On Feb. 18, 2019, the News published a column titled “In solidarity with Palestine” by Daniel Hamidi. To be clear, this column is not a response to that article. In fact, this article will argue against the very need to respond to that earlier piece in the first place. Citing counterarguments and refuting each of Hamidi’s points will simply feed the very phenomenon that I believe divides Israelis and Palestinians more and more every day. Yale is a campus that has not yet devolved into the polarized and often-unproductive discourse of so many others. What a relief.
Yale has an opportunity to do what so many other campuses have failed to do on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: have an honest dialogue in which, instead of talking past one another, students actually listen. Polarization not only blinds us to the facts on the ground but also distances us from what should be the goal of any conversation about Israel-Palestine: peace.
First, the facts on the ground. Palestinians and Israelis have a very long and fraught history. All too often, people cite facts that support only one side of the contemporary political debate on Israel-Palestine. Israeli soldiers massacred over 100 Palestinians during the 1948 war in the Arab village of Deir Yassin. One-hundred and twenty-nine Jews were massacred one month later in the Jewish kibbutz of Kfar Etzion. Blood has been spilled time and time again on both sides.
The same goes for the more recent history. Yes, the situation in Gaza is a dire one. The World Bank reports that Gaza has the highest unemployment rate in the world and that only 10 percent of its population has access to safe drinking water. Many attribute the situation in Gaza to the Israeli military blockade that has been in place since 2007. But the issue is always more complicated. The blockade was initially instituted in the wake of the 2006 election of the militant fundamentalist group Hamas. The United States, the European Union, Canada and Israel, among many others, consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Immediately after it took power, Hamas started firing rockets and mortars at Israel. Last year alone, Hamas launched over 1,000 rockets.
Here is the thing: You can always tell a story the way you want to. But a single narrative will never be able to convey the totality of facts that, collectively, make this conflict so divisive, so painful.
I grew up only hearing one side of the story, too. And not the one Hamidi is telling. But rather than burrowing into one narrative, I realized that the conflict will never end if people can’t listen to one another. Instead, I started to learn Arabic, I visited Palestinian families in the West Bank through a pro-peace dialogue program and I worked for a member of Knesset (the Israeli parliament) who is trying to bring about an end to the conflict and to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
Last year, I spent a gap year in Jerusalem at the Shalom Hartman Institute, a pluralistic Jewish academic institution. I came into my gap year waving around a lot of political opinions. Then I started to listen. An Israeli friend of mine told me that she had lost family in a terrorist attack. A Palestinian speaker described how an Israeli soldier shot his son in cold blood.
So, when Hamidi says that “universities need to be spaces of open, respectful and rigorous discourse,” I could not agree more. But introducing a BDS resolution will not accomplish that, nor will publishing an article in the News that cites one narrative, one story, one side. BDS does not recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state. It aims to undermine the very existence of Israel and refutes any hope for a two-state solution. BDS places responsibility for a deeply complex political situation entirely on one country — Israel. It advocates for the academic boycott of Israeli universities and academics. In what way does that promote the goal of open and respectful discourse?
Peace can only come when each side recognizes the full and equal rights to statehood and security of the other. Last year, president of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas made horrifying anti-Semitic statements about how the Holocaust was driven by frustration over European Jews’ financial activities, and not by baseless hatred. Just recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made arrangements to bring the racist far-right Otzma Yehudit party into his governing coalition. Both sides have a long way to go.
We live in an era of immense political polarization in which every political issue is so charged to the point of feeling untouchable. But when so many lives are at stake — Israeli and Palestinian — embracing the mantras of a single side can have devastating consequences, driving the two peoples even further apart. Maybe, on this campus, we can play a small role in preventing that from happening.
Gabriel Klapholz is a first year in Branford College. His column runs every other Thursday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .