By Seth Eislund
It’s no secret to anyone living in the 21st century that the Israel-Palestine conflict is a contentious issue. And, as an American Jew, it matters a lot to me. It is a conflict that pits me against myself. As a Jew, I feel a kinship with my people. I feel our collective memory of pain, persecution, expulsion, and genocide, and because of my people’s historical experiences, I strongly believe in the existence of a Jewish state. However, I am also a liberal, and the actions of Israel’s current government disgust me. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party, and other right-wing Zionists promote policies that drive innocent civilians from their lands, destroy their homes, and slowly facilitate the destruction of a people’s future. What scares me about the Israeli government and many Zionist Jews is that they have forgotten our people’s history. They have forgotten how to be “the other.”
Now that we, the Jewish people, have our own state, we have greater power, political sovereignty, and military strength than we’ve ever had in the past. And, while this power may be good for ensuring the survival of our people, it has also made us numb to the plight of others. We, the Jewish people, were once in exile, driven from our homes and forced to live in diaspora. Now, the Palestinians live in their own exile, a global diaspora, just as we did. How ironic it is that a formerly diasporic people, who were exiled from their homeland by a larger authority, have now done the same to another people. Israel has become an authority, like the Romans in the first century, expelling a people from their homeland.
As Jews, we must remember being exiles. We must remember the diaspora. For in this diaspora, we were shunned. Murdered. Treated as subhuman. Accused of atrocities that we never committed. We were “the other.” The Palestinians have gone through an eerily similar set of events since 1948, in Israel and outside of it. The Israeli government has displaced them from their homes, denied them human rights, and has stood by while they die.
Since Israel has power, it also has a responsibility. It must remember the exile, when our people were shunned, and encounter the Palestinians through diasporic eyes. Only when Jews and Palestinians can speak together as “others” will there be any substantial progress towards peace. Otherwise, if the Israeli government continues acting as an authority, like the Romans who expelled our people, they are in danger. They, and the Jews who follow them, risk forgetting who our people were for thousands of years.