I went to tweet about it, but realized that 140 characters wasn’t enough. I posted on Facebook, but knew it was futile to express political messaging if I wanted to avoid that slippery slope. With bombs falling on Gaza, and rockets on Holon, a person in America who cares deeply about the people of Israel and Palestine is caught between a rock and a hard place. Not wanting to ignore the violence threatening her friends and family, but afraid to venture into the roiling milieu of “for us or against us” attitude in modern day social networks. As Allison Kaplan Sommer calls it in her Haaretz editorial, “laptop warriors” are fighting a war of their own.
Facebook has done great things for the Middle East this year. It’s connected people around the world, and allowed for mass civic engagement in countries where there was very little before. But when it comes to expression of sentiments on Israel-Palestine, social media has its limits if your aim is to be productive in improving Arab-Jewish relations. I learned this earlier this year while posting on facebook from Jaffa on Yom Hatzmaut, or Israel Independence Day. Living amongst Palestinians and Israelis with emotional connections so strong as one does after having friends and relatives killed in the ongoing conflict, I left the cursor blinking in the “update your status” box until finally I got the guts to write the following:
“War is death, death is death, and death is loss. In memory of all those who have lost their lives to this conflict.”
Quickly, I was being attacked for ruining the sanctity of the day by none other than my relatives, coworkers, and boyfriend—the very people I was attempting to express solidarity and concern for to begin with! I vowed to leave Israel-Palestine politics off Facebook. But the alternate to speaking out is actually worse: being silenced when you care so deeply about something like the fate of the world’s home to huge numbers of surviving Holocaust Jews and their descendants, not to mention Jews escaped from anti-Semitism in Arab countries and post-Holocaust Europe and the US… And when you also care deeply about the poor innocent people of Gaza (no, I’m not saying Hamas is innocent… take it easy folks) and the Palestinian friends you know are so desperate for a solution to this horrible cycle of violence. Needing to show that you care, that you hurt for them, but having to keep it all inside because you don’t want to start an argument around your intellectual justifications… which will only add insult to injury and defeat the purpose of a peace-promoting post.
It seems ironic that one day after I heard Gideon Levy, of Haaretz left-wing fame, speak in Manhattan after a film screening about how his “pessimist predictions” are oftentimes wrong– and that we shouldn’t rule out a miracle– Israel and Hamas are at war again. This world is a mad one, and the only thing to do is to gather together amongst loved ones and unlikely partners… committing to being and living peace. While American Jews can’t close our laptops, maybe we should stop bickering on twitter and focus our energies on getting the US to push Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the negotiating table before any more ceasefires collapse. Unfortunately, it looks like they’re having too much fun with their war games to take a break and discuss peace on their own.
For Americans in New York seeking a different way to engage, please join me at the JCC Manhattan’s volunteer day on November 18th: A special day of service where Jews and Muslims will work together with other faiths to feed the hungry and homeless and to give aid and comfort to those most in need. Program will combine networking and learning as we discuss and celebrate the common moral imperative in Judaism and Islam to feed the hungry and help those most in need in society.