Yasmine and I were good friends, once upon a time. We met at Kids4Peace, at age 15, in Washington D.C. We went together to the United States Institute for Peace, lobbied congress-people’s staffers for funding to promote HR1489 For the International Peace Fund. We ate breakfast together every morning. We styled our hair the same way, encouraging the confusion of our counselors – we looked very similar, a pair of Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian-American teen girls. Big black plastic rimmed glasses, dark curly hair, and similar facial features made us trans-national twins.
It was nice to keep in touch over social media, mostly watching each other continue her respective life and reach important milestones – high school graduation, Yasmine beginning her engineering degree as I prepared for my service in the IDF.
We mostly didn’t talk politics – when we did interact it was usually about handling curly hair, or new updates in our personal lives. She would often repost content about Israel, criticizing or condemning Israeli actions. It was always important to me to follow her and read these posts, even though I almost always disagreed with the premise and found the source of information to be lacking credibility. It was important to me to understand what other perspectives see, to understand how my friend feels. I usually refrained from commenting – we exchanged thoughts twice over many years. Once, explaining the need for the IDF to exist at all. Another time, to explain an issue of misinformation around Palestinians receiving out of date COVID19 vaccines. Once to inform her that the “Palestine” coin she had posted as evidence of longstanding Palestinian presence in fact said on it in Hebrew “Land of Israel”. For two years, I served not only in the IDF – but specifically in the part of the IDF that is focused on publishing, explaining, and framing the IDF’s activity. I didn’t want to be the IDF’s spokesperson while off duty – showing up uninvited to a friend’s personal story.
Political comments beside friendly conversation. Screenshot from Direct Messages on Instagram
That changed on October 7th. She posted about the IDF responding in the Gaza Strip, using terms that I would disagree with but tolerate on a usual day.
I texted her – “I hope you find some empathy for the people massacred today in Israel. You can support Palestinians and still condemn Hamas for the atrocities of the last two days.” She replied to me in a cavalier tone – “They’re reciprocating what the Israeli army and government has been doing for decades. I don’t condone the murder of children, women or elderly but I certainly won’t have empathy for a government that’s actively repeating history.”
I pleaded with her – “Don’t have empathy for the government. Have empathy for the thousand murdered so far by Hamas in two days”.
She didn’t reply to that.
A text exchange from October 8th, 2023. Screenshot of Direct Messages on Instagram
I unfollowed her soon after that, and removed her following from my account. I couldn’t handle her posts justifying Hamas while my friends are held captive by terrorists, other friends killed in the attack, my family and friends risking their lives in the Gaza Strip, fighting to weaken Hamas and return the hostages.
I spend relatively little time on social media these days – thankfully my days are busy with reserve duty and I stay informed with the 18 news apps on my phone that ping me with notifications (six Israeli outlets, the rest international, if you were wondering.)
I continue to make it a point to read opinions I disagree with – both reading the work of journalists I differ from, and the Instagram stories of content creators I generally respect for their political opinions. I remain a follower of a user I strongly disagree with – that has been calling for a one-sided Israeli ceasefire since the beginning of the war and did not respond to my direct message asking for her to elaborate on her views. I think she’s wrong. I also think that if I unfollow and segregate myself from every opinion based on fundamental perceptions of reality different to mine, I will end up ignorant, in the same echo-chamber crying out that the world doesn’t see the truth and wondering why Hasbara isn’t working.
I am exhausted at this point – from long shifts in reserves, from the heaviness in my heart, from the tragedies that I and every one of my peers have witnessed lately. What little energy each of us have left is precious. I choose to dedicate some of mine to reading things that make me disappointed, and mad. But I insist – I am part of the Western World, I hold liberal views. I won’t be thrown out of the ring, disconnected and an outsider to the conversation taking place. As I want my voice to be heard, I will continue to hear voices I do not like at all.