Driving from Gush Etzion to Jerusalem, I, along with the thirty-something fellow Write On students, engaged in a heated discussion following our first (of two) encounters with Palestinians. “The Palestinians refuse to acknowledge facts,” one of my peers began. “And that’s why we’ll never have peace.” The entire bus clapped. I was shocked.
Why were my friends who wanted to learn how to defend Israel on college campuses cheering because there would never be peace?
It clicked: “we,” the pro-Israel side, had won the argument by concluding that a fundamental flaw in Palestinian society, promoting a biased narrative that excludes certain facts (which pro-Israel educators also do), prevents peace. Too often, winning the battle of talking points felt to be the ultimate goal of our work when learning about Israel and Zionist history. But it shouldn’t be because if you win the argument and stop there, you’re doing something wrong.
If you win the argument and stop there, you’re doing something wrong.
Our educators told us that our goal as pro-Israel advocates should be to convince the 80% in the middle who do not have opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But our goal should also be to reach the proverbial 10% who we say would never change their minds about the conflict—just in a different way. While allocating resources to fight the passage of a hypothetical BDS resolution is important, we should not end there. We should use our energy to truly reach the 10% and to build bridges between the Israeli and Palestinian communities because ultimately, the two peoples’ futures are intrinsically connected. If we focus on exchanging talking points instead of understanding one another, we will only perpetuate the stalemate that currently exists in the peace process. From our meetings with various Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals, I found that they all felt that there is no viable negotiating partner on the “other side”—and that’s because there isn’t. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to change the status quo.
Instead of blaming Palestinians for the current statement, work to change it. The future of Israel rests on more than just your arguments. Leverage your perspective for the better, and be open to change. Your teachers, just like Palestinian teachers, probably got some of their facts wrong.
Sara Serfaty is a senior at Abraham Joshua Heschel School and is a member of the Write On For Israel class of 2018.