THE BLOG

Is Being Pro-Israeli or Palestinian a Viable Position to Hold?

07/30/2014 07:58 pm ET | Updated Sep 29, 2014

In 1990, I went to Israel for a two-week study mission. I spent time in Gaza and the West Bank.

I recall how evening conversations were periodically interrupted during my stay at a kibbutz in Kiryat Shmona by artillery fire coming from Lebanon. For those living in the area it was part of the routine, but my short stay did not afford me the time to grow accustom.

I met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, including future Prime Minister Ehud Omert. My overarching observation then, as it is now, was that right in this convoluted narrative was invariably based on who is telling the story.

It is through this lens that I view the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a tragic intermission that has successfully obfuscated the larger issues.

Under the rubric of disputed ideology and history, the Palestinians have their movements restricted, while Israelis live in fear, each serving to formally and informally occupy the other. Both helplessly clinging to their version of the story that is void of acknowledged imperfection.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr would often warn about the danger of placing complex issues in the simplistic framework of good versus evil. Niebuhr would opine that the choice is more often between evil and more evil.

When one becomes so convinced of the efficacy of their position it can leave them vulnerable to an arrogance that blinds them to the areas where their position may be lacking.

Proclaiming one is either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian is the morphine of certainty that makes one numb to the pain of the other side. Buffered by "yes, but" when confronted with a point that runs counter to their preferred narrative, there is no obligation to see the humanity in totality of the side they oppose.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its present-day arrangement, is it even possible to be pro one side without being anti the other?

It is a conflict where propaganda masquerades as an integral part of history, thereby vindicating ones point of view, where the "two-state solution" is more apt to be a punch line than an achievable goal.

This makes sense when the dominant ethos is to view the other by its worst attributes. It is to live in a black and white world where Israelis are occupiers and Palestinians are terrorist.

The complexity of the story necessitates oversimplification if it is to fit neatly within the contours of social media or the 24-hour news cycle. The debate sits uncomfortably on a reactionary axis, where perceived self-assurance trumps being circumspect.

However this latest tragedy ends, the long-term damage has already been realized. Each side is further entrenched in the comfort of its own story.

In January, former lead Palestinian negotiator Muhammad Shtayyeh stated, "We know that Israel wants a permanent military presence in the Jordan Valley, which we will never accept. Never."

From the Palestinian perspective, Shtayyeh's statement would make the discontinuation of Israeli occupation a perquisite for peace. But Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, also in January, was still calling for the annihilation of Israel.

Both sides are at impenetrable stalemate, resulting in irreconcilable differences. And this is before any discussion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

When the state of Israel was established in 1948, the world could still hear the cries emanating from infamous places such as Dachau, Belzec, and Auschwitz, but it also serve to deafen the cries of Palestinian pain. The historical pain paralyzes both sides of this conflict; they are either unable or unwilling to let go.

The history of this conflict is useful if it can serve as a road map to a peaceful solution. However, it is of little value if it used to maintain the ongoing absurdity.

To be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, in its current form, equates to support for the disastrous status quo. As George Bernard Shaw opined, "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."