Getting off the Israeli/Palestinian fence can be dangerous

Hurt people hurt people; the cycle of violence has to end somewhere

Ma, me voy a la marcha. Si me ves, no dispares. / Mom, I’m getting off the fence. If you see me, don’t shoot.

Graphic by Charlotte Bracho.

I’ve been on the fence forever. I have simultaneously critiqued and engaged in conversations about intersectional feminism, race issues, religious issues, gender and sexuality issues. You name it, I’ve talked about it. I’ve been pro-strike, pro-marches, pro-vigils… but I’ve not attended marches, strikes or vigils. I have my values, thank you very much. They are good values. I value freedom of expression, gender equality, inclusivity, all those wonderful things other people have fought for and have been killed for everywhere.

But I’ve stayed on the fence; I’m an international student but I live in intersections of privilege that could be denied to me by institutions—university, governments, states—if I take a side. Who ever willingly risks their privilege? Why would the struggle of these other people interest someone like me? Why should I care?

About a year ago, I found myself in an uncomfortable position. Everybody around me was talking Palestine, and whenever we spoke, mother, I had to tread lightly because all the voices calling Palestine paled to your round-about way of whispering Israel.

We have family there, you mentioned. My grandmother lived through the Holocaust, you said. Isn’t it time the Jews (I notice you don’t identify as such, mother) got some of their own back, you implied. Think what you want, you said when I whimper Palestine, but don’t forget you are still Jewish. Don’t forget that Israel is surrounded by nations that want her dead, much like my great-grandmother and grandfather were surrounded by those who wanted them dead; Jews have done what they must to survive. So I have paid lip service to values, complained about my privilege, agonized. And I stayed on the fence.

But mother, you were also the one who taught me to respect others’ right to live, no matter how incomprehensible I found them. You quoted often something which went along the lines of: “Someone came to us asking for help, but since they were not us, we ignored it. Someone else did the same, and yet we, since they were not us, ignored them. When they came to destroy us we turned to cry for help, but there was no one left.”

You have told me this my entire life, inadvertently giving me an out, a core reason to care, so please understand, I cannot ignore them; they are us.

And so I find myself dreading to call you, because I’m tired. I just supported a friend challenging my community’s values; I just dealt with a team member for a school project who behaved like an ass because I happened to say that every day Palestinian people are killed, bombed, murdered. They don’t believe Palestine exists, as if death was a matter of belief.

I just got off the fence and I’m tired, wondering how it is that we survive not only knowing but being aware of how people hurt people, everywhere, all the time.

I dread calling you because I’ve finally gotten off the fence about this, and I’m no longer sure your support is unwavering, nor that I’ll walk away from our conversation with my heart unscathed.

But staying on the fence means that no matter how much I might decry gendered violence in all cultures; might oppose environmental destruction; stand in solidarity with First Nations; support teachers, nurses, bus drivers, workers rights to a livable wage; or the right of society—all societies—at large to quality education and health care.

Not matter what else I do, if there is a part of me capable of generally dismissing the commonplace violence done to a people not my own by people who could be my own as irrelevant.

Mother, I’m getting off the fence. Thank you for the safety of my skin tone; for the elite education; for the walls between me and those you thought would do me harm, the walls between them and the very small group, our family, which made up us. Thank you. I cannot stay.

Ma. Me voy a la marcha. Si me ves, no dispares.

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