Stuck In The Middle With My Opinions
Rage to the left of me. Outrage to the right. Here I am.
I rarely comment on the situation in Israel for so many reasons. This post is not about my position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is about how I’m more often than not, too scared to voice it. For fear of being shouted down by either and both sides.
Last time I wrote anything remotely linked to the Middle East and the conflict that simply won’t end, it was about a small Israeli theatre and dance company show being cancelled in Edinburgh after pro-Palestinian groups protested.
The hypocrisy and singling out of Israel for this kind of boycotting to the point of danger so it meant cancellation (or as I saw it, caving to the threat of violence) was what pushed me to write about it with great sadness sitting in a heavy heart. Sadness for the silencing of artistic voices who did not deserve to bear punishment for actions of their government. Just as Palestinian civilians don’t deserve to bear punishment for their government, who act violently upon clear and self declared terrorist motives.
There is no place for the middle ground in this conflict. There is no time for a moderate opinion, one that sees the treatment of Palestinian people in Gaza and says that both the Israeli government and Hamas should be doing better than this for everyone’s sake. The middle ground sees a shared responsibility. But historically, these two groups of people share nothing but the fight. The centrist view sees that we are too deeply into a decades long conflict to take any individual incident in isolation or to try and unpick the threads that have led to this tangled mess. Every action is a reaction to something and so often it goes all the way back to what is seen as the beginning in 1948. But to ignore the historical context of the forming of the state of Israel is irresponsible and a disservice to the Jews who were systematically slaughtered between 1939 and 1945. The forming of the state of Israel was not the beginning, the extreme antisemitism leading to the highly organised extermination of Jews was. It is the height of hypocrisy to call for human rights action while ignoring what Israel started as – one of the largest havens in history after one of the worst atrocities, so terrible it gained its own word; holocaust.
To ignore the many offers of peace deals that were rejected is to rewrite history. But to ignore the suffering of people who have a governing body that runs on terror and corruption is to deny reality and avoid our own collective moral compass. To fall back on the holocaust as a reason why we cannot do better today is a disservice to ourselves and to the memory of those who perished. But we should not forget either. To forget is to erase and to erase gives way to real danger.
There is no space to find the balance of those huge things. There is no space for squaring past inflicted inhumanity with finding humanity now. There is no space to see that Israel as a country must protect the lives of its people but that the Palestinian civilian lives are just as worthy of protection. A life is a life is a life.
When online expression is one of the most frequently used and public forms of communication, it is hard to imagine that there might not be space for something. But I am too afraid to post about my sadness when there are deaths on both sides. I am nervous to express my frustration at organisations who gloss over Israel’s responsibility to constantly reassess the measure of its response to potential and enacted threats, while simultaneously expressing my frustration with groups who support terrorist activities and deny documented history, while also wanting to express my sadness and frustration that there are people who feel so desperate, living in an environment so toxic that they resort to acts of terror, so immersed in this ideology of hate that they are convinced it is worth sacrificing their own lives in attacks that result in their suicide. There’s more of course. Bigger feelings, sadder statements on both sides and there is no sentence long enough to encompass them all. So uncharacteristically, I shut up.
My thoughts are tangled and sometimes it feels like there is not enough space in my head nor out of it to express a compassionate but uncompromisingly honest middle ground. Certainly not one that anyone who takes a firm one side or the other position will hear. Sometimes I struggle to hear it because it goes round and round and on and on and the thoughts circle but do not land anywhere except they keep trying to do the impossible and be on both sides.
There is no room made for those who want to shine a light onto both sides and bring both sets of agendas and operations out of the shadows and into that light. There is legitimate fear. There is death. But there is no meeting in the middle.
In an extreme situation, only extreme opinions are welcome. You’re either for or against, there is no in between so get off that fence. To show moderation is weakness. I find when I do talk about this, I’m always taking the other side to the person I’m speaking to because if they’re further along the scale in one direction than I am, I feel compelled to point out the other side. There are staunchly pro-Israel people who would describe me as a Palestinian sympathiser and ally. There are fully Palestinian supporters who would describe me as their enemy. I feel I am neither and perhaps I am both. I am not on the fence for there is no fence. I am in no man’s land.
I don’t post my moderation because when I see others bravely try, it only elicits shouting from both sides, incendiary comments and inflammatory statements. Of course there is some support but mostly it descends into heels dug in, insults and a shut down on hearing the other side.
I hear of people with their bags packed waiting to see if they’ll have to leave the UK because they don’t feel safe here. Where will they go? To Israel, where they’ll feel safer and will be accepted. Jews fleeing for safety was the very reason for which the state of Israel was built after all. I see people declaring how no one understands Israel and we should not judge what we do not know. I see all Jews being branded as murderers for believing in the right of the state of Israel to exist because of what happened to their grandparents or Torah or a whole bunch of other reasons. I see this branding from the same people who claim they’re definitely not anti-Semitic, just anti-Israel. For every point one side can make the other side has 7 statements that start with “Yes but what about….” and this goes both ways because the conflict is long and messy and tangled and you cannot untie it. You cannot undo it. It is too late for that, when so much has been done. I see people over simplifying to the point of absurdity. If it were simple would we, the world, not have fixed it by now? We will not and cannot know the full story for it extends backwards and forwards in time, on and on and on and we are not there. We do not know.
People wait to hear what will happen. The question hangs in the air – will the Jews align to condemn or condone Israel? The feeling I get from outside the community is that we’re all somehow responsible, somehow united. But are we? The expectation is that one Jew with one opinion will speak for us all but how can that ever be true? Have we learned nothing from the division on our own turf with our own politics? Outside the Jewish community it feels as if you can only be accepted as a Jew if you renounce ties to Israel and condemn everything they do. Inside the community it sometimes feels as if you’re branded a traitor or self-hater if you don’t support Israel’s every move. Typically, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. And at the same time as wondering how I could be deemed physically responsible for this, I do feel part of that collective moral responsibility. There is no way to win for the moderate, thinking Jew.
When you stand in the middle of such a conflict and look both ways it is hard to find hope. There is fury and there is fear. Righteous indignation runs through the veins of both groups of people whose lives are lived against the backdrop of a living volcano made from layers of human lava. There are beacons of compassion in some organisations and people who work with people on the ground to build community bridges but it seems to me that this will not be fixed from the bottom up and those at the top are so far removed they can’t hear us. We cannot control what either side does. We cannot control what a country such as America does, when they choose to stoke the fire and feed the flames.
I do not post about this much because I feel like I will never know enough to feel confident putting something out for the world to see. It is too hard to unpack and write coherently all the conflicting feelings I have and try to justify them all. I can turn it over and over and over in my mind but I cannot fix it. My opinions, my feelings do nothing and leave me feeling impotent and ignorant and wrong whichever way I turn because there’s always the other side. I have no impact on a conflict a continent away. My prayers for peace are not heard and no one cares what I think really anyway. It is hubris to suggest otherwise. This is not to say that one should do nothing, rather that I do not know what is to be done.
My younger brother is in the Israeli army and I can’t decide what scares me more – the fact that he will face terrorist groups or the fact that he will hold a gun that he is trained to use while he does it.