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Conflict and Confusion

Through Clouds of Conflict and Confusion by Raahim Zafar - TOMF Participant

I spent much of my teenage years arguing with pro-Israelis on social media - Jew and gentile alike.
I learnt to play the long game, tease out holes in arguments, ask questions that would make you
question your entire worldview and have you resorting to emotional replies. I had memorised dates,
facts and statistics and I could ‘wreck’ all but the most conniving of keyboard warriors. Even with
them, it was stalemate at best. It was this passion that took me to university to study International
Relations and Languages, but by the time I got there, I was not only exhausted from arguing, I also
saw that I had gotten nowhere.

I, the person who had developed a reputation and drawn accusations of antisemitism over 7 years
of Facebook and Twitter arguments lasting hundreds of comments, gave up talking about Israel-
Palestine. People who had never spoken to me in school would open their first conversation with
me asking, “Raahim, why do you hate Jews?” A new friend who had joined in sixth form one day
asked me, “Raahim, why does everyone hate you?” That somewhat hated and much outspoken
person, for four years of university, did not so much as attend a discussion on the topic or even
consider taking the oversubscribed Arab-Israeli Conflict module.

I attended the Tough Options residential in Northern Ireland in summer 2022, nearly a decade after
I finished school. It was my first excursion into Israel-Palestine discussion in adulthood and I was
intrigued to do it through the context of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. To learn from lived peace-
building experience across the Irish Sea has been a priceless privilege. In my quietist years, I

might have lost touch with the details of the Arab-Israeli history, but I have still been tuned in to recent atrocities in Palestine and my loathing of the Israeli government and its crimes was very much thriving.

I never bought into the anti-Zionism must equal anti-Semitism narrative, but for the first time in my
life I met young British Jews here who not only harboured similar feelings, but some who were even
more vocal and explicit in their condemnation of settlements, routine systematic discrimination, and
killings of innocents. At the same time, I know there are people on the two year programme who
hold opposing points of view and might continue to do so, but if they stay in their echo chamber
they will never hear the Palestinian side of the tale. I am sure they would say the same about me
and that’s absolutely fine – so long as we are communicating one human to another.

So how did this communication take place?

Imagine being sat on a plane between two Jewish people. One asks, “do you think Israel is an
apartheid state?” There went my napping plans. As much as the conversation spiralled from issue
to issue from settlements to war to just conquest, it remained civil. A new experience.

I had learnt over the years how to pick my words, keep my sentences watertight and purely rational
so as not to draw accusation of anti-Semitism, but here I found the second of the two Jews not just
agreeing with me, offering support on some of my pro-Palestinian points, but from his privilege as a
Jew he didn’t need to mince his words when criticising the Israeli state. Yes such people exist and
they live down the road from us. In the last year I have even met Israeli-born Jews far more
passionate for Palestinian freedom than most Muslims - all through FODIP or organisations like it
that are routinely accused of promoting “normalisation with Israel.” Come attend a session - if
anything, it’s often the opposite.

I spent nearly a decade arguing with Zionist keyboard warriors on social media to the bearing of no
fruit, but now I am building relationships and we are stepping forwards towards a common cause:
common understanding and, ultimately, a collectively agreed justice. Anything else will simply
proliferate cycle of violence and tyranny.

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