It was back during an earlier Middle Eastern conflict; I was sitting in a friend's living room, a man who identified himself as a "non-practicing Jew," and the subject came up. The war. He brought it up, profoundly stirred by what was going on; he diatribed (literally) for about 15 minutes, expressing a position that seemed fiercely one-sided, and I -- just wanting to get back to the creative project at hand -- made some benign comment like, "it's a mess, I agree, and obviously there are two sides to every story."
You would've thought I said "Heil, Hitler."
Apparently the audacity of presuming there was anything but "one side" was akin to being a raging, sputtering anti-Semite, which I'm not. But his tirade against my "ignorance and utter lack of historical knowledge" was brutal and while I could have come back with a few choice words of my own, I chose instead to withdraw, never again to broach that particular topic with that particular, very intransigent person.
But what is an American to do in the world we live in today? One in which, despite historical precedent and the clear political loyalties of our country, we see, by virtue of ubiquitous media, events unfolding in real time, with perspective as varied and inclusive as the events themselves. It's not about equivalency or "who suffered more?" or who is more deserving. It's about what exists, what we see, and how it affects us. We don't just see the zealot fanatics of Hamas sending rockets into Tel Aviv buses to terrorize a people; we see scrubby neighborhoods of Gaza blown to bits along with the families inside them. We don't just remember and honor those who suffered through the horrors of Nazi Germany, we watch as Palestinians who have lost their homes are held under interminable and painful siege. We abhor terrorism and its deadly impact on people and places around the world, yet we also want to see a solution -- hopefully a two-state solution -- to calm the sense of displacement and oppression felt by the factions involved. Any American of conscience, with an open, objective mind and a compassionate sense of fairness and equitability, would wish for that. Right?
I have discovered otherwise. I have discovered that when I express anything that includes the phrase "both sides" -- as in "there are valid issues on both sides," "both sides need to come to the table to compromise," or "a solution only works if the needs of both sides are considered" -- I am branded as -- and these are quotes -- "close-minded," "missing the point," "an idiot," "an apologist," "a terrorist lover"; even "a Jew hater." Comments have included "f**k off with your bullshit," "why don't you move in with the towel-heads," "clearly you know nothing" and "you should burn in Hell." I could go on but my stomach hurts.
Let me assure you, I am none of those things and I have no desire to either burn in Hell or move in with anyone I'm not currently living with. What I am is someone who has never been good at ignoring elephants or brushing things under the rug. And regardless of my friend's wild-eyed insistence, outside of sociopaths like Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Charlie Manson, there are two sides to every story, often more. And every story of entrenched, violent, hate-fueled animosity has been proven by history to ultimately be most destructive to the parties involved. It's a classic theme played out in both real life and the literature that memorializes it: from the painful loss symbolized by the warring families of Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story; the very real Irish "troubles" with their bombs and broken families, the gritty antagonism of South versus North in historical America, right down to the inciting incident behind every war throughout time. Tragedy multiplied by entrenched thinking and the unwillingness of one side, either side; both sides, to lay down arms. It doesn't take much wisdom to realize how futile the formula is.
And yet in present time, in this current incarnation of the "Middle East problem," we, as Americans, are obligated to take sides. Make that, side. One side. Forget that our country is populated by immigrants from both countries, forget that we have dear friends and family on both sides of the issue; forget that there are worthy points to consider on -- yes -- both sides. To openly say so is to risk being labeled an anti-Semite, or worse.
Regardless of political positions, historical loyalties, and financial relationships that mandate where world leaders place their allegiance, our roles as human beings, as citizens of the world, require we also see beyond politics to a wider view of the struggle, a view that embraces all our fellow humans caught in the crossfire. Just as former enemies throughout time have moved beyond their antipathy to a level of peaceful coexistence, even, in same cases, alliances (think Japan, Vietnam, Germany, etc.), so can we hope for the same in the Middle East.
Call me a dreamer.
But many people living in those countries also hope for the same. Even Hillary Clinton seems to believe it's possible. As she traveled to Israel today, with a later visit planned to the West Bank, then Cairo, the Secretary of State was quoted in the New York Times:
Mrs. Clinton expressed the need for "a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike."
''In the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region toward an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region,'' she said.
"For all people of the region."
Photo courtesy of the Huffington Post