Tobias Griessbach
Tobias Griessbach

The Unseized Luxury of Distance

During May 2021, Israel and Palestine experienced a surprisingly intense wave of societal violence, which the area hasn’t experienced since the British Mandate Era. As usual, international media focused on the topic with an extreme discipline and motivation. Opinion and analytic pieces popped up in every newspaper around the globe, also in Germany. And as usual, German society initially and immediately chose sides and departed over a dispute that is 3,000 kilometers away. It’s either Palestine or Israel and nearly everyone I was talking to had an idea or an opinion, identifying the victim and the traitor in century old conflict.

Leipzig, my hometown, saw its central place, the Augustusplatz, occupied by two demonstrations: the eastern part was stuffed with Israeli flags, the western was an ocean of Palestinian ones. Interestingly, but not noticeable at first sight was the group of Israelis in the center of the pro-Palestinian demonstration, challenging the German understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Standing between both, observing the scene, I remembered my time in Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, discussing with its inhabitants, but rather watching them discussing with each other. Remembering people disputing about the conflict based on their own immediate experiences and their families stories, I couldn’t relate to the demonstrators in my city.

It wasn’t even about the demonstrations itself, but rather about the aggressive atmosphere and the violent turn it took in several spots.This was not the first time and sure it won’t be the last, people enjoying a life, relatively free from everyday struggles based on their origin or mother tounge and without war-related traumata. With books, computers and enough space and distance to educate themselves about the Israeli-Palestinian struggle or as the former Israeli consul for Germany, Sandra Simovich, put it: “Compared to my country, all in all, you have no major problems. No real security problems, and on the whole you have a safe and quiet life here.” But even this kind of European luxury and safety does not hinder the violent climax of engagement in the conflict. Since I started digging into the topic and making a lot of mistakes I get confronted regularly in a certain emotional and a know-it-all manner, that you’ll find solely when it comes to Israel and Palestine. And also, it is an actual miracle to have avoided physical fights about the topic as they have happened (and will happen) occasionally.

Whenever tensions flare up in Israel and/or Palestine, Germans are quick to reinstall their political glossary and social media is full of battle phrases like “Apartheid”, “Hasbarah” or “Genocide”on the other hand “Islamo-Fascism”, “Antisemitism” and “Pallywood” and so on…to most of the people interested in the conflict, the situation is clear and easily to evaluate while solely acting and thinking in Lord of the Rings-like moral categories of innocent and evil. As we all (or most of us) have learned in school, history and politics are much more complex issues, driven by cause and effect and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not constitute an exception of this rules.

Yet, a society, far far away, but engaged historically by Holocaust and colonial interests does not emancipate from its psychological barriers and allow itself to practice a distanced, but dedicated interest. Rather, Germans tend to chose a side and share just a small proportion of information, which does not complete the image. In her book, Gudrun Kraemer wrote, that there is no such thing as “innocence of terms” and we should heed these words by standing up against any kind of racism or Antisemitism instead of perceiving human rights as depending on the side you chose.

About the Author
Tobias Griessbach has a M.A. in Anthropology and is a freelance journalist.
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