Tinder, the matchmaking mobile app that pairs users based on mutual physical attraction, is not exactly the most obvious place you would expect to find yourself involved in a discussion on the Arab-Israeli conflict, but as the entirely clichéd but weirdly fitting Liverpudlian platitude insists: “life is full of surprises.”
The other night, I matched with a gal  – as happens – but before I had time to offer even the most usual of introductions, she confessed to only being in London on a brief vacation, and next thing I know, Jennifer (this is by no-means her real name) is suddenly three and a half thousand kilometres away. We kept messaging a little and I found out that Jennifer is a twenty-something medical student from an affluent middle-class background who enjoys computer programming (she’s a self-confessed nerd), talking politics and playing drums in her spare time. Recently, however, the increasing pressure of her studies means that she’s had to limit the time spent entertaining many of her hobbies. We share a liking for the music of Led Zeppelin, The Cure, The Stokes, MGMT, Nirvana, Aerosmith, The Beatles, Artic Monkeys and The Rolling Stones, and both get a kick out of the I Fucking Love Science website. The last time I chatted to Jennifer, she was on her way to a bomb shelter following a warning that Hamas forces were planning a rocket attack near the hospital where she is currently interning.
Jennifer, as I should probably explain, comes from a small and predominantly secular town located along the demarcation line separating Israel from the West Bank. Through no misdoing of her own, she has been dragged into the latest chapter of a brutal and bigoted conflict that has been raging in the Middle East for generations. It is an ugly confrontation stemming from a difference in the promises that differing gods made to different people, resulting in two peoples of relatively equivalent size each claiming a celestially ordained right to the same land and more than prepared to kill to assert that summum jus.
Right now, it’s Tuesday 22nd July and Operation Protective Edge, an Israeli Defence Forces led offensive in the Gaza Strip is in its 14th day. So far the operation has left hundreds of Palestinians dead and countless more injured while Israel has suffered a considerably more modest, but no less tragic, 27 fatalities.
It’s important to remember that myself and Jennifer are talking on a dating app, so we’re trying to keep the tone as light as possible (“if you could choose only one magical power which will it be? Teleporting, telepathy, invisibility, telekinesis, or flying? ) but it’s not long before talk turns to the conflict.
Political narratives like the Israel-Palestine situation not only insist upon a division in public opinion but actually try to direct it. The majority of people (or at least the young people) living in Jennifer’s region (or at least those with a similar socioeconomic background) would much prefer to see the two peoples coexisting in peace:
I have many Muslim and Arab friends, some Palestinian close friends… but the situation has been escalating. And the world kept quiet until we started working to lower the attacks… Maybe if you were living here you would have got the situation, because it’s not a normal life.
Jennifer tells me that she and her friends live in a state of “constant fright.” From a young age she was taught to take note of the nearest bomb shelters and to recognize unattended baggage. I would go crazy living in the midst of that kind of shit, but with a glibness not often found in such situations, she added “Yeah, but we’re not gonna let it take us down.” Signing off from our last conversation, and displaying an unexpected appreciation for irony, Jennifer told me of her good friend that had been at the mall when the Tseva Adom warning sirens began to sound, as panicked shoppers scrambled to the nearest shelter, and in a moment of remarkable cool under fire, the friend noticed that the song “Staying Alive” by the BeeGees was playing over the shopping centre’s speaker system. Overall, however, there’s a disheartening resignation and acceptance of violence in Jennifer’s outlook. Here is a trainee doctor, someone who has taken the decision to dedicate herself to the preservation of human life, and even she must accept that:
Saying no to violence is unfortunately not always the option I believe after living here. We made agreements with Jordan and Egypt and made peace and no issue there. We agreed to cease fire now and agreed with Egypt and Hamas rejected and continues firing rockets as we speak. So I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient hearing (it), but do believe Israel has the right to protect itself like many other countries will do so too.
“War” George Orwell wrote “may be necessary, but it is certainly not right or sane.” If Hamas put their weapons away then perhaps there could be an end to the war. However, for Israel to put their weapons away could mean an end to Israel. After all, the Hamas Charter is quite explicit when it says that “Israel will exist and continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.” For Jennifer and many like her, Israel’s military action and their use of violence is a matter of defence:
I don’t wish for harm, but when a group of people don’t want us here at all, wish for all of our deaths and shoot rockets indiscriminately, I believe we should work to stop it.
Israel says that the motivation behind its attacks in Gaza is an intention to prevent further cross-border attacks into southern Israel by Hamas militants, but as Arthur Koestler writes in Scum of the Earth, his 1941 memoir recounting his observations in France at the outbreak of the Second World War:
To fight a war only for the purpose of ending the danger of war is an absurdity. As if a person condemned to sit on a powder-barrel should blow himself up deliberately, out of sheer annoyance at not being allowed to smoke his pipe.
Jennifer welcomes the notion of a two state solution should it bring peace to the region, but she firmly believes that Palestinians must first work to curb the extremist contingent amongst their own. If people really want to help, they should raise awareness of Hamas and it’s brutality and fight against it. The young who grow up around Hamas, she says, grow up with hate and are taught to be warriors. If people want it to stop, she stresses, they should stand in front of that regime that shoots rockets at Israel. Israel has agreed to cease fire but Hamas want none of it. The organization has made a point of undermining any discussions that could lead to a two-state solution.
We live in a media saturated culture that seeks to simplify even the most complicated of situations into easily digestible mini-narratives, but the Arab-Israeli conflict is so drenched in blood and hypocrisy that the situation is far beyond that of an evil and imperialistic oppressor persecuting an innocent and oppressed victim. “The situation” Jennifer says “is messed up.” Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is without doubt in contravention of the Geneva Convention but that same treaty is quite clear in stating that “The parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.” Hamas launch rockets from densely populated civilian areas, they store munitions in public buildings – including schools and hospitals – and there is even talk of a donkey stacked with explosives being sent toward Israeli soldiers.
Of course, with the torrent of misinformation and propaganda coming from both sides, it’s incredibly difficult to discriminate between the facts and the bobard. One simple aim on which we can all agree, however, is that the violence and killing must end. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” said Gandhi, and for Jennifer, working to end the violence will allow a space for discussion, negotiation and possible future reconciliation . At the moment, however, she believes the conflict to be too “emotional” and “blindly religious” for any progress to be made.
For the sake of posterity, the magic power I chose was telekinesis while she’s keen on teleporting – a romantic relationship would never work.
1. My reasons for joining Tinder were twofold, firstly to satisfy my disgustingly overblown male ego, and secondly, I had the arguably misguided intention of examining and contesting the claim that Tinder is a tool for female empowerment in the 21st century dating environment – and that is not even to touch on recent events involving sexual harassment at Tinder HQ. In hindsight, what I actually found, as recounted in this post, is perhaps more interesting.