Have you heard of the TED lecture series? TED stands for technology, entertainment, design. TED conferences are full of innovative thinkers and doers, all the people who are changing or have the potential to transform the world not only for future generations but for our own.
Today, I got to be a TEDster. To be fair, it wasn't the original TED conference, but rather an independently organized event tied to the TED name - TEDxBerkeley. Yet it was still full of entrepreneurs and students and the people who are going to be coming up with game-changing ideas.
The first talk that really cut through to me was by Berkeley alum Amit Deutsch. He spoke very honestly and earnestly about his journey as an Israeli student through the various perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Having been born and raised in Israel, he had a direct connection with the country. His grandparents endured the Holocaust, his parents grew up throughout the majority of the conflict with Palestine, and he even lost an uncle in one of the wars. How could he help but think that he and Israel were the victims here? There was so much hatred, vitriol, and violence coming from the Palestinians. They trained their children to be suicide bombers. And how could they not see how Israelis were being hurt?
He led us through his first exposure to an Israel-Palestine debate on the Berkeley campus. All he had to do was talk rationally about these points, explain how Israelis were being victimized, and they would understand, right? But there was so much hate, and not much listening or understanding.
After that, he became a crusader for the Israeli cause. He got to the point where he went to a conference for these fighting Israelis. As an attendee, he learned how to argue for Israel, and also how to drown out the noises of Palestine supporters. The turning point came during an argument with his roommates, when he simply couldn't believe that the Palestinians were complete monsters, and he simply withdrew from anything related to the conflict, and from his normal life for a time.
Eventually, a friend told him about a conflict-resolution program called Abraham's Vision that had changed her life. He decided to go for it. Along with a couple handfuls of Israeli and Palestinian students, he flew to the Balkans to see the results and continuances of conflict there.
During one particular argument, the Palestinian students brought up the issue of Gaza for the first time. This was just after the Gaza War, and they hadn't really talked about it yet. They were all putting their rational arguments out there. One student mentioned that his uncle had died in the war, and everybody just let it go past their heads, continuing to enumerate their points about why the other side was wrong. 'Well, he died because your side is'...etc.
And then a girl held up a hand and said to stop for a moment. This guy had just mentioned that his uncle died a couple months ago, and everyone had just completely ignored it. Amit said that statement made his blood freeze. His uncle had died in a conflict too, and he had seen how it tore apart his own family. This Palestinian kid was going through the same things he and his family had been forced to suffer.
This Palestinian kid was just human. And then the revelation came: what if we're all human? It sounds like an obvious concept, but we don't always think that way. What about terrorists? What about a whole nation of Nazis that perpetrated the Holocaust? What if everyone on the Palestinian side is just like us - they have their own rational arguments and their own contexts and their own emotional experiences from which they are drawing upon? Each side is always trying to delegitimize the other, and maybe we never stop to listen and think about the fact that they might be right as well.
That was one of his main points for the day - you have to try to understand others. Understanding their point of view does not mean you agree with them; nor does it make you a traitor to your own cause.
This is an argument I've had with my own mother. My mother doesn't understand why I defend the people she is excoriating (the Nazis, for instance). I always have to say that I am not defending their actions. I do not agree with what they did. I am just trying to say that they had their reasons, even if we can't see them out of the context. That doesn't mean that I condone their actions. It simply means that I am trying to understand how such a thing could have happened. Besides, if you don't know the cause of the problem, how can you hope to prevent it from ever happening again?