Most of my life, I’ve held a strong conviction against ignorance and intolerance of people in other regions around the world. I was against these notions not only because I think they are fundamentally wrong, but because I believe they are illogical. These ideas stemmed from the belief that if one were to examine any demographic on the planet, they would find people along a full spectrum of social, political, and religious beliefs. This diversity would include all possible different beliefs and varying degrees of those beliefs. It’s incredibly difficult to judge a people or situation, even when you study it extensively. Life is complicated everywhere.
Sweeping generalizations are not only inherently inaccurate, but they are fundamentally damaging. For example, the mentality that all Muslims hate us or support terrorism could not be further from the truth. But this mentality perpetuates anger, fear, hate, and intolerance. Even worse, these stereotypes foster apathy, and can go as far as extending support for policies that devalue and destroy lives of people in other regions. A notable example is Americans’ complacency about drone attacks that are murdering scores of innocent people in Yemen, a country we are not at war with.
The collective mentality is that, as an American, I would be in danger in Palestine. This is not to naively proclaim that there is no unique danger when traveling, especially in a conflict-affected area. But the concerns seem to extend beyond that of conflict and into the realm of “people ‘over there’ don’t like Americans” so I would be at risk. This implies that most people in Palestine would feel this way, which is simply not true. We all know that extremists exist—they exist in every culture. However, the type of danger people fear—because of the stories broadcasted across the news—is extremely rare.
The daily experience living in Palestine was not one of fear—I never felt threatened or intimidated. Even when I attended political rallies or protests, I felt welcomed and appreciated. I felt safe walking down the streets alone at night and walking into a stranger’s house when invited in with a warm, “Welcome, welcome.”
I found that most Palestinians asked me similar questions. They wanted to know, now that I was living there and saw Palestine for myself, what did I think of the Palestinian people? They know how Palestine is portrayed in the western media and they wanted to be sure we know they are a good people. They also asked if I would share their stories with others when I returned to the US. Every Palestinian has a story about how the Israeli occupation has affected their lives and they just want others to know about their experiences.
I’m not going to pretend that Palestinians are perfect—no society is. I have many criticisms of Palestinian society and government, as I would anywhere. It is best to withhold judgments of other people and other places. Instead, one could recognize that people everywhere desire similar things in life and everyone has their own struggles, which are difficult to understand if you’re not experiencing them. When judging another people, the best bet might be to imagine what you think any randomly selected group of people anywhere would be like, and that’s probably as accurate as you’re going to get.
For now, I feel vindicated in my belief in human beings. Although I was only in Palestine a short time, everyone I met exceeded my hopes and expectations, furthering my belief in the goodness of people everywhere.