Tikkun Magazine, Winter 2011
Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israeli
by Jessica Montell
Living in the polarizing atmosphere of the Middle East, I feel the need to reassert the very basics -- like affirming that Palestinians and Israelis are all human beings. I say this only somewhat facetiously, as dehumanizing, collective rhetoric justifies violations of many individuals' basic rights.
In Israel, for example, Gaza is understood in the most simplistic and dehumanizing terms: Gaza = Hamas = terrorists. This equation forms the rhetorical justification for a slew of Israeli policies, from massive force causing extensive death and destruction, to the crippling siege that has rendered Gaza isolated and desperate. The response of the vast majority of Israeli people has been to unquestioningly support these policies. After all, if Gazans are all terrorists -- and thus in some fundamental way less human than we are -- then anything can be justified.
Yet this dehumanization does not take place only on the Israeli side. Many champions of Palestinian rights advance their agenda through a dehumanization of Israelis, particularly when it comes to Israeli settlers. The stereotype of the violent, gun-toting fanatic serves as a shorthand for over half a million people who live in Israeli settlements. This civilian population is often portrayed as a legitimate military target.
And so, invariably, those around the world mobilized for Israel/Palestine fall into two camps: pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. There is of course much debate among Jews as to what constitutes pro-Israel, with many of us arguing that critique of Israel and efforts to improve the country constitute pro-Israeli behavior par excellence. Yet the binary, mutually exclusive identities of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine remain.
What would it take to break down this paradigm? At the risk of sinking into platitudes, I would like to propose we embrace a philosophy that is both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli -- note the shift from supporting the nation to supporting the people who make up that nation. Such a philosophy prevents the solidification into opposing camps. It requires us to acknowledge that human beings exist on all sides: people with much in common and much that differs, but all individuals struggling to build a life of safety, dignity, and meaning.
Not that this we're-all-human paradigm allows us to excuse injustice. Precisely the opposite. All human beings have equal rights, and we all have the same obligation to respect the rights of others. All must be held to the same standards. Once we acknowledge the universality of our principles, we can apply them uncompromisingly to injustice wherever we see it. Whether it is Israeli attacks on Gaza, Palestinian attacks on settlers, or violence and injustice within our respective communities.
This, then, is my proposal, perhaps banal yet essential nonetheless: we must take one step back from our collective identities and reassert that we are first of all individual human beings. Only a paradigm that is pro-justice and pro-humanity can ensure that all people living in this area will one day enjoy their rights.
Jessica Montell is executive director of B'Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.
Source Citation: Montell, Jessica. 2011. Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israeli. Tikkun 26(1): online exclusive.