The Biggest Mistakes Pro-Israel Advocates Make #15 FINALE: How To See the Big Picture

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11817202_10203789286767153_5368012176068391257_nPlease excuse my lateness. I just got back from Israel last night and I am suffering from severe Israel withdrawal.

Symptoms include excessive crying to the point where my keyboard is so wet I have to wipe it every few minutes, eating hummus and pita even though the kind we have at home is crap compared to Israel’s, WhatsApping all my Israeli friends nonstop, craving falafel, shawarma, bisslis, Israeli salad, and pickles (even though I’m not pregnant!) crying even more, hugging inanimate objects because there are no Israeli friends to hug and enjoy life to the fullest with around me, needing to go to the beach but then realizing we have no beach in rural Pennsylvania, blaring Matisyahu and that addictive Tel Aviv song on permanent loop while closing my eyes and imagining I’m at a club or bar in Tel Aviv, and did I mention crying?

One of the many things I learned about while living in Israel is that much of the conflict is fabricated or severely exaggerated by the media, at least on Israeli soil. For the most part, Arabs and Jews are friends, and get along like brothers and sisters. This incredible story, which I posted last week, is a testament to amount of heart that permeates this country, and the sense of brotherhood that transcends race and religion. Arabs and Jews are refusing to be enemies, and at the grassroots, there is peace. Israelis are full of love, a kind of love that is felt by everyone around them, including Arabs, most of whom gladly accept and return the feeling. I’ve had Arab taxi drivers talk at length about how they love living in Israel, love how they are treated, love the quality of life they have, and appreciate how lucky they are. These small encounters are not what we see in the news, yet I’d like to see more of them as human experiences, rather than facts, are what truly move hearts and minds.

Do you want to support Israel? To change opinions? Then come to Israel, see it for yourself, and I am certain you will come home with many incredible heartwarming stories to share. There is nothing more convincing than “I was there” (which is why Palestinian stories, despite them being easily debunkable, are believed over Israeli facts, because it’s hard to deny lived experiences without looking like a total jerk).

A common retort I get from anti-Israel activists goes along the lines of, “How dare you deny the experiences of millions of Palestinians! How would you feel if your family were butchered alive / forced to leave their homes / given 5 seconds to escape before an airstrike that destroyed their house / imprisoned for no reason / mocked and dehumanized at a checkpoint / etc.”

How can you respond to that? Even if it’s utter falsehood, you really truly can’t.

I would answer:

How would you feel if you were a promising rising star in the Israeli intelligence until you had your entire life destroyed by a Qassam rocket that literally blew up your brain?

How would you feel if your peaceful life as a date farmer in Iraq was ruined forever because of the founding of the State of Israel a thousand miles away, and you were stripped of your citizenship and all your possessions?

How would you feel if you stepped out of a restaurant (Café Rimon), where you were having lunch with your best friend and her fiancé, for five minutes to have an argument with your boyfriend, only to come back to see your friend and her fiancé dead from a bomb blast?

How would you feel if you were fighting for your life in a hospital because someone decided to firebomb your car on the way home from work just because you are Jewish?

These are all real stories; the first three are from people I know very well, and the last happened only yesterday.

What made me the most emotional during my time in Israel were all the amazing stories I heard from random people. Stories that need to be repeated.

Stories of love and loss.

Stories of friendship and brotherhood.

Stories of Israelis and Palestinians performing incredible acts of kindness for one another.

Stories of the incredible pain and damage, often permanent, that occur from simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time in Israel, because of the immeasurable and unnecessary hatred in one person’s heart, imbibed in them since birth from hate-filled curricula in the West Bank and Gaza.

Stories of hugs, laughs, clinked glasses, gifts, warm smiles, shared meals, deep conversations, puffs of a nargila, and selfless acts of service.

Stories of injury, loss, overcoming immeasurable obstacles, heroism, sacrifice, and of course, incredible resilience and fortitude of the mind, heart, body, and soul.

The problem we are dealing with is a miscommunication of emotions. From both sides. It is not black and white, and if there is one thing I could take back from my time in Israel, it would be that at the micro level, kindness is the language of coexistence.

Jews and Arabs can and should refuse to be enemies.

Jews and Arabs should pressure their governments (especially the PA) to promote peace and brotherhood, living side by side.

It can happen, but it isn’t. Why? Because we are living in different worlds. Such different worlds that it becomes so easy to dehumanize the other.

I know what keeps these worlds apart: fear. Fear that is definitely legitimate, given how much Israelis have been through. But all it takes to break the fear is a little bit of kindness. A little bit of effort – for example, a Jew learning Arabic – goes an incredibly long way. When I conversed with Arab-Israelis in the few Arabic phrases I knew, they beamed with happiness. There is an invisible wall separating us, and if it were possible to take that down brick by brick, we will be a lot closer to harmony.

What people don’t know, however, is that in Israel, people are already doing just that! I see examples of it every single day, of friendships being formed at the micro level that impact perceptions and truly make Arab-Israelis happy to be there. There are some Israelis who are kind to Arabs and vice versa, and it makes a huge impact! We just need to start increasing it.

Before you dismiss me as having drank the leftie kool-aid, please be aware that I know that there are issues surrounding this. While Israel proper is a shining example of what peace, love, and tolerance can look like, the Palestinian Territories are a whole different ball game. This separation I was discussing before is a big issue there, and is made worse by governments that want to exacerbate it and annihilate Israel. Since Jews don’t live in the West Bank and Gaza (it’s even illegal to sell land to Jews!) and Arabs don’t live in the Settlements, these areas are where you find the biggest divides, and the largest gaps in understanding. Add the fact that the West Bank and Gaza curricula in schools, camps, and the media are rife with antisemitism and you have prime breeding grounds for terrorism. Does it therefore surprise you that the vast majority of terror-related incidents in Israel originate in the West Bank or the Settlements? What divides us, incites us.

I’m not advocating a binational state. In fact, I’m actually arguing that the Palestinian’s lack of interest in any kind of coexistence makes them, not Israel, the major culprits here. That being said, we need to build a sense of mutual understanding before we can get anywhere with any arguments. If the person you’re talking to doesn’t feel a rapport with you and doesn’t understand where you’re coming from, you will go nowhere.

Whenever you are arguing, no matter how hard it sounds, you have to try to get into their head, not only to be able to predict which argument would appeal to them most, but also to develop the sense of mutual understanding and respect that is necessary to build the rapport needed to adequately persuade and be taken seriously. Remember: their hearts are probably in the right place, especially if you’re dealing with bleeding heart lefties. They genuinely believe what they are doing or advocating is what’s right, either because they were told or because of the hypercritical mindset that academia had cultivated in them. Always explain to them that pro Israel and pro Palestinian are not mutually exclusive, and give concrete examples.

Stories are the key. Stories should be proactive rather than reactive (#2), include facts but also flip the emotional switch (#1) as they allow people to imagine being there. In fact, a well-told story that can be backed up with evidence can often prove the very facts you are trying to disseminate (#3). When telling stories, make sure to behave yourself in a way that will do Israel proud – avoid ad hominems that discredit and weaken your arguments (#4). Be creative with how and where you disseminate your stories, as you want to be able to appeal to as many demographics as possible in a targeted fashion(#5, #7). This usually means avoiding religious arguments unless they are used as evidence to back up an indigenous argument (#9). Build a rapport with whomever you are talking to (#6), and try to find common ground before you disagree with each other (#8). One of the good things about stories is that they let you avoid clichés (pinkwashing, greenwashing, etc.) as real life is, funny enough, seldom a cliché (#11). Think carefully about how you frame it (#12), and try not to let petty spats with fellow Zionists (#13) or guilt trips by lefties (#10) interfere with the end goal of spreading your love of Israel with the world.

And don’t forget to do it with confidence. You know you’re right, you know you have it all together, now own it (#14).

I’m going to end with a story.

I got into a near-fatal accident last year in Singapore, during Operation Protective Edge. I lost so much blood from the accident that my immune system crashed and I got pneumonia in both lungs, which collapsed them. My femur shattered and had to be put back together again by a very skilled surgeon. That orthopedic surgeon’s name was Dr. Sohail Khan, a kind Muslim British Pakistani who, as I later found out, cared so much about the Palestinian cause that he volunteered in Gaza. I doubt he knew about my history of Israeli advocacy, and even if he did it clearly didn’t make a difference – he did a flawless job repairing my leg and helping a medical team keep me alive throughout and after the surgery, and was always kind, patient, and helpful. He was clearly a good man. He just had a drastically different worldview that caused him to believe a different story from me, to advocate a different cause, and to see goodness differently as a result.

At the end of the day, no matter how nasty things, get, remember that the person you’re debating is human. They probably had a drastically different upbringing that resulted in a different value system, a different set of beliefs, a different identity that shaped their worldview, and a different barometer for trust. They genuinely think they are doing the right thing. Never lose compassion for your adversary; see yourself as a guiding light. The more of an attempt you make to understand their point of view and respect their intentions, the better job you’ll do at hasbara, which requires a foundation of mutual respect for them to take you seriously enough for them to genuinely listen when you explain their side. Because that’s all it is: explaining. Hasbara comes from the Hebrew word “le’hasbeer” which means to explain or to tell a story.

If they remain stubborn and refuse to listen despite all your attempts to follow the above advice, don’t beat yourself up. Remember that you did what you can, and that hasbara is a two-way street. And if ever you lose your way, get fed up with your opponent, and feel like they must be the devil incarnate, remember that my life was saved by a devout Pakistani Muslim who supported Gaza so much that he dropped everything to provide medical care there for free.

Always remember to let your heart shine through. At the end of the day, they’re passionate because they care, and you’re passionate because you care. Never lose sight of that. You can’t win ’em all, but you can at least know you did everything you could.

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Lex is a trained comedy actor who is Montreal’s second-favourite export aside from poutine.

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