On being disconnected from Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Opinion Column: Waxing Philosophical
Walking with mild content on Wednesday, Oct. 21, I was leaving my philosophy class and heading toward the student center on College Ave. Piercing through the average drone traffic by Brower, I crested the steps to look down upon two groups of students in stark opposition of each other, both literally and physically. The tension sat heavy in the air, murky in all perceptions but sight, and cast before me were signs with many Palestinian names, all in a foreign tongue. Crossing the street toward the opposing camp, I was greeted by an old friend, a member of the Rutgers’ Jewish community. I knew better than to entertain any arguments in such a setting, and despite having friendly acquaintances with both camps, I am generally sympathetic with the Palestinians. However, I have never been able to fully engage this issue with endorsement on either side because there never seems to be a clear moral agent in operation. Political deception, world theatrics, heavenly justification — where does one begin to take root and make a stance?
After passing through Wednesday’s extension of battle, I immediately went home and took comfort in Homer’s “Iliad” and found Book XII to be the appropriate chapter for reflection. “Just because some god exalts you in battle,” says Polydamas to Hector, “... you think you can beat the rest at tactics. How can you hope to garner all the gifts at once?” And there one has it: perpetual war by two unreasonable (toward each other anyway) sides. Then this moral and emotional disconnect became clear to me. My view on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not from any misguided apathy, but rather a feeling of, “I’ve seen this before.” What is to be said for any good (Catholic) Irish-American, raised in a lower-middle class background with ties back to old Eire herself? Perhaps, at least on my part, an unwavering and often unspoken support for the struggle between the IRA and Britain. Growing up, there seemed to be no question about it, the attacks were necessary to bring about a unified island, free of British interference and provocation. Or, so I naively thought at the time.
Having been to Ireland on several occasions, there is a tension, especially in the northern villages and cities, similar to the one experienced Wednesday: silent, thick and unspoken. How I despised the British and praised the men who brandished black masks and Americans that provided Armalite assault rifles — it sickens me in reflection. Now, with a bit more individualism and much less religiosity, I no longer view the IRA cause as the noble attempt I once thought it to be. Times have changed as well, no longer do mailboxes explode in expedient fireballs that level street corners. No longer do the British police fail to act on advanced warning, thereby allowing the IRA to reach a higher body count. My thoughts on the mistitled civil war have changed, and no longer can peaceful justification for actions be had for both sides — Irish and British, Palestinian and Israeli. Perpetual chaos is not an answer to stagnant relationships, or so I surmise.
Once, while in the small nautical city of Drogheda, in County Louth, I was told a story by a local cab driver. He happened to be living in London (not an uncommon thing for many Irish workers) during the troubles, and after the 1993 Bishopsgate Bombing, he was detained, interrogated and tortured, all because his Irish tongue had brought about suspicion from the police. I asked him how he felt about the whole ordeal in retrospect, and he replied with a statement about how the actions of a few always hurt those just trying to stay alive. He said with his beautiful brogue, “We support those who do the deeds we ourselves couldn’t fathom, yet we suffer the same consequence, as if we were also guilty.” Perpetual chaos at the hands of those who keep the violent momentum in order.
So, my gray stance seems to stem from earlier, older discontents with the notion of suffering at the hands of the few and for no real reason except artificial allegiances. Masked men appealing to God and country, tanks prowling poisoned lanes with full intent to distribute the most violent form of street justice, yet dialogue seems to be the hardest thing to come by. Open conversation, free of bullets and bombs, does not make the appearance. If neither party can be said to be wrong, than how can anyone be right? Zeus, in “The Odyssey,” says with a blithe indifference, “Ah how shameless — the way these mortals blame the gods. From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes, but they themselves, with their own reckless ways, compound their pains beyond their proper share.”
Jonathan Finnerty is a School of Arts Sciences junior majoring in classics and philosophy. His column, "Waxing Philosophical," runs on alternate Friday's.