Last week, I wrote an incendiary piece on my position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Only two hours after the article was published online, public outcries accused me of having a generalized hatred toward all things Semite.
My editor forwarded three e-mails to me, more than 40 comments were written about my column on Collegian.com and even the Campus Director of Hillel of Colorado at CSU Rabbi Allison Peiser wrote a guest column on Friday.
Expecting to be disenchanted by another hateful, emotional rant, I was pleasantly surprised to find an impassioned piece on what we have in common and the hope for â€œopen conversations.â€
Despite my columnâ€™s commentators, who accused me of being stagnant in opinion, anti-Israel, anti-Semite and blind to my assertions, I welcomed the opportunity to discuss the topic with someone from another perspective.
That same day, I contacted Hillel and the Rabbi generously arranged for an impromptu meeting.
One hour later, I pulled out my journal. I had my follow-up column.
Not one to beat around the bush, I dove into the topic of settlements on the West Bank.
At first, I was shocked when Rabbi Allison said building had â€œstopped.â€
All the evidence, pictures and news still suggested that the pro-settlement regime headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel was alive and well. Even The New York Times highlighted Netanyahuâ€™s proclivity for construction in an article published on Aug. 24, the day after my original column was published.
In actuality, it wasnâ€™t settlement activity that was being contested by the Rabbi; it was the word, â€œsettlement.â€ For many Israelis, the concept that Palestine even exists as a separate entity is up for interpretation. As she acknowledged, what I call Palestine â€“â€“ what the majority of the world calls Palestine â€“â€“ is just the â€œWest Bankâ€ for many Israelis.
If I were to apply such daft and myopic beliefs to another dispute in the Middle East, Mahmoud Ahmadinejadâ€™s position that Israel should be wiped off the map would suddenly make sense.
By refusing to acknowledge the existence of a nation, state and people, itâ€™s no wonder why a jingoistic state believes itâ€™s their God-given right to build in Palestine.
Peiser is right. This is a tremendously â€œcomplex situation,â€ and itâ€™s â€œhard to step out of emotion.â€
For instance, my first article oversimplified the historical connotations of suggesting that â€œJews and Palestinians lived in harmonyâ€ pre-State of Israel (1948).
Itâ€™s true: Concepts like Zionism, responsibility and history need to be flushed out. Six hundred and fifty to 700 words wonâ€™t cut it.
In our conversation, Peiser went on to suggest that Israelis may have a â€œvictimizationâ€ and â€œfight-for-lifeâ€ mentality. As I see it, they can no longer claim that theyâ€™re defenseless, â€œwanderingâ€ or even, as a nation, threatened. With militarized weaponry, tactical, organized militias, immense wartime capabilities (see the Six-Day War) and affluence, theyâ€™re a world-class military power.
Palestinians are clamoring for a voice. Without a state, without borders and in a seismic political environment that is indiscriminately ravaged by intruders, theyâ€™re left defenseless.
But while the situation is seemingly bleak, and though I donâ€™t have a prescient bone in my body, I hold out for hope.
Thereâ€™s hope that weâ€™ll see Israel take responsibility for settlements and organized destruction. Hope that Jews will forever have a permanent place to call home.
Thereâ€™s hope that Iranian-backed, Hamas and Hezbollah will cease the onslaught of suicide bombings. Hope that Palestine receives full U.N. recognition and statehood. Â Â Â Â Â
What I experienced while talking with Rabbi Allison Peiser wasnâ€™t always a sense of calm. At times, the conversation felt forced, nerves on edge. We werenâ€™t without the occasional emotional joust of our respective viewpoints.
The beauty is in the realization that weâ€™re doing what many avoid â€“â€“ talking.
Instead of accosting each other and throwing profanity around like mud, we had an intellectual debate that furthers the understanding for both parties.Â Â Â Â Â Â
Before we parted, I asked one last quick question. â€œDo you have plans to talk further about this column and issue with your students at Hillel?â€
Almost before my sentence is complete, she nods her head.
Thatâ€™s all I wanted.
Samuel Lustgarten is a senior psychology major. His column appears on Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.