When Canadians discuss Israel and Palestine, they often do so in a black-and-white, dichotomous way. It can feel as though it is mutually exclusive to support both Israel and the Palestinians. As a progressive, this is something with which I’ve long been uncomfortable. I consider myself supportive of the state of Israel and its right to exist, but I also support the rights and legitimacy of the Palestinian people. After participating in CIJA’s Israel Young Leaders Program (IYLP) and having the opportunity to visit Israel last winter, I’m more convinced than ever that the issues and emotions of the Israel-Palestine question cannot be reduced to simply being “pro” one, and “anti” the other. I left Israel with more questions than I came with, but if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that being pro-Israel doesn’t mean being anti-Palestine.
Every aspect of the conflict is complex and tied to deep-rooted histories and identities. Many of people I met in Israel had multiple identities, some of which seemingly conflicted with each other; among them were atheist Jews, Arab Israelis, and Palestinians. The Israelis we met all had different views on what Israel should ultimately look like, but all of them called it their home. When discussing the conflict, it wasn’t a question of the elimination of one cause over another. Rather, it was a complicated set of issues tied to emotional attachments to land, historical power imbalances, and geopolitical intricacies. At the root, as it was put to us by a journalist we met with, it is “a conflict between good people and good people.”
This really struck me. The identities and emotions that fuel responses to the conflict are very much lost in most discussions about Israel and Palestine in Canada. Ultimately, what’s best for Israel is the same thing that’s best for Palestine – peace and stability. I don’t think it’s the role of the international community to dictate exactly what that peace looks like, but instead to support negotiations without imposing decisions that pick winners and losers. But to do so, we have to work harder to understand the roles those identities play. We have to remember that every single person connected to the conflict ¬ whether Israeli or Palestinian ¬ has a different set of experiences and beliefs that have shaped their views today. We must understand the role each person’s experiences and identities have played in their approach to the conflict and allow those underlying emotions to be part of ongoing discussions.
That’s how I see my pro-Israel stance. I freely criticize decisions and actions of this and other Israeli governments, just as I criticize Canadian governments regardless of their partisan stripes. But, I’ll also continue to voice my belief that Israel ¬ the only stable democracy in the region, the only Middle Eastern state that upholds gay rights, one of few countries in the region with strong protection of freedom of the press ¬ has an intrinsic right to exist. Because being pro-Israel doesn’t have to mean taking extreme sides – it just means starting any conversation about solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict from the premise that any solution has to include a Jewish state of Israel.