“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities” – Voltaire
There is a scream that has been building up deep inside my belly for well over a month now. It is a scream that is primal, that comes from the core of my humanity, from deep inside my soul. It is a scream I can no longer ignore, I have debated with myself and tried silencing it, but it is impossible, so here it goes…
I have lived in this beautiful country for four and a half years now, and this is the second war I live through. I have come to love many aspects of Israel, and get incredibly frustrated with others (for example traffic). Through this journey of love and frustration I have come to realize it is a country like any other country (minus the rocket fire), and not the Zionist utopia that I was told about growing up, and despite what you may think this normality is a tremendous relief.
However, this is not what my scream is about. My perspective as someone that is relatively a newbie but fully immersed in Israeli society gives me what I believe to be an advantage in evaluating the problems we are facing, the problems that have become so very evident this past month or so.
At this point it is undeniable that a very powerful hateful, racist, voice has been screeching in our land, it claims to speak for all of us, and while I know this is not true, not enough has been done to silence it. It has reared its ugly head in the brutal murder of Mohammad Abu Khieder, at protests opposing the war (in the form of counter protests), at protests supporting the war (in the form of radical Israeli neo-fascists, I never thought I’d see the day). It has called leftists traitors (or worse) and urged for them to be shunned, threatening them with death. Just this week it appeared at a wedding, a private affair that was treated by that hateful little screech as a national tragedy. This screech has brought shame to our beautiful country, it has fed those that hate us, and made many of our supporters question us. This screech must be stopped, now, before it grows stronger by our silence, before it is legitimized through prayer books or through our pain.
Yes, my immersion into Israel has taught me that there is a very strong possibility that this hateful voice comes from years of fear and pain, of seeing busses, cafes, pizza parlors, and clubs blow up, of having loved ones die before our eyes as we stood powerless before threat.
This pain and fear however, does in no way legitimize the hateful screech. For by the same logic Hamas too becomes legitimate, because the doctrine of hatred and fear is at the very essence of Hamas, it is what feeds it and makes them strong, and I think we can all agree: Hamas doesn’t have an ounce of legitimacy; and neither does our hateful screech.
I would like to believe this hateful screech is born out of the natural human tendency to despise who does us harm, and to (unfortunately) resort to biased decision-making. Classical conditioning studies show that when we become afraid of a stimulus we resort to grouping similar stimuli in the same fear-inducing category, but what happens when the feared stimuli is a suicide bomber? And the category of similar stimuli a people, say the Palestinians, or Arabs?
The answer lies in the hateful screech. We risk becoming racist, and history teaches us racism can never be condoned, because it is capable of making humans commit atrocities.
My antidote to the screech has been empathy to the suffering that is so raw everywhere I see. Empathy to my fellow Israelis that have been running from sirens, running for their lives and empathy for the neighbors on the other side of the green line, who live in less-than ideal conditions, and yes even empathy for the Gazans who have been living harsh, impossible lives, running to save themselves with no immediate shelter.
Empathy that comes from acknowledging others suffering in no way undermines mine, or my people’s suffering, because suffering is not mutually exclusive to anybody in this area. On the contrary, empathy has allowed me to take a different perspective, and if interpersonal conflict can teach me anything it’s that taking the other’s perspective is the start point towards any reconciliation.
It is not wise, or responsible, to say that a people have brought suffering on themselves, regardless of whether the people are Palestinian or Israeli, it always takes two to tango. We are all responsible for each other’s suffering and we are all responsible to channel our suffering into something better.
Despite where you stand on this war, or what your political views are, or what your background is, empathy, or at the least, acknowledging of other’s suffering is important, and it is what my scream is all about. Therefore I urge you to silence the hateful screech, no matter where it comes from. In the words of my father fighting intolerance with intolerance is ridiculous, we run the risk of becoming exactly who our haters say we are.