Commentary | Hyde Park: Competing identities block the road to peace

Much of the debate over the conflict between Israel and Palestine has polarized these pages, with students clinging to antagonisitc beliefs despite their strong tendency to mar the potential for progress. If we are truly interested in a resolution to the conflict, we must recognize that Palestinian and Israeli identities cannot continue to compete for existence.

Political science literature suggests that the zero-sum relationship between Israeli and Palestinian identities can only be ameliorated if each side’s survival is not rooted in repudiating the existence of the other. But the campus’s response the recent crisis in Gaza and Israel has been disappointing because it has perpetuated these identity forms.

For instance, two weeks ago I received an invitation from Hillel -McGill for a Support Israel Rally, and in McLennan I was also confronted by a display about the humanitarian emergency in Gaza. I believe sending aid to the Palestinians is crucial; however, what I found disconcerting about the display was that as a Jew, I felt I was being attacked with anti-Israeli sentiments. As an intellectual, multi-cultural, and open-minded group of students, we must initiate a process of recognition whereby these contending identities can coexist on a local level.

The competing Palestinian and Israeli narratives of the conflict foster an irrational understanding of it because each side envisions itself as the rightful actor and the other as the malicious enemy. Moral analysis of the conflict links each group’s survival and identity to the core issues of Nationhood, Right of Return and Refugees, and the status of Jerusalem. Living in the diaspora – whether Jewish or Palestinian – offers us an opportunity to remove our sense of survival from the need to deny the existence of the opposing identity by using the resources we have to cooperate in an environment shielded from violence.

Harvard Professor and Researcher Herbert C. Kelman wrote an article explaining how the Israeli and Palestinian identities thrive on negative interdependence. Their identities rely on zero-sum relations whereby the existence of one negates the existence of the other; a gain for one side translates into a loss for the other. Author Paul Scham further argues that Palestinians and Israelis must recognize the “contradictions between the two narratives rather than attempting to overcome or ignore them. The logical result of that might well be an Israeli state that would celebrate Israeli Independence on the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, as it is currently commemorated in Israel, and also acknowledge with sadness Naqba Day on the fifteenth of May, as it is currently mourned among Palestinians.”

I implore McGill’s Jewish and Arab groups to unite their efforts in educating students about the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Not only will this be an experiment in diplomacy, it will be a testament to our potential as students to mend the fractures that divide our community.

Additionally, Kelman asserts that “the only way, in which, in the long run, Israelis can survive, feel secure, develop, prosper, and fulfill themselves as a people is for Palestinians to survive, feel secure, develop, prosper, and fulfill themselves, and vice versa.” Wearing the Star of David cannot imply a dismissal of Palestinian rights, just as Arab heritage should not be associated with anti-Semitism.

My grandfather was the only person from his family to survive the Holocaust, and following his liberation from Auschwitz he moved to Israel. This personal connection to the hope that Israel inspires should not suggest that I believe that Jews have an absolute right to the State of Israel and that Palestinians do not. We have to move beyond the inferences and assumptions that blemish our relations so that our understandings of each other are not dictated by hate and rather built on a belief that we can learn from past persecutions. We can only separate ourselves from our contentious past if we make a sincere effort to transform our present.

Daniela Porat is a U1 Political Science and Art History student, and you can reach her at daniela.porat@mail.mcgill.ca.


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