Presumably, there aren’t many Israelis who would be optimistic about peace after receiving a message that starts out with “If you [were] here I would kill you.” But hear me out.
While it wasn’t great, this message (sent by a Palestinian from Gaza currently living in Oman) started a conversation. After he let out some of his anger — keep in mind, he lived through the recent wars in Gaza, which, it can’t be denied, have been hell despite Israel’s efforts to prevent civilian casualties — he started to ask real questions that weren’t necessarily based on his desire to kill me. To me, that’s progress. Small progress, but progress all the same.
It shows that there’s a chance for improvement, as long as we persevere — and don’t lose our heads and respond in rude and aggressive fashion when provoked! (And in case you were wondering, I’m not sure if he still wants to kill me or not).
For the past year or so, I’ve spent my free time reaching out to people throughout the Arab world on social media, primarily on Instagram.
It’s been quite an experience.
I’ve gained nearly 2,000 followers from the region, from Morocco to Iran (don’t worry, I know Iran isn’t part of the Arab world, but I’ve included it in my outreach) and everywhere in between. People interact with my posts — I often post in Arabic, thanks to my friends who translate for me — and send me messages.
Reactions have been mixed between friendly and not so friendly, but overall, perhaps surprisingly to many, I would say that the friendlier responses have prevailed. In general, people are very curious, eager to hear my perspective and to share their own.
Even in most cases where there have been serious disagreements, or even when the conversations have started with insults or threats like you saw above, there was still something positive to take out of the interaction.
People often ask shocking questions. I’ve had multiple people ask me how many Palestinians I’ve killed, not in the mocking way that Western anti-Israel activists might ask that question, but out a genuine desire to know. They really just believed that every Israeli would have killed Palestinians.
I’ve gotten to speak to a very patriotic gay Saudi, an Iranian guy who just got busted by the morality police for walking with his girlfriend through a public park, a kid whose grandfather fled from Jaffa to Syria in 1948 and who recently fled himself from Syria to Albania to escape the war, among many, many others.
I’ve become better acquainted with the different view of history and current events that many have in the Arab/Muslim world. They don’t see things differently because they’re stupid or because they’re bigoted, but just because that’s the narrative they’ve grown up with and continue to be exposed to. It’s often the only narrative they’ve ever been exposed to.
This is always the toughest part of conversations. It’s difficult — often impossible — to overcome the fact that we often disagree on the most fundamental aspects of the story, and are starting from very different basic assumptions. It’s incredibly frustrating. Minds aren’t going to change overnight, but even simply exposing somebody to a narrative they’ve never encountered is worthwhile.
Not being too much of an egomaniac, I’m well aware that my Instagram posts and chats with people from the Arab and Muslim world are not going to bring peace…not even close.
But if more Israelis (preferably normal, middle-of-the-road Israelis, as outreach by hardcore left-wing peaceniks who are out of step with mainstream Israeli society has proven ineffective…sorry) were to give it a shot in their spare time, it could have a really big impact, and actually put us on the right path.
It’s sure to be a long and tedious path. It will be frustrating, often depressing and disappointing. But at the end of the day, it’s the right path, and the only path if we’re ever going to have even the possibility of creating a real peace between peoples.