This blog post is by Zach Schaffer, a junior studying political science and communication/rhetoric at the University of Pittsburgh. On campus he is an Israel advocate, leader in Hillel, photographer, and brother of Beta Theta Pi.
I was recently browsing through my Facebook newsfeed when I saw a vehemently anti-Israel post by one of my friends. It was his fifth such post in one week. Another friend of mine engaged him in the comments with a laundry list of facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Seven people and fifteen posts later he had yet to be convinced of anything. They both aggressively confronted each other with facts, numbers, and bias. The post was not a conversation but a battleground.
The David Project has taught me the futility of engaging in Israel advocacy in war zones such as that. I learned that the most effectual advocacy is to beat my sword into a plowshare. In other words, cordially address Jack as a friend rather than confront him as an enemy. I decided to engage the person and not the argument. Nothing I said would have mattered if he was not receptive to listening. I posted a comment stating that I have been studying the conflict and visiting Israel over the past two years. I told him that I would love to give him the Israel narrative if he was interested; to my surprise, he was.
Two hours and fourteen minutes later it was 12:30 AM and we decided it was time to sleep. Most of what he knew about Israel was from online research and the news. He had only ever studied the Palestinian narrative and had ignored the Jewish/Israeli story. That is what I hoped to present to him.
I did my best job in giving him 3,000 years of history. We discussed UN documents, all of Israel’s major wars, and the ongoing Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. I tried to illustrate to him the nuance in the conflict by presenting him with both of the narratives. For example, even though the war in 1948 meant catastrophe for the Arabs, it was independence for the Jews. This does not mean that only one of those interpretations is right; within reality there can be many narratives, all with legitimacy.
I maintained his respect throughout the conversation by being a friend and not an instructor. I shared my knowledge and experiences while I also listened to his. I recognized the Palestinian narrative, I admitted to Israel’s mistakes, and I held true to my core beliefs. We worked together in understanding and empathizing with both narratives instead of arguing about which one was right. Through patience and perseverance I was able to give him a better understanding of the conflict and of both of the narratives. It has been almost a week and he has yet to post any more anti-Israel content on his page.
He was very appreciative that I took so much time out of my day to speak with him. This past week we have been sharing news articles and thoughts about what is currently unraveling in Operation Protective Edge. I not only helped him to see another side but I gained his respect as well. I am hopeful that he will come back to me with further questions.
We were able to withdraw from the battlefield and retreat back to the negotiating room, and that is why our conversation was successful. We need to stop looking at our opponents as swords and approach them as plowshares; it is the only way to get them to listen and it is the only way to make a difference.