Israel/Palestine Panel Sparks Passionate Debate as Views Collide

 

Four people sit at a  table and speak into microphones
Wesley Liang • The Student Life

Emotions and opinions flared among speakers and audience members as the intense Israel-Palestine issue was brought up for heated discussion. This Tuesday, Nov. 3, Pomona Student Union and J Street Claremont hosted a panel discussion titled “Seeking Peace and Justice in Israel-Palestine.” The event consisted of a panel moderated by Alice Timken PO ’16, followed by an audience Q&A.

The panel consisted of Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation; Peter Beinart, a columnist for the Atlantic and Haaretz and journalism professor at the City University of New York; and David Suissa, president of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

Each panelist was given a seven-to-ten-minute introductory statement, and three prompting questions to address: What are the problems driving this conflict? What does the future of peace and justice look like? What role should the United States play in this conflict resolution? Within the opening statements, the diverse and clearly differentiated beliefs of each panelist came to light.

Munayyer began by saying that he does not deny the connection of the Jewish people to the land, but the colonial nature of the Zionist movement cannot be denied either. He argued that many Zionists cringe at the connection between Israel and colonialism, but even Theodor Herzl, the father of the Zionist movement himself, identified Zionism as a colonial movement with colonial tendencies.

Munayyer said that Israel is a system set up to privilege one group over the other, and that the future of peace and justice can only exist if the collective political claims of one group do not come before the collective rights of all. Further, Munayyer asserted that the U.S. government is complicit with Israel the way a drug dealer is complicit to an addict. At the end of his closing statement, Munayyer called for boycott, divestment and sanctions from the state of Israel.

Suissa followed Munayyer’s opening statement, taking the opposing stance. He claimed to “feel the pain of Palestinians acutely,” self-defining as an Arab-Jew Zionist. “Israel is like a child to me,” he said, defending his support of Israel. Subsequently, he went on to applaud the self-criticism of the people of Israel, making the point that Munayyer had hardly criticized the Palestinians in his opening statement, “very much putting the ball on the other side.” Suissa said that he dreams the attitude of hatred that Palestinians have been holding on to will change. He encouraged both sides to look forward, not backwards.

“I hate the occupation, but even more I hate the occupation of Jewish and Palestinian minds with hatred,” he said in the panel.

Beinart also self-identified as a Zionist, which he made clear at the beginning of his opening statement. He identified two essential problems: the first being that two peoples are claiming the same piece of land, and the second being that one side of the conflict denies the basic rights to the other. Beinart said that millions of Palestinians live without basic rights but that this does not excuse Palestinian violence.

“A lack of basic rights fuels violence because it fuels despair,” he said.

Beinart then defended his support of the two-state solution by asserting that the conflict is a clash of nationalism. The United States, he said, should support the Israeli right to exist, but should put its support behind the two-state solution and essentially force Israel to comply, and set a timeline on this resolution. The place to do this, he said, is within the United Nations.

Following opening statements, the panelists were given time to respond. Munayyer focused on Suissa’s points and pointed out that during the creation of Israel, two-thirds of the Palestinian population were made refugees, denied return to everything that was dear. Their indignation, anger and intense emotion circulating this fact cannot be summed up as an “attitude problem.”

Suissa responded by repeating that the past must remain in the past, and the question everyone should be asking is, “now what?” He answered this question for the audience: the Palestinians should begin building a Palestinian state. During the Q&A section of the panel, Suissa was asked questions regarding this particular statement: “Build a Palestinian state with what resources? How do you expect Palestinians to build a state when they aren’t even given human rights?”

Suissa responded by claiming that there were opportunities for negotiations; however, Munayyer almost immediately put down what he dubbed the “generous offer myth,” as Palestinians were offered nothing more than glorified occupation. The Palestinians were not offered an equal state in sovereignty to Israel. Beinart responded to this comment by claiming that once the Palestinian state was created, those restrictions would not last long.

Responses to the panel were varied, with some members even yelling at the speakers during the Q&A section. Ivan Soloman PO ’19, who attended the talk, said that the Zionists were given the land on which to build Israel, whereas Palestinians have had to fight for any land on which to possibly build a Palestinian state.

“I was happy with how the event turned out,” wrote Aaron Sege PO ’18, one of the event’s organizers, in an email to TSL. “The conversation got even more heated than I expected, but I think people like seeing passion from speakers, and this is an important issue.”

Timken, the moderator, offered her opinions about the panelists.

“I thought Peter [Beinart] came off as the most experienced debater and made the most well-constructed arguments,” Timken wrote in an email to TSL. “But in my opinion (now that the debate is over I feel I can admit this), there really is no denying the validity of calls for Palestinian agency. Yousef’s [Munayyer] measured responses, paired with the progressive lean of the audience made Yousef the winner, if I had to name one.”

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