Why Keeping it Real about Israel is Hard

My friend asked if Jon Stewart had done anything on the Daily Show about the Israeli embassy attack in Cairo?
Without a doubt in my mind, I said, “No.” 
He scrunched his eyebrows. “Really? I would expect him to.” It was big news after all.
No way,” I replied. “That’s way too much for Jon Stewart to tackle."
Comedy, like most stories, needs simple definitions of good guys and bad guys. You can make fun of politicians. You can make fun of the Klan. You can make fun of Charlie Sheen.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is not one of those scenarios. The only comedians I can remember daring to touch the subject are Larry David and Adam Sandler. And they only had the guts to make fun of hummus and chicken. The Israeli embassy attack in Cairo was not joke material, let alone something that could easily be digested in Western media.
Photo by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff through Creative CommonsPhoto by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff through Creative Commons
Photo by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff through Creative Commons
To my boyfriend Uri, however, this situation was very simple. "They attacked the embassy. What is not clear about that?"
The truth is on September 9, 2011, thousands of Egyptians stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo (New York Times). Egyptian police stood by as these events happened (The Jerusalem Post). First, the protestors tore down a protective wall. Then, police cars were set on fire. Eventually, some protestors raided the embassy itself, throwing pamphlets and forms out windows (The Jerusalem Post). Most seriously, six Israeli guards were extremely close to being attacked. They were rescued by Egyptian commandoes at the last minute (The Telegraph), who were ordered to protect the embassy by US President Obama (Al Masry Al Youm’s English Edition; an Egyptian daily paper.)
Photo by Reuters
However, I explained how difficult it was to explain these hard truths to an American audience, many who supported the Egyptian revolution. "The problem is that it would complicate their world view too much to see the news about the embassy. And it''d make Jon Stewart unpopular, for that matter." Egyptians are supposed to be good guys this year. They started a revolution. On the other hand, Israel still has settlements. It wasn''t even willing to stop building for peace talks.
Uri pressed me further. "You mean to tell me that this wouldn''t get reported, even though it''s totally unjust, because it would complicate peoples'' views too much? That''s so irresponsible."
He then reminded me that that I had told him I was going to write about Egypt. 
A bit dejected, I said, “Yeah, I know. It’s been on my mind to post about it since the Eilat terror attacks."
The truth is “eight Israelis were killed and more than 30 were wounded in the attacks near Eilat, the most serious on Israel from Egyptian territory in decades (The New York Times),” on August 18, 2011.  In response, Israeli Defense Forces targeted the Sinai, where the attackers came from. Sadly, five Egyptian security personnel were killed in the crossfire (The Guardian). This was one of the central causes for the September 9, 2011 attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo. 
However, according to a report in the Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm (as reported in Haaretz), at least three of the perpetrators of the Eilat terrorist attack were Egyptian citizens. In addition, “at least some of the attackers wore brown uniforms, similar to those used by the Egyptian Army” (Haaretz, a left wing Israeli paper).
However, I had not written about it because, frankly, I would also be unpopular if I did this. I am from San Francisco, after all. I continued, "It''s a really hard balance: I feel like I have a certain amount of trust amongst my readers, and if I start posting about things that happen against Israel too frequently, people will be turned off. They may think I got brainwashed.” Many of my progressive friends thought I was brainwashed just by the fact that I was living in Israel.
Uri countered, “But Laura, this is something maybe only you can do. You’re an American journalist; they’ll believe it more coming from you. Plus, you have a duty to bring this up. This is why Israel’s misunderstood; because people like you don’t want to touch the complexity.”
The truth is this incident did get analyzed in the American media. The New York Times did an extensive analysis in their Sunday paper of both the Egypt attack as well as the strained relationship between Israel and Turkey.
So, the truth was I was the one afraid to write about it.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is so hard to explain because there is blood on all sides. There are no good guys or bad guys: there are just a lot of guys in a mess. If I wanted to feel good, I would take a side and just write when one side was victimized by another. But I refuse to do that. That would be ignoring the complexity of the situation.
I believe the violence coming from Egypt is very disturbing and unjustified. However, I also believe this violence will continue as long as there is no peace.
Gershon Baskin, a long time peace activist and Jpost columnist, articulated this position elegantly in a recent column. He has spent a lot of time in Egypt and was actually visiting Egypt while the embassy attack occurred.
This conversation was particularly enlightening about an average Egyptian''s feelings towards Israel:
"The nargila boy in the coffee shop in Zamalek asked me where I was from. “Falestin,” I said. “Very good,” he replied, “we love Palestine ... I will kill all of the Israelis for you!” I asked him why he hated Israelis so much. Did he know any Israelis, I asked? No, and he didn’t want to, he replied. He hated the Israelis, he said, because they killed Palestinians and took their land, and because now they were also killing Egyptians. I asked him what he would think if Israel ended the occupation and made peace with a Palestinian state. After a brief pause, he said, “If they make real peace and free the Palestinians and let them have a state, we will have nothing against Israel, ahalan w’sahalan (welcome).”
This young man, educated on the street, and by Al Jazeera, probably knows almost nothing about the conflict, but his views reflect those of millions of Arabs all over the region, and millions of Turks as well. People across this region are willing to accept an Israel that lives in peace with its Arab neighbors. Israel is hated in the Arab and Muslim world not, as many Israelis believe, simply because they deny our right to exist. If Israel would only understand that its relations with the Palestinians determine the level of its acceptance in the region perhaps we would be at a very different place today."
Photo of Mahmoud Abbas; By World Economic Forum at Creative Commons 
Instead, the UN vote is happening later this week. The UN vote will probably change nothing on the ground and the peace talks look increasingly challenging to resume.
At the end our conversation, Uri put it best: Unfairness deeply upsets him. He''s pissed off when he reads about settlements being built just as he''s pissed off when there is violence against Israel.
When there is unfairness on both sides, it''s hard to laugh. It''s hard to explain without seeming partial. And most importantly, it''s hard to make peace.
I just hope that the peace process gets started again, in whatever form is necessary. Otherwise, there will just be more injustice, on all sides. I don''t know about you, but I''m ready for a comedy.