I’m a Jew and I’ve also lived for years in a refugee camp. And so...
NO! See? I’m already saying the wrong things!! I'm talking about ME! Talk about the Israelis and the Palestinians is already totally polluted by me, me, me talk. Look at me! Think about me. My side. My people.
Even the word “we” has been corrupted, taking us away from the path to peace. I heard someone talking the other day, and they were saying “we” and at first I didn’t know who this “we” was. Then I heard the dull thump of someone talking from the point of view of a partisan on one side or the other. “We” just meant “us,” against “them.”
Which is why people are killing each other in the Holy Land.
“We” are in the right, not you. “We” are the ones who’ve really suffered, not you. “We” are the ones with justice and righteousness on our side, not you. “We” have a correct view of the story, not you.
When you say, "I'm right and deserve to prevail, and you're wrong and deserve to lose out," what are you really doing? Only one of two things. 1) You're appealing to a judge who might rule in your favor and who has the power to enforce their ruling. With Israel/Gaza, who would that be? The UN? The World Court? Or 2) you're stating your rationale for a violent struggle. If both sides say they’re right, and righteous, then the only way to resolve a dispute like that is through the use of power. Meaning, violence.
There is no way out of this, not with this us-against-you mindset.
It’s not just an “I’m right, you’re wrong” situation, either. Here we have an “if you win, I die” situation. Worse! It’s more of a “who cares if you die because you’re a terrible person” situation.
And it’s even WORSE than this!! Not everyone caught up in it feels this way. There are a lot of people on both sides--the "moderates" whom the extremists despise--who believe that peace and compromise are the best way out of this. Yes, there’s only one brownie left on the plate, but we don’t have to kill each other over who’s entitled to it. We can share it. Sharing is better than bloodshed.
But these people in whose hands the hope of peace rests have been kidnapped by fanatics on both sides. The worst kind of fanatics. Fundamentalist fanatics. As someone who grew up in a fundamentalist church put it:
I’ve encountered fundamentalism of every stripe my entire life. And while fundamentalist ideas can often be quite variable and complex, I’ve never encountered a fundamentalist culture that didn’t combine three key traits: certainty, ferocity and solidarity.
If I am certain I’m right, and I’m bound with bands of steel to those who think just like me, and I’m ferocious about all this, why wouldn’t I die exercising my right to be right? I certainly wouldn’t care if YOU died!!
Is there a chance in hell that the fundamentalists on one side will EVER convince the fundamentalists on the other side that, “Ooops, I’ve made a terrible mistake! You’ve been right all along!! How could I have been so wrong”? That’s, like, NEVER ever happened.
The great Talleyrand saw it this way:
Extremists, to whatever camp they belong, are the disease germs in the body politic. They can never create, but when the general health of the body is weak, then can bring destruction. They are reckless as to the means they employ, and because their passion-blinded eyes can discern no difference between the most moderate and the most violent of those who differ from them, they are ready to combine with the latter in order to defeat the former.
Anyone who thinks that siding with the right side in this will bring anything but misery is delusional. The Israelis have a more powerful military than the Palestinians, but the Palestinians have suicide bombers and neighbors willing to supply them with all the rockets they want. Neither side has an exit strategy short of annihilating the non-people they see as enemies.
What makes this tragic—TRAGIC—is that none of this is necessary.
All you need is a proper understanding of the word “we.” As in:
“We are stuck with each other. The bloodshed necessary to squash the other side’s hope of righteously prevailing isn’t worth the hollow ruins of victory. Maybe we shouldn’t have been in one another’s way in the first place—how inconvenient! But we are here now, and we can suffer with each other in an atmosphere of hatred, fear, and destruction OR we can say that, since this ‘we’ is a fact on the ground, let’s find a solution that...what? Makes everyone happy? Well, that ain’t gonna happen. But there is a solution that leads to a sustainable peace, as long as—as soon as—we can see that WE are in this together.”
I know everyone has suffered terribly throughout all of this. But I’m sick of all the look-at-my-suffering stories. They may be true but they’re part of the problem. Because “my suffering” now inevitably becomes an excuse for my making you suffer later.
You want to get my attention? You want to be on the side of real solutions? Talk about the real “we”: the camps who are locked together in conflict, Talk about how we—stuck together haphazardly and uncomfortably as we are—can make this work. So that we are a “we” that’s at peace.
What I’ve been saying here doesn’t just apply to Israel/Palestine. It applies everywhere, including to the microcosm of each of our one-on-one relationships. Why do couple fight? That’s what our book Why Couples Fight is all about. How the moment that conflict arises, “we” gets lost and it’s just two individuals turning love into war in a power struggle without winners. It’s unbearable sad that anyone’s ever thought it has to be this way. It doesn’t! Check out our book. You’ll see.
And it doesn’t have to be this way in Israel/Palestine. What’s needed—and it’s everything—is for the fanatics to realize what their blindness has cost everyone.
How do we make this happen? I don’t know. Most of what we know about psychology says that extremists and fanatics double down on their beliefs even when they're shown to be wrong.
Is it likely to happen? I don’t see how.
I just know that talking the talk of the true “we”—everyone stuck in this tragedy together—is the only thing that’ll give us a chance of peace.