With a few taps on a smartphone, any story on any corner of the world can be captured and shared with millions of global citizens. When we see just a few of these viral stories, we begin to shape an image in our head of a certain perspective, a group of people or even an entire place. This image can be a dangerous one – one that narrows compassion and understanding towards the unfamiliar.
Israel has been generally perceived under one image globally. Over the past decade or so, Israel has been widely understood as a place home to one group of people, one religion, one language, one sector of development, and one (very complex, but still one) conflict.
As I traveled around Israel and Palestine for the past few months, I questioned bias left and right, and tried to see places and people through the most objective lens possible. It then dawned on me that bias is actually not noise, but rather the greatest signal above all. When I began listening to the many biases in Israel and Palestine, I realized that there are a few great global misperceptions about this place.
“Pro-Israel” and “Pro-Palestine”
When we refer to conflict in Israel, assumptions turn to the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, the Israel-Palestine conflict is just one example of a deeper conflict between Arabs and Jews. This clash happens actually within Israel itself, where 20% of the population in Israel identifies as Arab, though they generally hold lower-class living and working status.
It is “understood” in Israel that places with high Arab populations are unsafe. Many of these places are actually just deep in poverty. There isn’t an absurd level of crime in lots of these neighborhoods. But, there is a high level of ignorance. Ignorance to the “other.” Ignorance to the stories that go unheard. Ignorance to a group of people that a nation actually greatly depends upon.
That being said, the notion of widespread conflict between Arabs and Jews is also far from reality. It is fact that many Arabs and Jews live side by side, sharing meals together, working together, building friendships together, raising the next generation together – the list goes on and on. These two groups thrive when they collaborate together with mutual respect for differences.
It isn’t about “Pro-Israel” or “Pro-Palestine.” Rather, it is about acknowledging – like many Israelis and Palestinians have already done – that Arabs and Jews can function respectfully side-by-side.
Israel is Judaism
When we think of Israel, we may jump to Jewish. We think Hebrew and Zionism. Israel was of course established almost seventy years ago as a Jewish state with a democratic outlook. Yet Israel is more of a melting pot than one would image. Jewish in and of itself is broad from Ashkenazi Jews to Sephardic Jews and Mizrahi Jews. To Jews from Russia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. To non-Jews from all around the world (like myself) who are drawn to this place for an unparalleled culture, for political understanding and for its developing hi-tech sector.
Israel is home to all kinds of languages besides Hebrew, Arabic and English. Israel is home to all kinds of political opinions besides those pertaining to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel is home to all kinds of religious and ethnic backgrounds. A top global entrepreneurial center, Israel is also home to all kinds of hi-tech development like AR/VR, FoodTech, Robotics, Machine Learning, Cyber Security and AdTech.
However fragmented this land seems, it is remarkably connected through the lack of unison. Israel is contradictory and complex. It is ahead, and it is behind. It is traditional, and it is modern. It is one, and it is two. And above all else, Israel is a reminder to the world that great wonder may come from great friction.