Here we go again: a Jewish American friend of mine posted a critique of Israeli policy in Gaza on her Facebook profile. Immediately, she got bullied: “I’m there right now and it’s very easy to post things on your facebook without having any first hand encounters. Rather than copying and pasting what somebody wrote in a book, try coming down here for a week and living like the Israelis on the border that are still living with rocket attacks daily. […] I am typing this on my phone on base in gaza. Please look into the situation again and talk to people that understand it a little better”
Israel always seems to be somewhere you can’t talk about unless you’re currently there. Because no one else, least of all American Jews, has enough experience to form an opinion. Maybe it’s time to explode this myth of Israeli Experience.
- Did you know that Israelis frequently use the experience argument to silence each other? A year ago, I was marching in Tel Aviv with other Israelis protesting the attack on Gaza. People yelled at us that we didn’t know or care about the real suffering of the citizens in Sderot (as if we need to choose between a normal life for them, and the lives of dozens of Gazan children). We were supposed to stay silent because we didn’t live through the Qassam rockets. A few days later, a woman whose house had actually been hit by a rocket published an article against the war. You would think this was enough experience – but in fact it was too much: people commented she had “battered wives’ syndrome”: because her house had been hit she could no longer form an objective opinion. So you can never have enough experience to oppose a war, no matter what you’ve been through.
- Have you ever heard someone say “as someone who doesn’t live in Israel, I’d support crazy militaristic policies, but maybe I don’t know enough”? The experience mystique only works in one direction.
- Let me tell you: Jewish Israelis are very deeply ignorant about Palestinian experience. Most people rely on some tired clichés about Islam, and don’t have the foggiest clue about what it’s like to live under occupation. There are settlers who don’t know they live beyond the Green Line. I talked to a soldier who served in Bilin thinking he was protecting the 1967 border, not an annexation wall that runs deep into Palestinian territory (and this is someone who actually saw the reality in the West Bank – many Israelis only see it on TV).
- Everyone has an opinion about Iran. People see protestors being bludgeoned to death by the police, and very naturally feel outraged. It’s totally ok for Israelis to form an opinion about that, even if they have never set foot in Iran. Because when it comes to other countries, moral outrage is enough.
- Most Israelis DON’T live under constant physical threat. Since 2005 there have been very few suicide bombings. Rocket attacks mostly affected areas close to Gaza. Since 1948 Israelis have always enjoyed more security and fewer threats to their lives than Palestinians, better access to food and water, less restrictions on health and education services. It is often more convenient to feel victimized or to bring up hypothetical dangers in order not to discuss actual privileges and complicity with the suffering of others. This moral laxity should never be encouraged.
- Finally, there is never one unambiguous lesson to be drawn from experience. Take the Holocaust: some people saw it as a justification for a strong army, while others decided to show more solidarity in the struggle against racism. You always need to interpret.
Too often people allow the experience argument to silence them. How about trusting your outrage, and getting involved?