Israel's incursion into Palestinian territory makes it more urgent
than ever to terminate US support for Israeli domination of the West
Bank and Gaza. Even many of Israel's long-time supporters now
understand that, to provide justice to Palestinians -- and also to
salvage democracy and morality within the Jewish State itself -- the
thirty-five-year occupation must end.
As we proceed, however, peace and justice activists confront three
First, we should know what we're talking about. Interactions at
recent rallies between demonstrators and counterdemonstrators make it
clear that we don't always do our homework. Like those who confront
us, too often we overgeneralize, present inadequate views of history,
fail to acknowledge the range of perspectives and motives on both
sides. Sometimes we pass along easily disproved or
impossible-to-verify exaggerations. Repeatedly, we confuse slogans
One example is our tepid response to the Palestine Authority's
instant assertion that Israeli forces in Jenin massacred 500
Palestinians. The plausible evidence is horrendous enough: some
Israeli troops beat captured Palestinians and used others as human
shields; blocked ambulances on flimsy pretexts; vandalized homes and
offices; shot noncombatants, or humiliated them to teach them a
lesson; and imposed on innocent civilians massive destruction and
collective punishment. To all this and more, we object.
But disseminating dubious claims of a large-scale massacre hurts our
Similarly harmful is comparing Israeli actions to those of Nazi
Germany. The extermination of millions of Jews and others --
systematic, totalistic, bureaucratic, scientific -- may not be
unique, but calling every atrocity Nazi-like demonstrates either a
weak grasp of history or a calculated misuse of it.
Jews opposed to Israel's war crimes -- our numbers grow, despite the
mainstream media's determination to ignore us -- are often moved by
the welcome we receive from appreciative Palestinians; they should
not have had to wait so long for our presence. But many Jews won't
march behind banners that equate the Star of David and the Nazi
swastika. If those banners disappeared, along with the superficiality
that inspires them, there might be more of us.
A third example: We're appalled when some Israelis propose
"transferring" all Palestinians out of Occupied Territories. We
should be equally appalled when Hamas reiterates its intention to
expel from Israel all who reject the Islamic rule it intends to
Our second challenge is to communicate more effectively with our
opponents. It's easy to list facts justifying our position. It's
harder to respond substantively to the other side's list, to struggle
with their best arguments rather than simply shrug off their worst.
Applying principles evenhandedly, we should be ready to respond when
those on the other side ask, as they always do, "What's your
Talking with those we oppose is difficult. Even when it works, it
only takes us so far, because mutual understanding doesn't solve
But mutual understanding can help identify differing interests and
values. Only then can we finally grapple with how to satisfy the
legitimate needs of ordinary people on both sides. Any solution must
take into account historic oppression and hostility, unequal access
to power, and factors as varied as the role of oil and corporate
profit and the contentious distinction between legitimate resistance
to occupation and terrorist attacks on uninvolved civilians.
Under the right circumstances, communication also reveals diversity.
When interaction humanizes both Jews and Arabs, it becomes harder to
believe dangerous stereotypes perpetuated by those who seek supremacy
rather than resolution.
Our third challenge is to respond with more than lip service to the
spread of anti-Semitism. We rightly expect Jews of conscience to
oppose Israeli aggression, just as we oppose the US government's
post-September 11th assault on Muslim civil liberties. But we should
also expect Palestinians and their supporters to reject those who
blame, not Israel, but "the Jews."
Some Arab governments continue to use inflammatory language and
disseminate anti-Semitic literature. Synagogue arsons, beatings, and
other anti-Jewish incidents escalate throughout Europe. Hate groups
in the US use the Palestinian cause to incite violence against Jews.
Despite claims to the contrary by mainstream Jewish organizations,
every criticism of Israeli policy is not generated by anti-Semitism.
But let's not make the opposite mistake. Sometimes the perception of
Jew-hatred is right on target.
So let's drop the slogans. Let's communicate more effectively. And
let's unite behind the understanding that justice and liberation,
democracy and safety, can only come about if they come to all of us,
Dennis Fox writes opinion, academic, and personal essays at the
interface of critical psychology, law, and radical politics. He
co-founded RadPsyNet: The Radical Psychology Network (http://radpsynet.org) and co-edited Critical Psychology: An Introduction
(1997, Sage). On leave from the University of Illinois at Springfield
where he's associate professor of legal studies and psychology, Fox
lives near Boston, Massachusetts. He posts his work at
http://people.uis.edu/dfox1; his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org