I am an eighteen-year-old Zionist Jew. I am about to begin my college journey, although I have already been advocating for Israel for years. My fellow teen and campus advocates and I teach our communities about the technological advances that Israel has made: “Israel invented trees that can text farmers when they are thirsty!” We educate our classmates about the humanitarian aid that Israel provides after natural disasters around the world: “Israel was among the first to arrive in Haiti and Nepal and set up temporary hospitals!” We teach slang words like “sababa!” [wonderful] and “eser!” [ten: perfection], and many other upbeat nuances.
At the same time, we demand that SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) and those promoting BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) acknowledge our perspective: “Israel is not an apartheid state,” we declare, and demonstrate a dozen reasons why our position is valid. “Israel has the most moral military in the world,” we announce, and list any number of examples to prove our point. “Israel has time and again come to the negotiating table with plans for peace, or accepted international proposals,” we reiterate. We act as though this information will miraculously make a difference in the conversation about Israel.
I’ve heard many people refer to Pro Israel Advocates today, namely those on university campuses, as “soldiers on the front lines of the fight.” That sentiment is nice, but the reality is that we have barely moved the needle. Lately, I am starting to hear, “We should just sit back and wait for change to come.” I don’t take well to that suggestion. As invested as I am in this cause, doing nothing is not an option. And so I, influenced by my friends and teachers, have come to a conclusion: As a community of advocates for Israel, we need to add to our strategy. Whether we are expounding on the reasons why Israel is a wonderful country, or explaining why Israel is not an awful country, our position is always defensive. It’s time to turn the tables and center the conversation on the other side’s participation in the peace process. First, this requires SJP and BDS activists on campus to start being honest about the realities of the Middle East. And second, this requires Palestinians living in that region and on college campuses to stand up for peace.
I am not going to stop spreading the positive Israel message. I am not going to stop defending Israel when false claims are made. But I will also not end the conversation on the defensive. It is time my peers and I make our opponents answer the questions they have been evading for too long. We cannot let them avoid taking responsibility for their hateful ideology and destructive actions. We must challenge them to answer for their suicide bombers, vehicular attacks, and rocket fire. When they declare they have been mistreated as people, we must make them answer for the mistreatment of women and homosexuals inside their territories. When they insist Israelis are killing them, they must admit to their government’s use of human shields and its insistence on Palestinians remaining home when the Israelis warn they will be firing at a specific spot. When they rail about justice and human rights, they must admit to the injustices and human right violations in their own communities.
As for Palestinians standing up to their leadership, I am reminded of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage must be recognized everywhere in America. As in many other homes, my family has been discussing this SCOTUS ruling, how it came about, and where we go from here. “I guess society will just figure it out over time,” my grandfather said, almost in passing at the end of dinner.
That sentence – those ten words – resonated.
“It’s a social change – that’s what my generation is about. There will be more changes in the future,” I continued. “Like what?” my family asked. “It could be anything,” I went on. “How great would it be if the next change was an end to terrorism?!” I asked. My family laughed.
They laughed, but I’m not laughing. I hope and pray that terrorism in Israel, and around the world, ceases to be. I believe wholeheartedly that one day, politicians will shake hands and there will be a diplomatic solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. But when those walls come down — literally and metaphorically — and treaties are signed, I am petrified that there will still be two peoples — two peoples with a right to live in peace, with pride for who they are, but who continue to hate, demonize and distrust each other.
True change in our society does not come from diplomatic solutions. True change begins with individuals. It comes when the strongest people stand up for their beliefs. It came for women when they picketed in Central Park. It came for African Americans when they marched from Selma to Montgomery. It came for gays and lesbians when person after person “came out” to their families with heart-wrenching letters and videos. And it will come for peace-loving people when Palestinians, on campuses and in the Middle East, take a stand in their own communities.
Israel has made it clear that she will work for peace; and the Palestinians must now do the same. It is time for people-to-people coexistence projects in Israel and around the world to get the attention and support they deserve. These groups have succeeded where politicians have failed; they have succeeded in bringing out the peaceful voices of individuals who want to live in harmony. It is time for young people – be they few and far between or a vast group — living in Gaza and the West Bank to follow the lead of Kasim Hafeez, Bassem Eid, and Mosab Hasaan Yousef, to step up and speak the truth, and then, to lead their people to a new day. It is time for those who wish to fight for peace to take a page from the LGBT community and have a “coming out” of their own:
“Dear Parents,” They will start their letter.
“I know you sense something is different with me. I have been carrying a heavy weight for a long while and it is time I rid myself of it. I’m writing this down because I don’t think I can look you in the eyes and say everything I need to say. I don’t want to see the emotions that will undoubtedly rush through your eyes when the next words come out.” They will continue.
“I am pro-peace. I’ve felt this way for longer than I can remember. Whether it is in my DNA or it is my decision — this is who I am.
I’ve tried to see things your way, to watch how my teachers act and follow their lead, but that is not who I am. The lessons they teach about the hateful Israeli people do not make sense. The Israelis send us aid and provide us with medical care. Our leaders pay us to have tunnels under our houses to use to murder Israelis. I did not like going to camp at the age of five and parading around with a gun, chanting ‘death to Jews’. Why would I wish death on anyone? I do not wish to be placed in front of a rocket launcher as a human shield, but I know that if I am put there, the Israelis will do everything they can to not murder me. That is just and moral and the kind of life I want to live.
This is not a phase. Don’t tell me it is. I accept that the lessons you have been taught are so deeply ingrained in your psyche that you might not be able to look past them. But I can.
I don’t know if my announcement makes you mad, or confused, or sad, but you need to know that it makes me happy. And although your support and approval would be great, I understand that this may not be how you feel.
Perhaps you’ll say that you saw ‘warning signs’ in my behavior. Others who have recognized these signs have teased me. I’ve endured humiliation and pain, and I know I may be faced with more in the future. I know that our government will not take well to my position. I know they could put me in grave danger. I am prepared for this. You raised me to be strong, physically and emotionally. You raised me to think for myself and consider others, and that is what I am doing. If I am hurt along the way, I still stand by what I am saying.
I am not alone. I have friends who feel as I do. We support each other even if those around us do not. I would be thrilled for you to be a part of my support system; but if you cannot support what I am telling you, at least support my right to feel this way and live my own life.
Your Proud Palestinian Child”
It is time for society to “figure it out”, but this will require the courage of pro-peace advocates on the other side of the debate. It is not an easy task to stand up to one’s government, but it is time for that stance to be taken. Some in the older generations will not understand; they have been handed down erroneous beliefs for too long. But for the younger generations, there is hope.
When my classmates and I read in textbooks that not so long ago, women were not allowed to vote, we are appalled at how people could have thought that was right. With the SCOTUS ruling, I am sure that our children will one day feel the same when they learn that only in our generation did we decide that every person is free to identify their gender expression, biological sex, and sexual orientation, and once doing so, can fall in love with any person and live without shame.
I maintain that Israel has shown that peace is her heartfelt desire and fervent prayer. But this is not a one-way street. Moreover, this is not a problem that can be fixed by one person. It will only be solved when there is a genuine dialogue about peace among young people around the world – when instead of SJP and BDS activists shouting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” they will be chanting “Peace for All”. And it will only happen when this “coming out” letter gains traction inside Palestinian homes and becomes the prevailing battle cry.
I hope that my children will come home from school one day and say, “I learned in class today that there used to be this dreadful problem called “terrorism” in Israel. How was that okay? How did you have nations fighting with each other, murdering each other, for so many years?” And I will respond, “Yes, when I was younger, a despicable situation called terrorism existed; but we came together as a generation, all around the world, and fought for what was right and moral. And we won.”