Finding a Place Beyond Taking Sides

I’m done taking sides.  I’m exhausted. As a liberal American Jew, I find myself in an impossible situation.  If I express support for Israel, the Left brands me a supporter of the oppression of Arabs.  If I express any sympathy for Arabs (Israeli or Palestinian), the Right accuses me of dismissing attacks on innocent Israelis.

Enough.  Have we lost all ability to see nuance and live in the gray areas?  I’m done taking sides. Boycotting Israel will not lead to peace. Apologizing for Israel will not lead to peace. Both actions simply embolden and strengthen the other side. What if I support peace by not siding with anyone?  What if I just listen and learn and condemn terrible acts and the individuals who commit them, regardless of the side they are on?  I refuse to justify or ignore the actions of anyone on either side. I refuse to be labeled by either side for standing up for the other when necessary.   

Terrorism should never be excused or justified, whether it is a stabbing by a Palestinian or a price tag attack by a settler.  I believe that the Palestinian use of violent resistance against Israeli citizens is abhorrent and inexcusable. But, I often ask myself, “are they dangerous because they feel oppressed or oppressed because they are dangerous?”  History shows us that it is likely both. Violence begets violence in a never ending vicious cycle.

I love and support my Jewish friends in Israel without question.  When fire kites fall into Kibbutz Erez, it’s my friends they are falling on.  When a rocket destroys a house in Mishmeret, my cousins who live a few miles away with their young children can’t sleep at night.  Of course, I support them. I also have Arab Israeli friends who want to live in harmony with equal rights and opportunities. I am not talking about supporting or not supporting.  It’s about trying to understand the opposing viewpoint and not hating or fearing everyone associated with it.

Is it possible that all sides are both partially right and partially wrong?  Yes, I know there are objective historic facts. Different people experience the exact same historical fact in different ways and take away a different subjective truth from it.  We don’t solve any problems by simplifying the issues into black and white, right or wrong. The issues are very complex. The more we complexify them and listen in the gray areas, the more difficult it is to take sides.  Taking sides often requires apologizing for inconvenient truths. We need to stop using the actions of extremist minorities to justify our positions of support for the other side.

I do believe there is a mundane place beyond “Taking Sides.”  It is a place where the pomegranate juice merchant just wants to support his family.  It is a place where a Jewish coworker grieves with an Arab colleague who lost a loved one.  It is a place where a Bedouin woman walks 90 minutes into the nearest city to learn Hebrew from a Jewish woman so she can pursue her education.  It is a place where an Arab and a Jew start a business together, not to “make peace” but just to “make a living.” It’s a soccer league with Arabs, Druze and Jewish players.  It’s an entrepreneurship program for Arab and Jewish teens. It’s having lunch with Druze friends in Horfeish.  All of these examples are real. There is a place where we break bread together. It’s a place where we all go home at night looking for a nutritious meal and a good night’s sleep, in peace, without fear of rockets or stabbings or car rammings or land confiscation or home demolitions.

It’s not easy to give up the place where our heels are dug in deep.  I want to live in a world where we go beyond the primitive, reptilian brains that respond to fear, into our logical brains and our Jewish hearts to listen to everyone’s story and find common ground.    Besides, how much more Jewish can you get than two opinions per person.

About the Author
Julia Malaga is a Jewish communal professional with a strong interest in strengthening Israel/Diaspora relations and building living bridges within the Jewish world and between the various Tribes of Israel.
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