November 10, 2017

Overcoming Hate With Laughter

David Wingens ‘19

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex issue whose solution seems to be in the distant future at best. But maybe all that is needed is a little humor to bridge the gap between the sworn enemies.
This summer, the late night talk show host Conan O’Brien travelled to Israel as part of his “Conan Without Borders” series. The segments consist of the comedian visiting various countries, learning about them and using his wicked wit to quip about their eccentricities.
Every “Conan Without Borders” installment is entertaining, but the Israel episode took on a particularly serious note at times as O’Brien was faced with the reality of the state’s complex politics.
At one point, O’Brien was confronted by a group of pro-Palestine activists in the West Bank as he was walking along the controversial wall that separates the West Bank from the rest of Israel. The activists began by criticising O’Brien for his calling shakshuka an Israeli dish despite its North African origins. Their conversation went on for another 25 minutes, only a few of which were edited into the final show, but all of which are available online.
The point that O’Brien tried to get across while speaking with the Palestinian activists and throughout the show was that “there is no way my 40 minute program will satisfy what it is you want me to do...”
O’Brien understood that it is impossible to gain a nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in one sitting, but his show did an excellent job of trying to give an unbiased view of Israeli culture as well as the Israeli political situation.
Some of the less serious highlights of the show include a visit to the beaches of Tel Aviv, floating in the Dead Sea and learning to haggle like an Israeli.
A recurring theme of the installment was that O’Brien, an Irish-Catholic American, was able to befriend Israelis and Palestinians alike. This proves that if one goes in with the right state of mind, one can see the humanity in everyone, even those whom we may have already designated as enemies.
   O’Brien has not broken any new political ground in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that was not his goal. Rather, it was to bring humor and reason into a region fraught with anger and broken dialogue. And at that, he certainly succeeded.

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