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Denzel Washington and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Everyone knows that Denzel Washington is a true Original Gangster. He epitomizes the notion of being cool. He has won two Academy Awards for his acting and has become the synonym of that suave-yet dangerous-character that is filled with charm and wit. He is so cool that no one calls him by his family name, he is just Denzel.

In the 1993 hit Philadelphia, he plays a lawyer that valiantly defends an AIDS-stricken Tom Hanks. I remember seeing this movie a while back and loving it for the message it was conveying. But there was one quote in particular that has affected my way of thinking ever since: in the movie, Denzel manages to win various arguments by asking to his interlocutor to simplify his point to the maximum. With the sentence “Explain it to me like I’m a four year old”, he forces him to get back to the basics and thus to win his case.

What does AIDS have to do with the Israel-Palestine situation? Obviously nothing explicit. However it can be very useful to use Denzel’s thought process to simplify the debate in order to reassert the fundamentals that are too often lost in a sea of meaningless comments, political calculations and religious nonsense.

Too often do I hear people saying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a “complicated issue” or that “there is no hope”, resulting in many youngsters voluntarily lacking a point of view on this conflict. This is simply because they believe (or someone else makes them believe) that they do not have the appropriate tools to comprehend and formulate an answer based on their own ideals. The Palestine Papers leaked by Al Jazeera in January can give this impression of “too much information” but it is not a good enough reason.

Simplifying the terms of this debate does absolutely not mean creating a Manichean paradigm. There are no good and bad people (sorry "Dubya," I would rather side with Rousseau on this one), only good and bad ideas.

So what exactly does it mean to see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of a little boy or girl? It means acknowledging that the solutions exist, that they are quite simple, and that they have already been discussed since the late 1990’s but need to be freshened up. During a panel discussion at King’s College London a few years ago, Dr. Ahron Bregman summarized his argument very simply and cleverly by stating, according to my own notes at the time, that:

“Ultimately we all know what is going to happen: one day there will be a Palestinian state comprised of the Gaza Strip and roughly 92 percent of the West Bank with East-Jerusalem as its capital, the main settlement blocs (such as Ariel, Beitar Illit and Ma’ale Adumim) will become part of Israel in exchange for some land in the north and in the south of the West Bank, around 10, 000 Palestinian refugees will be allowed to gradually come back to Israel and others will move to the newly created state, mostly those living in Lebanon because of their lack of integration, and there will be a tunnel or highway linking the two parts of the state.”

It seems that we have the solutions, all we really need is political will to implement them ... impossible is nothing.

The following example shows that often getting back to the basics highlights how some policies and decisions are flawed. After a documentary on the subject, a child could have this conversation:

"Daddy, why does no one want to talk to Hamas?"

"Because they are terrorists, dear."
"But what about the Haganah and the PLO before?"

"Hmmm ...."

In conclusion, not only is it crucial to watch Philadelphia because it is a great movie starring the mighty Denzel, but it can also help us in finding new ideas to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has frustrated, saddened and motivated us since we have been in age to understand what it means for those two communities and for the rest of the world.

Photo Credit: Naeem Meer

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