FACULTY OPINION: Placing humanity before nationalism

Oren Kosansky, Assistant Professor of Anthropology

The recent escalation of lethal attacks against Israeli civilians and the intensification of military reprisals are unspeakably tragic in scope and significance. These bloody developments occurred precisely as Arab nations gathered to consider a settlement between two embattled peoples. I am left with the stale admixture of despair and hope that has wearied all who have been trying to imagine a lasting peace. There are those, on all sides, who can only envision a deadly fight to the end. Israeli military hawks, Palestinians suicide bombers, and radicalized nationalists of all persuasions represent, for most Americans, the face and the core of two apparent constituencies of intractable violence. American voices–both Jewish and Arab–that parrot and promote a rhetoric of unilateral blame (i.e. “it’s all their fault”) are, to my mind, the disastrous embodiment of a viewpoint that cannot make room for the kinds of mutual sympathy and understanding of which we are in dire need.

As a powerful, if surely difficult, way to emphasize a recognition of the common humanity that links Palestinian and Israeli victims, I encourage all who identify as Jews or Arabs to let their first expressions of grief be for those on the other side. We must hear more American Jews join vocally with Israelis who call for an end to the occupation of Palestine and who condemn the military violence by which that occupation is sustained. There can be more American Arabs who vocally, forcefully, and without qualification condemn and lament attacks against Israeli civilians. This does not mean we weaken our loyalty to a national community, dilute our political convictions, or concede to demands we find unacceptable. It means simply that we check our parochial nationalisms before they are transformed into ugly hatred.

The challenge, by no means easy, is to extend sympathy rather than to fix blame and ultimately to search for ways to encourage dialogue rather than to foreclose it. The costs of not meeting this challenge are all too apparent.