Today, the #FreePalestine message is based entirely upon emotions, marketing, and feelings – which is why, of course, so many people have come to see the world through the lens of Israeli oppressors and Palestinian victims. Like it or not, we human beings are emotional creatures.
Which is why what I seek to do, whenever I can, is to present the human side of my arguments.
It’s quite convenient. I can convince people – and, funny enough, the facts back up the emotions instead of being betrayed by them.
I was raised in Ontario, Canada, in a left-wing, homeschooling family. I attended a Greek Orthodox Church, though it was (and is) mainly my dad who was devoutly Christian in our family.
While I certainly learned about the Holocaust, knew about Jewish people and many of their customs, and was always raised to love Jewish people and to never allow the hatred of Nazi Germany to happen again, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not something I learned very much about.
Recently, I read to my two-year-old from a children’s encyclopedia I loved as a child. On one page, the book spoke of Jerusalem as “A holy city for Muslims, the followers of the religion of Islam, as well as for Jews and Christians.”
This simple passage, featuring a picture of the Dome of The Rock, likely was left largely unnoticed to childhood me. I had no particular interest in the subject.
However, this anecdote, I think, is emblematic of how I viewed Israel for most of my life: just a place where there was fighting, where two major religions had holy sites, where two sides were in conflict with one another, where the solution to peace was for both sides to just love one another as brothers.
The media was where my learning came from in this area, in snatches of news reports, in newspaper headlines, in a world far away from mine, where tidbits of propaganda are never analyzed critically.
Sanity slipped through the cracks once in a blue moon. I was 8 years old at the start of the Second Intifada, and I would see attacks on Israelis by Palestinians in the news, and of course the retaliation of the Israelis. I remember even then questioning the way such events were presented.
I asked myself the childish, obvious question: “Even if Israel stole their land, why is it ever acceptable to bomb innocent people in a pizza restaurant? To kill little kids?”
I regret that that childhood curiosity did not lead me to learn more as I grew up. I regret that instead, like so many non-Jews, probably especially in Canada, my response was to ignore the conflict almost entirely. It was too big, too complicated. It was tragic. It was too far away. It was punctuated with languages I didn’t understand, spoken by people who looked and lived differently from me.
I wanted peace, and I made that peace in my mind by praying when people were killed and hoping that one day both sides would reconcile, as if that was somehow adequate.
My interest in Islam started many years after 9/11 – an attack I viewed as somehow retaliatory for American Imperialist war crimes, of course.
I learned the Karen Armstrong/Reza Aslan version of Islam and Islamic history from a serious boyfriend, who was fascinated by religion. I fell for the typical left-wing view of a 20-year-old living in a largely Muslim area of Toronto, Ontario. I went to a few Arabic reading classes in a local masjid. I wore a headscarf, to see what it was like, to see if the stares that Muslims I knew online and in real life spoke of were real. I met several Muslims who were lovely people, as far as I could tell.
I forget much of this period of my life – but I can say with certainty that I was invited to a faith I knew nothing of, told to pray in words I did not understand, not out of any devout religious understanding, but out of the left-wing belief that the Islamic culture is exotic and should be praised, if not joined.
I can still remember how to say the Shahada in Arabic today.
Perhaps, by some bizarre definition, I could be considered a Muslim apostate by groups like ISIS. Lucky me. I can’t remember if I ever met the (minimal, simple, clearly designed to expand the number of the faithful at every opportunity) conditions for conversion – though I would hope “knowing a damn thing about what you’re converting to for trendy reasons” would be a prerequisite to the average Muslim.
My awakening did not happen on a specific date. But somehow, along with many of my other beliefs, I started questioning more about things I had considered self-evident truths. I started reading more. I remember watching a video lecture by Dr. Bill Warner called “Why We Are Afraid” about the history of Islamic expansion through war.
But I didn’t take what he said at face value, like the old me once would have.
I used that spark to ignite my fascination. I began asking specific questions. Who was Muhammad? How did he live? Were the Facebook memes of anti-infidel Quran verses legitimate, or was there a context to them? Was it true that terrorism (which, of course, has only continued in the Western world outside of Israel in recent years) had nothing to do with Islam, and that Islam was a “religion of peace” as I had heard from George W. Bush and Barack Obama alike?
This led me to watch lectures and debates on the subject. Along with Dr. Warner, people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Douglas Murray, Yasmine Mohammed, Sam Harris, Mark Humphrys, Christopher Hitchens, David Wood, and Robert Spencer became regular fixtures on my computer screen.
Though these people come from vastly different religious and political backgrounds, there was one thread running through their words, spoken explicitly or implied, one theme I found myself unable to deny or refute, no matter where I looked: the jihadists, the terrorists, the oppressive regimes that dictate the Middle East and elsewhere, were not perverting Islam. They were following a perfectly reasonable reading of Islam based on Islamic scripture and history.
While I of course would not deny that many Muslims don’t follow Islam in the same way, I have yet to find sufficient proof from a single source that there is actually a different “version” or widely accepted interpretation of Islam which is peace-loving, tolerant, or aligned with classical liberal values.
Let me make this very clear.
What does exist everywhere is Muslim people whose own humanity takes precedence over the religion they follow.
That is why there are so many “moderate” Muslims – not because they follow a different Islam, but because they do not apply certain problematic teachings to their lives. To these people, I have no inherent ill will (except, of course, when they support their more devout coreligionists in oppression and violence, which is more common than any of us wishes it was) and I hope that one day their “watered-down” Islam will become the majority Islam.
The rare Islamic-based movements I did find, such as the Ahmadis, who are able to more or less co-exist with other faiths while present in significant numbers of believers, are often the victims of other majority sect Muslims who see them as kafirs.
I strive to see bad ideas as they are – but to never forget that those who hold them are human beings who laugh, and human beings who cry.
This, above all else, is what made me first afraid, but then determined, to resist Islamic jihad. For the sake of kafirs and Muslims alike.
And like a divine plan from above, something happened at the same time. For the first time in my life, I had a Jewish friend. Not a family friend, not a person I sort of knew who wore a kippah, but someone I love as a brother. A person who lived in Israel for ten years (he lives in New Jersey today), and who actually lived through the terrorism and hatred that had once seemed so irrelevant to my selfish life.
It saddens me that it took seeing the human side of Israel for me to care, but it does not surprise me.
Like most people, all I saw, even in the midst of my Islamic awakening, were the people of Palestine and their stories. The mothers who lost children. The elderly who lost homes. The people who found their houses or farmland in the way of the infamous “apartheid wall”.
I don’t doubt that many Palestinian individuals have suffered from this conflict. I don’t doubt that like in any war, the IDF has killed innocent civilians as collateral damage. I don’t doubt that individuals in the IDF have done despicable things to individuals in the Palestinian territories. I will never shy from this, nor will I allow anyone to place upon me the idea that my criticism of Islam must mean the hatred of Muslims.
It is the opposite. I wish with all of my soul for peace between human beings, for freedom for all of us.
But nowhere is the reality of Islam as a destructive force more stark than in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I grasped the issue as a small child, because I was not blinded by the arrogant, ignorant idea that so many of us in the Western world have: that all people, regardless of background, want the same things for our lives. That no person, no sane person, could actually believe that their religion teaches them to blow up their children to get to heaven.
As a child, I had glimpses of the fact that despite the complications and tertiary problems that have arisen over the decades of Israel’s existence, the issue is not an issue of grey.
It is, at the core, an issue of black and white.
If the Israelis put down their guns, Israel would be destroyed and millions would be slaughtered. Man, woman, and child.
If the Palestinians (and the Arab Muslim states who support them) put down their guns, there would be peace in the Middle East.
The other issues, the grey muddled up in between right and wrong, good and evil, peace and war, can never be understood until we collectively understand this basic reality.
A reality that is not created by casting positive aspersions on the Israelis and negative aspersions on the Palestinians, but by observing history.
Every time the Israelis have offered land for peace, they have been met with more, not less, terrorism and violence against civilians.
Every time the IDF has tried to cease-fire or to back down, for example in the 2008 and 2014 Gaza wars, they have been met with more, not less, rockets fired upon Israeli civilians.
The Palestinians complain constantly of “collective punishment” – as their terror-state of Gaza collectively targets Israeli children, babies, and male and female civilians.
Because it’s not about territory, it’s not about self-determination, and it’s not about the rights of Palestinians to live free and safe lives (something I would truly love to witness in my lifetime).
It is about jihad, with the intention of destroying the Jewish state, by any means necessary.
Not to oust Netanyahu, not to limit the impositions by the IDF in Gaza and The West Bank/Judea and Samaria, but to destroy the Israeli Jews in their reclaimed ancestral homeland, until “Palestine is free from the river to the sea”.
The mass delusion that we have, wherein the “proportionality” of who dies somehow determines who is the just actor in a conflict, must end.
It is not the intention of the Palestinians which limits their destruction of Israel, but their inability to carry out their intentions. And, conversely, it is the intention of the Israelis which limits their killing of civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, not their inability to carry out these evil aspersions cast upon them which have no basis in reality.
Palestinian terrorists really do believe that they are right and justified in murdering babies in Israel. We should listen to what they say, and not listen to so-called progressives who speak on college campuses about the evil Israeli apartheid who say that their murder of babies is caused by just, logical grievances.
As former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir put it more eloquently, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”
#FreePalestine is a jihad movement. I have come to believe that the biggest factor in turning the tide in the West away from supporting Palestine and towards supporting Israel is a new and collective understanding of Islam and the Jihad it preaches.
Despite my many mistakes and regrets of my selfishness and ignorance, I hope I can do my small part to aid peace.
I will stand with the best country in the Middle East, the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, over the inevitable Islamic theocracy that would emerge in any new Palestinian state.
Stefanie MacWilliams is a dissident Canadian millennial, mom, buffalo sauce afficianado, and right-wing political troublemaker. She co-owns (and writes for) HalseyNews.com and hosts the Right Millennial show on Youtube.