Who Are The Victims?
Ken Kaissar on The Victims
Fear is the great impediment to dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jews and Arabs alike are loathe to bring up the question of Israel or Palestine in the presence of the other, for fear that they might—god forbid—disagree with one another.
Let me save you the suspense. When it comes to the history of the Middle East in the 20th century, Jews and Arabs are certain to disagree with each other, if not about the entire narrative then at least about some aspect of it. But why are we so afraid to uncover that disagreement and talk through it?
The prospect of empathizing with the other is terrifying because we perceive that the needs of Israelis and Palestinians are mutually exclusive. Acknowledging that the other side has a legitimate point threatens to render our own narrative invalid. That fear tends to shut down all dialogue.
But Israelis and Palestinians understand each other better than most outsiders think. Both sides share a common goal, the struggle for the dignity of their own nationalistic identity. Israelis are told that they are merely European colonialists who have no business dwelling in the Middle East. Palestinians are told that they are a fictitious people with a fabricated history. These narratives deny each side the dignity of their histories and are completely unproductive to achieving a peaceful resolution. So stuck we will be, until we find the wisdom to abandon both of these inaccurate narratives.
We should be able to agree that both peoples are entitled to the dignity of their identities. Both deserve to live in peace and security under a state whose government is dedicated to their basic needs for a free and prosperous life. This is a goal that unites not only Israelis and Palestinians, but the entire human race. Who would claim that anyone is undeserving of such a promise? All we need is the courage to empathize with anyone who struggles to achieve it.
The title of my play, The Victims, raises a great many questions, the most prominent being who are the victims—Israelis or Palestinians? My answer, without being flippant, is both. For the last 70 years Israelis have lived under daily threat of hostile invasion and terrorist attacks. On the other hand, the establishment of Israel 70 years ago displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and rendered them homeless. Can’t we acknowledge and empathize with both of these narratives? Does it really cost either side anything to acknowledge the suffering of the other?