Can empathy prolong and intensify human suffering

Empathy is a crucial human emotion. It’s a prerequisite to any meaningful and lasting human collaboration. But can empathy, in certain situations, actually prolong and intensify human suffering? Sadly I’m afraid the answer is yes.

This occurred to me as I found myself responding to “wall posts” on social networks – calling people to pay attention to the tragic state in which the Palestinian people in Gaza are currently living – mainly due to Israeli military strikes and the rising number of Palestinian casualties.

Putting aside for just one moment the fact that these posts would have been equally relevant prior to this current military engagement (due to the fact that the Palestinian’s living conditions and ongoing reality is a tragedy primarily because of their leadership) – and only seem to appear when Israel is so militarily active, my main point is that these calls for empathy are more likely to prolong the suffering of the Palestinian people rather then lead to actions that bring them lasting relief and even prosperity.

My reasoning is based on the fact that the suffering of the Palestinian people is not a root problem but more a symptom of a root problem – which is not, at least not primarily and predominantly, Israel or Israeli military actions. The root problem is the leaders that grow (and that do not grow) out of the Palestinian people. For as long as this conflict has been going, never have the Palestinians produced leaders that put their people’s well being, human rights and sustainable prosperity first. Instead, they produced leaders that placed their own fundamentalist and self serving agenda’s first, not only at the expense of their people’s well being but in a way that was (and still is) fueled by their people’s lack of well being.

So how does this come back to empathy fueling and intensifying suffering?

As more and more call for empathy for the Palestinian people, whole heartily based on images of suffering caused by Israeli attacks, the focus becomes Israel and it’s attacks in a way that marginalizes the true root cause of these poor people’s suffering: their leaders, who not only abuse and oppress them 365 days a year and who not only create a reality that literally demands military responses, but who proactively and forcefully lead to the highest numbers of casualties during such military responses by forcing their own people to stand directly in the line of fire.

As long as such empathy compromises our ability to keep our eyes on the true source of the Palestinian suffering, steering our attention towards Israeli military strikes and the immediate and tragic damage they cause – this empathy will only lead to the prolonging of the tragic reality in which the Palestinians live.

However, if we use the tremendous empathy we feel, when we see such painful and tragic images, to further our resolve to rid the Palestinians (and the world for that matter) of organizations such as Hamas, then it will serve as the powerful and positive emotion that it is.

About the Author
Ariel Halevi co-founded Debate Company (now Vayomar) together with Gur Braslavi back in 2003. Ariel holds an MA in Homeland Security and Counter Terrorism and a BA in Government and Diplomacy from the Interdisciplinary College in Hetrzlia (Israel). Prior to his studies, Ariel founded and managed several Israel hi-tech companies. Ariel holds a Master’s degree in Government specializing in National Security Studies and Counter-Terrorism (at the school for International Students conducted in English). During his academic studies, Ariel was the President of the competitive Debate Club at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya and was the Debate champion in Israel for two consecutive years and in Oxford, England.
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