Cognitive Dissonance in the Holy Land

In December 2014, I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. [1] While the entire experience was sobering, two parts of my visit made particularly lasting impressions. The first was the shoes—the glass case set in the floor containing the shoes of Jews killed in the concentration camps of World War II. The shoes, so numerous and yet so individual in wear, size, and style, demonstrated the intimate and personal nature of the Holocaust. The second was a scaled-down model of one of the death camps. The industrial scale of the operation was astounding, and the model depicted the massive scope and dehumanizing nature of the Holocaust. The soul-piercing sorrow of the historical exhibits, culminating in the sacred silence of the Hall of Names listing the millions of victims of the Holocaust, left me with one overwhelming thought: “We can never let this happen again.” I stepped outside and began to breathe in the cognitive dissonance that permeates the Israeli air.

In historic Jerusalem I spent a Friday evening wearing a yarmulke at the Western Wall with the Jews welcoming the Sabbath with singing and dancing. I tasted their joy at returning to Jerusalem—to the very wall their ancestors built. But I also walked through historic Lifta, a village near Jerusalem where Palestinians, including the ancestors of one of my classmates, were forced to flee from violence inflicted by Irgun, the Jewish terrorist organization that bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946. In modern Tel Aviv I visited Independence Hall and watched footage of the moment Israel declared its independence. But I also saw the separation wall snaking through Palestine, separating families and communities, and I traveled on roads reserved for Israelis and tourists. I found it difficult to deal simply with these seemingly competing propositions. Were Israeli Jews good or bad? Were Palestinians violent or victims? But wrestling with that cognitive dissonance was nowhere near as difficult as coming back to America and discovering how most Americans dealt with it.

We must reject the blind one-sidedness peddled by many politicians and media personalities. When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and many other issues—too many abandon nuance in the face of any challenge to their views. Too many supporters of Israel have no room in their minds to even consider the atrocities and injustices perpetrated by some Israeli leaders, individuals, and organizations. Too many supporters of Palestine refuse to consider that some Palestinian leaders, individuals, and organizations have crossed lines with physical and rhetorical violence against Israeli Jews.

Supporters of Palestine should be heartbroken at the Tree of Life synagogue shooting that occurred in late October and disappointed at the failure of a U.N. resolution condemning Hamas terrorism. [2] They should be critical of the B.D.S. movement for failing to deliver results for the people of Palestine. [3] Defenders of Israel ought to be thoroughly fed-up with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s willful undermining of the peace process and deeply troubled by the Israeli Knesset’s repeated gutting of democratic norms and values. The history and current events of the Middle East are often troubling and discouraging. But I truly believe Americans are capable of understanding complexity and rejecting the oversimplifications that ignore the realities of the situation.

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[1] https://www.yadvashem.org/museum/holocaust-history-museum.html

[2] https://www.unwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/A73L.42.pdf (full text)

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20181207-us-fails-to-win-enough-support-at-un-to-condemn-hamas/ (the resolution received 87 yes votes and 58 no votes, with 32 abstentions and 16 not voting, garnering more than a simple majority, but falling short of the two-thirds threshold required for passage)

[3] https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/12/israel-palestinians-ireland-chile-bds-boycott-settlements.html

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Nick Hafen

Nick is a third-year law student from Detroit, Michigan. He served an LDS mission in Indonesia and studied Middle East Studies and Arabic as an undergraduate at BYU. He will be doing corporate restructuring work at a law firm in Chicago after graduation. Nick enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, being outdoors, and making things.

Latest posts by Nick Hafen (see all)

Nick Hafen

Nick is a third-year law student from Detroit, Michigan. He served an LDS mission in Indonesia and studied Middle East Studies and Arabic as an undergraduate at BYU. He will be doing corporate restructuring work at a law firm in Chicago after graduation. Nick enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, being outdoors, and making things.

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