As an American Jew, I have been taught for my entire life to support Israel in every situation without question. My old Hebrew school teachers would probably say that they taught students to be critical of both the Palestinian and Israeli regimes, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that those teachers rarely, if ever, presented any of Israel’s decisions as wrong. I have spent nineteen years surrounded by pro-Israeli messages and images. I remain proud of Israel, but only recently have I come to terms with how limited my perspective has been. It is my hope that others who have grown up in pro-Israel or pro-Palestine households can realize the same thing.

Due to the recent surge of violence in Gaza, campus organizations like the pro-Israel Initiating Dialogue, Education, and Advocacy and the pro-Palestine Students Allied for Freedom and Equality have held rallies and organized other events to raise awareness on campus regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Frustratingly, both sides promote rigid, one-sided views of the issue, which leads to an even greater gap between the two groups when they should be reaching for mutual understanding.

The fact that there has been violence ever since Israel was created serves as evidence that no one — Israeli, Palestinian, or otherwise — has yet grasped the full complexity of the issue. And although Israel decided to end their campaign on Sunday, I guarantee that this past month’s violence in Gaza will not be the final skirmish. As long as each side expects the other to accept full responsibility, peace in Gaza will not be possible.

Propaganda on either side of the argument is prevalent both on and off campus. Lately, the catchphrase that seems to have attracted the most attention is “innocent civilians.” Depending on which side they support, Facebook users can donate their statuses to either display how many Palestinian civilians have been killed or how many rockets have been launched at Israelis in the recent Gaza skirmish. Pro-Palestinian students have set up vivid displays of wounded Palestinians to attract support. In the e-mail I received about the Israel rally, the sender used “innocent civilians” twice in the first sentence. These images and slogans provide sad reminders of the number of victims in this war. But, more importantly, they are also ploys intended to convince spectators of the opposing side’s cruelty. Appeals made about innocent civilians are frequently one-sided and avoid the harsh truth that both Hamas and the Israeli Defense Forces kill innocent civilians.

In promoting their interests, pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian organizations frequently deny their own role in the conflict and place complete responsibility on the other side. SAFE’s recent viewpoint in the Daily (An appeal for human rights, 01/15/2009) states, “Any ceasefire is destined for failure as long as Israel and the international community refuse to examine the core of the conflict.” Similarly, the Israeli government’s assurance that it is taking every precaution it can to protect Palestinian civilians does not seem to be convincing the rest of the world. Every student who is concerned about the situation in Gaza needs to understand that attempts to place blame on one side and not the other are oversimplifications.

All those who are hoping for a solution to this conflict need to learn as much as they can about both the Palestinian and Israeli viewpoint. As a starting ground, pro-Israel students need to understand that supporting Palestine is not synonymous with supporting Hamas, and that although the Israeli government says it’s doing all that it can to prevent the deaths of Palestinian civilians, this statement may not be viewed as adequate justification for the large civilian death toll. Similarly, pro-Palestinian students need to understand that Israel has good reason to believe that self-defense is necessary in Gaza, that negotiating with an organization such as Hamas is extremely difficult and that Israel has a right to exist because this world needs a Jewish state.

I may not be an expert, but I do know that those who are concerned need to educate themselves and engage in a respectful dialogue. Students need to be critical of the information they receive. On a campus with a diverse population of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine students, I think the most important thing any of us can do is talk to each other.

Jeremy Levy is an LSA freshman.

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