Choosing sides

I often wonder about the different reasons that make people choose one side of an debate or conflict over another. Also, what motivates us to change our minds – or admit that we see reason on the other side and therefore must grudgingly switch over. Do some people *know* that they are on the wrong side, but protecting their own interests, preserving prejudice or wilfull ignorance prevents them from admitting it? I tend to think so.

I’ve had Deborah Ellis’ courageous book Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak for a few months, but finally started to read it the other night with my kids; we’ve read 10 or so of the children’s stories so far. It’s hard reading, but we’re used to it; we were very grateful for her Breadwinner (Parvana’s Journey) trilogy, and we’ve read some difficult books about animal suffering as well, such as Black Beauty.

The book is balanced and honest. Ellis mentions that she obtained parental permission to do all of her interviews, and if any of the parents ended up objecting after the fact, she did not include those interviews in the book. She also did not include interviews in which the children were “very rabidly” against the other side, because she didn’t want that to be the legacy left by those young people. Of course, she could have changed names or not used photos, but rabid partisanship was not the overall feeling she got from the children and youth she interviewed. The Israeli and Palestinian children (both Muslim and Christian) are girls and boys between the ages of 8 and 18. Their opinions and stories have not made me wince or roll my eyes; on the contrary, they all have the mark of reality – none of them appear to be overly tinged by parental, religious or cultural influence.

Still, as one would expect from these children, the sides are very well drawn: they know exactly who they are, and what and who they are up against. They speak about not knowing any Palestinian children, if they are Israeli, and vice versa. Some of the children say they don’t want to know children from the other side, while others say they do, because then they would understand that they are not the evil people they are made out to be by the other side. At least one child remarked that the children of the other side might start out being nice, but then they grow up to be just like their parents, hating them because they are Palestinian, or Israeli.

All of the children wish the conflict would just go away and leave them in peace: to not live in fear of being blown up, say the Israelis; and to not live with constant fear, harassment, indiscriminate shootings, interminable waits in lines at checkpoints and roadblocks, and cruel and unpredictable cancellations of school, jobs and activities, say the Palestinians.

My son has listened carefully to these accounts and has become convinced that the Palestinian children have it much worse, though of course he understands the chronic fears of the Israeli children, who live in fear during every normal outing you could imagine, including walking beside parked cars that might blow up at exactly the wrong moment for you. He understands the fear on all sides, probably because real and imagined fears are a normal part of every child’s existence, even when the objective reasons to fear aren’t that high on the relative scale. Still, he’s chosen his side based on a gut instinct of what is worse, and who is bearing the brunt of the violence and daily injustice.

I’m a bit troubled by that, because it wasn’t my goal to have him choose sides – after all, choosing sides will cause him grief at some point; so maybe it’s best to remain numb, or indifferent? Or to imagine that both sides are equally at fault, through historical miscalculations and power-grabs? Or, at a meta-level, to find some kind of universal self-satisfying explanation about how all humans are inherently vicious and will never get along unless they admit they are sinful and surrender to God? Certain religious currents instill us with this sense of helpless pessimism (I’m looking at you, evangelical Christians).

But I’m not sure anymore what the point is, because the war in Israel and Palestine has escalated in an appallingly lopsided fashion, either in spite of or because of the obvious pitiful circumstances to which the residents of Gaza have been reduced since 2005. The interviews from Three Wishes were carried out in 2002 – that’s ages ago, especially from the pov of an 11-year-old; but consider as well, that that is just slightly longer than all of World War II, and we’re still talking about it and learning new facts and analysis.

I wanted to write about animal and veterinary issues today and yesterday. And I probably will, but before I can get started on the pile of veterinary journals and articles on my desk, and sort out the events and issues I dealt with at work this week, I had to get this out.
If you haven’t already, please go to Amnesty International Canada’s site and sign the petition to tell our Foreign Minister to insist that civilians be protected and that unlawful attacks cease. Last I checked, it was up to 999 signatures.

And just to show that the sides are not so clearly drawn, read here about a massive Israeli protest against the Israeli government’s action in Gaza.

h/t: Creekside

Explore posts in the same categories: human rights, Israel, news, Palestine, religion

6 Comments on “Choosing sides”

  1. lagatta Says:

    There are always animal welfare issues as well, in human conflicts, whether domestic or wild animals. We just aren’t hearing aobut them. Destruction to orchards and olive groves is also a bit issue in this conflict and every one in the water-poor but sun-rich Middle East. Olive trees take decades to be really productive, and many fruit trees require a long period to produce seriously as well.

  2. deBeauxOs Says:

    Also, if the claim that Israel is using weaponry that contains depleted uranium is true, the soil in Gaza will be contaminated for generations to come.

  3. Beijing York Says:

    Such a thoughtful post brebis. I remember being terrified of the FLQ as a young kid. I would have nightmares that it was so easy to break into my room and carve those three letters on my belly. All this because I had overheard the news stories, including one of a terrorist suspected of hiding in Ottawa.

    A child has a disproportionate level of fear. But many, like your son, have an innate understanding of social justice. I cried every time I heard that the only French speaking child in our school had been beaten up. I cringed when I heard him being taunted. I knew that it was wrong and cruel to hate this little kid just because he was French.

    By the time I was a young teen, I was an avid fan of Levesque and the PQ. I had come to see the people of Quebec as oppressed by what was then WASPish men in power. And to this day, I still think that Trudeau’s call to impose the War Measures Act was a disproportionate and shameful response to the crisis.

    In summary, we must never let fear over ride our understanding of social justice and humanity.

  4. brebisnoire Says:

    Your experience with the FLQ is very interesting; I had never thought about the FLQ as anything more than a few dangerous nuts, most of whom grew out of being dangerous – but I didn’t learn about them till I was 16 or so. I’m still a fan of Lévesque – a lot of wonderful changes came to Quebec through him. He was courageous and intelligent, but not hardhearted and calculating- so he ended up suffering a lot.

    I wish there were more men and women like him in power right now.

  5. mouthyorange Says:

    I signed the petition and read the gush-shalom report. Coming from a Jewish background as I do, I always find it a great relief to learn of Israeli protest against that country’s current policy and multi-facetted aggression toward people living in Gaza and the West Bank. It bugs my ass hugely how such dissent is virtually never reported here by our mainstream media. I need to know that people who claim to represent my heritage group are not all crazy.

    I love that you’re reading Ellis’ book with your kids. And if you want to know about something that will uplift both you and them, check out The Hope Flowers School in the West Bank, a democratic school that teaches peace, democracy, and gender and religious equality to Palestinian children. Hope Flowers teachers used to get their kids together with students from Israeli democratic schools to visit the Jerusalem Zoo for seminars on how to be kind to animals (a key component of peace education for young children, they believe) or to labour side by side using simple hand tools to grow grain and later grind it and bake bread and eat it together, but since the advance of the wall and the road closures such joint activities have become impossible. When I last interviewed their director, she said were still staying in touch with Israeli kids through email and so on; I don’t know if they’re still able to do that. They do what they can.

  6. mouthyorange Says:

    Forgot to check the box to be notified of followup comments.

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