The World Is on Fire

The High Price of Picking Sides Over People and Solutions

Sherry Kappel
Our Human Family


Photo by Jakob Rubner on Unsplash

Everyone has a strong opinion about what is happening in the Middle East, and very few are open to discussion. “Hamas is a terrorist group.” (Okay, no one really debates that one.) “Netanyahu is a terrorist.” “Israel has the right to defend itself.” “Palestinians have been living in apartheid conditions for years.” “Jewish people deserve reparations — i.e., Israel — after the Holocaust.” “Palestinians didn’t deserve to be thrown off their ancestral homeland.” And on it goes. Anyone who disagrees is the enemy, even if they’re neither Israeli nor Palestinian.

But what if they’re all right?

As someone who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood and has extended Jewish family, I am sympathetic to their history and the repercussions. Many have horror stories, many have lost family members in the worst possible ways. I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. And I used to walk past the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh every day, where there was a mass shooting several years ago. Even in America, Jewish people can’t ever feel safe.

I also have Muslim and Palestinian friends. One in particular, a sweet, soft-spoken sixteen-year-old exchange student when I met her several years ago, is now a college student in Canada but the rest of her family just fled their home in northern Gaza. Back when she was here, we went to a baseball game followed by fireworks and she made an off-hand comment that was one of the saddest things I’ve ever heard: “Sounds like bombs.” Not scared, not upset, just nonchalant — because that sound was part of her existence. And yet Palestine had not been officially “at war” with Israel for quite some time at that point; this is just life in everyday Palestine.

I remember when I was young, a Jewish American friend was preparing to serve in the Israeli army because she felt it was her responsibility as a Jew. I asked her to explain the conflict. A fair and educated person, she walked through the history in detail, noting that “Palestinians have a lot of valid points.” And yet she felt the need to support Israel.

Since then, I’ve heard many narratives — some fair, most less so, many of them brutal.

There are More Than Two Sides

In any given situation, most people have divided everyone involved into two groups, although that generally means stuffing quite a lot of people into a box where they don’t really belong. Israel vs. Palestine. Israel vs. Hamas. Israelis vs. Palestinians. Jews vs. Muslims. Jews vs. Arabs. Anti-semites vs. anti-Muslims. Liberals vs. Conservatives. Progressives vs. Liberals. Hawks vs. Doves. Yahweh vs. Allah vs. God. I could go on all day.

To many, voicing the horror of genocide is to be anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic. To worry about the hostages is to be anti-Palestinian or even anti-Muslim. The simple act of tearing down the hostage posters here in the U.S. is to choose a side, risk being blasted on the news, and potentially even be expelled or fired from your job. Jewish- and Muslim Americans here have been targeted due to the war over there.

In reality, there are lots of Israelis who don’t agree with Netanyahu. There are plenty of Palestinians who are anti-Hamas. Jewish Americans advocating for peace in the Middle East. Muslims who are anti-violence as a central tenet of their religion.

What About Gray?

It would be very nice and neat if everything fit neatly into two buckets. Right vs. Wrong. Day vs. Night. Black vs. White. It would be really easy to figure out who the good guys are and pick a side.

The problem, as suggested above, is that you end up with two buckets bulging with people who don’t really belong in either. And because we’re so fixated on right vs. wrong, we tend to entirely dismiss everyone in the “bad” bucket, even if half the people in either bucket are sitting squarely between the two. Do we really want to negate Israelis who are, say, against the occupation, or Palestinians who simply want to live in peace? Or half our fellow Americans, who, to be quite honest, don’t know jack about the history of the region anyway?

Beyond the unfairness and the arbitrariness of it all, here is what happens when we boil it down to two buckets. We yell at each other. We hate each other. In the case of Hamas and the Israeli military, we literally bomb each other nonstop, murdering thousands of civilians, including small children and babies, unwilling to even acknowledge these are war crimes against humanity.

What we don’t do? We don’t listen to each other. We don’t mourn the others’ losses, as human beings should all do. We don’t consider compromise or look for solutions. And so it goes, on and on and on and on. Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting since the day Israel was established seventy-five years ago, and it shows no signs of ever ending short of complete genocide.

Are we not all gray? Can we not do better?!

This Isn’t Just Gaza or Hamas

Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash

This is Humanity.

It’s a funny thing. Americans have a tendency to consider everyone in the Middle East extreme and therefore bad. When someone (really, anyone other than our ally Israel) commits a barbaric act, we label them terrorists: the Taliban, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Al-Qaida, Hizballah, Boko Haram, the PLO. We shake our heads in sorrow at Russia versus Ukraine. India versus Pakistan. Everything in Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan . . . the list is long. “Over there,” there are people who don’t belong to any of these groups; people just trying to survive. But they’re not as newsworthy and we tend to forget about them. Everyone “over there” is a terrorist.

In America, we come up with more palatable names. Lone wolves bomb federal buildings, commit mass murder in Black churches and grocery stores, and patriots storm the Capitol Building. Terrorists are brown and Black, they have accents; but that shooter was just Joe and Suzy’s boy! He may be a little off, but he don’t mean no harm by it! So he and his friends, they’re Proud Boys. Boogaloo Bois. Oath Keepers.

Somehow, we white folks struggle to call the worst of the worst white boys in America terrorists, but if a group of Palestinians does something bad, we condemn all 2.3 million of them. By that logic, are we not all guilty of storming the Capitol? Do we not all bear responsibility for every mass shooting?

If anything, we do the opposite when it’s a white guy. He was a loner. He was mentally ill. We may even feel bad for Joe and Suzy, who are good Christians. Whiteness? What does that have to do with anything?

Divisiveness Kills

Hopefully we can all see the hypocrisy of condemning others based on their demographics, while finding loopholes for our own. When we divide people, intentionally or deliberately otherwise, people die. We blamed a country for Al Qaida, and innocent Iraqis died. We say Ukraine is corrupt anyway, and people die. We blame a country for Hamas, and Palestinians die. We ignore the faults of our own demographic, and Black people die. Immigrants die. Gay people die. Capitol police die.

The problem is only getting worse as the world becomes more authoritarian and one of the tactics of authoritarian leaders is to drive fear of difference. Different country? Bad. Different religion? Bad. Different skin color? Bad. Different political beliefs? Bad — and not just bad, dangerous! It’s no wonder that the pundits talk about World War III and people keep buying more guns.

We all need to break free and think for ourselves before more people die. We need to figure out empathy before more children and babies die. How are we similar — do we not all have the same hopes and dreams? The vast majority of us just want to find love, earn enough money for food on the table and a roof over our head, be healthy, raise a family. Where we were born and the color of our skin mean little in comparison. And, if we can find the humanity in each other, can we not find solutions to our issues or, at the very least, compromise?

Love one another.

Sherry Kappel
OHF Weekly Managing Editor



Sherry Kappel
Our Human Family

Looking for the Kind in Humankind. Heart currently Code Blue.