More Listening, Less Prejudice Needed in Israeli Palestinian Conflict

War and conflict is a messy business that rarely corresponds to the tidy accounts taught in schools. That can certainly be said about Israel’s struggle to be born and exist. Intellectual honesty demands a hard look at all aspects of the turmoil and its effects on both Israelis and Palestinians.

Conflicts are always messier when opinions are fueled by religion. For some Jews, resettling the land of Israel after an absence of two thousand years filled with wandering, persecution, and annihilation represents for many the attainment of a safe haven and the chance of becoming a “normal” nation like all others.

From childhood, Palestinian children are taught that their ancestors have been living in the land for thousands of years and were uprooted by a European/Asiatic people with no valid claim to the land displacing their parents and grandparents. The world stood idly by and allowed this to happen because of guilt over the holocaust. It is a sacred duty of every Palestinian to devote their lives and perhaps even to be martyred to drive out the “Crusader imperialist Jews.”

The Arab-Israeli conflict is exceedingly complex. To couch it simply in terms of “an occupation of a land by a people that have no claim to it and the subjugation of its native people that have the sole rights to that land” completely negates the possibility that the other side has a narrative that ties them to the land, or even the possibility that the other side even has a right to a narrative.

Lost in the war of ideas that underlies the conflict is the simple notion that this is simply a land dispute between two peoples that lay claim to all the area referred to by some as Israel and by others as Palestine.

In my view, the Israeli-Palestine conflict will never be resolved at its root cause until each side reaches a profound conclusion that the other has a valid narrative that binds them to that land.

Each side finally needs to come to the realization that the other side “isn’t going anywhere.” Only then can the process of true mutual respect begin, coupled with the understanding that in no way, shape, or form can one side hope to exert total control over all the land. Once that is understood both sides are left with three options: unending conflict, division of the land where each side must compromise deep seated religious beliefs, or all living as equal citizens in one multiethnic society.

Teaching students only one side of the story, something that is becoming increasingly prevalent in American universities today, is not only intellectually dishonest but will ultimately perpetuate the conflict indefinitely.

At the root of this conflict is prejudice in its purest form. Each side is taught to regard the other as stereotypical evil, the ultimate “other,” people to fear and loathe. Very little effort is expended to bridge the gap by trying to meet as people on a large scale in good faith.

Much ink has been spilled over the years on the terrible cancer that is prejudice, which we all experience to a greater or lesser extent. Mostly we read about the victims of prejudice and rightfully so, but not enough is said or written about the corrosive effect that being prejudice to others has on its perpetrators. There are myriad forms of bigotry and the terrible cost that is paid by all involved. Most of us when asked what prejudice is, say racial prejudice. While that is the most pervasive form of prejudice, especially in the US, in general prejudice is about making judgements about any person without the benefit of sufficient factual support.

Studying the effects of prejudice is becoming increasingly important in our day with an upsurge of its ugly face all around the world. Until both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict move beyond their prejudice, the shootings, stabbings, and bombings will never end.