Jacob Newberry’s essay in Ploughshares about living in Jerusalem and his naive attempts to resolve relations between the Israelis and Palestinians by taking shopping trips in Ramallah is a very good read. Newberry is also good at recognizing the self-congratulatory motives behind his actions, like when he decides to buy a pair a shoes that say “Handmade in Palestine” on them:
You will imagine then how to naturally fit into a conversation, once you have moved back to America, that these shoes were handmade in Palestine. Saying it openly would backfire, would seem boastful and indulgent, would have very much the opposite of the desired effect. You will think of ways to let it occur naturally. People sometimes ask where a person has gotten his shoes from. Someone might find them beautiful and inquire. But often they do not. What might work better is to stop one night, while walking home from a bar with friends whose approval you seek, to retie the shoes, whether needed or not. This will subtly bring attention to them, and someone might then ask Where did you get your shoes? Then you will be able to reply, quite casually, Oh, I bought these in Ramallah and await the admiration that will come as a result. If you are feeling particularly chatty, you will be able to then talk about reverse exploitation and monetizing the conflict and Western liberal guilt and consumerism as a crass but effective weapon against economic and political stagnation, and you will then have the opportunity to feel erudite and meritorious. It will make a good impression. And the shoes are also beautiful. Everyone wins.
Well, not everyone wins.