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Problems Before Solutions

I recently volunteered at a workshop dedicated to helping people get back on track and find careers. The basic principle was “If you don’t know where you are trying to go, you won’t get there. If you can’t articulate what you want to accomplish, it will never get done.” In other words, only a clear vision and motivation can propel you forwards.

I also recently attended a Breaking the Silence talk organized by Binny. Among other salient points[1], one that stuck out was their answer to the question “But the conflict seems so difficult to solve, what are you suggesting?” Their answer came off as elusive and vague: “We are not here to discuss solutions so let’s not get into that.” What do you mean? You want to come and tell us how this situation is so bad but refuse to entertain any method of ending it? It seems like complaining for its own sake.

But as they repeated this idea over and over, it sunk in. Before we get to the solution, we need to motivate it: The Occupation is bad. We rule over people who are not our citizens, which means we are not fully a democracy. Israelis, not Palestinians, run almost every civil aspect of Palestinians lives. Bad things happen as a result such as collateral damage to houses of innocent people[2]. You may call these things necessary evils for our own security but we must acknowledge that they are evil nonetheless.

Our instinct might be to jump in and say “yes but ending the Occupation isn’t viable.” But let’s hold that thought for a minute. Let’s pause, internalize the problem first, and say it. The Occupation is bad, it does bad things, and it makes us act in ways that bad people also might. The best we can strive for is being a benevolent occupier and that is no great honor. Are we willing to say all that clearly and directly as a standalone statement? (I don’t think Naftali Bennet or Bibi Netanyahu are). If not then I think we need to keep having this conversation; we’re not ready for solutions.

After that, we can (and must) argue about it all: Whose fault it is that we’re in this position, settlements, terrorism, the Arab League Initiative, the proximity of the West Bank to Ben Gurion, you name it. But please acknowledge that something is wrong here and after almost 50 years, we can’t pretend it’s a fleeting growing pain. Most of us were born into this reality. We have to face it.

Just as I saw in the workshop that it is hard to get back on track and find a job[3] without goals, I don’t think we can have a real conversation about solutions until we fully appreciate the problem. This requires more than just lip-service and Hasbara. It requires reflection, empathy, and self-critique. This is what Breaking the Silence came to do and I think they did it well. What’s left is for us to acknowledge the door they opened for us and to walk through it.

[1] I didn’t want to focus on those here but a few that stuck with me were:

  • Breaking the Silence is not about demonizing soldiers. In a sense, the soldiers are the victim, put in a terrible, morally compromising situation. The responsibility for this does not fall on our soldiers but rather on the government and on us for electing them.
  • To people who criticize BtS for having the conversation abroad: The Occupation rules over people who are not Israeli citizens and so we cannot pretend that it is an internal, domestic issue that should only be solved inside.
  • The speaker talked about how on missions, he had to look at his targets as military targets and not as people. I was never a combat soldier so I certainly cannot pass any judgment or claim that this is representative of all soldiers; all I can say is that it was clear how this dehumanizing encounter (as he experienced it) was painful.
  • The speaker addressed many of the accusations against BtS (that they support BDS, that they fund Palestinian riots, and that they are trying to subvert the education system to name a few) in a way that I found satisfactory.

[2] Our speaker mentioned a couple of instances of this happening during operations he took part in.

[3] Yes, I’m aware that my example was about people looking for careers and that another way to say this is that they need to find an occupation. I debated a bit but decided that’s clever enough for a footnote.


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