Way too many people still believe these hideous stereotypes about Israelis and Palestinians By Jill Jacobs (reposted from WashingtonPost).
My heart jumped when I saw the poster at the entrance to the Muslim community center in Central Java, Indonesia, in 2009. I didn’t need to speak Indonesian to understand the photo of dead and injured Gazan children. Still, I asked for a translation. Uneasily, our group’s translator explained that the poster reported the amount of money the community group had raised in relief funds after Operation Cast Lead, just a few months before, and prayed for the health and safety of all Muslims . . . and for an end to “the Zionist entity.”
I had come to Indonesia with a delegation of U.S. faith leaders, organized by Legacy International and sponsored by the State Department, to speak at universities and community centers about religious pluralism in America. It wasn’t my turn to present that day, so I enjoyed a brief respite as I debated how and whether to address the poster with these members of Muhammadiyah, one of the largest Muslim organizations in Indonesia. In the end, I had little choice. “I have a question for the rabbi,” began one attendee during a Q&A session: “Why do Jews kill Muslim children?”
Heart pounding, I stood up. I spoke of my pain at the loss of life among Gazan civilians, tragically including so many children. And then I took a deep breath. “I noticed the poster in the entranceway,” I began. I praised the group for raising money for humanitarian relief. But, I continued, “When you call for an end to the Zionist entity, I want you to know that you’re talking about my family and my friends and my people.” I spoke of my own commitments to Israel, of the significance of Israel to the Jewish people, and of my firm belief that a two-state solution will allow both peoples to live securely and peacefully.
To my shock, the audience applauded. Afterwards, many of those present told me that they had never before thought about who might live in Israel. That they had never thought a two-state solution to be possible. That they had believed that Jews wanted only to kill Muslims. And they crossed out the final line of the poster.
This incident did not transform Israeli-Palestinian or Jewish-Muslim relations. It did not drastically shift the perception of Jews in Indonesia. I did learn, though, that a little empathy goes a long way. Hearing my own concern about the death of Muslims, the group could be open to imagining the suffering of Jews.
During the current war between Israel and Hamas, we desperately need radical empathy. By this, I mean opening ourselves to the pain of the other exactly at the moment when we are terrified of this other, and exactly at the moment when fear for our lives and for our loved ones pushes us inward.
This is not a new idea. As far back as the first century CE, in the shadow of the destruction of Jerusalem, Rabban Gamliel, one of the most important rabbis of his time, taught that – “Anyone who has compassion for other human beings will merit compassion from above.”
Today, we suffer through increasingly vitriolic language from both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian partisans, and — even more frighteningly — violent protests in Europe, Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and even the United States. Strident voices ignore or deny the painful narrative of the other.
The pro-Palestinian side places all blame on Israel and the occupation, dismisses or justifies rocket attacks on major Israeli cities, and allows criticism of Israel to slide into ugly anti-Semitism. “Rocket attacks from Gaza are a desperate response to these injustices [of occupation],” Waleed Ahmad writes in Mondoweiss. “No people would ever tolerate an oppressive occupation and an unjust siege, so why should the Palestinians?” Protesters in London, Paris and Berlin have held signs saying “Hitler was right” and encouraging the reading of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the Executive Director of T’ruah, which mobilizes 1,800 rabbis, cantors, and their communities to protect human rights in North America, Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories. Her most recent book is “Where Justice Dwells.”
Rabbi Jill Jacobs was a delegate in Legacy’s Religion and Society: A Dialogue program, traveling to Indonesian with a group of Religious scholars, clerics, and community leaders of Indonesia and the United States. The program goals were to increase their knowledge of the counterpart country and establish a dialogue about the scholarship and practice of religion (particularly Islam) in both countries. They examined the compatibility of religious practice with democratic social and political values in this two year program sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. State Department.