One could be forgiven for assuming the world is on the brink of collapse. There is no shortage of negativity and polarization, even for those who don鈥檛 seek it.

Social media sets negativity and division as defaults. Politicians run on them. We pass through life in a guarded posture, primed to harden our hearts to strangers.

To choose a more sanguine and conciliatory path under these man-made conditions demands an almost delusional spirit of rebellion. And yet it is possible.

The reverberations of the war in Gaza have permeated borders beyond the river and the sea and bled into our streets, legislatures and universities. From Israel to the Ivy League, we鈥檙e shown the most extreme elements of each side, impressing upon the public gross generalizations and a false sense of unbridgeable division.

We spotlight one student鈥檚 hateful 鈥淶ionists don鈥檛 deserve to live鈥 as sufficient to caricature pro-Palestinian protesters as invariably plagued by rank Jew-hatred and reverence for terrorists-turned-martyrs. We showcase a politician鈥檚 call to erase 鈥渢he Gaza Strip from the face of the Earth鈥 to smear supporters of Israel as cheerleaders for genocide.

Extremists who sabotage the very cause they purport to advance are common to all movements. To make them the moral of the story, however, only reinforces the notion that this conflict is beyond resolution. We resign ourselves to the cynic鈥檚 insistence that there is no hope of mixing oil and water.


But there is abundance in the land of milk and honey. Despite the magnification of the extremes, a collective of people occupies the center of the Venn diagram, where the two sides intersect and find commonality. I count myself among them.

I work with a diverse collective of progressive Jews focused on addressing antisemitism, with an emphasis on how anti-Jewish ideas and implicit biases affect conversations about Israel and Palestine. Underpinning our philosophy is the conviction that empathy for Muslims and Palestinians is part and parcel of the same for Jews and Israelis. As the grandson of a man who was once the sole Jewish member of parliament in pre-revolution Iran, I take Muslim-Jewish coexistence personally, even though I am not naive about its challenges.

At a time when people are fed a heavy diet of unconditional solidarity with their 鈥渟ide,鈥 we promote cross-communal dialogue, unsettling as it might be, because there is liberation in engaging in spite of our disagreements. Rather than taking the institutional approach of arming people with clever talking points to 鈥渨in鈥 debates, we empower them with tools for engagement.

We literally meet people where they are, whether at UCLA鈥檚 Gaza solidarity encampment or campus Jewish associations. We ask questions such as 鈥淗ow has this conflict personally affected you?鈥 and 鈥淒o you have family on the ground?鈥 Personal connections can be sparked when conversations aren鈥檛 agenda-driven and strict adherence to message discipline isn鈥檛 enforced. We might find that we identify with a person鈥檚 lived experience, so that instead of seeing an adversary on the other side, we see a partner.

This is not to paint a Pollyanna-ish picture. Some reject dialogue, some divisions can鈥檛 be papered over and some do harbor hatred.

But I have facilitated conversations with people who believed Jews should be held responsible for the actions of the Israeli government but came to understand the harm in their stance. I have led talks in which people who said they weren鈥檛 capable of empathy for Palestinians came to appreciate how connected our futures are.


What ultimately binds people in the center of the Venn diagram is an understanding that Israelis and Palestinians lack the luxury to be prisoners of a scarcity mentality 鈥 the notion that there isn鈥檛 enough for both peoples. Expecting ideological uniformity of our allies is a delusion that impairs our ability to see the bigger picture. Regardless of external pressures, we remain anchored by the realization of the two peoples鈥 shared fate. There will be no exodus of Israelis or Palestinians from the holy land.

That sobering realization puts everything into sharp focus. Trivial differences are shelved to build partnerships that can graduate into political change.

Insisting on our own exclusive righteousness only inflames division, perpetuates the unjust status quo and serves the people in power who benefit from it.

For every person screaming that there are 鈥渘o innocents in Gaza鈥 or that 鈥渁ll Israelis are settlers,鈥 there are others who center both peoples鈥 humanity. These are the Israeli and Palestinian activists, faith leaders and community organizers who take to the streets of Tel Aviv and the parks of New York to rally for what鈥檚 best not for one but for all, because they know there is no salvation for one without salvation for the other.

Look at the alternative: human beings held hostage, innocent people dying and starving, families grieving and hopeless.

The people should not pay for the sins of their leaders. The people want peace.

We have a choice between amplifying the attention seekers or the peace seekers, between broad coalitions or the shallow comfort of our ideological bubbles. We can serve as proof that being pro-Israeli doesn鈥檛 inherently mean you鈥檙e anti-Palestinian, and vice versa. We can acknowledge that one people鈥檚 miracle was another鈥檚 catastrophe. We can make room for the other鈥檚 narrative without compromising our own. We can choose the more sanguine path.

The change we long for is possible when we unite around a shared struggle to achieve collective liberation. Peace as we know it requires partners. And for peace to be made at the top, it must start at the grassroots.

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