Empathy is What’s Lacking in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

by Eli Shafritz, a second year War Studies and History student at King’s College London. After having spent her gap year in Israel and Palestine, Eli has continuously been involved in Yachad, a UK-based Zionist organisation that campaigns for a two state solution both in Israel and the Occupied Territories as well as seeking to educate and promote the solution to the British Jewish community. Eli is also the Events Officer at KCL’s Israel Society.  

The word required right now is empathy. Empathy for two traumatised peoples. 
It is impossible to compare the suffering of two different peoples with two different narratives. 
  

Palestinian in The West Bank, who were originally compelled to leave their homes in 1948 and have been forced to live under Israeli military occupation since 1967, suffer. Their day-to-day lives are utterly disrupted by the occupation. Whether it is at a humiliating checkpoint they have to go through every day to get to work, or speed bumps on the main road of their village that they are not allowed to build because the Civil Administration said so, or whether it’s because a nearby illegal Jewish Settlement wants to expand and take more of their land, Palestinians suffer. Yes, there are humanitarian causes currently occurring all over the world that are also seeing suffering, war and bloodshed. And yes, they may be on a larger scale than what has been going the West Bank since ’67 but that should not detract at all from the experiences of Palestinians who suffer. There can be absolutely no doubt as to why the Palestinian Nation feel angry and hopeless. Everything about the occupation shouts permanency to the Palestinians, from the settlement project, to the IDF fixture that is the Civil Administration, to the institutionalised military courts system that operates in the West Bank. Not to mention, the racist, weak and corrupt leadership of the Palestinian Authority combined with a racist ultra-nationalist right wing Israeli government. This has meant that for a long time now, the prospect of an independent Palestinian state seems like an impossibility to this homeless Nation. Does that justify their violent terror targeting innocent Israeli civilians? Not in the slightest. However, what it does justify is the highest level of empathy from all who take interest in the conflict. Here are a people who have sadly had to be shaped and moulded by their national tragedies. From the Nakba to the tragic loss of life in Gaza during the summer of 2014, these harrowing experiences would alter the mentality and thought processes of any nation in the world. 
The Jewish Nation, most of whom were exiled from the land of Israel by the Romans over 2000 years ago, also suffer. Due to expulsions and oppression, culminating with the catastrophe of the Holocaust in the 1940s, Zionism legitimately increased in popularity with the modern State of Israel being born in 1948. The Israeli Nation’s suffering continued from there. Conscription meant that wars were being fought by the nation’s sons and daughters, therefore the pain caused by military losses was not limited to a few families but was felt by everyone. The Intifadas were traumatic for the Israelis too. Whether one was a direct victim of the terror or knew a direct victim, everyone felt the terror in the streets and on the transport. Normal life had to adapt to the potentiality of being blown up whenever one left their own residence. The fear is unimaginable. This experience hasn’t subsided since the end of the second Intifada, with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza terrorising Gaza border communities, and occasionally the whole of Israel, with rockets, mortars and sniper fire. And now the most recent cycle of violence with stabbing and shooting attacks being aimed at Israeli civilians. Does this justify Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and continued policy of oppression towards the Palestinians? No, however, one can understand the Israeli mind-set at present when one attempts to empathise with Israelis and internalise their very real fears and traumas. Security is so important for Israel now, only because upsettingly security threats have been what has shaped the nation’s history up until today.
Although a highly unpopular notion at present, and largely due to my position of privilege within the debate about this conflict, I will never stop supporting the idea of a two state solution. I am not, what some people have started to call, a ‘Plastic Zionist’ – someone who claims to but ultimately fails in supporting Israel. I am a proud Zionist, with a deep connection to Israel that ranges from my boyfriend who is an officer in the Israeli Air Force’s Aerial Defence Unit to my pioneering family who made Aliyah (moved to Israel) to live on a Kibbutz (communal settlement) in the Southern Negev Desert. But, the Zionism I subscribe to argues for the implementation of Jewish Values to be part of a Jewish State. The Israel I dream of would place tremendous value on biblical passages such as, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18), and ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue’ (Deuteronomy 16:20) as well as the many other bible references that relate to empathy and kindness. 
As a Jewish Zionist living in London today, I have felt incredibly let down by many organisations who claim to represent me. It is wholly ironic that the British Zionist Federation is holding a Zionist protest outside the Palestinian Mission in London, as the reason why there is a Mission rather than an Embassy there, is completely representative of the problem that has been the root cause of the recent violent escalation in the region – the occupation. It also, as per usual with the mainstream British Zionist voice, fails to acknowledge any kind of Palestinian pain or suffering at this time with the hashtag, ‘Israeli Lives Matter’ being used. This shows absolutely no recognition of how hard it is for Palestinians to live under a sporadic military occupation and helplessly watch their land be taken over by Jewish Settlers. 
Just because one nation is older than the other doesn’t make their claim to the land more legitimate.

Just because the Jewish Temple was built before the Al Aqsa Mosque, doesn’t make the Mosque any less holy for Muslims. 

Just because Palestinian Arabs live in relative safety compared to Arabs living in warzones like Syria and Iraq, doesn’t mean that Palestinians in the West Bank don’t suffer on a daily basis.  

Just because Palestinian Israeli Arabs get to vote in Israeli elections, doesn’t mean that Palestinians in the West Bank are treated fairly. 
This is not a conflict that can be solved by arguing about national histories, nor can it be solved by whitewashing racist Israeli government policy, it can only be solved by empathy. Both peoples need to accept the other’s narrative as legitimate and painful. Only then will a negotiating table become a productive diplomatic tool. The crucial thing for people who are engaged in the conflict today to realise is that you simply cannot compare the experience of the traumatised. Trauma is not something that can be quantified, and therefore can’t be used in an argument over who has suffered more and therefore whose cause deserves more sympathy. A bereaved mother will feel the pain of being a bereaved mother regardless of her religion, nationality or race. A bereaved husband will feel the pain of being a bereaved husband regardless of whether he is Israeli or Palestinian. Most significantly, a traumatised nation will always feel the pain of their collective trauma. One can’t expect them to simply forget about it and adhere to another nation’s will. 

References:

(I haven’t quoted anything directly, but here are links to the most recent articles I’ve been reading)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34524518

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34513753

http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/west-of-eden/.premium-1.680466

http://www.haaretz.com/blogs/routine-emergencies/.premium-1.680440

http://www.timesofisrael.com/terrorist-stabs-woman-70-outside-jerusalem-bus-station/

http://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-to-deploy-hundreds-of-soldiers-in-jerusalem/

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4711256,00.html

http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Abbas-accuses-Israel-of-aggressive-offensive-despite-day-of-Palestinian-terror-attacks-424969

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/10/israeli-troops-151014072926038.html

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2015/10/mapping-dead-latest-israeli-palestinian-violence-151013142015577.html

http://972mag.com/palestinians-mustnt-fall-into-this-trap-again/112765/

http://972mag.com/how-are-we-going-to-look-back-on-this-in-100-years/112711/

http://972mag.com/the-only-thing-scarier-than-terror-is-leadership-vacuum/112753/

http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=768230

http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=768224

http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=768241

http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=768248

http://www.maannews.com/Content.aspx?id=768243

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