Earlier this month the world lost it completely. The tragedy struck us all when 13- and 15-year-old Palestinian cousins stabbed a random 13-year-old Israeli teen they did not know while he was biking away from a grocery store. This was, of-course, part of what some people call “the knife Intifada”. All activists and media sources on both sides rubbed their hands with joy and went straight for the kill. On one side, the Palestinian attackers were portrayed as the true victims after being gunned down – an example of the killer-Israelis who slaughter children in cold blood. On the other side, these adolescent assailants were quickly branded as terrorists and proof that Palestinians will always want us dead. And thus, once again, the world media puts the extreme points of view in the spotlight, inciting the masses against one another in order to compete for the reader’s attention.
This everlasting quarrel has been in the news for so long that even time travelers Marty McFly and Doc Brown, traveling back to the future, were surprised to learn it was still going on. The conflict, like anything that survives the winds of time, was affected greatly by the technological advancements of the past decade. Supported by social media and other modern technology, a strange phenomenon has surfaced. Instead of using our new and sophisticated tools to march towards peace, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been virtually replicated on US media, streets and colleges. The overflow of information has had a boomerang effect, further dividing people, pushing them to news-sources and Facebook pages that present the position they agree with most.
We have so many sources of news nowadays that the information overload only highlights sensationalist headlines, photos and videos. If we do read a full article, it usually comes from the “side” with which we already agree. Seldom do we read articles that contradict our own beliefs and dismiss such sources of information as being biased (e.g. “I never watch Fox News – they are all Republicans” or “The liberal Mainstream Media attack” from the Republican debate). The lack of engagement with a diverse spectrum of opinions stiffens our stance rather than ease it. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there is only black or white, no gray, and we witness the outcome of this narrow minded world view every day.
I have read hundreds of articles and Op-Eds about the conflict during my two years working at Stanford University. Each claimed to be pro-Palestinian, pro-Israeli or both, but I haven’t found a single one that presented the full picture. However, reading all those pieces did give me an overview of both sides, and the gaping omissions by both sides. It also brought to light the non-truths presented by all sides. Everyone has their own narrative and the facts to support it.
On campuses of US colleges, most students are not very political or involved with international affairs. The people who support BDS or divestment have (sometimes valid) criticism toward the Israeli policy in the West Bank (AKA “The Occupation” or “Judea and Samaria” depending on where you stand). The problem is that in order to activate people who don’t care as much (people who are non Palestinians, Israelis or activists) the means are to simplify and radicalize the debate. The BDS seekers present a dichotomy: either you are pro human-rights or you are a genocide-supporting pro-Israeli.
Last year, I sat at an event organized by Stanford students who tried to promote a divestment bill and heard one of the speakers (a Stanford visiting lecturer and known activist) openly lie about Israel. Among her half truths, she stated that Jewish people who arrive to Israel receive guns from the state. The statement was made immediately after describing a case where Jewish settlers with guns took over the home of an elderly Palestinian. The false causation was clear — the Israeli government apparently provides guns to Jews in order to expel Palestinians from their homes. The room was now filled with young involved students who didn’t know that they had just been manipulated to hate Israelis and settlers. This is but one example, yet it happens all the time to various degrees.
In return, to fight fire with fire, pro-Israelis often overuse the term Anti-semitism presenting any criticism, even a legitimate one, towards Israel as racism towards Jews.
How else would you convince the people who don’t really care? Shock therapy! “Genocide” “Ethnic cleansing” “ Apartheid” “Anti-Semitism” — these are words forged to attract the support of the indifferent and as a by product create a dangerous hateful divide. The average Joe and Jane have no bandwidth or interest in complexities. A pro-Israeli can try and explain that the, so called, apartheid wall has nothing to do with racial segregation and there are Muslim Palestinians who are Israeli citizens who live freely, elect and get elected to the Israeli parliament, start businesses, teach at universities, and work as judges in the supreme court. Or that the wall is actually not a wall but a fence for 90%-95% of its length and where it was erected as a wall it was to block snipers and Molotov cocktail throwers. Or that it was built to prevent innocent civilians from being murdered from terror attacks and did so successfully. But who cares about all that when you have a headline that says “Apartheid” with a picture of sad kids standing in front of a threatening wall with soldiers in full combat gear standing next to them?
All these things are just too much to explain to someone who is not personally engaged in the issue. Yes, the lives of the Palestinians living in the West Bank have deteriorated because of the security barrier (wall and fence). Yes, the presence of the IDF and Israeli settlements in the West Bank is negatively affecting the Palestinian population. The conversations we should be having, though, are completely different. We should be talking about how in G-d’s name can the international community stop this madness, gap the divide and create a constructive rather than accusatory discourse. We should consider how to create incentives for the leaders of both sides to reach peace and trust each other. Incentives that would promote the agreement we are all waiting for because it is so much more lucrative than maintaining the status quo.
We are currently facing one of the scariest epidemics of the 21st century — the superficial consumption of information and oversimplified opinion forming. Look at what is happening all over the US; the hate, the lies and the divide over core issues. These are all symptoms of a disease where there is only one truth: “you” are right and “they” are wrong — no middle ground. If we are to ever overcome this modern Frankenstein’s monster that we have created, we ought to start opening our minds to other sources of information. We must deliberately expose ourselves and engage with opinions and people that we disagree with at least to the extent of understanding other narratives. It is time to let the rain wash away the extremes and find the middle ground between the puddles.
In a world where there is no peace without justice but no-one is just, we will forever live on our swords. The only way to avoid this fate is to actively struggle and see things beyond our own perspective. It is the responsibility of us all to use the technology that we created to broaden our minds and save us from ourselves.