When our kids were younger, we had a rule in our home: if one of them ever crossed the line to violence with a sibling or friend, they were at fault, period. It didn’t matter “who started it.”
It’s a simple rule: violence is never the answer. You can scream, yell, throw a tantrum, storm off, but there’s never a good reason to escalate to violence. Ever.
When Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show” addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last week, he made an extremely insightful point – when it comes to the Middle East, the answer to “who started it” changes depending on how far back you look.
And he’s absolutely right. If we start in ’48, Israel is a small, noble country, surrounded by enemies who immediately rose to destroy it. If we start last month, Israel is an unjust and cruel occupying force, who intends to remove families from their home. The more granular you look, the more you realize that the “who started it” loop is never ending.
As an Israeli American Woke-Ass Progressive (the original WAP), I hold both of these notions to be true: Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and one of the very few countries in the region that have justice and equality for women, LGBTQ+, and freedom of speech and religion – all this while fighting off enemies since day one. On the flip side, Israel’s policies in dealing with this fight for survival and the occupation of Palestinian territories, are riddled with injustice, racism and tragedy.
Israel, like many democracies, has a pretty even split between right and left wingers. There are even several Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament. For the last few decades, the Israeli right wing’s policy has been focused on building up defenses and constructing settlements, while the Israeli left fights for justice and peace for ALL. A similar dynamic has been true within the U.S. too. The American left has historically been focused on pressing Israel to sign peace agreements while the American right gave Israel their unconditional support while essentially allowing (and sometimes encouraging) the violence to continue.
But this paradigm has been shifting over the last decade or so. Unlike his Democrat predecessors, Barack Obama didn’t really try to make any big peace moves in the Middle East, and then the Republican president that followed him (what’s his name again?) actually got Israel and a couple of Arab nations to sign treaties.
Nowadays, everyone seems to be pushed to polar extremes. While American conservatives continue to unconditionally #StandWithIsrael, turning a blind eye to injustice as Israelis brutally evict families from their homes, more and more progressives are taking up the equally ignorant and dangerous stance of #FreePalestine. It is now fashionable to declare #FreePalestine without context, and many progressives are unknowingly spreading half-truths and sometimes flat-out anti-Israeli propaganda without looking into the validity of what they share. That map that you’re seeing on social media is extremely inaccurate.
For years, us peace- and democracy-loving, Woke-Ass Progressives have been calling for a specific solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: two states, Israel and Palestine, living peacefully alongside each other. But it seems that for some progressives, the focus is now turned from calling for peace to criticizing Israel, while completely ignoring the context and complexity of the situation. They argue “who started it” but don’t suggest any actual long-term solutions. This has been leading to more and more extreme rhetoric, including cries for the complete dismantling of Israel and a terrifying rise of anti-Semitic violent attacks.
Let’s be clear here. #FreePalestine isn’t merely a criticism of Israeli policy. The chants heard at Free Palestine marches include “From river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – for those who don’t have a map of the area handy, let me help you: Israel is in the middle of that river-to-sea they mention. The official Free Palestine movement in the middle east outright opposes the existence of Israel. The de-facto leaders of the Gaza Strip, Hamas, are a racist terrorist organization whose goals include the violent destruction of Israel and the transformation of the area into an Islamic state. Twitter is flooded with #FreePalestine messages calling for the complete erasure of Israel from the map. For many, #FreePalestine isn’t a call for justice, it is a call for revenge and the destruction of Israel.
Now, as many like to point out, criticizing Israel is NOT anti-Semitic – I do it all the time! That said, if you’re able to feel heartbroken for the plight of the innocent Palestinian people while separating your feelings for their terrorist leadership, but can’t separate your feelings for the innocent Israeli people while criticizing the Israeli government, then I have some news for you about your biases.
Growing up in Israel, I experienced firsthand the anxiety of living under never-ending threat of attacks, war and death. My father fought in the Yom Kippur War just five years before I was born and I learned from a very young age that we were surrounded by enemies who wanted me dead simply for being born a Jew. As a teenager, I watched Bill Clinton try to broker peace between Israel and Palestine. This, and the determination of his Israeli counterparts who were willing to extend their hand to retired terrorist leaders, inspired me to question my conservative upbringing. Over time I realized that even though there definitely were many Arabs in the Middle East who were taught Muslim supremacy and that the land must be violently cleansed of all non-Muslims, there were many more who just wanted to live in peace. This peaceful population, unfortunately, are ruled by authoritarian religious leadership, many of which continue to support anti-Israeli terror. I also became very aware of the injustice within Israel. Together with many legitimate defense measures taken by Israel to protect its citizens, there were too many policies and actions that were indefensible and flat-out racist.
Today, the situation in Israel is absolutely tragic. My heart breaks when I read stories about Palestinian families huddled in fear, and it breaks again when I receive messages about my nieces and nephews spending their nights in bomb shelters.
A quick recap of the latest flare-up: Until the recent cease-fire, Israel has been bombing targets in Gaza, this was a reaction to Hamas launching over 1,000 rockets at Israel, an attack that came in retaliation for the Israeli invasion of the Temple Mount Mosque on a Muslim holiday, which was a defense measure due to the fact that the mosque was being used to stockpile rocks to throw at Jews celebrating an Israeli holiday, this plan was in retaliation for Israel’s moves to evict Palestinians from an Eastern Jerusalem neighborhood… and so on and so forth, the never-ending “who started it” loop continues.
If you look at this loop and only find one party to blame, you’re missing a whole lot of context and history. Overly simplistic slogans are dangerous. Instead of calling for #FreePalestine or #StandWithIsrael, call for PEACE. There are many Arabs and Jews coming together to stand for unity and a cession of all violence. These stories are drowned out by the constant barrage of people taking sides.
Two things can be true at the same time:
- Israeli leadership must be pressured to stop its brutal, racist policies against Palestinians.
- Israelis are under non-stop attack by violence and terrorism and they have a duty (not a right) to defend themselves.
Standing for one of these points while ignoring the other, will lead to more violence and hate. Not to justice.
Violence should never be the answer. “Who started it” doesn’t matter. Our kids got it, I’m sure adults can too.
Nati Braunstein is a Santa Clarita resident.