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Students Discuss Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

A civil discussion about the conflict in Gaza took place on Friday, January 9. The students on the discussion panel were Joshuah Bennétt and Naji Kasem. The professors residing were Dr. Richard Cahill, the Director of the International Center, and Dr. Duane Smith, Professor of Religion. Dr. John Heyrman, Professor of Political Science, moderated the discussion.

A panel of students and faculty discuss the Israeli-Palenstinian conflict.

Mr. Bennétt and Dr. Smith represented the view of Israelis. Dr. Cahill and Mr. Kasem represented the Palestinian view. Dr. Cahill organized the event after hearing there were smaller discussions among students about the issues in Gaza. Cahill had hoped to create a peaceful atmosphere for students to learn what was happening and to express their views in a non-hostile manner.

Dr. Duane Smith, whose education involved archaeological digs in Israel, began the discussion. While in Israel, Smith asked an Israeli friend for his response to the conflict, “We don’t like to fight,” his friend stated, “We suffered while we were in Europe, we don’t want [to fight] now.” There is not a unified Israeli position. However, in the past ten years, one can find more people who agree on the subject. To the Israeli’s, the wall that divides much of the holy land keeps them secure and safe, for the Palestinians it cuts through their homes and separates their families. Smith states both sides are to blame for the crimes in Gaza. Hamas is doing things that endanger citizens; the IDF is doing things that are prudent. Smith states the general Israeli response, “You cannot trust [Hamas]; all they want to do is kill us.” Eighty-two percent of Israelis support the war because they are afraid of the bombs coming from Hamas.

Dr. Richard Cahill continued the discussion by bringing to the audience’s attention the fact this disagreement did not start on December 27. However, there has been disagreement from both parties for centuries. Dr. Cahill distributed a copy of the general history of Gaza, a tiny strip of land located in Israel, hardly the size of Madison County. From 1967 to present, Gaza has been under Israeli military occupation. There are approximately 1.4 million people crammed into the tiny strip of land, poor and in need of a lot of aid. Cahill drew a picture of the audience present at the discussion crammed into a small corner of the room. The food supply cut off, no electricity, no hope for survival. Eventually, something is going to pop. Cahill states, “We, as Gazans, are happy someone is shooting a rocket at Israel because we’re so frustrated.” Cahill admits it will not liberate the Gaza strip, but it is out of sheer desperation just like suicide bombings. Suicide bombings did not exist until Israel said Palestinians were not allowed to live in their homes anymore nor travel from one town to the next town.

During the discussion, Dr. Cahill gave members of the audience a copy of Resolution 1860. The United Nations Security Council had passed it only a day earlier. Resolution 1860 recounted all relevant resolutions and outlined demands for treating the issue. The Security Council also called for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

The discussion returned to the Israeli point of view as Joshuah Bennétt took the microphone. “As a Jew I can honestly say, we don’t want war.” A vast majority of [Jews] have been fighting since Abraham, just for a place to call their own. Israelis do not want war with the Palestinians. What is happening in Palestine and Gaza is not the choosing of the Jews in Israel, but it is a response to Hamas. It is not against the Palestinians, but against the terrorist organization who would wish to obliterate Israelis from the face of the planet. “You want to talk about frustration? It’s frustrating to know my Grandmother cannot go to the market and buy bread.” The blame is not just on Hamas, Israelis, or Palestinians, but this conflict is because both sides are not able to reach an agreement. The disagreement comes from extremists—Zionists and Hamas—from both sides. Israelis and Palestinians are both to blame, but one must understand it is a reaction of defense. Israelis began feeling pressured as they became surrounded on all sides by governments and peoples who wanted to obliterate them from the face of the earth. People under oppression are not going to stand by and not do anything about it so Israel fought for their land. Bennétt stated he did not support what Israel is doing, but felt there is a better way of doing it. “Hamas is a cancer, and you have to cut cancer. If Hamas would fight like men, instead of hiding behind women and children, it would be a war.” By doing so there would be fewer civilians lost. The conflict is a war that has been going on for five thousand years, and it will keep going until someone declares peace. “I think our generation has to create peace. We’ve tried fighting, and it obviously it does not work. We need to find new ground. We don’t have to like each other we just have to get along,” Bennétt concluded.

Naji Kasem, a Palestinian student, began his statement by condemning the news coverage of western countries. The existence of Gaza is a permanent reminder of the thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes to Israel and were driven out through tremendous intimidations and ethnic cleansing operations, which occurred over 60 years ago. Kasem is a grandson of one of the refugees. Gaza is one of the highest populated areas in the world, but human rights activists have abandoned them. Over 80 percent of the people living in Gaza originally resided in Israel. Only 20 percent living in Gaza were originally from the area. Kasem continued by quoting Edward Said, “‘the shear inequality between the average Palestinian and the average Israeli is breathtaking. You will say something about disapproving those suicide bombers, and I will agree! But, how many Israelis have had to live through the demolition by bulldozing of entire villages, blocks of flats, shopping districts? How many Israelis have had to endure a missile attack by apache helicopter, or rockets from American-made F-16 fighters? How many Israelis have to be stripped and searched at 300 checkpoints on an hourly basis? Neither Indians demonstrating against the British, nor South-African blacks fighting against apartheid faced anything like this!’” It would seem a Palestinian death matters less than an Israeli death. Kasem does not believe the United Nations Security Council would be silent if 100 Israelis were killed.

A question and answer period followed the panel’s statements.

When Kasem was asked for a general statement he said, “It was a very beneficial debate. Some of the people present got knowledge from it. I would like to say it is preposterous how the U.S. media is controlling what they tell to their viewers. The killing of 800 people is a crime against humanity.” Bennétt showed support for the halt of attacks in Gaza, “We lived in peace for thousands of years and if we work hard enough, we can live in peace again.”

“More than 800,000 Palestinians in Gaza now are without water. Hospitals are being overwhelmed and bombed. Israel has ignored international calls for a cease-fire. Israel is also refusing to let any reporters or journalists near the area. The Red Cross and the U.N. has warned the international community about a full-blown humanitarian crisis situation in Gaza which has a population of 1.5 million people and this is why Israel actually attacked them. The U.S. has done little in reaction to this situation except for stand idly by, condemning Hamas as a terrorist organization.” Kasem concluded.

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