Respect Requires Real Understanding

Opinion by Will Coffman, Newswire Intern

Reading the news about Israel and Palestine over the last week and seeing the different reactions of Americans across the country has made me reflect on something: how much I appreciate living in a country where speech and assembly are protected in the country’s constitution. Even citizens with no care for civics or constitutional law know the First Amendment. The irony is that while it might be our most well-known amendment, it is also the one I think we take for granted.

The history of Israel and Palestine is one of fierce disagreement and distrust. But for all the decades of negativity, one must note the various attempts at peace that were made. There were the 1993 Oslo l Accords, followed with 1995’s Oslo ll Accords, both set on finding peace in the Middle East. Yet, these peace plans failed, and now in 2023 we are seeing a major escalation in the conflict. In response to this escalation, I have heard people say, “Why even attempt peace?” Another question I hear is, “Why do we care what happens there?” I think these are fair questions to ask and ones that deserve answers. 

The answer to the first question is because true peace earned with conviction will last. The peace we saw was attempted with little resolve. Yes, the Oslo Accords were created with care. But once made, they were allowed to be forgotten, and any process pushing for peace between the countries after was nothing more than endeavors with too little strength to succeed. Why should peace be attempted? Because true peace does not erode easily: Look at the bonds of America and Japan after Pearl Harbor and the atomic bombs, along with other horrors of the Pacific Theater during the Second World War. You will see two countries that were once vicious enemies now standing shoulder-to-shoulder as partners in the 21st century. Peace can work. 

The answer to the second question is one I want readers to especially focus on. Israel and Palestine are a lesson in what happens when division is allowed to run rampant. Division festers, demoralizes and then destroys. Israel and Palestine are not the only examples of this either. History repeats itself. You just need to look for the right pattern. 

There were the Yugoslav Wars during the 1990s that were full of horrific acts of genocide and destructive violence as the rest of Europe looked on in horror. At the same time, 1994 had the Rwandan Genocide, where division between the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups led to one of the worst atrocities in modern history. There were the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the divide between Serbia and Austria-Hungary that culminated in the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, helping spark WWI. 

So why does this matter to us? Because America is growing increasingly politically divided. It’s seen in our government, where members of both sides refuse to even consider working across the aisle. It’s hurting the ability of the U.S. to govern, leaving us with situations where we find ourselves on the verge of government shutdowns or looking at a potential economic crisis due to the debt ceiling. But this division is starting to make its way into homes, into offices, into places of worship and restaurants. 

What’s happening in Israel and Palestine should matter to us because it showcases exactly what we must strive to avoid. If we treat our neighbors as inconveniences, that’s all they will become. You don’t see their humanity or their value, you only see something you have grown to hate, and it’s in that thinking that peace fails, and violence wins. Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” That quote obviously served as a warning to citizens in his time, but like so many of his words, they ring true today, and we would do well to listen. 

We need to return to talking to each other again with a goal of finding the truth without insulting the other side. Disagreement is not bad — indeed it should be encouraged. The framers of the Constitution knew this: Why else would so many rights critical to having debates be protected? 

We should challenge each other’s views. We should celebrate arguments. We should vigorously participate in discussion. But at the end of the day, the disagreement in opinion or ideology should not divide nor should it separate our society into us versus them. That is dangerous. That is what we must avoid. Respect and understanding must win the day, no matter what the argument and its outcome is. So, let’s help set our nation on a path of respect once again and become an example to the rest of the world about the power unity has and the hope it can bring.