Recently I made a post on a website I frequently use (though I feel like perhaps that should change) that caused such an unbelievable commotion I was stunned. I posted an article from Al Jazeera about the Gaza crisis, with a single comment, “Goddammit Israel pisses me off.” And you know what? Israel does piss me off. And so does animal cruelty like aerial wolf hunting, the environmental crisis, anti- choice people, GW Bush’s foreign policy… the list goes on. But those are allowable grievances. Not so with Israel.
What I found most astounding was not that people disagreed with me or supported Israel… I mean I am from the US – you are supposed to support Israel. And the War on Terror. And the export of democracy, etcetera, etcetera. What absolutely INCENSED me was that every single person who took issue with the post made it personal. They posted disgusting comments about bodily functions, about MY bodily functions, about my arrogance, about my lack of consideration for others’ feelings in the midst of their personal attacks against me. I was not trying to convince people of a position, I was stating mine. And everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE who disagreed with my position told me the same thing:
“You need to study some history.”
“You need to get your facts straight.”
“You need to do some research.”
“You need to do your homework.”
“You need to get informed.”
I suppose this means that if you do not agree with me, I am stupid. So, by this logic, everyone who holds opinions contrary to mine is ignorant. Because I will tell you what:
I teach history.
I read the same facts you do.
I probably do more research than you do.
I definitely do more homework than you do.
I am as informed (from the same sources) as you are.
I just do not agree with you.
Because I choose to play around on the internet a lot, I am constantly running across things that I disagree with. Tons of them. Am I offended by them? I don’t know, maybe I am but so what? If it offends me, fine, I can choose what to do with that, but I would challenge anyone to recall a time when I have told them that their opinion was wrong. [I know I thought it when my college roommate told me that she didn’t believe in evolution because it was a theory in the exact same way creationism was. I couldn’t believe it, but I don’t have any hard evidence that evolution exists beyond the fact that I think it is far more likely than the fact that we came from some guy’s rib. It was still my opinion versus hers and we agreed to disagree. I love her for teaching me that lesson early on.] In literal terms, I am not even sure that is possible, by definition can opinion even BE wrong?? [If “wrong” is the opposite of “right” then we are talking about ‘facts’ and “fact” by definition is the opposite of “opinion”.] Remember that old chant, “If you are against abortion, don’t have one”? Well, I agree with that and I like the logic as well. If you don’t like my position on Israel, which comes from a long tradition of “doing my research,” then don’t hold my opinion. People should not assume that something is a fact simply because they believe it. And don’t attack others or tell them that they don’t know any better, or that if they are not with you they are against you like Israelis have done to their country-woman Yeela Raanan. That is SO George Bush… don’t you know he is totally out of fashion?
It is my opinion, like President Jimmy Carter’s, that what is happening in Israel smacks of apartheid. Apartheid means separateness – apart. And if I recall, the situation was not tolerated in South Africa. My friends from South Africa think that what is happening in Israel is apartheid. I find that interesting. In fact, I tried to find some examples of how what is happening in Israel did not occur under Apartheid and aside from the organized and sustained military attacks being carried out by Israel in the Middle East I was stumped. I do not expect everyone to agree with me about it, but that is not the point. The point is, I am vehemently opposed to what is happening in Gaza, and in and around Israel as well. And I do not believe that slaughter is the solution. When I read the news this morning (and I read articles from a multitude of sources, which I feel compelled to say because I was accused of being biased because I read Al Jazeera – even though I also read Fox and JTA and JP and the NY Post, which I think are equally biased) the death toll was something like 900 Palestinians dead… 13 Israelis. Were this any other kind of contest aside from one of nationalism, the mercy rule would be enforced.
Oh, yeah, the UN is trying to put in a mercy rule, Resolution 1860, but Israel will not accept it (though the Palestinians would probably be offended anyhow.) Interestingly, Israel did not gripe about UN Resolution 181. And note the map from that proposal. I never knew the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights were so big. Oh, that’s right, they haven’t been in my lifetime.
There is an expression that says, “Opinions are like assholes. Everyone’s got one.” That is true. And if I ever call you out for being ignorant because you disagree with me I hope you kick me in the face. But if you kick me in the face simply because I disagree with you, that is pretty lame. Maybe it comes from years of classroom teaching where I not only have to accept an unbelievably diverse range of opinions from my students, but it really has been my job to help my students develop and articulate their opinions, that I have become used to hearing things that I absolutely disagree with and allowing dialog. I have had to help teenagers develop their arguments on issues like opposing gay marriage, defending the war in Iraq, opposing abortion, eliminating welfare, supporting the Patriot Act… all of which I find personally repugnant. But that is not the point. The point is, whatever your opinion, have a rationale for it and be able to have dialog about it. Being adamantly concrete and unable to see two sides of any situation does make you ignorant. And I have to admit that I have learned from my students through this process. Being forced to see the other side is at the very least eye-opening, whether it changes your position or not.
Some of my pro-Israel friends insisted that Israel had the right to defend it’s people. PM Olmert said, “At the end of the day, the… obligation to defend our citizens – after we issued many warnings – led us to the unavoidable decision [that we had] to defend our [people], whose lives had become intolerable.” I thought about this, this idea of rights. Yes, I thought, I suppose Israel does that the “right,” certainly from their point of view… But I have a fairly confident suspicion that the Palestinian people in and around Israel too believe that their “lives have become intolerable.” Just because you have the right to do something does not make it right. Consider again Apartheid, or Plessy v. Ferguson and Jim Crow, or denying women property rights, voting rights or reproductive rights. We had the “right” to do those things. We had the right to own slaves. We had the right to relocate Native Americans to designated areas… the right… the right… the right….
When I used to jay walk in California I would tell my grandma, “But Grandma, I have the right of way!” And she said, “A lot of good that’ll do you from a hospital bed.”
Earlier in the year, there was a lot of ruckus where I live about the Sino-Tibetan conflict. The Tibetans are the Palestinians to China’s Israel. This was not a discussion among the majority of my Chinese friends who simply said, “Tibet is in China. It has always been in China. It IS China.” The Tibetans of course disagreed but it is okay to support Tibet in this debate, unlike supporting the Palestinians. And again, I would like to reiterate that I am using metonymy here… I am talking about states [policies] NOT people. There was outcry from all over that the Tibetans were being oppressed, shoved into homeland/refugee status. That the Chinese were using unfair advantage and violence against the Tibetans. China said that the Dalai Lama and his sect were the ones perpetrating terrorism and forcing China into using force. No one could believe that Big Old China was actually being fair. This is how I see the Israel situation. And whether you agree with me or not, at least I am being consistent. In fact it was one of my Chinese friends who pointed this out to me when I was venting about the abuse I was taking from my original Israel post. She said, “Well, you support Tibet, it makes sense that you would be opposed to Israel.”
This new version of the Trail of Tears taking place the Middle East is so sad. Sad for everyone involved, but just like we are taught when we are little kids, the one with the greatest advantage should be the most graceful [might does not equal right.] And yes, I am fully aware of the fact that my country does not adhere to this rule… but it is why I opposed taking aggressive military action following 9/11. Who and how could it possibly help? Another Israeli friend told me that the US invasion of Afghanistan was totally unjustified because we went in blindly not knowing who we were fighting against, but that since Israel has clear identifiable targets it is a different situation entirely. While I do think the two situations are barely analogous I also know that had there been a country called Al-Quaeda I would not have advocated blasting it to the stone-age, as I believe the coinage goes.
And I believe that what Israel is doing is wrong. I do not believe that it will help. I also believe that terrorism is wrong. But I understand the absolute frustration that must lead to it. I have seen the same frustration brewing in the eyes of marginalized people all over the world. When a situation is created where people believe they have nothing left to lose, that situation becomes very dangerous. So why are we constantly taking from everyone?