If you want to help in Israel/Palestine, acknowledge context and support local efforts

I see a lot of Western talk about Israel and Palestine, and not a lot of Western awareness of the context or the work of Israelis and Palestinians. People on both the right and the left often treat Israel/Palestine as a symbol and ignore the fact that it’s a real place, it has a real history, and real people live there.

One of many pieces of context that matters: Israeli Jews are mostly genocide victims and descendants of genocide victims who see Israel as the only reliable way to protect themselves. In their experience, most Jews who relied on non-Jews to protect them died. That context matters in any discussion of Israel, and it’s antisemitic to disregard it.

Another piece of context that matters: Israel is a mess. Israel is about as well-governed as you’d expect from a country run by people with PTSD in one of the most volatile regions in the world. In addition, Israel has from the beginning depended on less-than-stable compromises between different populations in the area, in a way that’s hard to imagine in the West.

I don’t know what would make things better in Israel and Palestine. The more I learn, the less I feel comfortable having a lot of opinions about policy. There are just too many pieces of game-changing context that I’m unfamiliar with.

One of the few things I’m sure of is that no one involved is suffering from a shortage of Western feelings. It’s not news to anyone who lives there that things are a mess. Israelis and Palestinians who live in Israel/Palestine have their own feelings about the situation.

Israelis and Palestinians also have their own opinions about what would help, and they’re doing their own work. There are Israelis and Palestinians all over the political spectrum, pursuing all kinds of attempts to make things better. (Some of which I’m inspired by; some of which I find horrifying.) I think Western conversations on all sides tend to erase the actual Israelis and Palestinians involved.

For instance, the Western left often erases the work of the Israeli left by pretending that only Americans and other Westerners have heard of justice and human rights). Similarly, the Western right often erases the work of Palestinians pursuing coexistence by speaking as though only people in the West have heard of peace.

If loud Western feelings and platitudes from afar could fix the situation in Israel and Palestine, the conflict would have been over decades ago. Palestinians and Israelis have heard it all before. It’s not helpful. Israelis and Palestinians already know about peace and justice, and many of them are working very hard to pursue both.

If you want to help make things better in Israel and Palestine, the best way to do that is by supporting the work being done by pro-justice/pro-peace Palestinians and Israelis who live there. Find Israel/Palestine-based organizations that share your values, and support their work. Foreigners can’t support political parties, but there are a lot of nonprofit organizations doing good work.

I don’t have an extensive knowledge of justice work in Israel and Palestine, but there are a few organizations I’m comfortable recommending:

The Jerusalem Open House For Pride and Tolerance. Hebrew home page; Facebook page  (They used to have an English page as well. In any case, you can use the Hebrew page to find contact emails). 

JOH is an LGBTQ center located in Jerusalem. (In Hebrew, the word for “gay” is a pun on the word for “pride”.) They provide services in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and I think Russian as well. They also organize the Jerusalem LGBT pride parade.

A Wider Bridge (an organization I’m *not* personally familiar with) has an English summary and links to English-language news articles about the Jerusalem Open House. 

Bizchut: The Israel Human Rights Center for People With Disabilities.

Bizchut works for disability rights in Israel, and has information in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. They work on a number of issues, including alternatives to guardianship, inclusive education, voting rights, and communication access for people with disabilities in the legal system.

Yad b’Yad/Hand In Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel  runs joint schools for Jewish Israeli children and Arab Israeli children. The Yad b’Yad schools teach in Hebrew/Arabic/English, and are educationally progressive in other ways as well. (Eg: The Jerusalem Yad b’Yad school has physically disabled students in regular classrooms, which is unusual in Israel.)

There are many other good organizations doing important work on the ground in Israel/Palestine — these are just the ones I’m personally familiar with. Whatever justice issue you care about, there are Israelis and Palestinians who care about it too. If you want to help, support them.

Tl;dr Neither idealization nor contextless criticism will make things better in Israel/Palestine. Palestinians and Israelis are not suffering from a shortage of Western feelings. Israelis and Palestinians already know about justice, peace, and human rights. If you want to help, support local efforts led by Israelis and/or Palestinians who live there.