“Really, Palestine? Wow. It’s amazing to me that Palestinians think the way that they do,” she said, her words accompanied by a grimace. Instantly, I was intrigued. The callous tone with which she responded to me suggested to me that her familiarity with my beloved land originated from a place of superiority, not solidarity.
I soon learned that she took a hiatus from her high school studies to travel to Israel, where she trained with the Israeli Defense Forces. When I asked if she had been able to travel to Palestine during her stay to broaden – and perhaps even influence – her one-sided perceptions of the conflict, her eyes stared amusedly, as if the mere suggestion was far too preposterous to even be considered a possibility. This person, who once endeared herself to me, had just belittled my personhood in a few lousy statements, making it formidably challenging for me to maintain my characteristic calm. While she didn’t travel to the West Bank, she had been able to get a full glimpse of it from a high mountaintop, the community of beautiful people made a swarm of indistinguishable ants by the distance, both physical and emotional in origin. She thought that many lifetimes of agitation, protest, and suffering could be captured in the panoramic snapshot afforded to her atop the mountain. Man, had she erred… and aroused feelings of indignation in me in the meantime.
This encounter, a jab to my heart, was obviously demoralizing. It could have silenced me, stripped me of my agency to respond. It did, at first. My aspiration for tolerance, compounded by my stooped posture and petite stature, often betrays me, as it creates the impression of passivity. Since this encounter, I have improved my posture. I have become emboldened to adopt a more vocal approach to my solidarity with Palestine. Why? Because I’m so damn weary of others in more dominant spaces defining, to a degree of belittlement, other identities that they presume to be experts on but actually know very little about.
Later in our conversation, this once-friend-now-turned-antagonist asked me the question that I had regrettably anticipated. “So, if you defend Palestine, by extension doesn’t that mean you also defend the violence that the government there supports, even encourages?” At the time, I was too frazzled to muster anything more than an emphatic no. In retrospect, there is so much more I could have and wish I had said.
Here is my complete response, albeit delayed: insularly, of course, I condemn violence. But violence in Palestine, as we know, is not engendered arbitrarily. I, as a privileged person living comfortably in the United States without the brutal frustrations of ongoing oppressions, will not cast a scathing judgment. Violence, as history has reverberated for us many times before, is sometimes just a toxic byproduct of sustained injustice.
Each day, I pray for peace, for Palestinians and Israelis alike. And today, as I recount this experience, I pray that I should never have to encounter it again. But I know the chances of that happening are woefully slim. Still, I am comforted that when I do, I will be equipped with all of the feelings of empowerment I need and all of the right words to say.