I am an American, I am Black, I am half-Russian, I am a Cornellian; I have no relation to the ongoing conflict in the Holy Land. I’ve been trying to ignore the irreversible changes happening to my campus and the world before my eyes. But in this matter, regardless of one’s background, the ongoing conflict and one’s stance on it taps into the very depths of personal identities. The stance of outsiders, especially in the United States, has particular significance because it forms the future of policy and decision-making.
As a China and Asia-Pacific Studies major, I focus on International Relations. I feel it fair to say that there has not been as much recent global attention to a single political movement as has been demonstrated by the “Free Palestine” cause. A person’s nationality is not akin to their ethnicity and identity, but we cannot ignore the feeling that much of the demonstration we see today is the result of boiling and pent-up hatred against the Jewish people.
To those who rally for the innocent Arab lives lost, I question where the energy had been when ISIS was launched in the name of Islam, beheading thousands of Arabs across the Middle East. The lack of outcry to the U.S. colluding with Arab nations that uphold modern systems of slavery and sexism, that would send college students spiraling, is hypocritical. Just to name one example: Where were the banners and flags, the droves of people taking to the streets when the Saudi government killed and starved 400,000 Yemenis? Yemen has been actively bombing Israel despite having one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 17.4 million people on the brink of starvation. Forget the Middle East; where is the global outcry for the genuine ethnic cleansing happening to Armenians right now in addition to the groups being erased that will never even come to mind?
“Where Are Your Jews?”
We cannot change the minds of those who are set in their opinions and I want to refrain from entering into the realm of whataboutism; I write in the name of free speech, the spread of information and a love of humanity. In a time when the Israeli nation is frequently referred to as an “apartheid state,” it is important to acknowledge the 2.1 million Arab citizens of Israel, representing 21 percent of the country’s population. In highlighting that Arab-Israelis may face troubles related to discrimination, it is equally important to recognize the Arab-Israeli members of parliament, the supreme court, hospitals, schools and culture overall. There have been Arab members of Knesset since the very first Knesset elections in 1949, and there are consistent differing voices of opposition in the Israeli government.
Ethnic cleansing arguments deliberately ignore the Palestinian-Arab people who support and live in Israel, citizen or not. The percentage of Arabs in Israel is practically double that of Blacks in America, relative to the population. Palestinians, even with difficulty, can be thoroughly screened and enter Israel, but an Israeli is prohibited from entering Gaza or the West Bank. When Israel annexed East Jerusalem, most of the Arabs living there had declined Israeli citizenship, but in the fight over permanent-residency status and economic inequality, Arab nations escape responsibility for their relationship to Jewish people.
Executive director of U.N. Watch had famously asked in a 2017 U.N. Human Rights Council: “Algeria, where are your Jews?” From Algeria, to Egypt, to Libya, to Yemen, to Iraq, to Syria — the Jewish populations of Arab nations used to number in the thousands and hundreds of thousands and are now reduced to none or dramatically decreased. As a young American from Queens, New York, I am terrified that Osama Bin Laden’s letter is trending on Tiktok — having appeared (with defenders) on my own feed multiple times; this fits in line with a social media trend of powerful narratives concerning apartheid and Western imperialism that ignore the centuries-long history of Arab imperialism and human rights violations.
While many call Israel a colonial power, I emphasize that the word Arab is an obvious derivation from the Arabian peninsula. Pan-Arabism and Bilad al-Sham have spread Arabic culture to many non-traditionally Arabic nations. You cannot predicate an argument based on colonialism, because that would mean a mass exodus out of America. In technicality Israel is history’s greatest example of decolonization and Palestinians are themselves descendants of colonizers.
Equating Lives, Equating Deaths
In the wake of Oct. 7, when the terrorist group Hamas had unleashed its wrath and killed more than 1,300 innocent Israelis, I was appalled. What shocked me most, was not so much the violence that is common in the world today, but more so the lack of anger and denouncement towards Hamas in the youth around me. It makes no sense to compare the number of casualties on either side. If Great Britain had decided to play a game of numbers during World War II, then they would broadcast the far greater amount of German lives that had been lost in the conflict. In complete disregard for those who will disagree, I simply cannot equate both sides in this conflict. To parade naked women through the streets and rape them, to indefinitely keep people hostage while burning human beings alive and beheading people and to gun down individuals that are celebrating peace in conflict — the actions committed by Hamas are so antithetical to the values that I would hope are in hearts of Americans, that I feel justified in, not equating but, comparing them to evils of the Second World War.
Thai nationals comprised the second largest group of the more than 240 people taken hostage in addition to the American, British, Chinese, French, Portuguese, Tanzanian, German, Argentinian and Dutch hostages among them. A hostage exchange and temporary ceasefire has recently taken place, but even this has elicited vastly differing reactions. How can someone equate releasing 10-month-old Kfir Bibas or 4-year-old Aviv Asher, whose only crime is being Jewish, with the release of car bomber Israa Jabes. The New York Times irresponsibly described Jabes as a “disfigured woman” in the title of an article without mentioning that she detonated herself. The Hadid sisters will always be cultural icons, but it was such a letdown to hear Gigi Hadid’s recent comments concerning Israel’s prisoners of war. Those who will immediately point to the minors Israel holds captive ignore Hamas’ child recruiting strategies; Mohammad Abu Katish, just released, specifically looked for and stabbed an orthodox Jewish man at the age of 17. This does not account for the hostages still waiting, and the children among them. To respond to Hamas’ acts of terror with anything but denouncement is simply unacceptable. The sheer fact that Israel has not obliterated Gaza to the ground discounts the notion that the I.D.F does not care for innocent lives or international pressures. A ceasefire lets Hamas get away with mass murder and emboldens them to continue their ways and prepare for the next attack. Given that more than three in four Palestinians have positive views of Hamas in the wake of Oct. 7, the world questions what to do about the innocents, but there is the practical question of: What exactly is the ethical and proportionate response to the murder of 1,300 people?
Who Bears Responsibility?
It is important to understand why Israel cannot simply screen Palestinians into safety, it is for the same reasons that Arab nations are reluctant to take in current refugees. In 1991, the Kuwaiti government expelled close to 400,000 Palestinians, 18 percent of Kuwait’s population at the time, because of an Iraqi government sponsored Palestinian faction during the invasion of Kuwait. The Jordanian Civil War in 1970, also called Black September, happened after the Palestine Liberation Organization threatened to depose Jordan’s monarchy; after multiple plane hijackings and the PLO launching rockets into Israel from Jordan, thousands of Palestinians ended up being deported or left dead in conflict. A Palestinian nationalist assassinated King Abdullah I of Jordan. Lebanon was once under a conservative Maronite Christian government and Beirut was known as the “Paris of the Middle East” — thousands of Palestinian militants completely destabilized the country, acting as a state within a state, and this led to one of the most deadly and gruesome civil wars in the history of the Middle East — Lebanon never recovered.
Egypt is reinforcing its Gaza border with concrete barriers, and has officially expressed worries about instability and conflict in the event of admitting Palestinian refugees. Arab nations frequently cite the Nakba displacement of 700,000 Palestinians (one of the most important events in Palestinian memory), but are themselves guilty of Palestinian displacement. 21 Arab nations support Palestine, yet none will take in any refugees; is it fair to expect Israel to bear the full responsibility of refugees in the most international conflict in the world?
The resounding message is the idea that targeting individual Hamas militants and fighters is difficult to the level of near impossibility — nothing is as simple as it’s often made out to be. There is nuance even in Iran, which provides more than $100 million every year to Palestinian armed groups, where we’ve seen Iranian football fans bravely chanting for the removal of the Palestinian flag in Tehran on Oct. 8, a year after the Mahsa Amini protests that rattled the Ayatollah. We cannot view the Arab world as a monolith, but it is crucial to understand the impact that just one Arab nation can have on this conflict. It was Egypt’s Anwar Sadat who was instrumental in negotiating peace during the 1978 Camp David Accords under the Carter Administration, described by the State Department as “a pivotal moment in both the history of the Arab-Israeli dispute and U.S diplomacy.”
American Intervention Is Partly to Blame
We should have taken George Washington’s farewell address advice of isolationism more seriously. In the fight against the Soviets, the United States directly provided the Mujahideen, and young Osama Bin-Laden, with American-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles; the CIA supported a long-standing initiative to recruit radical Muslims from around the world to come to Pakistan and fight with the Afghan Mujahideen — battling the same group we sent weapons to.
So much of the extremism in the Middle East and the world is directly tied to American actions. In going against Palestinian secularist leftists during the 1980s, Israel helped fund Hamas and turned a blind eye to its potential dangers. There is a disillusion among American youth that is felt with our government and Israel, especially in light of our mistakes, but perfection is impossible in an imperfect world. Understanding responsibility for current affairs should not dissuade us from tackling them. I am a human being, I am not immune to emotion. I shed tears for Wadea Al-Fayoume, the innocent Palestinian boy, stabbed to death near Chicago 8 days after his 6th birthday party.
My feed is full with the hell of war, and the scenes coming out of Gaza with the innocent lives lost there. Our annihilation of Gaddafi and Hussein only created more evil and instability everywhere, but the matter of Israel is a matter of defense of a friend, not an ally that we created on the spot. If the children in Gaza grew up in conditions of decency, of course they wouldn’t feel obliged to join Hamas, but to imagine this idyllic world is an escape from reality. “In order to form a more perfect union” — we have made mistakes but cannot afford to lose sight of our priorities: the immediate release of hostages and a way to bring in aid to the innocent without aiding terror. If the solution was simple, it would have already been done.
To be a child born into Gaza is a tragedy, but one within a greater mess of chaos and disorder. Looking at the Congolese man who set himself on fire a short time ago, or the cobalt extracted by slaves in our very own devices, it is ever important to be cognizant of the fact that unjust suffering is not inherent to one conflict and is often intertwined with the actions of well-intentioned people. In my mind, placing all or most of the humanitarian blame on Israel and America is like calling Cornell University a slavery enabler for Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar — which after 20 years has graduated hundreds of doctors into the Middle East.
Activism and the American Youth
There is dignity and respect for anyone that has genuine belief in their cause, but much of the youth stepping out does not have an opinion of their own. As a member of Generation Z, and as a Black American, I am reminded of how the Black Lives Matter movement unfolded in 2020 — that summer, many people felt like they were supporting and advancing causes simply by posting black squares on social media in solidarity with the movement. As a Christian, I have the right to be offended by the many recent protests at Christmas tree lightings; at the Rockefeller tree lighting protesters, had signs equating a swastika symbol to the Israeli government. Rallying with friends and defending what seems Iike the underdog may feel righteous, but there can be more value in thinking for yourself and going against the crowd trends around you. In the same way that well-intentioned people validated themselves through poorly researched posts about Ukraine or Yemen, much of the youth stepping out is perpetuating virtue signaling to make themselves look noble. Young people are afraid of being labeled colonists, oppressors and bigots, so they often fall into a fight without a fight.
There is so much misinformation from both sides, even from American senators, and social media’s role especially demonstrates the prevalence of echo-chambers in our society. I can write of the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza in 2005, the 9,000 Israelis that had to be dragged out by their own government, leaving resources like greenhouses and having to move graves with them to avoid desecration, Hamas’s immediate demolition of synagogues following that withdrawal. I can mention the fact that Gaza was under Egypt’s control and the West bank under Jordan’s following the Arab-Israeli War of 1948 — this goes against the narrative of unjustified Israeli expansion — expansion only happened after Israel was attacked on all sides. There’s the fact that after being voted in, Hamas in its original 1988 charter had openly called for the extermination of all Jews stating that “there is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad”, this is why calling the IDF’s actions a genocide is problematic. A nation supports the values of its founding document: Israel’s founding document extended a hand of friendship to Arab neighbors and was met with war. It’s startling to see people try and justify a terrorist group that builds tunnels under hospitals. Ultimately, facts can always be found to support anything, especially in our post-truth world; what is essential are the beliefs that stand true beyond the facts and in rational observation of the world.
Everything is changing very quickly; Henry Kissinger is dead and the Pentagon has indicated that Somali pirates, emboldened by the ongoing chaos, have come out of hiding in the recent attack on an Israeli tanker. The world is heading in a dark direction right now. We must denounce the rise of Islamophobia and Anti-Semintism. I feel emotional when I see men wearing kippahs, women with hijabs or people wearing the Star of David because everything feels much more real when you look into the eyes of a fellow human being. My New York soul was stirred when Mohammed Hussein, a hardworking Halal food-cart vendor in Manhattan, was harassed and berated by a former State Department official. The Jewish students trapped into a library at Cooper Union during a Palestinian protest deeply unsettled the nation. In Hillcrest High School, where I personally took the SAT exam, a mob of students went on a rampage after finding out that a teacher attended a pro-Israel rally; the teacher was forced to hide in a locked office and much of the school was vandalized.
Every facet of this country needs to understand that freedom of speech can only extend in every direction, and we cannot forget the power of peace through words. As a Cornell student, I was horrified by the anti-semitic threats on my campus that led to the arrest of a student and extremely disappointed with the comments of Professor Rickford. The attacks on 104 West in particular, Cornell’s Kosher dining hall, really sickened me because there is a calculated and educated evil in targeting a sacred space which many Jewish students cannot avoid and where they feel most vulnerable. As the nation and the world divides itself, It is important to recognize the difference between free speech and bigotry, between support for a cause and the support of violence.
Strong Opinions Should Bring Us Together
With my identity, a lifetime of research could not bring me to a full understanding of the Jewish or Muslim experience; but it’s essential to highlight the trauma of 6 million lives lost to Nazism and the fear of Israel being the only thing that could mediate another Holocaust. The Jewish people had spent centuries running from oppressors, and through being scapegoated, only fell into the maw of further discrimination and stereotypes. The Jewish diaspora is what led to the racist idea of the “Jewish problem” in the first place, and one could very reasonably argue that the creation of contemporary Israel was forced upon Jewish people, with many Jewish leaders at its creation believing that there was a need to wait for a messiah. In this sense, Israel is like the United States — regardless of less than favorable origins, it is unreasonable, unethical and impossible to reverse course.
I have a love for all the people of the world, but I am alarmed with a trend of spite towards one group. The Anti-Defamation League has reported a 400 percent spike in anti-semitic incidents in the United States. As a Black American, I am inspired every day by Jewish people and their family values, drive for improvement and strong community memory. I feel that the root of advancing my own community can be within analyzing the good of others. Beyond Israel and politics, I feel a need to defend a group of people who have historically supported and defended other minorities, and who find themselves in the midst of imposed biases and attacks.
Sometimes, even standing up for what you believe in can be complicated. Before publishing, several of my “friends” have already informed me that we can no longer communicate because of my stance — immediately removing individuals from one’s life because of an opinion is never appropriate. We must always seek dialogue. Rather than viewing people as “inhumane,” “soulless” and “oblivious to human decency,” seek to understand them and disagree in a productive way. Opinions cannot be erased, but it takes strength to form a real one, just be sure that you believe in what you stand for. I am neither Jewish nor Muslim, but I believe that Israel should exist and I feel that there should be more support for it. Too many people beat around the bush, impossible for anyone to understand what they believe.
This is America, we don’t cower and we don’t hide. It’s easy to fall into the ideology of those around you, or to escape from an issue altogether. But in questioning what one stands for, there is the greater question of one’s place in the world. Beyond the fighting, we cannot lose compassion, dignity and the soul within each of us that lights up the hope of there being a solution to this terrible war some day in the future. One day, we will all “sit down together at the table of brotherhood”, but before then we cannot lose sight of this beautiful vision.
Leo Glasgow is a second year student in the College of Arts and Sciences, The Levinson China & Asia-Pacific Studies Program. His fortnightly column Can We Talk focuses on student life, domestic and international politics and social issues. He can be reached at [email protected].
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