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Panel discussion addresses Israeli/Palestinian history

Adrien Gobin / THE GATEPOST

By Raena Doty

Arts & Features Editor

Diversity, Inclusion & Community Engagement and Academic Affairs co-sponsored a “Series on Peace and Justice in Israel/Palestine.” The first event, titled “Israel/Palestine: A Historical Context,” was hosted in the Heineman Ecumenical Center March 7.

Three speakers gave presentations that provided context for the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas and answered questions from the audience.

The event was hosted by Joseph Coelho, the chair of the Political Science Department. He began the event by setting some ground rules of the night, which had also been printed and left on each chair in the audience with a notecard.

Rules included requirements for submitting questions as writing on the physical notecard or through the chat feature on Zoom, active listening from attendees without interruption of the speakers, keeping discourse civil, and making sure discussion is fact based.

The first speaker, Noa Shaindlinger, a professor of history and political science from Worcester State University, has published a book called “Displacement and Erasure in Palestine: The Politics of Hope.”

Her presentation was called “Palestine since the Nabka,” which she said was aimed at educating about the historical context of what Palestine has been through since 1948.

Shaindlinger said “Nabka” means “disaster” or “catastrophe” in Arabic.

She said for many years before 1948, Palestine was a mandate of Britain, and added a mandate is not exactly a colony, but “the British kind of treated it like it was a colony.”

Shaindlinger added this changed in 1948, when Britain decided it was not “worthwhile” to occupy Palestine, and the newly formed United Nations (UN) “decided to partition it between two states - an Arab state and a Jewish state.”

She showed a map of the partitioned land in 1948, and explained the Palestinian state, where Arab people were segregated, was not contiguous, and some of the territory in the Israeli state had large Palestinian populations that were now displaced.

Shaindlinger said the Palestinians, who made up the vast majority of the population, were also allotted only 45% of the land, while the Israeli minority had 55% of the land.

She said during this time, the area grew very violent, especially from the Israeli government moving Palestinian citizens out of their homes, which created “acts of violence and then vengeful acts,” and added this evolved into Israeli militias attacking Palestinians in their own state.

At the same time fighting was happening internally, Shaindlinger said the Israeli army - “what became the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)” - was at war with various Arab countries, which caused more violence, particularly for Palestinians who lived on the borders.

Shaindlinger also clarified when talking about borders, she meant socially constructed borders, and “they hinge on agreements between states.”

She said armistice agreements were reached by the end of 1949, at which point Israel wanted to join the UN but didn’t get enough votes to do so because of the way they treated Palestinian refugees.

After, she added, Israel negotiated with other Arab countries “over the heads of the refugees,” which eventually made it possible for them to have a spot in the UN.

“Basically, Israel was admitted into the UN with the promise of talking and discussing,” she said.

She said between 1949 and 1967, the Gaza strip on the western corner of Palestine was controlled by Egypt until Israel took over governing them, which caused the number of Palestinian settlements to increase as the number of refugees went up.

Shaindlinger said eventually the Oslo Accords, an attempt to reach peace between Israel and Palestine in the 1990s, “actually created an expansion of the settlements,” as well as Israeli military presence.

She added what people think of as the Palestinian border is actually “a barrier imposed by Israel controlling the sea,” and Egypt has aided in enforcing the border that keep Palestinians contained for 17 years.

After Shaindlinger was done with her presentation, note cards with questions were gathered from the audience, and Coelho facilitated a question and answer session.

One attendee asked, “In your view, how aware is the average Israeli of the history of dispossession?”

Shaindlinger said she believes most Israeli citizens know what has been done to Palestinian citizens.

“It’s not that they don’t know. Most Israelis served in the military,” she said. “People know. They don’t want to know, but they know.”

She added in her research, she has read literature from the era of the initial creation of the Israeli state, and that literature contains evidence to suggest that even back then, Israeli citizens knew what was happening.

Coelho introduced the next speaker, Sam Biasi, a professor of political science at FSU. They said their presentation was titled “Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel: Roles, goals, and strategies,” and their academic interests include “civil wars, insurgencies, and terrorism.”

Biasi said they aimed to educate the audience about “the primary goals and strategies” of the different political groups involved with the conflict in Israel and Palestine today.

They started by talking about the Israeli leadership, including current Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Biasi also introduced Baruch Goldstein, who they said was a “Brooklyn-born Zionist” who, in 1994, put on his IDF uniform, took his guns, walked into a Palestinian mosque, and shot 20 Palestinians before the crowd killed him.

Zionism is a political movement that calls for Jewish people to inhabit Jerusalem, and is associated with Israel and its Jewish citizens.

“This sparked a cycle of violence that continued and culminated into probably the third most violent period of Palestinian history,” they said.

Biasi said, “Baruch Goldstein is a hero of the settler movement,” and his picture was formerly hung in Ben-Gvir’s office.

They said the center-right party that governs Israel believes in “something called Eretz Yisrael,” which means “Greater Israel,” and includes Israel and the West Bank and sometimes Gaza and parts of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.

Biasi said the way this Israeli state is framed allows for people in Israel to frame the conflict with Palestinians as a conflict between Jewish and Muslim people, rather than between Palestine and Israel.

“The goals of the far right in Israel - certainly, the Israeli government in general - are to essentially spread and maintain the Jewish demographic advantage. That includes - in fact, requires - destroying the Palestinian nation,” they said.

They added, “Destroying the Palestinian nation can also be called genocide.”

Biasi said because of this, Israel has interest in maintaining its relationship with the United States because the U.S. supports Israel financially.

They added Israel’s main strategies for pursuing its goal of destroying Palestine are “strategically placing settlements,” “mass casualty bombing and massacres of Palestinians,” and “public diplomacy and their attempts to influence American politics.”

Biasi said the majority of Israelis support these policies and oppose a two-state solution in which Israel and Palestine would both become independent states.

Next, they presented on the Palestinian leadership of the Palestinian Authority, a body created under the Oslo Accords.

They said Mahmoud Abbas, president of the State of Palestine and current leader of the Fatah party, believed in the 1970s armed struggle was necessary to liberate Palestine, but later shifted his strategy to peaceful negotiation.

Biasi said the Fatah party believes in a two-state solution, but specifically a two-state solution that results in a Palestinian state ruled by Fatah. They added the party uses “internal repression” among Palestinians to prevent other voices - frequently Hamas voices - from gaining traction.

They said support for the Fatah party is incredibly low among Palestinians - about 16% on the West Bank and 18% in Gaza.

Biasi said the mantle of unarmed violence which the Fatah party abandoned was then adopted by Hamas, who have not said much about what a Palestinian state would look like. They added Hamas has stated they want a single Palestinian state that would include what is currently Israel.

They said some of Hamas’ primary tactics include attacking Israeli citizens as a form of terrorism, guerilla warfare, and kidnapping and keeping hostages. Biasi added formerly Hamas did use suicide bombing, but gave up on that in the mid-2000s.

Biasi said support for Hamas has tripled since the events of Oct. 7, 2023, the start of the Israel-Hamas armed conflict, but Palestinian support for Hamas is only approximately 2% more than support for “nobody.”

“It’s not that Palestinians all of a sudden radically support violence,” they said. “What we can see is a sort of dynamic going on that we can observe other places as well - that is, cycles of violence and mutual violence.”

Biasi said Israel and Hamas are “locked in a sort of equilibrium in which Hamas’ violence justifies the far right in Israel and increases the support for the far right in Israel, just as the far right in Israel’s violence increases support for Hamas.”

During the question and answer portion of the event after Biasi’s presentation, one attendee asked, “Can you speak to the size of Hamas and the age of its members?”

Biasi said Hamas’ members tend to skew young, in part due to the fact that Palestinian population skews young, so most of Hamas’ members are in the range of 16-28, except leadership, which tends to be in their 40s and older.

They added experts struggle to estimate the size of Hamas, and estimates range from 10,000 to 40,000.

The final presenter was Reema Zeineldin, associate vice president of Academic Affairs. She is a Palestinian immigrant whose father is from Gaza and whose mother grew up there.

Zeineldin said her presentation was about “Palestinian lives within a historical context,” specifically focusing on civilians in Palestine.

She showed a picture from the 19th century of a family dressed in traditional Palestinian clothing, and said she wore her own traditional dress.

Zeineldin said she was dividing up her presentation by breaking it into different eras based on political changes, and started with the era from the beginning of the 20th century to 1947.

Her slideshow presentation displayed photos, including a picture of protests of the Balfour Declaration and a Boy Scout troop in 1924.

Zeineldin’s next slide showed a graph with the number of people in Palestine every year, starting in 1871 when Palestine was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The Jewish population in Palestine, including both Jewish Palestinians and Jewish immigrants, was listed next to the total population.

She said several increases in the Jewish population in Palestine, higher in proportion than the general increase in population in Palestine, were caused by British and other European encouragement for Jewish people to move to Palestine, as well as Zionist movements.

Zeineldin said in 1947, Arab citizens far outnumbered Jewish citizens, but the Nabka resulted in 750,000 Palestinian refugees, as well as 531 villages destroyed and 31 massacres committed.

She showed pictures on her slideshow from the 1950s to the 1990s, including a photo from 1956 of her own mother’s high school graduation.

Zeineldin added at this time, her mother was already a teacher because so many refugees were entering Gaza that they didn’t have enough teachers to educate them all without recruiting high school students who would take their own classes at night.

She also included a photo from 1966 of her father’s family and a photo from 1967 that included her grandfather.

One picture, from 1987, showed the “Intifada,” which Zeineldin said means “shake off,” and said the Intifada was caused by Palestinians rebelling against poor treatment by the Israeli government.

“They decided they can have an Intifada, and this was in the form of young people and children throwing rocks at the Israeli occupying forces - and in return, they got rubber bullets, live ammunition, imprisonment of little children, and clear orders to break the bones of Palestinian children,” she said.

She showed photos from the Oslo Accord era next, which demonstrated how Palestinians were segregated from Israeli territory, and said anyone who had to go into Israel for work or errands would have to go through security every single time.

Zeineldin said Israelis and Palestinians had to live under dramatically different laws - “Israelis were under civilian rule, but Palestinians were under military rule.”

She showed photos of the wall that separated Israeli territory from Palestinian territory, including Palestinians who had to cross the checkpoint to buy supplies due to insufficient supplies in their territory and a Palestinian man working on his farm in Israeli territory who looked over to his house in Palestinian territory.

“He has to go through this checkpoint on a daily basis. This farmer is not allowed to dig for water, have a well on his own land. Israel comes, digs that well, takes the water into Israel, sells it back to him at the rate of roughly seven to 10 times what it sells it for to Israelis who are in the next-door settlement filling their pools with water, and he hardly has enough water to water his crops,” Zeineldin said.

The last photo Zeineldin showed was a photo of her own family from 1981, one of her last visits to Gaza.

In the photo, she identified several family members who have been affected by the Israel-Hamas armed conflict, including a cousin whose son-in-law was shot while buying supplies and daughter was shot by a sniper, a cousin who lost her son after he was bombarded in his home, and a cousin whose husband died after he could not receive medical attention.

She added the house where the photo was taken was destroyed because the resident of it worked as a provost at a university, 150 members of her and her husband’s family have died, and all surviving members have been displaced.

“That’s just speaking about my family. Now think about it in the larger context of the atrocities committed by Israel, with the support of our tax dollars,” Zeineldin said.

After all three presenters were done, a question and answer session was hosted where attendees could ask questions to all of them at once.

One attendee asked, “There was a huge increase in the number of Jewish immigrants before 1948 - why was that?”

Shaindlinger said this is in part due to antisemitic hostility in Europe following World War II, as well as the U.S. and Canada refusing to accept Jewish immigrants.

Another attendee asked, “What can we do to try to stop the violence? Our next two possible presidential leaders don’t seem to want to truly address this. Our tax dollars are funding Israel’s military. Our political system seems to be in shambles. What do we do?”

Biasi suggested looking for local protests, adding there are many in Boston, donating to charities, calling local representatives, and joining boycotts against brands supporting Israel.

“Is it enough? Is it going to move the bar? I don’t know, and probably not. Unfortunately, with American politics the way they are, we are somewhat powerless to affect policy,” they said.

They added President Joe Biden’s response is “out of step with the furthest right that American politics has ever been,” and said when there was a massacre in Lebanon in 1983, Reagan “essentially called it a genocide, and so we are currently, in our politics, far to the right of Ronald Reagan.”

They said people should “pay attention, stay educated, and be vigilant - talk to your friends, talk to your family,” but unfortunately there is a bias toward Israel in the media.

One attendee said, “Please make a comment on the view that university faculties around the country have a responsibility to, number one, help protect free inquiry about issue of war and genocide, and two, oppose the destruction of schools and universities in places like Gaza.”

Zeineldin said journals for higher education have been surprisingly quiet about the destruction of universities, and added when she submitted a well-researched paper about the topic to a journal, they rejected it.

She added, “When something big happens, we’re always trying to encourage professors to take time to talk about it in the classroom. But when something big happens like this in Palestine, it’s like nobody cares and nobody talks about it.”

Biasi said they believe the biggest threat to free speech in the U.S. is the possibility of censorship due to Palestine.

The last attendee-submitted question answered by the panel was, “The two-state solution seems to be a fantasy due to recent events. What is more realistic in your point of view for a solution to the conflict?”

All three panelists agreed that the two-state solution was never realistic.

Zeineldin said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles South Africa during the apartheid era, which needed to be dissolved entirely in the end, and she believes the country needs a one-state secular solution where Jewish and Arab citizens are equal.

Shaindlinger added the dissolution of the apartheid was in many ways unsuccessful, but people can learn from the mistakes made then.

Biasi said, “As an American who I guess very foolishly thought that we all agreed on some level that secular liberal democracy is desirable … I have felt insane to see people say that Jews need a state in order to be safe. We see Biden repeat this consistently.

“Kind of scary considering he governs a number of Jews who he is telling, ‘You are not safe,’” they added.

The second event in the “Series on Peace and Justice and Israel/Palestine,” titled “Untangling the Discourse: Exploring Complex Terms in the Israeli-Palestinian Context,” will be hosted at 4:30 p.m. April 16 in the Heineman Ecumenical Center and over Zoom.


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