Before I left for birthright (a free trip to Israel for American and Canadian Jews), I tried to communicate to family, friends and colleagues my feelings on the current conflict in Israel. Days before I departed, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed. Shortly after, a Palestinian youth was murdered in retribution. Leaving for Israel in this time of conflict, I was simultaneously nervous for my safety, and curious about what I would experience.
It would be disingenuous to say the trip was not eye opening in a number of ways. I was granted the opportunity to travel through a country I had never seen, but was always encouraged to love from afar. As an American Jew, the community encourages solidarity. And it is difficult to avoid this kinship with people who share my heritage.
However, to say it altered my perceptions of the political schemes of the region would be disingenuous as well. Israel, as with any nation, is greatly flawed. And the tragedies that are occurring there as I write are horrendous. I do not want to assign myself a pro or anti label. I never do with issues this complex. Yet nations are often given, implicitly or otherwise, the role of hero or villain. If it were so simple, and so convenient, the war in Gaza would be over.
By being reductive, we, as observers, do great harm to the cause of peace. Instead of actively seeking solutions, we assign blame. Assigning blame accomplishes little to nothing. The people and nations involved in this conflict are simply too diverse, too terrified and too confused to acquiesce because of blame. The immediacy of the conflict will always prevent ideological or actual surrender, on either side.
We create these narratives of good and evil because they are easier. They allow us to look at an issue and demand one side's acknowledgement of wrongdoing. They create a false complexity, when the natural complexities presented are difficult enough.
Trying to derive the origins of a conflict, even in modern times, is nearly an impossible task. Whatever feels relevant is applied to the conflict. We state because we experienced some kind of terror or loss or hardship, we are righteous. They are wrong. Holism quickly becomes solipsism. Suddenly, we are drawn to the idea that our hardships are greater, if only because we are the ones experiencing them.
I do not want to diminish the difficulties both sides face, or state they are equivalent. They are not. On a macro scale, we can compare the horrors of war more easily -- ostensibly, at least. Missiles fired. Homes destroyed. Deaths. But these are statistics. They reduce hardships to numbers, numbers that, even in their smallest forms, become confusing and vague. It is impossible for most to speak with even one individual experiencing what is occurring now. So we are left imagining, sifting through some comparable experience, when none are present.
One particular moment will always stay with me. Outside Haifa at a strip mall, I was speaking with a friend on the trip when a siren sounded. We both smiled anxiously, and began to walk to safety. Entering the bomb shelter, I was pushed by an older Jewish woman, as I tried to make my way inside. I glared at her. I joked to friends that she should be more compassionate to a younger person. And that lines don't exist in Israel, particularly in moments of imminent danger.
Later, I lay awake in bed, thinking about that third, and last missile siren I experienced. And I slept, dreaming about how soon, I would be in New York. All of this would simply be numbers again.