Recently, I took a moment to reflect on why I choose my causes, and I came to the conclusion that it’s basically just a socially acceptable form of self-love: I enjoy helping people who seem to be like me. Of course, this is not a surprising revelation. Most people are more concerned with people who are like themselves, than they are with strangers. But I wonder how different the country would be if we could place ourselves more often, at least intellectually, in someone else’s shoes.
I remember the first moment that I experienced the extreme shift in perspective that comes from glimpsing into someone else’s frame of reference. I live on the edge of the desert, in between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. And from the perspective of someone who grew up nestled in the palm of the Great Lakes, it is a furnace channeling the flames of Gehinnom for about five months of the year, and the rest of the time it’s just blazing hot. Paired with these grueling weather conditions are the needs of a growing yishuv, with plenty of construction taking place year round. One summer day, a few years ago, my husband and I were taking a walk near the makolet, when I saw two Palestinian day-laborers heading down the main road as it led to the front gates. This alone was a pretty sobering sight, because that is at least a 15 minute trek with no shade, and they didn’t seem to have any water with them.
But what made it even worse was that they were being shadowed by a security car which was pacing the workers, rolling along at three miles an hour. It was like a car wreck, or that Honey Boo Boo reality TV show; I couldn’t stop watching. For the entire 15 minutes the car followed two feet behind the men, with the driver staring at them as they walked in the scorching sun. Having made that walk a time or two, usually chasing desperately after a fleeing child, I knew exactly how unpleasant this felt, and in that instant, I thought to myself, “I could really hate a person for doing that to me.”
People who live over the green line, as I do, tend to be pretty cynical about interacting with our cousins, and there are lots of good reasons why this is so. I’ve heard arguments that the Arabs can’t be trusted, and that they don’t think like I do. But it still seems to me that if we are capable of working a man all day in the hot sun for minimum wage, if he’s lucky, then we are capable of giving him a lift instead of just following behind while sitting comfortably in an air-conditioned car. Regardless of how you feel about the peace process as a whole, when you come across an individual, let’s take a minute to put yourself in the other side’s shoes, and treat every person the way you would hope to be treated on a long hot walk. Maybe this kind of empathy will eventually lead to a deeper level of understanding.