I’ve been discussing Palestine quite a bit lately. I recently gave a talk on the topic to a group of Masters students, two of whom were Israeli. The subject has also come up in conversation with friends, on dates, and during a 15 minute segment with my federal MP. I've also found myself randomly sharing my views with people I don't know on facebook. Sometimes these conversations end in me losing my cool and sometimes I manage to maintain the illusion of the gentle Quaker.
Because I’ve been engaging with people who have personal or religious links to Israel, or who have visited the holy land on a trip funded by the Israel lobby, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to approach the topic in a constructive way. It’s also caused me to consider what my objective is in having these conversations. Do I want to encourage people to question their bias, change their minds completely, or simply hear some of what I witnessed? Is a rant directed at a stranger really going to change their mind, no matter how factual and well considered?
A few days ago I came upon a news item about an Israeli tourist in Australia who was refused service in a piercing studio. Directed to a sign up in the shop which said “no Israelis served here”, she described feeling shocked and hurt. And I could see why she’d feel that way. I can only imagine what it would be like to be denied a service because of your nationality.
I also think it’s counterproductive to the Palestinian cause to alienate Israeli backpackers. This young woman - bless her little cotton socks - seems blissfully ignorant as to why anyone would want to boycott Israel. To make matters worse, she now has a whole bunch of supporters affirming her point of view and assuring her that not all Australians are racist. This experience has most probably further entrenched her previously-held views that anyone who questions Israel is an ignorant, anti-semitic leftie who supports terrorists.
So, what to do? I’d love to call her up and explain why her Government has a bit to answer for. I’d love to frame it in the context of MY Government also having a lot to answer for when it comes to human rights. I’d like to tell her about the courageous and well-informed Israelis who I met in Palestine. People who give up every Saturday morning to stand in solidarity with Palestinians whose homes are being destroyed and land taken. People who risk arrest and harassment because they have bothered to read and learn, and now they can’t NOT be involved.
I’d also like to tell her that the left don’t hate Israelis, or Jews. What we hate is injustice and oppression and persecution. We are the same people who were involved in the underground railraid to assist African American slaves to freedom, and who protected Jews during the holocaust, and who boycotted South Africa in a bid to end apartheid. These injustices make us really angry. Sometimes when we get angry we do silly things. We become antagonistic, and end up sabotaging the cause we feel so passionately about.
That sign wasn’t the right or helpful thing to do. Nor are my random attacks on facebook strangers. But these mistakes are small compared to the impact that 50 years of military occupation has had on the Palestinian people. If this young woman feels discriminated against, violated, and unjustly treated, she might have gained some small insight into what life every day is like for Palestinians. I just hope this experience makes her more compassionate, and more open to joining those courageous and committed Israelis who are on the right side of history.