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When You Pull At A Thread And The Whole Thing Unravels
The importance of saying "and" instead of "but"
One of my favorite phrases is “no offense, but…” and I don’t mean favorite in a way that I like to use it or find it a nice way to engage, I mean favorite because it is so silly. You start off by saying “no offense,” then you immediately negate it and offer something offensive, and usually, unwelcome. Your plan is to be offensive, to contradict, to fight. It is an oxymoron, a complete shift in supposedly held beliefs from one breath to the next. 1) I don’t mean to offend you, but 2) I actually do.
There are two wars being fought right now. One, between Israel and Hamas. The other, between you and the guy who lived down the hall from you in your dorm or the former coworker whose baby’s name you can’t remember despite sending a gift, all of whom are hellbent on “no offense, but”-ing each other until our fingers cramp up and we fall asleep mid-tirade. We type faster than we’ve ever typed, with vim and vigor and anger and fear and armed with weapons — in this case, words.
In fact, you may take issue with my characterizing this as a “war” at all. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you, because the vast majority of casualties are non-combatants. Children. Too many children. But Hamas is both a terrorist group and a state actor, because it is the official government of Gaza, and it infiltrated Israel on October 7 and mass murdered over a thousand civilians including many children and kidnapped hundreds more. But there haven’t been elections in 17 years and half the population in Gaza is under 18. But Hamas embeds themselves among civilians on purpose and continues to send rockets into Israel. But, but, but.
Why must we negate one fact in favor of another? Can you believe in the importance of Israel defending itself from Hamas and also loudly condemn the IDF attacks on the Jabaliya refugee camp? Can you hope for Israel’s safety from days like October 7 and for Palestinians’ freedom to live without violent military occupation? Can you believe in Israel existing, and a free Palestine next to it? Can two things be true at once?
I’d like to think so, because that’s where I find myself: Trying to say “and” instead of “but.”
If you’re like me—and if you’re still reading, I suspect you are—your social media feeds have probably looked like one of these two things:
“Yes, there are Palestinian civilians dying—but there are hundreds of hostages being held in Gaza! Hamas slaughtered 1,400 Israelis in horrific and barbaric ways in the name of killing Jews, and if Israel doesn’t defend itself, they will do it again! Watch this video.”
“Yes, Hamas is holding Israeli hostages and killed Israeli civilians—but Israel is killing way more Palestinian civilians now! Israel’s military is bombing indiscriminately. Plus, Israel has been oppressing Palestinians for decades. Watch this video.”
Now, of course, my life experience is a biased one. I am a Jewish person who has spent a lot of time in Israel, who has friends there, who believes that a Jewish state existing is a worthwhile cause given our thousands of years of expulsion, persecution, and systematic murder (though, to be very clear, not a Jewish state led by Netanyahu and the other fascists behind him and not one that comes at the expense of innocent Palestinians. Just like I didn’t like America under Trump, a guy I didn’t vote for, I don’t like Bibi’s Israel, where there have been four elections in five years because it’s a parliamentary system and a ton of people hate him and his nationalist, racist coalition.)
For most of my life, the line “Israel is just defending itself” was a common refrain and one that I fully bought into. That lesson predated social media (and to be honest, even the internet was fairly new. We were still using dial-up.) It was easy to believe because I wasn’t exposed to evidence to the contrary. That has obviously since changed, and the truth — a much uglier situation — both devastated me and woke me up. Videos of settlers violently attacking Palestinians, the IDF humiliating Palestinians at checkpoints, firing bullets at Palestinian children throwing rocks. These things are all true and painful and important to watch and talk about and protest and I’m grateful to know them, if only because I can be a better advocate now.
I am pulling at the threads of my exclusively pro-Israel upbringing, and it is unraveling. It’s a giant mess, a pile of loose thread that I don’t know what to do with.
Saying “but” to it would mean tossing it all out into the garbage heap. It would mean that there was no truth in anything I’ve ever been told, even if it was a partial truth.
And there was truth in it. Yitzhak Rabin tried to make peace, and he was assassinated. Jewish history in Israel goes back thousands of years. Suicide bombings during the Second Intifada led to Israel building a wall around the West Bank. Israel agreed to the UN partition plan in 1948 and was immediately attacked by its neighbors. A million Jews were expelled from Arab countries and went to Israel. Israelis are not their government.
And there’s new truth too. Settlers are colonizers, and places like Hebron are subject to a clear system of apartheid. Netanyahu and other nationalist Israeli government officials have explicitly endorsed Palestinian displacement and not held perpetrators accountable. Many IDF soldiers abuse their power. Palestinian civilians are collectively punished. Israel hasn’t been a genuine peace partner in decades. I could get Israeli citizenship tomorrow, and a Palestinian couldn’t.
It’s a privilege to be able to say “and” at all, and I know that. I don’t expect Palestinians or Israelis to say “and” right now. They’ve been in and are going through hell. I’m just asking those of us not there to be open to the idea of saying and, because the messages we share and propagate can save or end lives.
I may be naive for thinking this makes a difference. I may be insane for believing a linguistic choice as simple as one word while thousands are unjustly dying and will continue to die has any impact.
And I also believe it, because how we talk about it and write about it and think about it will be part of what determines the course ahead for our world.
So please: Advocate for Palestinians dying at an unfathomable, unjust scale. Call your reps. Demand a ceasefire. Donate to Save the Children. Follow brave Palestinian journalists. Don’t look away from their coverage. Be horrified. And be horrified by what happened to Israelis on October 7. And advocate for Jews facing death threats on college campuses. And protest the Israeli government, holding them accountable for the crimes against humanity they are committing. And remember in demanding accountability from Israel that you not advocate for a genocide of Israeli civilians or Jews. And align yourself with the Israeli left, who have been working for years to fight the systemic inequality in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. And question your selective outrage. And march in the streets for the Sudanese, the Armenians, the Aboriginal, the Uyghurs, the Jews. Read Israeli history books and Palestinian history books. And remember you don’t represent your government, so they shouldn’t either.
I know saying “and” reads incredibly strangely, and your brain is going ‘that’s supposed to say “but!”’ and I’m going to keep doing it anyway while you ponder why we are primed to negate and fight instead of add to and further and question.
Thousands of Palestinians are horrifically dying at the hands of the IDF, and they are responding to a mass slaughter of their citizens. Israel suffered an unthinkable loss on October 7, and its response is disproportionate and unthinkable. Hamas is holding babies hostage in Gaza, and Israel is holding Palestinian political prisoners without trial. Israel is wrongly occupying the West Bank , and Israel is a legitimate country that exists just like any of its neighbors or any other country. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced by war in 1948, and many of the new Israelis were Holocaust survivors with nowhere else to go. And, and, and.
“And” allows for humanity. It allows us to advocate for people, not armies or governments or terrorist groups. It permits us to look at the situation as one affecting people, not a football game with teams trying to win.
Hamas’ actions were horrific. Israel’s response is horrific. And none of those civilians deserve it.
P.S. Follow these organizations, devoted to working towards peace, an end to the occupation, and a two-state solution.