"There really isn't anything we can do," my friend whispered to me on the phone, feeling helpless and scared. We'd just been informed that a close mutual friend of ours had been deployed to the Gaza border, in preparation for what has now become part of Israel's ongoing ground incursion in the Hamas-held territory. The thought of potentially losing a friend to the conflict at once entered my mind. My heart raced, and I sat down in a sweat of confusion. At that moment I realized that the realities in the Middle East had hit home in a profound and sickening way.
The recent conflagration in Gaza is deeply personal for many Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis watch as their family members and loved ones -- many of whom only recently graduated from high school -- are deployed to the front lines to battle a terrorist army committed to the destruction of their homeland. Meanwhile, many Palestinians look on as their loved ones in Gaza remain entrapped by the conflict, sometimes brought directly into danger and allegedly abhorrently used as human shields by Hamas. As efforts to achieve a ceasefire continue to be thwarted, many around the world are becoming frustrated and frightened. And unfortunately, the discontent in the diaspora is occasionally resulting in racism and violence.
Around the world over the past few weeks, rallies ordering Israel to cease its operation in Gaza have been staged. But some of these rallies have turned violent, threatening the safety of the local Jewish communities. In France pro-Palestinian rioters have reportedly attacked synagogues and other Jewish institutions in overt cases of anti-Semitism. According to reports, some of the protestors chanted such rhetoric as "Kill the Jews." These frightening examples of anti-Semitism in France have even prompted many French Jews to flee for safety.
Back in the United States a New York Times article reveals that a Muslim community in Brooklyn has become the target of local harassment due to the conflict. There have been several incidents of alleged pro-Israel supporters harming mosque goers on their way to prayers. Although these crimes seem minor compared to those in France, they are nevertheless terribly disconcerting.
The situation in Israel and Gaza undoubtedly has the potential to ignite the worst passions in some of those who care. But in order for there to be any meaningful resolution in the Middle East, it is critical for Jewish and Palestinian leaders in the diaspora to lead by example and definitely reject racism and the use of violence as a form of protest. In addition to that, it is imperative for leaders from both communities to speak out against violence when it does occur. In the case in Brooklyn, local members of the Orthodox Jewish community have spoken out against the harassment and have even publicly apologized to those impacted by the violence. And in France Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy, has denounced the anti-Semitic violence in his country -- though it will certainly take many more leaders to guarantee any real changes.
As personal as this war might be for many in the diaspora, it is crucial for our community to promote an environment that fosters respectful dialogue and debate. But more leaders on both sides must continue to advocate for respectful dialogue in order for change to come.
When I think about my Israeli friend over in Gaza, it is difficult for me to mitigate the role of my emotions on the topic. For similar reasons this conflict reaches the hearts of many across the world, and it likewise angers many. But for those of us who care, we must recognize the importance of civility and respect when engaging the other side. After all, how can we expect Palestinians and Israelis to respect one another when we can't even get along thousands of miles away from the battleground?