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No matter your side, there are real people on the other

Published: November 16, 2012
Section: Opinions


This week, the latest facet of the conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian people reared its head in the form of the assassination of a military official of Hamas, the terrorist group currently in power in the Gaza Strip, in retaliation for an intense barrage of rockets launched into Israel over the past decade.

The situation is undeniably tense and the reactions appropriately so, particularly here at Brandeis, where many of the university’s numerous Jews have strong ties to Israel. People are upset and afraid and those reactions are not at all in question. What is concerning, however, is the dark underpinnings of some of these outcries, an issue that exists in both camps. In many cases, both unconsciously and with purpose, these emotional reactions center upon the dehumanization of the “other side,” oversimplifying an incredibly complicated and long-standing conflict that struggles with a great deal of emotional issues (human rights, persecution and identity, to name a few) into a simple matter of “us” and “them.” Israel has the right to defend itself in the wake of this egregious attack on it’s civilian population, but that does not legitimize the dehumanization of the Palestinian people, just as the occupation does not legitimize the dehumanization of Israelis.

There is much talk about the violation of human rights reflected in the attacks on civilian targets in Israel. It is undoubtable that human rights have been compromised, but the issue here is that there is a tendency to take this particular snapshot of abuse and ignore the fact that both Israelis and Palestinians have initiated serious abuses against each other during the past years. It is inappropriate to use these as an excuse to condemn. Providing love and support to those who need it in this trying time is a far better use of energy, especially when people are so dearly in need of support.

Condemning and dehumanizing the Palestinians is not support: if anything, it is worsening the schism of a clash decades in the making and will only serve to make peace even more challenging to achieve in the long run. It is one thing to condemn Hamas, which is a terrorist organization, but taking the conflict as a platform for racism, an attitude which is unfortunately (though often unconsciously) prevalent in many displays of support, is a very different state of affairs.

This week’s attacks on Israeli civilian centers is a serious act of terrorism in full defiance of the Geneva Convention, which sets the standards for human rights in times of warfare. That is not in question. The issue here, however, is that it isn’t as simple as people have made it out to be: this is but the latest facet of a much larger and more complicated situation. Hamas and their actions are one face of a massive issue and Israel’s right to defend itself is undeniable—but taking that as an excuse to dehumanize Palestinians as a whole, as has been sadly prevalent in the wake of this week’s development (particularly in Facebook statuses professing support for Israeli human rights), is not, by any means, acceptable. This isn’t an attack out of nowhere, to be used as evidence that this ill-defined “other side” is peopled entirely by monsters, because that “other side” is too often expressed as an entire ethnicity rather than just Hamas, an extremist ruling body that does not represent the people as a whole. This attitude often goes both ways, as well: Israelis and Jews are often blamed for less-than-favorable actions of the Israeli government (which have, over the years and even very recently, been quite numerous) and in either case, dehumanization is entirely unacceptable.

This attack is one aspect of a long conflict in which both groups (Israeli and Palestinian) have caused each other grievous harm. For those of us who stand on the outside, there is far too much of a tendency to forget that and we instead place sole blame on whoever has fallen out of favor that day. This is more complicated and more painful than the act of taking sides can ever express. It’s time to stand up and acknowledge that no matter the form in which conflict appears, it should never be used as a bludgeon to turn massive groups of people into faceless receptacles for blame.

Rather than taking sides and reducing people to monsters, it is wiser and healthier to simply be there for the people you love who are hurting, without tainting that support with hate. Instead of taking one side and hating the other, take the side of arbitration and peace, no matter how unrealistic it can seem, and be aware of how easily support turns into condemnation and hate. No matter what, reigning in the wide swaths of prejudice that result from the actions of a select group is by far the wiser route. In short, do not use the actions of the few to condemn the many.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the sequence of events preceding the assassination of a Hamas military official. Israel launched the attack after rocket fire from Hamas, which occurred throughout the past decade.