Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Opened Eyes: How Friendship Changed My Perspective

Friendship can change the way you see things.

For the longest time, it seems that the only opinion I ever held on the Israel-Palestinian conflict seemed to be the pre-packaged kind in which I blindly supported Israel because its status as an American ally.  If asked about it, I would answer that Israel had a sovereign right to defend itself against Palestinian militants, that the Palestinians should learn to be happy with what they had and if they weren't so aggressive, things would be more peaceful.  I never really gave any thought as to what it was like living in the Gaza Strip, or what it must have been like to live an oppressed and refugee kind of life on a daily basis.  Previous conflicts, such as the one in 2008-2009 never held my attention very long because to me, it was just "those" people fighting again over nothing important, and over a situation which would never be resolved.

This current conflict between Israel and Palestine, however, has really caught my attention.  A few things have changed my perspective. Firstly, I started reading news from international websites a few years ago.  Europe has a completely different perspective on the world than the US and in many instances, European news outlets provide much more balanced and objective examinations of world events.  Secondly,  I read about the history of Israel and Palestine and familiarized myself with the ongoing issues of the region. Thirdly, I now have several friends who are Muslim.  Prior to last year, I didn't know a single Muslim personally and many of my misconceptions regarding Islam and Muslims have been cleared up through my friendships with these people. 

Reading unbiased news reports and learning the history of the region helped in my understanding of the issues that divide Israel and Palestine as well as opening my eyes to how strongly the US colors any conflict in the region in favor of Israel.  I understand that the US sees Israel as a key ally in a contentious Middle East. Nonetheless, I find it extremely distasteful that the government exerts such a propagandizing impact upon the news which obscured the true living conditions of the Palestinians.  It's a sad state of affairs when a person has to read or watch news from other countries to get an accurate portrayal of what is happening in the world, especially for a country which prides itself on freedom of press. I have learned so much in the last two years of expanding my sources of information.

By far, however, it has been having Muslim friends which has made this issue for me compelling.  Learning about Muslims first hand by establishing and maintaining friendships has endowed the Palestinians with a humanity and a sense of identity that, for me, didn't previously exist.  My personal friendships gave the people of Palestine a human face, one which I hadn't seen before.  These people, who Israel seems intent upon oppressing and dehumanizing, are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, daughters and sons.  They have families and friends.  They have jobs.  They have good times and bad times.  They laugh, they cry, they love, they hate, they fight, they make up, they pray and they sin.  They have dreams, hopes, and desires.  They are just the same as anyone else around the world.  They are the same as us Americans, with the exception of one thing--personal freedom and access to basic human rights.

Palestinians are some of the most oppressed people in the world.  Israel controls what goes in and out of Gaza.  Israel controls the movement of the people.  Israel controls everything there, and in my opinion, Israel has made Palestine the largest open-air prison in the world.  Their basic human rights are infringed upon on a daily basis.  And people wonder why they attempt to fight.  To me, they fight because to not fight for your own fundamental rights means you give up and die.  And I don't see them doing that any time soon.  What people would?  We all have an innate instinct to not only survive, but to thrive.  They are doing what comes naturally to any human being--fighting for something better.

It distresses me to hear the casualty counts from this seven-day conflict.  Three Israelis and over 100 Palestinians, many of whom are innocent civilians such as women and children.  This past week I've seen pictures of children literally blown apart, homes completely destroyed with only craters left in their place, and people's faces filled with fear and terror of dying at any minute.  And I am not talking about the Israelis.  Their photos consist of people  looking out broken windows, hiding in decent bomb shelters, and being armed to the teeth.  They have armored and reinforced bulldozers, the Iron Dome missile defense system, and the latest high-tech weaponry. The Palestinians are fighting with molotov cocktails and rocks. The disparity blows me away.  It's not a war.  A war is between two countries evenly matched, both with the ability to wage war.  This seems more akin to squashing an ant with an atom bomb.  And if a person were to try and find information on this disparity, it wouldn't be in American news outlets.  All of their sympathy lies with the accessible, US-friendly Israelis.  The entire thing is an outrage.  And I am ashamed of President Obama for saying that Israel has every right to defend itself but without noting that the defense should be tempered by good judgment.  Israel should defend itself, but to openly decimate innocent civilians? Hell no!

After seeing the pictures of the dead babies and dismembered children, I had to write something about this topic.  Those images will haunt me for a very long time and they have prompted me to be more vocal about finding a peaceful and  fair solution to this issue. And if whomever reads this has difficulty in feeling sympathy for the Palestinians or who still can't be bothered to pay attention to this conflict, just try to imagine someone you love dying in such a violent way after having lived in poverty, despair, and oppression for their short lives.  I think that might give you some perspective and an impetus to try and change things for the better too.  If we all remember that the "them" is the same as "us" the world would be a much more peaceful, free, and loving place in which to live.