(Disclaimer: the Dutch people I’m talking about in this post are real-life Dutch people who I’ve interacted with while living in Holland and who have said these things to me. I’m not saying *all* Dutch people think this way. At times I do use general discourses prevalent in Dutch society and the media to make a point, such as the presence of Islamophobia – again, this is not to say that every single Dutch person is Islamophobic, but that it is a mainstream discourse present in Holland right now.)
I’ve been thinking a lot the past 2 weeks about the possibility of dialogue, and at a broader level, of social change. We constantly hear things like “oh just talk to each other and you’ll be able to resolve your differences” or “ignorance is the problem, if people heard the other side of the story they’d change their minds.” But is that true?
The past 2 weeks I’ve spoken to quite a few Dutch people about the events in Gaza. I recognize that I come from a specific positionality: I’m half-Egyptian, lived in Egypt, and so Palestine means something very different to me than it does to most Dutch people. At the same time, my support for Palestinians is not based on my “Egyptianness” but on my belief that what Israel is doing is unjust. So while my connection to Egypt has made it easier for me to see that, it is not solely because of that connection that I am pro-Palestine. In Holland, people may not have connections like that and so the only way to find out about the “conflict” is through the media.
Now, I won’t say much about the Dutch media other than that it is far from neutral. Its coverage of the Gaza events in particular has been disappointing and damaging to the Palestinian cause. The events were consistently framed as an attack started by Hamas when they launched a few rockets at Israel, despite the fact that these rockets were a response to Israel’s assassination of Jabari, Hamas’ military commander. Technically, therefore, Israel began this conflict. Moreover, the Israelis tended to be humanized much more often on Dutch news programs, as opposed to the Palestinians who were either portrayed as being responsible for rocket-launching (collectively, apparently) or as a mass of nameless and faceless victims.
So it’s no surprise that almost every Dutch person I spoke to about this conflict has a response along the lines of: “Well, I think both sides are wrong” if I was lucky, or “Israel needs to defend itself. Hamas is a terrorist organization that keeps attacking innocent Israeli civilians” if I was unlucky. Not once did I encounter someone talking about Israeli occupation, apartheid, or the blockade on Gaza.
What is especially interesting is that many Dutch people managed to imagine themselves in the place of Israelis – but not in the place of Palestinians. They could empathize with Israeli victims of rockets and bomb sirens, but not with Palestinian victims of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and constant bombardment. That’s something that really amazed me.
So what does this mean? What does it mean when dialogue is not enough? What are the chances that Dutch people can be convinced to see the role of Israel and the EU (and Holland) in perpetuating a 2012 case of apartheid and colonization? When the conversation becomes so circular that there really isn’t a point anymore, what do you do? Should we even bother trying to reach out and talk to people who don’t want to see an alternative reality? Plus how do we deal with the fact that Holland’s view of Israel is closely linked to their memories of the Holocaust and rampant Islamophobia? Is this Islamophobia the reason the Dutch people I’ve met can’t seem to identify with Palestinians?
Over and over I’ve asked myself: am I wrong? I keep saying I’m trying to show Dutch people the Palestinian side, but if so many people here believe that Israel is right, then am I the one that’s wrong? But I can’t seem to convince myself of that either. It seems obvious to me, and to many other non-Arab pro-Palestinian people that what Israel is doing is unjust, and that to frame what Palestinians do as anything but resistance is dangerous.
I guess my answer is that I don’t know what the chances of social change in Holland are. People keep saying that things are changing slowly. That bit by bit Dutch people will become less Islamophobic, that slowly the Zwarte Piet (blackface) tradition will die out, that eventually Dutch people will start seeing Palestinians as human beings who are being colonized (partly) with Dutch money. But seriously – how much time do you need?