Allow me to preface this by saying that this is not a political piece. A lot has been published about the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and I have little to add to it here. What I do wish to discuss is way we talk about it, focusing on the recent events at Ohio University (OU).
On Sept. 2, OU Student Senate President Megan Marzec dumped a bucket of fake blood over herself in condemnation of the Gaza war, claiming to speak on behalf of the student body in doing so. Not to be outdone, a group of students calling themselves “Bobcats for Israel” interrupted a student senate meeting with protest that devolved into chanting and shouting, with several students and adults taking part, eventually leading to arrests.
This represents a serious embarrassment for Ohio University, but, in a way, serves as a microcosm for the way that we talk about these things.
Usually, when Israel-Palestine is discussed, what quickly materializes is an environment of blaming and finger pointing along with a healthy dose of tu quoque (meaning “you also”), as if one side’s bad behavior somehow makes the other’s less heinous. Israeli-Palestinian violence tends to be a series of reciprocal escalations; one side, perceiving aggression from the other, acts out, that action is returned in kind and, like bloodstained clockwork, the machinery of violence stirs. Then the recriminations begin, lengthy and vicious, over who exactly started a pattern of killing that has continued for over half a century.
My question is this: even if we somehow were to assign historical blame for the crisis, what then? This crisis has been unfolding for three generations. How do we create peace from blaming long-dead people?
It would seem that for many of the commentators on this issue, the objective is not even peace, but rather to feel vindicated and have other people believe that they are right. However, when people are aggressively pushed to change their opinions, they rarely change them at all. They dig their heels in, fight tooth and nail and resort to mental gymnastics to avoid cognitive dissonance. They experience anger and fear, emotions that are not conducive to the empathy and trust that is required for peace-building, whether it be between friends or between nations.
What I am not suggesting is complacency. I am not suggesting that we merely sweep the matter under the carpet and ignore it. What I am suggesting is that we talk about solutions. If one tenth of the mental energy that we devote to proving ourselves right were devoted instead to finding resolutions, the Holy Land might be peaceful by now, no longer weeping over the shattered bodies of her Jewish and Arab children.
On a personal level, I find it strange that people who really have nothing at stake in the conflict take such extreme positions. I have many friends who live in Israel and the Palestinian territories or have family who do. Every new round of violence brings a series of heart-wrenching phone calls to make sure that people I care about have not murdered each other. We can take an active stance without resorting to the kind of rhetoric that has prolonged and inflamed this war.
One final note. For those of us who claim faith, particularly followers of Abrahamic traditions, this conflict is perhaps the greatest test of our faith that God has given us. The Holy Land has been in dispute, whether for religious or political reasons, for longer than our religions have even existed, long before “Israeli” and “Palestinian” were even concepts. To bring peace to the Holy Land is an incredible challenge, even a dangerous one, but as people who have faith, we cannot tolerate the defilement of it with violence. Every day our thoughts, words and actions create the world anew. Let us devote them to a higher purpose.