IsraelFest brought some food for thought

I was just about to leave the Mayer Campus Center after meeting up with a fellow Muslim Students Association member to turn in paperwork for our upcoming retreat. I glanced hungrily at the tables of free falafel set up for IsraelFest, but didn’t feel quite right partaking. I like Jews, and Israel is fine in theory, but considering its West Bank settlements and reactionary military escapades, I’m not about to throw a party just yet. Before I reached the door, I was stopped by a soft−spoken young Israeli man wearing a blue IsraelFest T−shirt. He said, “Can I interest you in a T−shirt?” He held up a handful of red shirts that resembled the recent Gap Inspi(Red) tees, but that read “COLO(RED)” instead.

I explained that I didn’t have any cash on me, but I stayed to listen to his pitch. The proceeds from each T−shirt would benefit the Sderot Community Treatment Theater, which aims to help ease the psychological toll on Israeli children who live in a town often hit by Qassam rockets from the Gaza strip. As somebody more biased toward “the other side,” my immediate thought was, “And what about the infinitely more numerous psychologically scarred children of Gaza?” Of course, I kept this thought to myself, and sincerely, if awkwardly, wished him luck as I continued home.

As soon as I walked away, however, I was hit with that gnawing feeling I get when I know I’ve passed up an opportunity. I started wondering what kind of conversation I could have had with this guy if I had brought up my side of the story. What if I had asked whether any part of the theater program encouraged the Sderot kids to humanize their peers on the other side of the Israeli border? What if I had asked whether they considered partnering with non−governmental organizations in Gaza to provide psychological care to even more young victims of warfare and poverty? Most likely this would have been a very interesting if not extremely productive conversation. But I passed it up because I was afraid to broach a potentially contentious subject. Shame on me.

I feel strongly that one of the most potent weapons of all those who oppose a comprehensive solution to the Israeli−Palestinian conflict is dehumanizing the population on the other side. I have heard perfectly reasonable Arabs say things like, “There is no such thing as an Israeli civilian. They are all soldiers,” and thus, legitimate military targets. I am sure that equivalent statements can be heard from behind the wall Israel has built in an effort to keep out Palestinians, and from within the fortress−like Israeli settlements which have metastasized throughout the West Bank since 1967. These structures separate populations both physically and psychologically, greatly decreasing the possibility of cooperation.

The fact that Sderot’s children suffer from the boom of Qassam rockets is tragic, all the more so considering the fact that their sons and daughters are unlikely to live any more securely unless they learn to work with their Palestinian neighbors to alleviate the extreme conditions currently nurturing extremism in Gaza. Healing the youth of Sderot is one step toward this goal, but stopping short of promoting humanization of the other side guarantees that the shells will continue to whiz overhead. It also guarantees that many more innocent Palestinians, including children, will die. Humanization must come before peace.

I wish to begin the conversation I should have started in the campus center. To get things going, I would like to make one suggestion to the Sderot Community Treatment Theater: Please stop describing Qassams as “Palestinian missiles.” They are Hamas missiles. To make them a symbol of all Palestinians, including thousands of children suffering just like yours, is to completely and utterly give up hope for a future without Qassams.

Stephanie Crosby is a senior majoring in Middle Eastern studies. She is the co-chair of public relations for the Tufts Muslim Students Association.