The Real 'Us’ Versus 'Them’

We need a new definition of 'us' and 'them': Not Arab vs Jew, Israeli vs Palestinian, left vs right, but human and national rights vs violence and domination.

Guy Spigelman
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An Israeli policeman stands guard on the top of a building in front of the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem. July 4, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Guy Spigelman

It doesn’t matter where you live or what you do, whether you are watching the World Cup, running for shelter, going to the beach or avoiding burning tires, the current cycle of violence that has killed innocent children is wreaking havoc on all our lives.

For days I have been angry with our leadership, and wanted to write about how our leaders should do this and that to calm the situation down, rather than fanning the flames as many do. But then I visited the Rabin museum in Tel Aviv and realized that our current leaders are leaders by virtue of their position only, not because of any great personal quality or moral compass. So to hope for real statesmanship would actually be naïve.

The question is: What can we the people do?

One of the first things we can do is change our concept of “us” and “them.”

Traditionally, “us” referred to those of the same ethnic clan or nationality, and “them” referred to the other, or opposing ethnic clan or nationality. In this paradigm, we take pride in all the achievements that any of “us” achieve, even if on a personal level we had nothing to do with it. On the other hand we find ways to defend or ignore the less desirable actions carried out by “us.”

Sometimes we will highlight a positive achievement by “us,” in order to divert attention away from an immoral action committed by “us” on “them.” After an Israeli soldier beats up a child we get a Jewish PR/hasbara response of “But we have so many Nobel Prize winners.”

Other times we will focus on the other side’s bad, to cover up our own bad. Like when after a Palestinian murders a Jewish civilian, we will get a Palestinian response focused on how “they” build settlements.

There are infinite possibilities of manipulating the “us” versus “them” paradigm, some of which are extremely dangerous, as the Jewish people know from history.

So here is what I propose. A new definition of who “us” and “them” are – not based on “Jew” or “Arab” – but rather based on core values, meaning Jews and Arabs can both be in the “us” or “them” category. This is a first attempt, and I would welcome contributions to improve it. Here is what I suggest:

Us

- Those that believe all people have basic human rights, including the freedom to live without fear, violence and also freedom of speech, religion, to vote and all the rights that we should take for granted but sadly can’t

- Those that accept that there are two nations in this land that are both staying here and not going anywhere

- Those that accept that there will be different narratives of the past and don’t require one narrative to be absolutist

- Those who believe in non-violent action to bring about change

Them

- Those that believe that the people in their own nation have more rights than those of the opposing nation

- Those who think their own nation should dominate and the other nation should either go away or become submissive

- Those that think that the other nation have to accept their own nation’s narrative of the past and surrender their version of history

- Those who believe it is permissible for their own nation to commit violence in order to keep the other nation living in fear

It is not a matter of left and right. I truly believe there are basic values that transcend the left/right divide. Perhaps if we conduct ourselves according to this new paradigm, or at least start a dialogue on what can constitute the new “us” and “them”, we can start to expect our leadership to behave better – or, looking further, to develop a new generation of leadership to guide us through difficult times such as those we face now and will also face in the future.

Guy Spigelman is CEO of PresenTense Israel, a Jerusalem based organization that promotes social, technology and small business entrepreneurship amongst all of Israel’s diverse population.

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