The Myth of Solution / by Kathryn Comfort

About a month ago we published a blog titled "The Myth of Expertise", as a follow up I offer my own perspectives on another problem that those who are involved in activism and engagement in Palestine/Israel may face: the myth that we need to solve the problem.

Call it American Exceptionalism or Millennial mindset, our generation (the generation that MVP seeks to represent) has been spoon fed an idea that we are going to change the world. Messages this can be seen from Rachel Corrie's fifth grade speech, to the stories that Courtney Martin recounts in her book "Do It Anyway," to the countless advertisements for colleges, clothing brands, and diet choices. We're living in a bubble that constantly tells us the world is broken and that we need to fix it.

I've been engaged in this issue for three years. And the only thing that I can say confidently about the situation is this: it is not my job to fix it, but it is my job to stay present to it.

Last week I was sitting at an end-of-the-year-banquet for graduating English majors. A woman across the room was boasting loudly that she had a solution for the conflict. That, after traveling to the region once for a week and minoring in Middle Eastern studies, she had concluded that she had come up with a solution so phenomenal, so profound: that it was fool proof and original. At first I was annoyed. And then I was humbled. I was humbled because I remembered that when I first began to understand the situation I was full of solutions. "Send them all to summer camp", "develop leadership institutes", "give them more development aid". How foolish I was to think that, as an 18-year-old, I might be able to propose something original and lasting which could pacify a conflict rooted in culture, identity, and ethos in ways I still struggle to grasp.

As an American I am complicit. My tax dollars fund a government that depends on constant militarism to maintain an imbalanced status quo while simultaneously preventing the opposing leadership from developing autonomously by pumping conditional foreign aid into their system. So yeah, I have a stake in working towards a solution.

BUT, I'm not directly affected by Israel's separate but equal systems for black and white Israeli citizens (much less Arab-Israelis...), I don't wake up and see a wall every day--and if I did, the wall wouldn't stop me (an American citizen) from crossing checkpoints or going to Jerusalem for Ethiopian food. I'm not directly affected by high import taxes or by restrictions on my career path because of my immigrant status. I don't have to constantly explain to people my family history, nor do I constantly live in fear that something terrible could happen to me at any moment because I am hated. 

No. I am complicit; I am not affected. And because of this, I need to be careful. 

I run into this a lot. Folks I have just met will ask what I think will solve the whole thing. As though in three minutes I can break down the convolution of the entire historic and contemporary context and wrap it all up nicely with a bow. And the thing is that there are people a lot more invested than I am, whose very lives depend on their ideas working who are already coming up with theories and strategies. The best that I can do in these situations is present the work that is being done by Palestinians and Israelis and to push that I am a partner in that work.

My point here isn't to say that we should enter in and support whatever either side deems as a practical solution to the conflict (as a pacifist the idea of violence as a solution makes me cringe). But it is to say, that if we are involved in this work, we are not called to be world-savers, but humble supportive partners who ask “what does this work require of me?" before asking “how can I solve this?”