A year after the 1967 Six-Day War, Professor Yeshahyahu Leibowitz, an Israeli Jewish-orthodox academic, warned that the military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights, and the Sinai peninsula would have grave consequences for the future of Israel. Unlike the ultra orthodox sect "Neturei Karta," which joined every anti-Israel demonstration in New York because of a belief that the true Israel would be founded only when the messiah came, Leibowitz warned Israel because he loved Israel. He warned that "A state ruling a hostile population of 1.5 to 2 million foreigners would necessarily become a secret-police state, with all that this implies for education, free speech and democratic institutions." Forty-six years later, it seems that the wrath prophecy of Leibowitz is coming true.
It is hard being a lefty in Israel of 2014. When so many friends and family risk their lives, who are you to say that it is for no good reason, or even worse, that there is something wrong with it? In a country with a mandatory draft, the word soldier becomes synonymous with "someone between the age of 18 to 21," and when you hear that reserve troops have been drafted, in a small country that means someone you know. When everyone serves, everyone risks his or her life, the only way this makes sense is if it is for a good reason. If as a country, Israel all agrees that the soldiers who are risking their lives are doing so to protect us, then at least they won't die in vain. Calling the recent ground offensive in Gaza a mistake shatters this perception. "We don't have children for unnecessary wars," a bumper sticker states, and it seems that instead of avoiding these wars, Israel has decided that they are necessary.
At the midst of the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza, a poll in the Jerusalem Post showed that 86.5 percent of Israelis oppose a cease fire. Although we all have seen previous military operations go the exact same way, although we all know now that none of those operations actually changed anything for the better (and perhaps they made things worse), still the vast majority of Israel believes that a military action this time could be a solution. And still, in this very hostile political climate, there are those who marched the streets of Tel Aviv last Saturday to demand an end to the war in Gaza and to the occupation. They were met with an angry mob, the same mob that Professor Leibowitz predicted would be there, facing them with violent statements such as "Death to Arabs" or "Death to lefties." In Israel of 2014, the thousands who went to the streets last Saturday and others who share their beliefs, myself included, are considered extreme in our views and to some even traitors.
Outside of Israel, I thought, there might be opportunities for Israeli lefties to promote dialogue and peace. But quickly I saw a pattern. Every conversation I had with "pro-Palestinian" advocates started with a set of questions to see that I am not an "occupier" in disguise. Only after I revealed where I stand on land, Jerusalem, refugee rights, whether the leaders of Israel are war criminals or not, and if I define the atrocity as occupation, ethnic cleansing, or genocide, only after answering all that, can we start talking. One wrong answer and I'm not worthy to talk to and obviously I don't have empathy for the Palestinian cause.
In Israel I am considered to be a lefty who hates his own country. In the States I'm an occupier whose every attempt to dialogue is normalizing the occupation and diminishing the Palestinian struggle. When Dania, a Syrian America classmate of mine at Hunter College, and I started the social media campaign #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies, we wanted to create a space, even if it is a virtual one, where people from both sides can be a part of the solution instead of marking each other as a part of the problem.
Just like anything else about this conflict, our campaign was also greeted with a lot of criticism. I learned a lot from many of the comments, and I took some to heart. Others just blamed us for a range of actions that our Facebook page supposedly caused -- from killing children in Gaza to firing rockets on Israel. When it comes to talking about the conflict, it seems that there are only two options -- either we agree, or you caused it and are making it worse as we speak. This culture is a real barrier to a solution. How can you reach agreements and compromise when the debate is so unproductive?
I believe and pray every day that my generation of Israelis will be the one who will go to the polls on Election Day and vote for peace and the end of the occupation. At the same time I pray that the "pro-peace" community will embrace the Israelis who are swimming upstream in their own community, being ostracized, and sometimes even threatened. I know it is hard and it has been going on for years, but here is my plea -- you might have given up on Israel and Israeli policymakers, but please don't give up on us, the Israeli people.