Amir Sommer: I am half Israeli and half Palestinian. This war feels as if it’s killing me twice

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As the love child of a Palestinian father and an Israeli mother, all I want to say these days is: Stop, you are killing me twice.

In the last three months, the most notorious conflict of our time has reached new levels of insanity. We are witnessing wholesale violations of international laws in the form of 30-second clips featuring snuff videos, fake news and war crimes. And in reaction to this vast scale of human suffering, we’ve lost our ability to engage in principled thought and discussion.

Since the war in Gaza began, the side experiencing the most suffering is automatically deemed righteous. You’re forced to pick a side, because throwing around words such as “equality” and “coexistence” suddenly feels like spouting nonsense. Stay silent, and bam, you’re a traitor. So, the only strategy this war seems to allow is to line up and justify one side’s violence. Which is pretty ironic since that’s exactly what we’re all supposedly against, if we really want peace.

Vietnam, Korea, Northern Ireland, the Iran-Iraq war, World Wars I and II — those deadly conflicts all found resolution. This raises the question: Why is this one still going on?

Perhaps it’s because this conflict is multifaceted, encompassing intricate layers of struggle. It is bound to the profound concept of home, the glorification of revenge, post-memory reflections of the Holocaust and the Nakba in 1948. A demographic conflict in which the Palestinian minority was once the majority, and the Israeli majority is acting like a minority. The land’s story, the connection to nature — and of course, the ancient religions resident there.

The fight over this land has been very textual since Day One. The place that God promised Abraham, where Jesus was crucified and Muhammad ascended to heaven — all of these moments are parts of the top bestselling books on this planet.

It was the most natural thing for me, someone who was raised among three religions, to become a writer. Given that my parents’ marriage was illegal, since interfaith marriages performed within Israel, where I grew up, are not recognized by law, I was considered a bastard. There were very few mixed heritage children like me, so I have always found solace in books, treating them like my lost siblings.

In early October, I made my first trip to the U.S., a lifelong dream. I had come to Los Angeles for a reading of my forthcoming book, “Disco for Peace,” where I was a special guest at an event of PoEtikLA, in Silver Lake. Just several minutes before the event started, I received news about what the media called the “Israeli 9/11.”

Being half Israeli and half Palestinian, I am accustomed to hearing distressing news. Whenever both places are mentioned, it’s rarely positive. That’s why when my girlfriend informed me of a new crisis in the Middle East, my response was nonchalant: “What’s new?”

She insisted, “No, this time it’s serious. Call your family.”

In that moment, I felt a mix of sadness and confusion, grappling with the question: Well, who do I call first? My Israeli side or the Palestinian?

Right before the reading started, the host asked for a minute of silence in honor of the people who died in Israel. It all started to click.

Leap forward three months: I have lost people from both sides, though fortunately not from my immediate family.

The range of my loss spans from pen pals I saw only on Zoom because of the border wall, background characters in my life, individuals from the artistic community, and those who shared my upbringing and were more than just childhood friends. I lost someone I once considered one of my best friends during high school. I even saw an acquaintance in one of the gruesome videos circulating on social media. The specter of death has never been as palpable as it is now.

But even in times of bitter grief, we must remember that cruelty doesn’t have a single ID card. We’re complex characters, heroes to some, villains to others, just like our nations.

That’s crystal clear to me, at least: Both sides not only committed violent atrocities but also guilt-tripped the world. However, saying this out loud isn’t easy. The whole world is now experiencing what has been my life struggle — deciding whether I’m Israeli or Palestinian (and getting backlash for whichever I choose). Protecting the home by wielding an Uzi or demonstrating for liberation with stones in hand.

Only a few years before this war did I start to find a key to existing with these two halves within me. I left the Middle East and moved to Europe. It felt like coming out of the closet when I could say openly and more easily: I am half Palestinian, half Israeli. That’s why this war terrifies me so much — the fear of relapsing into my old identity crisis.

I want to live in a world where I don’t have to forsake any part of my identity or history. We must not extinguish the possibility of peace, which for individuals like me is as essential as oxygen, water and bread.

The solution lies not just in a state or two states, but in a state of mind. It begins with how we think, read, and listen to ourselves and others. In my inner storm, patience and tolerance are my guiding lights. Perhaps the world needs to start handling external conflicts with the gentler way we deal with our own internal ones. Having embraced both identities, I wish the Canaanite land could do the same.

Amir Sommer is an award-winning poet and author based in Berlin. He wrote this column for the Los Angeles Times.

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