Testimony 1: Naomi
A couple of years ago, I attended a ‘Solutions not Sides’ event co-organised by the Board of Deputies and Alyth Synagogue. The event included an Israeli and a Palestinian speaker, who discussed the injustices of the conflict and their perspectives, including on peaceful and just solutions. I was really looking forward to this because it was rare to see this sort of event, focused on including a distinctly Palestinian perspective and platforming a Palestinian speaker.
The Palestinian speaker had been at pains to focus on his personal account, and avoid politicising it. He gave extremely difficult and saddening details about his life, including the death of his close friends and brother as a result of Israeli bombing of Gaza in 2014, and the sadness in being unable to return home to Gaza since he had been able to go abroad to study (an opportunity most Gazans are not given). After speaking, the audience asked questions. One older audience member said that, while she sympathised with his story, bombing of Gaza would only stop when Palestinians cared about saving and protecting lives. She then called on him to condemn terrorist attacks against Israelis. This line of questioning relied on racist assumptions of Palestinians as inherently violent; no one asked the Israeli speaker if he would – for example – condemn Israel’s repressive military policies, yet the Palestinian speaker was expected to qualify his account with this condemnation.
Golda Meir famously wrote that “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” This is a racist trope that is deeply absorbed and propagated by too many in our community who seek to defend Israel’s actions or explain the lack of a peaceful, just and lasting solution, as shown by this line of questioning. Having to be accosted with questions about terrorism when trying to speak about one’s experiences as a Palestinian – especially when actively trying to depoliticise these experiences in order to make them seem unbiased or more palatable – is deeply unfair.
Though there were clearly some in the audience who were disturbed by this line of questioning, too little was said to challenge it directly. I was glad that this event was held – for many, this will have been the only time they’d heard from a Palestinian about their experiences, and that they’d actively been willing to ‘see the other side’ – but the speaker should not have had to face racist tropes when trying to share such difficult and painful experiences with a wider audience.