Ryan Daniels | Coyote in the Negev
Daniels, Straight Up | When confronting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we should keep our mouths closed and ears open
October 7, 2013, 6:38 pm · Updated October 7, 2013, 11:14 pm·
Daniels, Straight Up
Clarissa O’Conor, a fellow columnist writing from Palestine this semester, has generated an incredible amount of debate with her pieces. This is inevitable when confronting an issue as contentious as Israel-Palestine.
I praise her bravery in exploring a side of the conflict that is unpopular at Penn. Her sentiments are held by many people and thus deserve attention. However, I am disappointed that, like so many other voices in this conversation, she has neglected to acknowledge other sides of the dialogue.
The conversation surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict is often a shouting match, where every interest claims to profess the truth — they are right, and their opponents are wrong.
But this summer, on a whirlwind tour of Israel and Palestine, I learned that the answers to the conflict are more an amalgamation of its myriad narratives than any one sacred truth. Thus, in order to best examine the conflict, we ought to listen as much as possible and talk as little as possible. The conflict, and everyone affected by it, would benefit greatly from this.
My trip began in Tel Aviv. We sipped iced coffee and scurried along bustling streets, crisscrossing Bauhaus neighborhoods as we toured the startups of this undeniably entrepreneurial nation. By night we sat on the beach, feet dipped in the gentle Mediterranean, exhaling our worries in puffs of hookah smoke.
We moved on to Jerusalem, first west and then east. The careless simplicity of Tel Aviv life could not have felt farther away. Glistening Jerusalem was dizzying, the land beneath it a metaphor for any truth behind the messy conflict.
It is antagonistically divided and universally claimed, hills and valleys taut with tension — a rope stuck in a tug-of-war. Borders were ubiquitous, but, like facts, they only existed according to certain people.
Lastly, we toured the West Bank. We crossed a rattling checkpoint, toured around a settlement and finally continued into Ramallah, an unlikely Arab metropolis only minutes from Jerusalem. The crowded, clean, storefront-laden sidewalks felt like Tel Aviv — minus the omnipresent flags.
There were the obvious oddities throughout. There was the bubble of Tel Aviv juxtaposed against the nearby needle of Jerusalem. The terrifying sign at the entrance to Area A warning of “danger to your lives” was in stark contrast to Ramallah’s startling normalcy.
As if these features weren’t contradictory enough, we also met with dozens of locals, scholars and politicians who embodied these differences.
We heard an expert from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs describe the violence of the Palestinian peace movement and then from a Palestinian nonviolent activist. We met with bright-eyed Tel Aviv techies eager to start ventures with their Palestinian counterparts, and then we met with the counterparts who scoffed at this notion.
We spoke with more one-, two-, and three-staters than I can count.
Even within “sides,” there was nothing close to a unified truth. In Ramallah, for example, a Palestinian activist tried to point to an uptick in Israeli military presence just after a Palestinian pollster noted the opposite trend. Using different criteria to make the same statistics support different outlooks is prevalent in this area.
During these long few days, my long-held beliefs were smashed. Each time I started to pick up a new one, it was challenged. As I confronted dozens of contradicting perspectives, I saw the foolishness in subscribing to any one. To properly understand the conflict and its complexities it is imperative to hear every point without espousing any.
So I resolved to be like the silent coyote: keeping my mouth shut and ears open. I already know my beliefs, and providing them would only get in the way of hearing others. This was difficult and at times infuriating, but I could only stand to gain from a larger understanding.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
In Israel-Palestine, this test can often entail five or six opposing ideas. But if we can pass this test, we’ll have far more than intelligence to gain.
Ryan Daniels is a College senior from Philadelphia. Email him at email@example.com. “Daniels, Straight Up” usually appears every Wednesday.