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An answer to the question, ‘Why do you care so much about Israel/Palestine?’


An Israeli settlement sits to the right of Israel’s separation wall in East Jerusalem, dividing the Palestinian neighborhood to the left, from other Palestinian neighborhoods in the area

Joel Doerfler writes in Mondoweiss, “Several years ago, a student in my Israel-Palestine course approached me after class with a question.  Why, he wanted to know, did I care so much about this subject? The student liked my course, considered it fair-minded and had no complaints about the way I was teaching it. Though he didn’t share many of my critical views about Israel he understood and respected them. But why, he was wondering, did the subject so consume me?  Why did my relationship to this history feel so intense, so visceral?”

“Had I been a staunch defender of Israel the student probably wouldn’t have found my emotional investment surprising. Especially since I was avowedly Jewish it would have seemed to him “normal” for me to be teaching a class extolling Zionism and Israel. But what could be driving a Jew to invest so much critical energy in the subject? It was an honest question. The student wasn’t preparing the ground to hit me with the ever-popular Zionist talking point about “singling out” (“What about North Korea and Assad’s Syria and China? Why not focus on and criticize them? What have you got against the Jews?”). Rather, he was simply curious about why I was so focused on this particular history, this particular conflict. I never got back to him with a clear answer. But I’ve never stopped thinking about his question.”

Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian youth, who shows signs of being beaten,

“Here are my current thoughts on the subject: The most obvious but, in a way, most evasive response to the student’s query would have been simply to say:  “I have strong feelings because the Israel-Palestine conflict is of immense contemporary importance to the entire Middle East. And because America’s support for Israeli policies has made it deeply complicit in a long history of unjust actions and designs. And because the Palestinians have been victims of  imperial and settler-colonial domination, of exploitation and betrayal by their putative Arab ‘brethren,’ of divided and frequently inept leadership, and of international toleration of Israeli crimes.” Though I believe all these things to be true, however, they don’t, in themselves, satisfactorily account for the intensity of my intellectual and emotional investment.”  (more…)

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