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March 06, 2014

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

As readers of my blog, you may be starting to realize that I have a tendency to experience obsessive phases. Hillbillies, royal family, Disney, etc... And those are just the obsessions I've mentioned on my blog. I've done this for as long as I can remember. Life's just no fun if you don't have something to obsess over.

But my most recent obsession was perhaps the most unexpected and surprising one to date.

Over the Christmas holidays, 9 out of my 10 family members got sick. Unfortunately for me, I was not the lucky 10th family member.

I got a double ear infection plus a really bad cold/flu, which I still maintain could have been H1N1, considering that's what my dad was afflicted with. Honestly, I think my immune system is still recovering, and with my recouping came a lot of spare time.

It all started when I read the book The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini during this recouping period. I'd meant to read this book ever since it came out in 2003. It only took me 11 years to get around to it...

I'd heard good things, but I knew next to nothing about the actual story. When I began reading, I wasn't all that interested, and I found it difficult to keep track of all the different Afghan names and words. But whenever I began to feel like I was slogging through the book, it would smack me with some shocking and completely unexpected plot twist.

By the end of the book, I couldn't put it down, and I was so impressed with it that I immediately moved on to Hosseini's second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which was equally excellent.

Through reading both of these books centered around Afghanistan, I came to the realization that I was not only embarrassingly ignorant and uneducated on Afghanistan, but also the Middle East in general. I'm ashamed to say that I had essentially written off the entire region as being a war-torn, unsolvable, primitive mess.

This realization launched me into a pursuit of knowledge and discovery of the Middle East's fascinating history and culture, moving from country to country.

But I was very much opposed to getting into anything that involved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because that really was an unsolvable mess. *foreshadow*

As with any of my "phases", relevant movies soon followed, beginning with The Kite Runner movie. Like most films adapted from novels, it was not as good as the book, but a worthy effort. Then followed Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, and Not Without My Daughter, all of which I'd seen and enjoyed before. But, not surprisingly, these three movies were very much from the point of view of Western society, and given the subjects of these movies, that's rather valid. But I was wanting a deeper, more varied look at the Middle East.

So I began watching short documentaries about different Middle Eastern countries or major occurrences like the Arab Spring. But with any of these searches, videos pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would inevitably pop up in the related search field.

Since they didn't go away, I finally decided to watch some of these Israeli-Palestinian videos to confirm what I thought I already knew, which essentially ended up being an uninformed opinion riddled with Western indoctrination.

Although the first couple videos I watched were somewhat educational on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they were obviously biased in Israel's favor. Considering I was horribly uninformed about the history of this conflict, it was good to have much of it cleared up, however biased it may have been. But I've never liked being told how to think, which makes the fact that I was so unwittingly affected by Western propaganda all the more appalling and obnoxious. This discovery spurred on round two of my investigating, this time into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I wanted to see the opposing side's point of view, and I came across a short video. I'd like to think it's pretty unbiased because it's advocating for the Palestinians, and the producer of the video is a group called "Jewish Voice for Peace".

I'd definitely encourage watching this video to determine how much you did or didn't know about this topic. And yes, it has a corny and cliched ending, but I suppose cliches are cliches because there's some fundamental truth to them.

After watching this video, and a few other more evenly-biased videos, I couldn't believe how little I knew about the oppression of the Palestinians, especially considering I watch the news for a living. The lack of information or twisting of truths from Western media is, I believe, one of the factors that enraged me the most about this issue.

One of the best documentaries surrounding this conflict that I've watched so far describes this media censoring and, essentially, propaganda of Western society: Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land. This video can be found on Youtube. It is pretty eye-opening.

There are countless tragic situations in the world, but I feel that most of these situations aren't as concealed or blindly biased as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It would be naive to think that any and all political world issues aren't acted upon with hidden agendas, but I feel that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict takes the cake in this regard.

Now, before I go any further, I cannot emphasize enough that in no way do I hold any anti-Semitic beliefs (a word which, through my studies, I now find to be a confusing term as "Semitic" actually refers to any people who speak Semitic languages, which includes Hebrew and Arabic), and I certainly don't agree with acts of terror or violent, hateful extremist movements. I think the fact that initially I was blindly siding with Israel when knowing next to nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict attests to the fact that I'm not anti-Semitic.

I mean, how could you not love Tevye, for instance?

Judaism is a religious group that I have incredible respect for. They are a hardy people that have suffered and been persecuted for centuries, many of these hardy people being my own prophets, as well as Muslim prophets. If you were to ask me if I've ever had any political-religious obsession besides the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I would tell you that when I was in the 12th grade, I went through an extreme period of mourning the events of the Holocaust. Essentially, through inappropriate actions of a select few of my peers, I felt that said peers did not place enough respect and reverence on the Holocaust, and I took it upon myself to be a psychological martyr to make up for their deficiencies. That is definitely another story for another time.

It has been a more recent discovery (the last few years) of my profound respect for Islam. My fellow Mormons may be interested in this Wikipedia page regarding Mormon-Muslim relations. I find the similarities between our religions fascinating and subsequently feel a great fellowship with Muslims. This feeling coupled with my recent investigating of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Middle East led me to one of the most comforting church articles I have ever read: A Latter-day Saint Perspective on Muhammad by James A. Toronto. This article is a treasure trove of inspiration, and I strongly encourage reading it some time, but if you don't have time, or just to give you a sneak preview, here are some of the standout passages for me:
“Be respectful of the opinions and feelings of other people. Recognize their virtues; don’t look for their faults. Look for their strengths and their virtues, and you will find strength and virtues that will be helpful in your own life.” - President Gordon B. Hinckley
Or as Pollyanna would so eloquently put it: "When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will."
The Book of Mormon teaches that Heavenly Father “is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; … and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth” (Alma 26:37; see also 1 Ne. 1:14). Because of this love for His children of all nations, the Lord has provided spiritual light to guide and enrich their lives. Elder Orson F. Whitney (1855–1931) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed that God “is using not only his covenant people, but other peoples as well, to consummate a work, stupendous, magnificent, and altogether too arduous for this little handful of Saints to accomplish by and of themselves.” 
Elder B. H. Roberts (1857–1933) of the Seventy also spoke on this doctrine: “While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established for the instruction of men; and it is one of God’s instrumentalities for making known the truth yet he is not limited to that institution for such purposes, neither in time nor place. God raises up wise men and prophets here and there among all the children of men, of their own tongue and nationality, speaking to them through means that they can comprehend. … All the great teachers are servants of God; among all nations and in all ages. They are inspired men, appointed to instruct God’s children according to the conditions in the midst of which he finds them."
These next quotes led me to another fantastic article by Dieter F. Uchtdorf: What is Truth.
The Prophet Joseph Smith often expounded on this theme of the universality of God’s love and the related need to remain open to all available sources of divine light and knowledge. “One of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism,’” he said, “is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” The Prophet exhorted Church members to “gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them."
Latter-day Saint appreciation of Muhammad’s role in history can also be found in the 1978 First Presidency statement regarding God’s love for all mankind. This declaration specifically mentions Muhammad as one of “the great religious leaders of the world” who received “a portion of God’s light” and affirms that “moral truths were given to [these leaders] by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”
This last quote contains one of the most enlightening and comforting thoughts I've ever read:
The Prophet Joseph Smith, in one of his most eloquent pronouncements on tolerance and compassion, encouraged the Saints to expand their vision of the human family, to view people of other faiths and cultures as our Heavenly Father does and not according to the “narrow, contracted notions of men.” He taught that the Father will take complex personal, political, and social circumstances into account at the last day and render final judgment based on a divine, merciful perspective that surpasses our limited human understanding.
I don't know about you, but I readily admit that I a have an incredibly "limited human understanding". I often get hung up on the injustices of this world and the unfair circumstances that many innocent, good people are forced into. So I find it indescribably wonderful that the level of God's mercy is beyond my, and everyone else's, comprehension!

One of my favorite Palestinian movies I watched during this phase was Paradise Now. Simply put, it is about Palestinian life, particularly two friends who have been chosen to be suicide bombers, admittedly a bit of a taboo topic. I have seen some criticize and condemn it on the internet because they don't think that suicide bombers should be humanized. As I alluded to before, and will emphasize again, in no way do I agree with suicide bombings. However, I don't think it's good to dehumanize anyone. Dehumanizing has led to some pretty horrific situations throughout history. How can you understand people's motivations, and thereby fix negative consequences of those, if you don't look at the root causes of those motivations. In my humble opinion, the world could benefit from increased viewings of movies that focus on humanity and encourage empathy.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, like so many other issues in this world, is clearly not a black-and-white issue. In no way am I saying one group is wholly right and one group is wholly wrong. I do not profess to be an expert in the matter by any means, and therefore, I don't have any groundbreaking solutions to the issue. I personally think that a two-state solution is the best solution tabled so far, but even that will require much cooperation, forgiveness and compassion. But I hope that through this blog post I have contributed even in the tiniest amount to raising this issue to those who, like me, previously knew very little regarding it and may have even been harboring unfounded biases or prejudices.

In the end, this latest obsession of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict led me to a greater understanding of God's love for all mankind, and that I need to strive harder to judge less, seek for truth and understanding, and love more (as cliched as that may sound). So good work, obsessiveness.

In closing, let me now tell you of the amusing extent of this recent obsession...

I cannot stop eating hummus. I typically have two or three packages of hummus in the fridge with backup supplies of pita chips to eat with the hummus.

Besides hummus, Eric and I found a fantastic donair/shawarma place, Pita Grill. For those of you who don't know, Eric is from Fort McMurray, and although I'm not a big fan of Fort McMurray, I do admit that there were amazing donairs at Jomaa's in Fort McMurray. This new place in Calgary is the first place Eric has tolerated as comparable.

Sweet, juicy meats. Hom nom.

I now possess a proficient knowledge in Israeli-Palestinian cinema. In an effort to move away from movies with Western points of view, I turned to foreign cinema. I've lost count of how many Israeli/Palestinian/Muslim/Arabic movies I watched. If you ever need recommendations in this genre, I've got you covered! I actually know multiple Palestinian actors and actresses by name now.

My Valetine's gift from Eric (which is still in progress) is some Keffiyehs (Palestinian scarves) from Women in Hebron, a Palestinian nonprofit fair trade cooperative.

Eric is wonderful and supportive of my obsessions and phases. So he watched a number of the movies and documentaries with me. He's a peach.

"I said it's a peach!"
After the Khaled Hosseini books (I still have one of his books to read), I read Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa. T'was quite fantastic, and I definitely recommend it. 

I got a little overly ambitious and considered learning Arabic. Good gracious, is it ever tough to wrap your head around the reading-right-to-left concept. Though it's not a completely scrapped idea, it's likely that you can add that to my list of failed second-language attempts, along with French, Irish, and German. Pretty soon I'm going to a have a 1-year-old's language abilities in a plethora of languages! At least I found this catchy song, if nothing else.

I am now seriously considering a trip to Israel -- what's that, Mom? No, of course I'm not considering going to a conflict-ridden country...

And I'm pretty sure I'm on some sort of watch list now.

You'd better believe I've watched Aladdin a couple times during this phase. It's a bonus when two of my obsessions cross. And fun fact, the animator of Genie has said that he always imagined Genie as Jewish, which is why he says some Yiddish phrases.

Oh, Disney.

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