Until about a week ago, Facebook was where I went to escape work, unpaid bills, and changing the kitty litter. I could lose myself for hours in videos of dancing babies, cats playing the piano, and naughty puppies. The Israel-Gaza conflict changed all of that. Facebook was no longer my refuge. It was my war zone.
Now, amid the baby animals, jokes, and snarky comments, there are postings from friends all over the world, each voice louder than the next, demanding to be heard. My American friends are divided and subdivided. In one camp are the liberal Democrats on the left who insist that Israel is to blame. “End the occupation!” they scream.
In another camp are the Republicans. Jews and John Birchers — what a party! “Hamas is sworn to Israel’s destruction,” they yell. I’m not sure if they’re worried about the End of Times or the price of oil.
Then, there are Jews shaking their fists at any Jew who doesn’t share their opinion. Of course, there are liberal, Jewish Democrats, like me, who agree and disagree with everyone.
The view from the ground
I’ve earned my right to differ. Between 1966 and 2007, I traveled to Israel many times. I worked as a press officer for the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia for four years. It was my job to get Israel “positive press” during the Second Intifada.
I learned that Israelis are as politically diverse as Americans. They agree about nothing. (If you put one Israeli in a room, he’ll argue with himself.)
I also learned that Israel is more multicultural than I had imagined. While most Philadelphia Jews have Eastern European roots. Israelis come from Ethiopia, Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Central Asia, and Mumbai. More importantly, over 1 million Arabs live in Israel. They have always lived there — not in the West Bank or Gaza, but within the State of Israel, running restaurants and businesses throughout the country.
Which brings me to the most important point of all. If you have never been to Israel or Gaza, you cannot imagine it from the Internet, radio, or TV. It’s like watching a tornado ravaging Oklahoma from the safety of your home in Devon. Sure, you feel compassion, but until your house has been blown off of its foundation, taking your dog and your 3-year-old, you really don’t have a clue.
That hasn’t stopped anyone from pontificating on Facebook. And it hasn’t stopped me from trying to broaden the conversation, even at the risk of being “unfriended.” Philadelphians whom I have admired for years for their social action and human rights advocacy post messages urging Israel to stop the bombing, but they say nothing of the 1,500 bombs that Hamas rained down on Israel. They are also silent on Hamas teaching children to throw stones rather than teaching them how to use the Internet.
I play devil’s advocate. When friends post idealistic messages, reminding us that there are people on both sides who want peace more than violence, I agree. But I also remind them that this isn’t just about Gaza and Israel. ISIS on a murderous rampage in Iraq. Hezbollah is shooting up Lebanon. Boko Haram holds schoolgirls hostage in Nigeria. Syria is self-destructing. And we haven’t seen the end of the Taliban, Al Queda or the Muslim Brotherhood. You want to invite these guys over for pizza? Be my guest.
I don’t just poke at the peaceniks. I also taunt the rabid right wing that is taking the Middle East conflict as an excuse to pin the tail on Obama. They are frothing at the mouth over his “weak” response to Gaza. One such posting said that “unicorns” were flying around the West Wing when the president spoke. Having worked at the consulate, I know a little about American diplomacy. You don’t facilitating a cease-fire with Hamas and Bibi with a song-and-dance number. Fact: John Kerry is not going to Jerusalem for the view.
After a week of posting messages on Facebook that pissed everybody off, I decided, in all fairness, that I cannot bring peace to the Middle East on my own. One by one, I deleted all of my diatribes. I stopped “sharing” friends’ photos of weeping Palestinians and bereft Israelis. I lulled myself back into the visual anesthesia of baby bunnies and mojito recipes. Yes, there’s a war going on. But I can’t fight it. Because I’m on both sides.