Let’s Talk About Palestine

By Naufal Nasrullah

Recent actions by Jewish extremist groups storming into the Al Aqsa mosque compound have become a tipping point for a generation of frustrated Palestinians.

The recent series of protests are a continuation of half-a-century of violence and resentment. The Israeli government’s restrictions on freedom and rights of West Bank residents, compounded with harassment from Jewish settlers and other indignities, have rendered prospects for Palestine’s independence ever bleaker.

For the post-Oslo Accord generation of Palestinians, there seem to be no other way to channel these frustrations but to do so in the streets. These protests have swept Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank, leading to escalating violence. It is estimated that at least 32 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, while only seven Israelis have perished in recent weeks.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, before long, the Malay community here in Malaysia is again caught up in a fanatical frenzy of indignation and sense of injustice on behalf of their Muslim brethren. As we have witnessed in social media, there are the same passionate chants for the destruction of the Israeli state, with speakers in mosques amplifying degrading speeches about the Jews and – in extreme cases – seeking the extermination of Jews altogether.

In my view, this seasonal frenzy does not do anybody any good, especially our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters in Palestine.

Rather, our actions portray an ill-informed and unsophisticated Malaysian society. Often, opinions and narratives are either extremely simplified. This frenzy is caused by herd mentality and riled up by rhetoric that is unrealistic and naive.

Malaysians need to understand that the Israel-Palestine conflict, like any other conflict, is complex. There are many factors, factions and variables to consider.

For instance, describing Israel as a monolithic state ignores the existence of (among others): (i) left-wing and pro-Palestinian parties such as the Zionist Union party (they are cool with a two state solution), (ii) the Communists (who believe in equality like all commies) and (iii) increasingly influential Arab parties that make up the Knesset (Israel’s parliament).

Because the people in Israel are from diasporas across the world, there is a myriad of beliefs and ideas on how to govern – Israel is a democracy. The average Israeli ranges from people who are Arab-friendly to paranoid right-wing nationalist and religious rabbis who think hostilities towards Palestinians is sinful.

Across the concrete eight-metre walls, simplifying the Palestinians is an equally hazardous endeavor. Among Palestinians, there are many different perceptions to what the Palestine conflict is really even about: a religious war, a nationalistic struggle or a contest of land.

Notably, not all Muslims are Arabs and not all Palestinians are Muslim. For instance, there is a significant minority of Christians who has lived in Palestine and ousted from their homes and lands just like their fellow Muslims. They subsequently joined the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) ! There are also extremist, splinter cells of Hamas in Palestine, who often reject political negotiations and whose actions have sometimes exacerbated the situation.

Unfortunately, the Malay community often ignores or is unable to appreciate these different variables at play and the nuances that exist. It is easy to simplify the Palestinian issue from a “Islam vs Jews” lens akin to the movies (with Jews as the bad guys), but this misses the details and nuances that matter so much in shaping an honest and informed view.

Local media and activists need to consider how their actions in portraying factions such as Hamas, Fatah and Israel are really helping Palestinians. Rhetoric such as “Jews have taken over the world” and “Jews are all naturally evil” are one-dimensional and do not reflect a pathway to solutions and effectiveness. If Malaysians like to help the Palestinians, we need to first acknowledge that reality is complex, and understanding such complexity should be the first step taken before we can contribute meaningfully to the discussion.

The point of this essay is not to impose my view on the Palestinian issue. My goal is to call for a greater understanding of an issue that is sinfully simplified. While events and exhibitions calling for awareness on the Palestine issue is laudable, it is incumbent for supporters of the cause to develop a strong understanding of real life facts.

Information disseminated should be from reputable sources; BBC, Reuters, Huffington Post et cetera. Read, compare and contrast! Even one needs an Arabic name to comfort the conscience, there is always Al-Jazeera. The zeal to effect justice should not be blinded by hate, it needs to be channeled to an eagerness to learn. Trying to understand the real situation is tedious, and that is the test of true commitment.

This article is in no way written in a condescending spirit. Given how hateful rhetoric is so ingrained in society, it is understandably difficult to think of the Palestine issue from a different light. I myself used to buy into the same rhetoric. Without being able to name the President of the State of Palestine or describe the evolution of Palestine, some of us step on the Israeli flag in public. Only after learning more was I awash by humility and shame over my gross simplification. For an issue that has been so deeply associated with one’s Islamic identity, ignorance is no excuse.

Let’s learn more, and let’s learn together.


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