The night had been going well enough. My grandma and I met up with her sister and brother-in-law at the nearby Pasta Factory, our family’s preferred Italian restaurant in the vicinity of my grandma’s house in Marina Del Ray. I had ordered spaghetti with meatballs and asked for goat cheese on the side, which ended up being a terrific decision – I find it adds some substance to the sauces used by some cheaper Italian restaurants. Somehow the conversation had turned to religious extremism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I was trying to broaden my family’s worldview a bit, and suggesting we take religion out of the conversation for a minute. I asked my grandma to put herself in the shoes of a child growing up in the Gaza Strip, one who has witnessed the terrors that occur when Israel decides to invade. If you were too young to be able to tell who started the conflict, wouldn’t you fear and hate the aggressors causing damage to your home? Couldn’t that hate turn in to something that sticks with you as you become an adult? Even without religion and the history of the last sixty years, can you see how the conflict is something that propagates itself?
Just as I thought my argument (which was much more thought-out and persuasive in person, I assure you) was starting to go over with my grandma, something very unlikely happened.
“Have you ever been to Israel?”
The large man sitting behind my great-aunt at the table next to us had turned around and was looking directly at me. He repeated, “Have you ever been to Israel?”
“You have no idea what it is like. They fire the rockets. I am from Tel Aviv. I know.”
The two other men who were at the table with the man had turned and were also looking at me. They all appeared to be in their late forties or early fifties, were approximately my height, and seemed to weigh around 200 pounds each. Big fellas. They also all seemed upset.
The shortest of the three, who was also wearing a rather thick pair of glasses, asked “Where do you go to school?”
“The University of California, Berkeley.”
“How old are you?” asked the man who had spoken to me first.
They all visibly rolled their eyes.
The man with the glasses turned to the man who hadn’t spoken yet, the one with more grey in his hair and beard than the others, and said: “These kids at these big liberal schools, they become brainwashed against Israel.”
Yeah, he actually said “brainwashed.”
It was like an Internet argument, where someone says something so absurd that you want to make them know that they’re wrong so badly but know deep down that the effort would be futile. I mean, I haven’t even taken a course having to do with the Middle East or International Relations (though I am taking one next semester, funnily enough). I was just going off of my relatively limited knowledge of what happens today in Israel and in Gaza, and created a theoretical situation based on that. But if he wanted to throw down, my history isn’t too shabby. While I think that Israel has every right to defend itself, I also like debating, and the point that Israelis have been taking that same plot of land from others since they escaped Egypt thousands of years ago is always a fun one to bring out.
I decided to be an adult and apologize instead.
“I’m sorry sir, I didn’t mean to offend you. I was just playing devil’s advocate in a conversation with my grandma and you happened to overhear a part that misrepresents my personal views.”
The next couple of minutes consisted of me being told the truth about Israel and that I should spend some time there if I want to talk about it. We spent a few more waiting for the check and laughing about the sheer improbability of having the three men sit at the table next to us right when we were having a discussion so relevant to them.
A lesson learned from that dinner is that one should never discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in public. It is clearly much safer to keep the conversation on the topic of religious extremism.
Or something. Stories don’t actually need a moral, do they?