How to talk with family and friends about the situation in Israel and Palestine

The world is struggling with the ongoing crisis and horrific loss of life in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel—understandably provoking strong emotions and opinions. For those of us who believe that war will only bring more destruction and misery, it can be hard to discuss Israel and Palestine.  If you do engage in a conversation with family or friends, here are some tips you can use: 

1. If you can, decide if this is the right moment for you to be in the conversation. 

If possible, think about the conversation you want to have beforehand and pick the right time to have it.  It is okay to avoid some conversations if you don’t think they will be productive. You know yourself, your family members, and your energy level. Not every moment is the right one. 

If you do decide to engage, then… 

2. Lead with shared values. 

Focus your discussion on values that you and the person you’re conversing with share.  Here are some ideas:  

Everyone deserves to live in safety and peace.  Every Israeli and Palestinian life is precious.   

  • We need to stop the current mass killing of civilians, whatever their religion or ethnicity.  In Gaza, 2.3 million people are cut off from water, electricity, food, and are under a carpet-bombing campaign. This needs to stop. 

We can hold two truths at the same time: violence is abhorrent and must end. But we also know that violence will not end through more violence.  

  • To bring change, we must address the roots of conflict, including historic and ongoing Palestinian displacement, occupation, and the reality of apartheid. 

Sending weapons and military aid to Israel at this time only expands violence and takes us further from a solution.  It also takes away from diplomacy and peacebuilding programs that bring people together to solve problems.   

  • The U.S. provides $3.8 billion in military aid to Israel every year, despite record levels of violence against Palestinians by Israel.  The U.S. must immediately work to deescalate to prevent further loss of life, and not fuel war by sending more weapons, especially when Israel is using those for war crimes. The only way forward is through a political solution. There is no military solution. 

3. Shift the narrative.

Some people you talk with may speak in dehumanizing terms, such as “Palestinians are all terrorists.” Replying “No, they are not all terrorists,” doesn’t help to reframe common misperceptions and lead to greater dialogue.  Some ideas for shifting the narrative: 

Violence did not start with the attacks from Gaza.   

  • These actions occurred in the context of a 16-year-old blockade of Gaza that limits Palestinian freedom and costs lives. Over the last 15 years, Israel killed over 5,500 Palestinians in Gaza. During the same period, 309 Israelis were killed. Killing, oppression, and dispossession at the hands of the Israeli state have been Palestinian realities for decades, and recent events must be seen in that context.     

For decades, the Palestinian people have faced Israeli occupation and systematic human rights abuses that constitute apartheid.  

  • Apartheid is defined as a legally enforced system of separation and oppression based on race, creed, or ethnicity that has resulted in human rights violations.  AFSC, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and other International human rights groups call for an end to Israeli apartheid. 

There was no “peace” in Israel or Palestine before the attacks on Oct. 7 – decades of Palestinian death and suffering have become normalized.   

  • Even before Oct. 7, this year (2023) was one of the most violent years in Palestine in more than a decade. At least 247 Palestinians—including 47 children—had been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers before the end of September. During the same period, Israeli settlers launched over 800 attacks on Palestinians and Palestinian-owned property. Additionally, over 1,100 Palestinians had been forcibly displaced from their homes. 

4. Ask questions. 

This is a moment for active listening and compassion. Instead of coming right back with a counter-argument, asking questions can give you a chance to think, and also give the person making the statement a chance to consider what they’re saying. This will slow things down so that two people with opposing views can have a real conversation.

Listen to better understand what the person cares about, where they have been getting their information on current events, and what their communities of reference are. Express empathy and agreement where there are connections. Express your own vulnerability or confusion, difficulties, grief, sadness, and frustration, by being fully human and seeing the other as fully human. For instance, you can say: “Can you explain why you think that?”  

5. Share Resources 

Don't expect to resolve disagreements in one conversation. Try to create the conditions for another conversation, for an exchange of resources, for mutual interest and curiosity, or any follow-up and connections. Sharing your favorite sources for news, a persuasive article you’ve just read, or ways to help the situation can be good ways to grow and learn with your family and friends.   

This page has AFSC resources you can share, actions you can take, and ways to help.