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Commentary: State of the Territory | Unity in Diversity: Navigating the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in the U.S. Virgin Islands

In her bi-weekly column, “State of the Territory,” former Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw delves deeper into issues of concern for V.I. residents.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the coexistence of a vibrant Jewish and Palestinian community. Both of these communities have played an integral role in our society, attending our schools, owning businesses, and living and working among us. It’s become increasingly apparent that we must extend our empathy to both groups, especially given their significant contributions to our collective identity.

What strikes me most is how both these communities have shown up, not just for themselves but for others as well. Over the past few decades, they have been steadfast allies in the fight for the liberation of Black people, illustrating a shared commitment to justice and equity. It’s a powerful reminder of the interconnectedness of humanity and how essential it is to be an ally, even if you’re not a member of either community.

In navigating the turbulent waters of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s imperative that we focus on centering humanity. We must resist the temptation to get caught up in divisive talking points, instead approaching the situation with an open heart and a commitment to understanding.

Our Palestinian friends yearn for us to see and acknowledge their humanity, recognizing their inherent right to life and the ultimate goal of self-determination. It’s a plea for empathy, understanding, and the rejection of preconceived notions that equate the Palestinian existence with groups like Hamas. No one should have to face starvation, ongoing violence, and further loss of human rights.

Our Jewish friends, on the other hand, want us to understand their perspective too. The loss of innocent Jewish lives is a pain deeply felt by the Jewish community. Their fight for justice and survival is not a recent phenomenon; it’s a struggle that spans time immemorial. It’s a historical context that shapes their fear and grief, and it’s a history that we should take the time to appreciate. Understanding their historical journey does not equate to endorsing the violence against Palestinians. Their pain, like any other, needs time to be processed and grieved.

Being critical of actions by groups like Hamas and the policies of the Israeli government is not incompatible with holding space and compassion for Jewish and Palestinian individuals. We must make this distinction clear. We cannot justify any form of human rights violation, and we can collectively agree that the world powers’ failure to address this conflict impartially has allowed tensions to escalate, putting both sides at immense risk.

In the midst of this complex and often divisive conflict, it’s easy to hear the loudest voices, the extremists on either side. However, it’s our collective responsibility not to let those voices drown out our common humanity. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, our Palestinian and Jewish friends need our unwavering support as they navigate this difficult journey toward understanding, empathy, and, ultimately, peace.

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