The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Can We Talk…Please?

There are few international issues that incite as much global anger as the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

And yet, despite our government’s political and financial support of Israel that relies on American tax dollars ($30 billion in the last ten years alone), it is the one issue that I would argue is impossible for Americans to discuss openly in the public sphere.

This past summer, the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, decided to challenge this stifling of the conversation when they bought advertising space inside the public bus system that read, ““Join with us. Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.”

Photo courtesy of BuildPeace.org

The advertisement links to a website, BuildPeace.org, that pictures both Israelis and Palestinians posing with their children and grandchildren. The campaign, which was launched in Chicago just two years ago, promotes a “genuine, lasting peace based on dignity, security, and equality for both Israelis and Palestinians.” Their central argument is clear: U.S. military aid to Israel is only exacerbating this conflict. Whether you agree with this controversial statement or not is not the central concern of this post. What I am most concerned about is the issue of freedom of speech in this country.

It is important to emphasize that the group does not attack Israel; in fact, it highlights the harm that the country has endured as a result of an occupation that has created a militarist culture. And it does not advocate for aid to go to Palestine. It just argues for a change in policy, since the one that the American government has followed for the last few decades does not seem to be working. The Church of the Reconciliation argues that they have studied the issue for three years and collected documents from not just the United Nations, but from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish groups before deciding to join the movement.

Chapel Hill is an unusually progressive town nestled within the conservative South. It has long had a reputation for being the intellectual epicenter of North Carolina, and is generally considered to be a safe haven for alternative voices and lifestyles. Advertisements that have supported same-sex marriage and a ban against the death penalty have run on the bus system with barely a whisper of protest. Yet controversy erupted after the above poster was placed within the bus system, and Chapel Hill was forced to remove the ad. A town meeting was called that aired on public television, and a variety of different voices were heard, most centering on the issue of free speech and whether buses counted as public spaces.

One comment from a Jewish woman, whose name I can not remember, really resonated with me:

I don’t like these ads, but they have incited discourse in a way that I find to be  powerful and valuable. The reason why the Holocaust happened was because there wasn’t an open dialogue about issues and events that everyone knew was happening. To live in a democracy, you have to have open dialogue, and the fact that people are talking about an issue in their homes that most people wouldn’t even think about, provides a wonderful forum for public discussion.

The point of this post is not to take a side on this deeply complex conflict. My main point is one of objection, that such an important issue, one that has cost countless lives and billions of dollars, has not been given a space in the public discourse. To that end, I applaud the Church of the Reconciliation for using its poster as a means for inciting this much-needed dialogue, and I resent that activists who believe to be  working towards peace are unable to do so because they are crippled by claims of anti-Semitism. Chapel Hill has already been targeted by Pamela Geller’s anti-Islam campaign, whose ad was posted on the New York public transit system earlier this summer, and is rumored to be posted on the Chapel Hill bus system.  

This poster has inescapable racist connotations. It attributes, without question, civilized behavior to an entire group of people, and borrows from colonialist discourse a degrading term – ‘savages’ – reserved for indigenous people considered so low on the ladder of civilization that they were deemed inhuman.

What is sorely needed now is for these topics, controversial as they are, to be brought into the public space in a manner that allows for respectful and critical discourse. A couple of years ago, the online magazine Racialicious, which looks at current events through a critical race lens, responded to the critique that they did not write enough about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They gave a compelling answer, which was simply that most of their readers knew little about the issue and were intimidated to voice their opinions, leaving “those with the longest memories to dominate the conversation.” They proposed more education and open dialogue, and that is what I am advocating for too. If Chapel Hill changes its current policy that allows for the bus system to be considered a public forum, then that will not just make it harder for these minority voices to be heard, it will disable an important conversation that needs to be had.

As I documented in my latest post, the mainstream media does little to educate us on this topic, which is why we need to seek out alternative media sources. We can’t afford to be ‘neutral’ anymore, because let’s face it, when it comes to this issue, neutrality is just a guise for ignorance, and ultimately, complicity. And in a conflict that has cost thousands upon thousands of lives, doesn’t our complicity implicate us all?

To watch a truly informative and multi-dimensional debate on the issue, check out this interview by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! with Ali Abunimah, senior online editor of Electronic Intifada magazine, and Jonathan Tobin, co-founder of Commentary magazine.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: Can We Talk…Please?

  1. Pingback: Why Political Apathy Pisses Me Off | Listen Girlfriends!

  2. For a follow-up, a swastika was posted on the Church of the Rec’s wall…so much for engaging in constructive conversation :(
    http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/10/31/2452403/swastikas-painted-on-chapel-hill.html

  3. Sayaret25v

    es I read your touchy feely blog, and, while it starts off well, it turns out to be the same naive, liberal trash that gets spewed at Israel day after day by our savors of the left. You are young, misinformed of all the facts, and deadly inaccurate with your reporting; in sum, you are irrelevant to anything meaningful on this topic. The Church you refer to, is hiding behind their religion to promote racist rubbish towards Israel. Your propaganda has run its course. The facts are on our side.

  4. Sayaret25v

    There is no palestine or palestinian…..completely fabricated; you can call them ottomans or romans or israelis. take your pick.

  5. Sayaret25v

    West Bank and Gaza. Since the Islamic terrorist group Hamas violently seized Gaza in 2007, half its tiny Christian community has fled. Crucifixes and Christmas decorations are forbidden. Following a December 2010 exhortation by Hamas officials to murder Christians, Rami Ayyad, the owner of Gaza’s only Christian bookstore was killed and his store torched. In the West Bank, the Christian population has plummeted as well, decreasing from 15% of the population in 1950 to less than 2% now—only about 60,000 souls. Before Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Ramallah’s population was 90% Christian and Bethlehem’s was 80%. Today, Ramallah and Bethlehem are largely Islamic cities. After the Palestinian Authority took over Bethlehem in 1995, Palestinian gunmen attacked Christian homes and in 2002 seized and defiled the Church of the Nativity. Today, Christians make up only a fifth of the city’s population.

    Israel. During Jordan’s occupation of Jerusalem, from 1948 to 1967, the city’s Christian population shrank by 50% to only 12,646. Today, under Israeli rule, that Christian community is growing, as is Israel’s entire Christian population—up dramatically since 1948 to 154,000, about 2% of Israel’s total population. Christians serve in Israel’s legislative Knesset, its foreign ministry and on its Supreme Court. Israeli Arab Christians are on average extremely well educated and relatively affluent. In short, Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians feel safe and can flourish.

    The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, holds that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Yet discrimination directed at Christians—as well as murder and ethnic cleansing—have always been a threat in the Arab Muslim world. It’s time our media stop whitewashing “clashes between Muslims and Christians” and start honestly reporting the outright ethnic cleansing of Christian minorities by Muslim radicals. It’s also time U.S. legislators start denying financial aid to Middle East nations that refuse to halt state-sponsored bias and Muslim violence against Christians. To hell with Islam as a tolerant religion.

  6. Hi there,

    I am just wondering why you had to respond in such an abrasive way? First of all, the point of my blog was not to take a side politically. I actually edited my post several times to ensure that it was not political. I’m not a political blogger, as my larger concerns are with culture-issues of race, identity, gender, and so forth. I am also a media critic and analyze the role of corporate influence on our public space and dialogue. This is why this specific issue interested me. I wanted to focus on the issue of free speech and the use of buses as a place for public discourse. It should be noted that there were many members of the Jewish community who did not think that the ads should have been taken down, and frankly, I thought it was exciting that these ads initiated a town hall meeting to discuss issues that Americans are rarely able to discuss.

    You response indicated to me that you a) either did not read my post or b) read my post, but already knew how you were going to respond and thus didn’t really want to listen to my ideas or engage with them unless they fit your specific worldview. The fact that you are going on about Christian Arabs is irrelevant to my post. You clearly have a lot of passion for this issue, but must this passion be translated into rudeness? To name-calling someone whom you don’t even know? Why not respond in a more open way that would invite people to participate in the conversation, to see your point of view? When you start off by calling someone ‘useless’, then that pretty much disallows that person (ie, me) from responding in any nuanced way. It took me three days before I felt like I could appropriately respond to you. Why act in such a bullying manner? Do you really think that is helping you?

  7. Sayaret25v

    HI. You were right. My anger was displaced I do take back the mean comments I made. You have a lovely blog, you write well, and mean well. THis issue has me so mad. Not the bus ad posting, but what it actually says. Believe, I am a pro at this issue, having toured Israel, Sinai, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey(MY alltime favorte country!!). That CHurch that posted the ad, are no better than what the 3rd Reich had done with regard to the Jews. Peace, and good wishes for you

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