I’m a European Jew who grew up in Belgium and attended Jewish school. My wife is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Muslim, who attended Hebrew school. We have a son who was born in America. What does that make him? A Human. A human like the families under rocket attacks running for shelters in Tel Aviv; a human like the children running from air strikes in Gaza, a human like the elders being displaced in east Jerusalem, a human like the young soldiers risking their lives in the colonies, or the neighbours getting lynched. A human like those that survived the atrocities from the Holocaust to find refuge in a promised land. A human like those that were forced to leave their homes behind and escape to uncertainty on the day of the Nakba.
Both our families share tragedies from the past and have heard the endless cycle of “us vs. them” arguments time and time again, in different contexts.
When conflicts arise anywhere in the world, the government, the media and the powers at play will deploy the binary “Us vs. Them” narrative. It’s human nature, we pick sides.
Just like we pick sides in a football game depending on where we’re from or who our friends are: we pick sides in politics, we pick sides in war, forgetting that we are not the ones on the football field. We are merely spectators of what is broadcasted on the TV channels that we watch.
“They went to this team and lost all my respect”
“The referee is corrupt”
“They punched first”
“He asked for it”
“You support Manchester United? We can’t be friends”
We forget that we are each equal to everyone on that field and to the supporters of the other team. We dismiss the players’ desire for success because we want our team to win, even if it comes at the other side’s loss and pain. We dismiss each other’s plea for that shared goal of success.
The TV only shows the jersey but we don’t see the individual souls. There is not enough time to analyze all players’ backstory. So we gather information on what we believe matters: glorious things about our players, despicable things about players on the other teams.
We do this repetitively:
- Azeri and Armenians
- Serbians and Kosovar Albanians
- The Crimean conflict
- The Kurds and the Turks
- The Ladakh conflict
- The Indians and Pakistanis
- The Hutus and Tutsis
And these are a few only from this century...
The established powers divide the cultural makeup of these regions into complex factions so that the media can in turn oversimplify into this binary idea of “us vs. them” for us to pick sides, consume vertiginous amounts of news, pit one against another, and keep the political powers in place. It’s always “completely different” and the “exact same” every cycle.
The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is no different:
You are an ashkenazi Jew, he is a Sephardic Jew, she is a Mizrahi Jew, they are Ethiopian Jews, he is an Arab Muslim, she is an Arab Christian, they are Druze, they are Shomronit, they are Berbers, they are Palestinians from Gaza, they are Palestinians from the West Bank, and many other groups that have been labeled over time to put into factions with different results on their respective discrimination, situation, and fears.
What we hear from the media: They are Israelis, they are Palestinians.
If you are already aware of these labels and you’ve followed the news over the past week. You will quickly realize that different “factions” have different “pleas” and that the region is at the same time so much more complex than what you hear from the media’s “Jews vs muslims conflict” yet so simple at its core: We’re all humans wanting long term safety for ourselves and our descendants.
Does supporting the rights and dignity of a group have to mean the support for the annihilation of another?
Does supporting the long term security of a group need to be at the expense of oppressing another?
Does oppressing one group to insure another’s long term security ultimately end the cycle of trauma?
And who are those ultimately profiting from endless cycles of violence?
The answers become more apparent the closer you get from being “Us” and “Them”, like my son. You can’t pick a side, because ultimately there is none.
Once we move away from that binary view and into an ideal of collective security and prosperity, it becomes easier introspect on our mistakes and rectify them so we can move forward and protect each other in the long run, instead of staying entrenched in endless cycles of mini turf wars that only benefit those at the top looking to secure their position of leadership.
The modern media doesn’t really help as they also benefit from conflict and the tag lines that keep fueling this binary view. The clickbait, the clicks, the likes, the retweets, the views, the subscriptions. These holy grail metrics have ignited many of our modern domestic and international struggles: Brexit, Brazil elections, US elections, BLM, the Coronavirus, just to name a few. This is no different. We are constantly bathed in 24/7 news cycles with articles, videos, op-Eds, commentaries, reactions to commentaries, personal opinions on social media (like this one), comments on those posts and the subsequent threads and chats that result from these flames. We drown ourselves in information that is impossible to follow because it goes so fast that we forget where things begin and where they end. This leaves room for interpretation, crafted narrative from carefully selected facts that fit our mental models and the story of our players we’ve painted in our minds. Our heads spin in circles and we feel detached from the human lives because we are focused on building the winning narrative, the winning argument.
As you tune in to another episode of “Modern Wars” I beg you to pause every once in a while and think whether we are not all fighting for the same thing, whether we are not all entitled to our security, freedom, and security, and whether thinking about this collectively rather than individually could not be the answer to end these cycles.
Think of how you would feel if you were “Them”, think of how you would feel if you were “Us and Them”
And ask yourself whether it is the responsibility of the more powerful “side” to lookout and restore the security of the weak. Why you ask? Because our own actions and commitments as “the powerful side” are our only guarantee that if the balance was to be reversed or the situation flipped, the long term collective prosperity and security would be ensured. Else, the oppressed becomes the oppressor.
Spectators may fervently support different teams when it‘s on TV but they all love football and wouldn’t mind mixing things up in a pick up game.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go change some diapers.
Thank you for reading this far,