Israel, carbonated beverages and the paradox of do-gooders
That argument cuts no ice with … Oxfam, which says that trading with Israeli companies operating in West Bank settlements legitimates the occupation regardless of how they treat their workers.
Like most people alive today, I’ve only ever known an Israel in conflict with its neighbours. I grew up knowing that the PLO and its leader, Yasser Arafat, were my enemy: They wanted to destroy the Jews of Israel. I didn’t understand the nuance of the situation or its very complicated history of war, preemptive strikes, punitive land confiscation and displacement. I didn’t understand the particularities of two peoples, regarded as pariahs by even those who would claim to be their allies, fighting over the one piece of eternally disputed land they could call home; land so intertwined with religious zealotry that it would never be free from conflict.
All I understood was that the persecution of the Jews I learnt about in history class (taught to me in Yiddish as “geshichta”) was not over. I understood, as a child in early primary school in the 80s, that vigilance was required at all times because neighbours can turn to enemies at any time. As I learnt the story of Anne Frank and the baby Moses, I knew that even being a child was no defence against these enemies.
I grew up, entered secular life in university and I was challenged by friends who expected me to defend the actions of Israel merely because I was a Jew and they wanted to argue for a cause that wasn’t theirs to occupy. I hated being put in that position because I knew I didn’t know enough. I didn’t know about what would make someone blow up a cafe full of innocent civilians. I didn’t know what led to decisions to commit an airstrike close to a hospital or why militants thought hiding under hospitals and orphanages would ever lead to anything other than tragedy. All I knew is that everybody was arguing on the wrong track.
The argument about Israel has always been about what people have done. Negotiations, as I understand them, have been about restitution and reversion, rather than progress.
The fact is, though, as long as the dispute is about who did what to whom in the past, nothing will ever move forward. The difficulty in progress is building trust between the participants. This is even more difficult for peoples who have lived for countless generations in survivalist mode waiting for the next attack.
Oxfam, to name just one organisation, does not help the peace process by demanding a change to borders. Oxfam, which was created in a place if privilege cannot begin to understand nor express the nuance of a situation it has nevertheless taken sides on. Its members might boycott Sodastream but happily use iPhones and other products manufactured in China because there is only so much privilege they are willing to sacrifice to make their very blunt point.
The sad truth is that the honest protestor starves to death because she cannot participate in the hypocrisy while the exploiters align themselves to a cause they don’t know enough about to give their shallow lives meaning.
To take George Bernard Shaw’s “Doctor’s Dilemma” one step further, organisations like Oxfam have a vested interest in delaying peace because their identity and survival is bound to conflict. Whenever we look at someone taking sides in a fight that isn’t theirs, we should always ask what their interest might be.
Oxfam probably can’t even see the karmic irony in supporting boycotts and sanctions when it was created to aid those who were dying because of blocks to supply.
And it doesn’t matter. Humans will always find something to fight about. Melbourne football supporters will say terrible generalisations about Collingwood fans and everybody hates Carlton. Conflict is so much a part of our DNA that we create pastimes to fill the conflict-void during times of peace. Fighting is in our nature.
But sometimes our nature is repulsive to us and we want to change. Well, change does not mean to return to a situation that did not work. The call to revert to Israel’s pre–1967 borders is the ridiculous siren of the nostalgia of a previous conflict. It will solve nothing.
The test for peace is working out how people can live side-by-side without restricting their basic rights. Reversion is never going to succeed because progression, not regression, is implicit in success. From this point we have to move forward with a goal in mind and that goal cannot include the punishment of people who, in the past, acted for their own survival rather than everybody’s. Everybody needs to commit to a change in behaviour or no one will win.
This means temporarily replacing distrust with hope. People who have been persecuted as much as Jews and Palestinians, whatever names they have both gone by throughout the ages, will never be able to trust other nationalities. But they can temporarily suspend distrust in order to find resolution.
Actually, no one will win anyway but at least we can be a bit nicer to each other while we’re all so busy losing.