Yalla Peace: Out of place with irrationality

I have always felt more out of place in Arab-Israeli conflict than Edward Said felt out of place in life.

Peter Beinart meets students at J Street conference 370 (photo credit: J Street)
Peter Beinart meets students at J Street conference 370
(photo credit: J Street)
I have always felt more out of place in the Arab-Israeli conflict than author Edward Said felt out of place in his life, the title of his brilliantly written memoirs.
The difference, though, is that I use my circumstances to push for compromise while Said, who was a close confidant of my mentor, Ibrahim Abu- Lughod, eventually used it to push hard against Israel. Clearly, as he moved away from the peace process that he and Abu-Lughod were in a large part responsible for launching in the 1980s, Said found himself more and more in conflict with peace based on compromise.
A brilliant theorist and writer, Said was the most misunderstood Palestinian since Jesus, in a large part because his writings became the foundation of Palestinian activist ideology but failed to reach the public masses in the West that needed to better understand them.
The failure of the peace process has driven many Palestinian activists to irrationality, fueling their anger. Many Israelis have found shelter from the failure of peace by burying their heads in the sands of moral challenges of their occupation policies.
After years of failed peace, Palestinians and Israelis are left in a purgatory of anger, failure and flashes of violent conflict. That doesn’t create an environment that encourages harmony or understanding. Last week I wrote about how I distinguished between boycotting the settlements and boycotting Israel, the core of the argument that writer Peter Beinart has made so clearly.
I did so because that argument about the issue of boycotts is essentially the essence of the obstacles standing in the way of Palestinian-Israeli peace. The moderate middle ground has become that place where the irrationality of Palestinian and Israeli reality is exposed for what it really is: a destructive desire for vengeance and revenge.
Finding that moderate middle ground is not easy because people on both sides spend so much time responding to each other in anger. A letter writer asked me in The Jerusalem Post to identify the products from the West Bank settlements that I would boycott so he could go out and buy them. I am sure he is already buying those products, but his ability to make that statement in response to a reasoned moderate middle ground perspective shows you how desperate the situation has become for a secure Palestinian and Israel future.
There were no letters supporting my view that boycotting Israel was wrong while boycotting the settlements was right.
The irrationality of how we engage the conflict has risen. The most recent example is the accusation that Israel is an “apartheid state.” Palestinian activists are hosting “Israel Apartheid Week” events, although it is lasting longer than one week.
Technically, Israel is not engaged in apartheid, the system of separating people based on race. In reality, Israel discriminates against its citizens based on their religion: non-Jewish Israelis who are Palestinian Arab are routinely victimized by discrimination and even racism.
It’s worse in the occupied West Bank, which haters and deniers of Palestinian rights disrespectfully refer to as “Judea and Samaria.” Calling the West Bank Judea and Samaria in the face of collapsing peace based on two states is the equivalent of describing the Jewish state as “the Zionist entity.”
Despite all the grievances that Palestinians have against Israel, calling Israel an apartheid state is wrong. It’s an example of throwing kerosene on an already raging fire. It references some similarities involving legitimate grievances by Palestinians against Israelis while ignoring legitimate grievances of Israelis against Palestinians.
And in a way, exaggerating a legitimate grievance delegitimizes that grievances.
The Palestinian activists who push Apartheid Week don’t really use the term because they care about addressing the grievances accurately. These exaggerations are quite common on both sides. The real challenge of Israelis and Palestinians who share a sense of moral justice and embrace principle along with peace based on compromise is to overcome these exaggerations.
Rather than exaggerating the conflict, we should be reinforcing the peace.
Each side deals with the conflict in different ways, neither of which help.
When I was a student at the University of Illinois, I noticed Israelis, who had a state, would organize celebrations of Israel. In contrast, the Palestinians, who did not have a state, spent most of their time protesting against the Israeli state.
Israelis “celebrated” while Palestinians “protested.” The celebrations and the protests were both provocative to the other. Israelis can’t celebrate while closing their eyes to the discrimination that exists. And Palestinians can’t protest against Israel’s bad policies without acknowledging their own bad policies.
This parallel polarity only inflames the conflict and reinforces irrational behavior on both sides. It encourages violence. It provokes normally rational human beings to do irrational things.
Of course, we wouldn’t be humans if we were always rational. I think, though, that we must continue to try.
The writer is a Palestinian American radio talk show host.