How to take a stand in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and how not to lose your empathy

It's already 9 years, since I pulled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into my centre of attention and put it into the top of my interests. Ans it was a long and sometimes very unreflected and literally naive process of insight, which came to the point, that it is useless, to join a party or faction in this matter. Whereas I still ask myself, if anybody has a benefit in a foreigner who is accumulating as much knowledge as it is possible to him.

In the very beginning, I behaved like a typical student with pseudo-political and -humanistic views, taking an exclusive stand for the Palestinian matter without any doubt, that this is the only possible choice to defend human values in this conflict. I perceived myself as incredibly aware of the core issues of the conflict and sophisticated enough to trust my decision, completely unaware of the fact, that human values are completely contradicted by my behaviour.

I cannot remember, when I decided to get to know the Israeli version of the conflict, too, but I recognized, that it makes no sense to pretend as I have fully understand the issue but leaving one decisive element in the dark completely. And that was the day, I started swinging constantly between these two poles, exposed to a constant stream of oppinions, versions and a frustrating amount of facts, that turned out not to be facts in a scientific sense. Even these „facts“ appeared to be shapeable and dependent on whom is spreading them. I stopped counting, how often I've seen videos and fact sheets with the „real truth“ about this and that regarding the conflict. And I started to wonder, if there is something real between „Hasbara“ and „Pallywood“.

If you're not used to the every day experience of the conflict, if you're sitting in the wealthy and calm centre of Europe, it should actually be no problem to take your time and patiently shaping your oppinion on that, but as I have written in the last post, the European sphere of the conflict appears to be at least as bizarre as in the Middle East itself. I admit to catch myself being a little jealous on people who seems to have a clear oppinion and have no doubts in expressing them, but I couldn't and can't stand the paradox, these people express with every word: if you talk about human values, ethics and moral, what is won if it is not embracing every single person?

My own personal epistemic process and experiences led me to one certain scenario: it is less about the „truth and facts“ but rather about the practical consequences and the approval, that the shared history of Israel and Palestine is one line of events with two perceptions; that it is therefore imperative to accept both versions as a kind of thruth.

Let's look at an example: during the Temple Mount riots in July this year, the web was cracking up with tons of analyses, images and voices with this slight nimbus of truth. Many people could reconfirm their view on Arabs as violence loving and Israel hating bunch of barbarians, while others could find another proof for Israel being an anti-Arab colonial project. The images were harsh, and so were many words and I cannot deny, that it has a slightly attractive aura to join one voice and release all your anger by canalizing it onto one definite perpetrator. Overcoming this point, I recognized that the riots were in the end a clash of need against need. Security against autonomy. And usually, the smallest tip on one of these balance pans is enough to create chaos. And it just takes one person to imabalance this scale.

And this is the actual point: how could I allege both entire factions to stand with the deeds and beliefs of minimal minorities or corrupted politicians? And if someone is doing so, why not alleging every German to be a Nazi or every American to be a KKK supporter? We all know, it is riddiculous, but this conviction is not working in the Middle East, f*** knows why.

While balancing out my view and location in this issue, I got to know many people, tried to get active and somehow give the people here another more constructive and humanistic impetus, had a lot of arguments and fights, just to recognize, that the people, that are involved in the conflict by simply living in the area are much more calm, reflected and peace loving than most of the Europeans I met. I could bitterly laugh on the fact, that a friend, who has lost family members and friends during the Second Intifada appears to be much more self aware and balanced than a female German teacher, speaking of Hamas as a „righteous and reasonable movement for Palestinian independence.“ It are encounters like these, that make yourself wonder, why people like these actually engage in the conflict and I am actually not even sure, if I want to hear her answer. The other way round, I remember the guy, an Israeli Jew, who took me to the West Bank for the first time to meet some very interesting Palestinians, while self-declared pro-migration Antifascists in Germany speak of Arab West Bankers as if they have no minimal right to live there or that something like a „Palestinian“ does not even exist.

It's actually a little funny, that the current state of Antifascist agenda in Germany follows the conservative or right-wing agenda in Israel, while the local right-wingers explored the Palestinian issue (as the leftists in Israel) to express their anti-Semitic views and therefore equip it with a certain alleged humanitarian justification. And so you'll find leftists posting pictures of tanks and rightists speaking of a „German Intifada“. I hope, you understand, that this isn't worth any other comment.

The climate of discourse here is intense and aggressive and I still struggle to navigate through this mine field of solidarities and „truths“. Most people seem to lack empathy and a real interest in understanding what is going on in Israel and Palestine, but they follow the chic of having an oppinion on the conflict.

While observing this discourse I refuse to join a group or organization, faction or whatever, for I never had the feeling, that my views and epistemic process could benefit from being part of a certain agenda. And actually, every new encounter confirms my decision.

What I really could benefit from, was my time working in Israel, with a Jewish Israeli as my boss and a Muslim as colleague, both driven by the wish of maintaing the village they work in and on it. They are friends, despite the fact, that both were affected by the conflict, each in his own way, but tragic and potentially despairing. And here in Germany, I had a fight with a stranger about the term „ethnic cleansing“ which we could not overcome and find a common basis, but shouting at each other and leaving without consense. May someone please explain me this grotesque.

It may sound a little cynical, but I have the feeling, that at some point, one seems to feel compelled to evaluate, which disaster affects one more, the victims of terror or the victims of occupation. And if someone is cynical enough, to make up the fatalities in the conflict, this kind of evaluation does not sound as absurd as it actually is.

So, should I personally evaluate the impact of both? What is won for me personally with this, except a clear and doubtless oppinion?


Actually, nothing.


If I differ between sorrow and sorrow, I differ between the different values of human life and its basic right to strive. How could I present myself as empathetic and caring, if it is exclusive?

Of course, it happens often, that you are threatened to be ensnared by easy explanations and statements, and I cannot lie about my capitulation, one way or the other. Fortunately, I always find a way to get my feet back on the ground, for reality does make sure you will.

When I stood in front of the wall in Jerusalem, departing East and West, it is the same as with the riots. It is the physical emanation of security against autonomy and unfolding. I cannot see just the one side of the conflict without the other, reproducing constantly and pushing foward the alienation of Israelis and Palestinians. So I, as an observer should ask myself, if I can support this alienation just for my inherent need to clearly sort the world in front of me. Do I really believe in basic human rights or do I just need an agenda to follow and to locate myself in this debate?So in the end, it's less about taking a stand but rather not to lose

At the end of the day, I cannot be sure, if my position does have any relevance for the conflict, but I can be sure, not to have taken action against individuals or groups, and I guess, this was the main intention of many people here when they started to become involved in the European battlefield of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.