In 1990, I went to Israel for a two-week study mission. I spent time in Gaza and the West Bank.

I recall how evening conversations periodically were interrupted during my stay at a kibbutz in Kiryat Shmona by artillery fire coming from Lebanon. It was part of the routine for natives, but my short stay did not afford me the time to grow accustom.

I met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, including future Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. My overarching observation then, as it is now, was that the truth in this convoluted narrative was invariably based on who is telling the story.

It is through this lens that I view the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a tragic intermission that has successfully obfuscated the larger issues.

Under the rubric of disputed ideology and history, the Palestinians have their movements restricted, while Israelis live in fear, each serving to formally and informally occupy the other. Both helplessly cling to their version of the story without acknowledging its imperfections.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr often warned about the danger of placing complex issues in the simplistic framework of good versus evil. He opined that the choice is more often between evil and more evil.

When one becomes absolutely convinced of the truth of a position, it can create blindness to the areas where that position may be lacking.


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Proclaiming with certainty that one is either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian acts as a morphine that numbs against the pain of the other side. Using "Yes, but ..." as the primary buffer against any point that runs counter to their narrative means there is no obligation to see the humanity in the side they oppose.

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its present form, is it even possible to be pro one side without being anti the other?

It is a conflict where propaganda masquerades as an integral part of history, thereby vindicating one's point of view, where the "two-state solution" is more apt to be a punch line than an achievable goal.

This makes sense when the dominant ethos is to view the other side by its worst attributes. It is to live in a black-and-white world where Israelis are occupiers and Palestinians are terrorist.

The complexity of the story requires oversimplification if it is to fit neatly within the contours of social media or the 24-hour news cycle.

The debate sits uncomfortably on a reactionary axis, where self-assurance trumps being circumspect.

However this latest tragedy ends, the long-term damage already has been realized. Each side is further entrenched in the comfort of its own story.

In January, former lead Palestinian negotiator Muhammad Shtayyeh said, "We know that Israel wants a permanent military presence in the Jordan Valley, which we will never accept. Never."

From the Palestinian perspective, Shtayyeh's statement would make the discontinuation of Israeli occupation a perquisite for peace. But Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, also in January, was still calling for the annihilation of Israel.

Both sides are at impenetrable stalemate, resulting in irreconcilable differences. And this is before any discussion of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

When the state of Israel was established in 1948, the world could still hear the cries emanating from infamous places such as Dachau, Belzec, and Auschwitz, but it also served to deafen the cries of Palestinian pain. The historical pain paralyzes both sides of this conflict; they are either unable or unwilling to let go.

The history of this conflict is useful, if it can serve as a road map to a peaceful solution. However, it is of little value if it used to maintain the ongoing absurdity.

To be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, in its current form, equates to support for the disastrous status quo. As George Bernard Shaw opined, "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything."

Byron Williams is a contributing columnist. Contact him at 510-208-6417 or byron@byronspeaks.com.