Tribal Questions: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Goes to Facebook

At some point this weekend, I noticed a minor adjustment to Facebook’s front-page console: along with status updates, photos, links, and videos, the social network’s 500 million users have been given the option of asking popular “questions” to friends and general audiences.
I’m not going to comment on the intricate, stochastic social dynamic behind Facebook or any of its new components. But as a columnist on Middle Eastern affairs, one recently popular question has arrested me: “Are you with…? Palestenian (sic) or Israel?” Simple and dichotomous as that.
Leaving no room for ambiguity, the question in its essence excludes the possibility of peace. As a member of the declining, but ever-inclusive peace camp, I have determined not to respond to the ill-conceived question. Comfortable only with the logic of conflict, the would-be pollster ignores the rational calculus of peace: a prosperous, sound Palestine is good for Israel, and vice versa. In truth, a vote for the Israeli side should be coterminous with a vote for the Palestinian side.
Yet as of this writing, 363,000 have come down in clicks on one side or the other. In step with the recent predominance of Israel-critical coverage in the international media, a healthy 57% have selected the woefully misspelled Palestinian option – giving pause to old poll results that indicate a strong American preference for Israel.
The pattern of responses is hardly surprising: the balance of Palestinian responses are by Arabs and Muslims, while most selecting Israel appear to be Jewish. Given the constraints, these results make rational, evolutionary sense. Why would you not vote for your own side, if forced to choose dichotomously? As an ardently-identifying Jew with a strong affinity for Israel, I would. My Jewish and Muslim friends have, with few exceptions, followed the same line. I suppose that in responding, they’ve been more honest than me – beset by qualifications and sensibilities despite my clear allegiance to one side if forced to fight, defend, or merely respond.
This is none other than tribalism, which at its best explains why I derive pride from the Israeli flag on my wall and stir when I hear HaTikva, but at its worst accounts for Baruch Goldstein and the bombed-out buses of the Intifada. If we allow that it’s appropriate to feel part of a nation or an ethnic group, then it certainly has its place. However, it is indeed hard to imagine that we need any more of it circulating out there, especially in the concentrated form of a question that asks respondents to pick a side – with the implication that the other should ideally drop off the face of the earth.
As the nearby prospect of peace grows increasingly unlikely, the Facebook question reinforces the resurgent notion that reconciliation is a waste – it’s better to stick to one’s own kind. But against the grain of the 363,000 online respondents, I’m issuing a challenge. Unless you actually do want one party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to drop off the face of the earth, think about considering yourself both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian: after all, the economics dictate that neighbors can only be at peace if they’re both flourishing.
Don’t buy into the tribal logic of the Facebook question: the reality of ‘belonging’ to one side requires hope for an end to carnage and conflict – an end that can only come about if it benefits both sides. An end that’s pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.
Photo Credit: Associated Press.

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