Over the past 27 days of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in which 1,712 people have been massacred, I have seen an incredibly impressive amount of engagement and education taking place between friends and over social media (the tide is turning). However – as with anything – there are always going to be disagreements, especially with a topic as polemical as Palestine/Israel. It is a tense topic, laden with hyperbole and emotion from both sides. As a firmly pro-Palestine young woman* I frequently find myself in somewhat sticky situations with friends, acquaintances and strangers. At first I used to avoid the subject like the plague but then I realised that that helps no one: I don’t defend a people who need defending and the poor person in front of me is no more aware of the truth. But when I decided to engage in those – sometimes uncomfortable – conversations I found myself getting incensed and frustrated by certain views. However, over the years I have subconsciously formed a set of cast-iron rules to deal with it that leaves me neither infuriated and usually leaves my relationships in tact.
- Understand that people are ignorant. Unfortunately the media is biased and pants, so the people you might encounter will thoughtlessly transmit the falsities the media has narrated without question. However, within themselves, people – unless they are pro-Zionists who believe in the genocidal project with all their suspect souls – are usually unaware or uneducated of the truth. By engaging them in reasoned conversation, you might open their mind to new ideas so do not be so foolish as to be frustrated by their lack of knowledge. Top tip: my old university tutor advised me to always ask questions: ‘imagine you’re in a seminar and trying to ask questions that lead the person into their own contradictions.’ Once you mine the mind of a pro-Zionist you see how weak their arguments are.
- Don’t get personal. It’s impossible to stay ‘neutral’ in this issue** and from experience, conversations are often heated but the golden rule is to not get personal. I learnt this the hard way: a university classmate was horrifically racist, Islamophobic and pro-Zionist and eventually unfriended me on Facebook at which point my Arabic blood boiled over and I messaged him: ‘good luck with your life you’ll need it’, the argument escalated until I sent him an emoticon of Miss Piggy. Weird, I know. I’m not proud of it. So when debating face-to-face as with social media do not stoop so low as to insult them personally, whether they are friends or not, you’ll only cheapen your argument. Try to change ideas and contribute to debates in a reasoned manner without getting embroiled in slurs. ‘Dumbass’ will never win you an argument. Make sure your words are simultaneously compelling and accurate.
- Don’t take it personally. Frequently I find someone who doesn’t see it the way I see really upsetting, especially when it comes out of a friend. But, sadly, sometimes people just don’t get it. In terms of arguments, few people can argue with fact so talk to them about human rights – an undeniable aspect – and let the death toll (sadly) speak for itself. They are free to think what they want even if it’s stupid – it is your job to explain the situation as you see it and not take it as a personal attack. (I’m still trying to take my own advice).
- Get educated. You can’t go into a conversation with anyone on this issue without proper knowledge. You’ll need to back your points up to make them convincing and your argument watertight. Knowledge is power, information is power and truth is power. You need the first two to find to third.
- Don’t be anti-Semitic. This should be clear as day but sadly, many conflate Judaism (the religion) with Zionism (the political ideology). It is worth remembering that there are many Jews out there who reject Israel’s actions (and equally there are many who aren’t Jewish who defend them) and it belittles your case to insult the global Jewry with the crimes of Israel.
- Know when to stop. If this is someone you’re friends with and/or respect it will not do to sever what you have for something you don’t see eye to eye on. Now if, by defending Israel, they have shown an uglier face than the one you saw, and it leads to a change in the nature of your relationship than that is another matter, but don’t push someone to the point that you cannot salvage your relationship if they’re someone you want to keep around. There are ways and means to be vocal and active that don’t necessarily involve jeopardizing relationships. Protest, boycott, write, contact MPs, sign petitions etc. Additionally, there’s a time and place, birthday parties and nightclubs at 4am aren’t one of them. Palestine-Israel debates could sour the atmosphere and create undue tensions, of course, sense the room but your message might make more of an impact if appropriately timed – I spoke to a drunkDaily Mail reader after an Eminem gig thinking he’d see the light, my optimism surprises even me sometimes. You may have the truth on your side but people often don’t like hearing that when drunk or at a dinner party. Pick your moments people (but don’t shy away from voicing your opinions in a polite and concise way)
- Beware the perils of social media. Social media is awesome, it allows you to stalk Exes, read Buzzfeed’s Disney compilations and catch up with friends in Colombia. It also allows you to get the latest news from people all over the world without the media sensors; instead you get to use your integrity to determine the morality of current affairs (a win for democracy). Social media has become the latest battleground for conflict and it’s so influential it’s actually impacting how mainstream media reports! However, you must still exercise caution. First, if you’re going to comment on something about Palestine-Israel on Facebook be careful, it might cause a shit storm and you could be at the epicenter, that’s not a bad thing but it certainly is something to bear in mind. As for twitter: trolls exist everywhere, don’t waste precious characters trying to reason or diss. Sadly it’s a waste of virtual breath. I once got trolled by a redneck who compared Malcolm X to Boko Haram (words failed me). So be careful about how much you post on social media, many might be put off, and that’s the price you will unfortunately have to pay for spreading news. Also watch out for bloody and harrowing images, I agree we need to see them to understand the severity of the slaughter but it can be too much if you’re just scrolling down your feed on a Tuesday afternoon.
Good luck, friends!
*I resent the phrase ‘pro-Palestine because a) it sounds like some sort of Twilight ‘Team Jacob/Edward’ shit when actually we’re talking about a genocide and b) I believe that anyone who knows the truth is supportive of Palestinian. The middle ground falls in the Palestinian camp when one considers the ethnic cleansing, genocide, apartheid and colonisation of Palestine.
**Neutrality is either ignorance or complicity in the war crime. Period. Moreover ‘neutrality’ falls on the side of the Palestinians by virtue of history since 1948
Like: Zena Agha