November 26, 2012

Silence on the Occupation

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For a long time I did my best to avoid conversations about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Partisan politics, as they presented themselves to a Northeastern child of privilege, told me where to stand on the environment, on gay rights, on abortion and on everything else uncontroversial within my liberal household. When it came to the Israel-Palestine conflict, however, the best I could hope to hear from my parents or from my teachers was, “It’s complicated.”Which it is. It’s complicated, and my parents and teachers were right to treat it as such. Unfortunately, however, the conversation generally stopped there. When it comes to this particular issue, “It’s complicated” is taken to be a satisfactory answer.We heard the same self-satisfaction in The Sun’s editorial last week. Rather than take a position on the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, The Sun opted to focus on the inappropriately passionate tenor of the pro-Palestine protesters and pro-Israel counter-protesters on Ho Plaza last week. The event was evidently so “sloppy, cacophonous and overwhelmingly frustrating” that The Sun’s writers, who characterize themselves as “observers who see this conflict in shades of gray, and not black and white,” were too overwhelmed to have an opinion on the actual massacres we were protesting.This editorial, like every conversation-ending utterance of “It’s complicated,” is an absolutely inexcusable act of cowardice. When it comes to such issues as presidential elections, affirmative action or the rights of undocumented immigrants, The Sun has no qualms about coming out with a firm and declarative position. But Israel-Palestine? Safest to criticize the tone of the debate and call it a day. You never know who you might offend if you actually take a stand.This double standard manifests itself not only in the writing of The Sun, but also within the social justice community. Close friends of mine, friends who would be among the first to raise their voices against occupation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing in any other context, remain silent on the Israel-Palestine conflict.So why is this issue in particular so prohibitively complicated? To start with, Israel was founded on the heels of the Holocaust, the genocide which looms so large in the American collective memory. Whenever we view a conflict involving the Jewish people, we understandably view it in the context of the Jewish people’s centuries-long history of oppression.Thus, when the Jewish state of Israel claims self-defense, we are inclined to believe them. More than this; we are afraid not to believe them, for fear of being labeled an anti-Semite, either by others or, perhaps more importantly, by our own historical conscience. If any evidence arises to contradict the Israeli claim to self-defense, a claim which historically makes so much sense to us, we experience a harsh cognitive dissonance, and shy away from such evidence with a well-respected excuse for uncertainty: It’s complicated.I suggest that such an evasion has little to do with the complexity of the issue, and much more to do with our own discomfort with the position we might take, should we be forced to take a position. The truth of what’s been happening on that patch of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River for the last six and a half decades is so painful, so damning of human nature, that we would rather not look. We would rather not acknowledge a world in which the same people who were the victims of ethnic cleansing in World War II, only a few years later, could plan out and execute a policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.When I say ethnic cleansing, I am referring to the forcible displacement of 85 percent of the Palestinian population in the late 1940s, the demolition of Palestinian homes continuing into the present day, the aerial spraying of poisons on Bedouin crops and, of course, the massive shelling of Palestinian civilians and infrastructure we witnessed earlier this month in Gaza. Any voice which attempts to hold Israel accountable for these crimes against the Palestinian people is silenced by the historical elephant in the room: The Holocaust.On this point, I defer to the words of filmmaker Ronen Berelovich: “The sad fact is that those six million Jews that died because of a fascist, racist ideology are cynically being used today to justify and support another fascist, racist ideology. As most of my family, on both sides, were amongst the victims of the Holocaust, I withdraw my permission from Israeli government and Zionists worldwide to use their death in such a hideous way.”As Jonathan Abraham ’13 noted in his recent Letter to the Editor, on any given day, the U.S. government sends Israel $8.76 million worth of military hardware. This means that for Americans, silence is not an acceptable position. “It’s complicated” is not an acceptable position. “Both the pro-Palestine and the pro-Israel protesters are too loud and passionate for me to decide” is not an acceptable position.You need to decide whether 160 Palestinians dead and six Israelis dead looks like Israeli self-defense to you. You need to decide whether an occupying force which has been implementing a systematic program of ethnic cleansing for decades has any foundation at all on which to claim self-defense. You need to decide whether you stand with the occupier or with the occupied.These are uncomfortable questions. They are especially uncomfortable when asked about Jews by non-Jews. But you’re buying Israel’s bombs. You need to figure out whether or not you’re okay with that. If you’re not, you need to speak up, because your silence is being taken as consent.

Tom Moore is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at ­tmoore@cornellsun.com. What Even Is All This? appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Tom Moore