It's nearly impossible to discuss the Israel/Palestine conflict without everyone getting up in arms. We come into each discussion with so many preconceived notions, so many past hurts, so much baggage that even a discussion between friends can devolve into shouting matches. I spent most of my time at the seminary with my mouth shut as a result, thinking that I could do more good addressing the many other complicated international situations, situations that I could discuss without that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was somehow pissing off everyone.
This morning, Zie, a long-time Palestinian rights activist, and I had a lengthy discussion about the problem of addressing the issue without sound like an asshole. She and I are in the same ballpark, but I don't always agree with her labels. (I'm not sure "Zionist" is always the right label for those on the more conservative side of the issue nor am I sure if it's always a bad word. I use "conservative" side to denote those traditionally referred to as Pro-Israel. I don't like that distinction, either. So let's call them "right-wing zionists," to clarify their politics.) Regardless of where either of us fall on the issue, we both want to do it justice, so here it goes:
Zie: Is the Israel/Palestine too controversial a subject for the blog?
Harley: It's not too controversial and I would never advise you to step lightly. Just remember to be as respectful and keep the discourse as high as possible. A high level of discourse: no ad hominem attacks, nothing below the belt. Not that you would EVER do that.
Zie: Ok, I get it, but this Abbas meeting is too good to pass up.
Harley: We keep a broad readership because we have different opinions but are always [Ed: “always” being a relative term here, I’ll admit] even. Do it
Zie: Oh and Bush meeting with the "president" of Afghanistan
Harley: Just do it in a way that's informative and not inflammatory (or aim at that-- I usually fall short)
Zie: Ok, I'll do my research. and merely provide a few facts
Harley: you can provide commentary, of course. I don't want you to feel that you can't say whatever the hell you want. You can and should
Zie: But I'll be nice
Harley: That'd be great
Zie: The paper is funny today. One article of settlers being forcefully taken from their homes and right next to it an article on the wall that states the the building of the wall steals 10% of Palestinian land... next to another article saying Olmert is committed to a two state solution, but its "just not time yet." Hmmm. It’s so old news, it’s almost boring; there’s nothing new. I feel like reading Ecclesiastes
Harley: that's why I haven't touched the conflict almost at all
Zie: I noticed
Harley: It's so hard for me not to sound really angry every time I write about it
Zie: Yeah thats going to be a challenge
Harley: And I figured if I was just going to add anger to the discourse, well, that's not really an addition at all
Zie: Yes it is!
Harley: no, if I were doing something active, that would be adding
Zie: Sorry, I don't subscribe the whole "discourse" B.S. Zionists can say they are willing to chat about it, but Palestinians are getting screwed. I agree about action.. but speaking out is action!
Harley: I feel the same way about all human rights issues and all issues period. Speaking out is action, but speaking out when anger undermines your content is just adding venom to the mix and that's not useful, it's polarizing. No one listens
Zie: The world is already polarized.. People just don’t like having their nice lives disturbed. Me included. I think we need to make some noise if we want to be heard. Otherwise, people have no reason to listen. We don’t have to be mean about it, but presenting the facts is one of the strongest forms of opposition
Harley: I agree entirely. Presenting facts in a way that will be heard, even better. I agree that the world is polarized and that we should speak out, loudly, against injustice, but I want to change people's minds, you know? And I know that antagonizing them is not the way to do it. We have an audience with a variety of views, some of which I vehemently disagree with, but I want to rise above the fray and counter anger with calm, even though that sometimes seems impossible and I often fall short of it
Zie: Well, that’s the all time struggle, but I think people hide behind talking about "discourse"
Harley: I'm not hiding behind a discussion of "discourse," but I am tired of all the talk about honesty and straight talking if it's only going to be justification for vitriol; that does nothing for a cause; it just gives people reasons to continue to ignore you
Zie: I understand and I agree that being rude never helps. I am so confused about how to make change. But I know one thing- the seeds of the future have to be clearly represented in our methods today.. anger will only lead us to anger.. violence to violence, you know. But how do you fight guns with stones? I think it comes down to numbers, which comes down to class. Discussion is sooo important, but what’s more important is who you are talking to. Will the other person change their mind or are they dependant on the society/problem/situation?