IN THE summer of 2015, just three days after I moved to Israel for a year-and-a-half stint freelance reporting in the region, I wrote down my feelings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A friend of mine in New York had mentioned that it would be interesting to see if living in Israel would change the way I felt. My friend probably suspected that things would look differently from the front-row seat, so to speak.
Boy was he right.
Before I moved to Jerusalem, I was very pro-Palestinian. Almost everyone I knew was. I grew up Protestant in a quaint, politically correct New England town; almost everyone around me was liberal. And being liberal in America comes with a pantheon of beliefs: You support pluralism, tolerance and diversity. You support gay rights, access to abortion and gun control.
The belief that Israel is unjustly bullying the Palestinians is an inextricable part of this pantheon. Most progressives in the US view Israel as an aggressor, oppressing the poor noble Arabs who are being so brutally denied their freedom.
“I believe Israel should relinquish control of all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank,” I wrote on July 11, 2015, from a park near my new apartment in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood. “The occupation is an act of colonialism that only creates suffering, frustration and despair for millions of Palestinians.”
Perhaps predictably, this view didn’t play well among the people I met during my first few weeks in Jerusalem, which, even by Israeli standards, is a conservative city. My wife and I had moved to the Jewish side of town, more or less by chance ‒ the first Airbnb host who accepted our request to rent a room happened to be in the Nachlaot neighborhood where even the hipsters are religious. As a result, almost everyone we interacted with was Jewish Israeli and very supportive of Israel. I didn’t announce my pro-Palestinian views to them ‒ I was too afraid. But they must have sensed my antipathy (I later learned this is a sixth sense Israelis have).
During my first few weeks in Jerusalem, I found myself constantly getting into arguments about the conflict with my roommates and in social settings. Unlike waspy New England, Israel does not afford the privilege of politely avoiding unpleasant political conversations. Outside of the Tel Aviv bubble, the conflict is omnipresent; it affects almost every aspect of life. Avoiding it simply isn’t an option.
During one such argument, one of my roommates ‒ an easygoing American-Jewish guy in his mid-30s ‒ seemed to be suggesting that all Palestinians were terrorists. I became annoyed and told him it was wrong to call all Palestinians terrorists, that only a small minority supported terrorist attacks. My roommate promptly pulled out his laptop, called up a 2013 Pew Research poll and showed me the screen. I saw that Pew’s researchers had done a survey of thousands of people across the Muslim world, asking them if they supported suicide bombings against civilians in order to “defend Islam from its enemies.” The survey found that 62 percent of Palestinians believed such terrorist acts against civilians were justified in these circumstances. And not only that, the Palestinian territories were the only place in the Muslim world where a majority of citizens supported terrorism; everywhere else it was a minority ‒ from Lebanon and Egypt to Pakistan and Malaysia.
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