of his own people by refusing to compromise with Israel.

  2. Caroline Katba
    December 10, 2012

    Thank you Naomi for this article. I appreciate your approach, I think it shows a great level of maturity, and the same time it gives me hope for the coming future. Hopefully soon enough, this conflict will be resolved!

  3. Thinker
    December 10, 2012

    You are simply too cowardly to choose sides. There is a truth out there – read history and find it. What Katba has said is not fact- based. Stop bending over backwards for the angry Arab street and confused left. Israel is a thriving democracy while the Arabs are angry, jealous and poisoned by the hatred of Islamic Extremism. Another pathetic example of the “academic left” being to naive and scared to call evil by its name.

    • Admirer of 'The Thinker'
      December 11, 2012

      I’m glad you have such a nuanced understanding of the world, and I would like to commend you for your tenacious adherence to reason. I too am confused as to why the people of Gaza and the West Bank would think that Israel is anything but a thriving democracy. Israel provides Palestinians with so many freedoms and rights, like the right to be blockaded and cut off from much-needed economic supplies, the right to be occupied by foreign power, the freedom to have their homes and land taken from them and the freedom to not be permitted to vote in Israeli elections. Clearly Islamic Extremism is causing their anger, especially since many of them are Christians.

  4. RB
    December 11, 2012

    Thanks Nomi for sharing your thoughts and laying it all on the table.
    We have to remember that the true challenge for an academic community is to grapple with real issues when presented with multiple voices (each with facts, feelings, and inconsistencies). I started working on campuses full time just as the Second Intifada began in 2000. After a frustrating semester, the Israeli Consul General visited campus fresh from time as a senior staffer in Israel’s Jordanian embassy. I asked him how to deal with the campus members whose views were so stringent that they left no room for any other view. These people would monopolize any question and answer session and turn off most event attendees who wanted to learn more about the topic. He said, “Encourage them to travel and see for themselves. Try to get them to see that it is all much more complicated than they imagine. Then, he finished with sage advice: “If that doesn’t work, move on to talk with someone who hasn’t made up their mind. Otherwise, haval al ha-zman (roughly: you will waste your time).”

  5. hmmmm
    December 12, 2012

    Pathetic. According to the author’s logic perhaps the Nazi’s also had some merit to their side of the story. This post-modernist view on history erases right from wrong and replaces it with being “equal”. Just because two sides exist does not mean the two sides are morally equal. Example: The US struggling with. Nazi Germany does not make them into moral equivalents.

  6. dan schulwolf
    December 15, 2012

    the thinker: know what’s cowardly? ripping somebody for being a coward and not putting a name to it. brilliant stuff. you’re blasé statement smacks of ignorance and a general lack of a desire to improve the situation.

    hmmm: ridiculous extrapolation. nothing the nazis did could ever be construed as ‘right,’ that should go without saying. i dont think israel and palestine are moral equivalents (if you want to know my personal feelings, im not difficult to find), but i think that each side has committed amoral actions throughout this conflict.

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