Op-eds

Gladstone ’18: A new low in the Israel/Palestine conversation

By
Op-Ed Contributor
Monday, November 30, 2015

In Faunce, there is a small memorial to the innocent people whose lives have been lost in terror attacks across the world in the last few days. Someone wrote on it a list of countries and cities that have been affected, mourning the civilian losses in “Pakistan, Paris, Beirut, Japan, Baghdad, Syria, Tunisia, Ankara, Silvan, Nigeria, Russia, Korea, Mexico, Israel.” Last Saturday, the last country on that list was scribbled over in permanent marker, as if to say that Israeli civilians are not worth mourning.

While anti-Israel sentiment is not new to Brown’s campus, this feels like a low that needs to be addressed. The recent murder of 18-year-old Ezra Schwartz — who was studying for the year in Israel but who grew up in Sharon, Massachusetts, just a half-hour drive from Brown’s campus — in a terrorist shooting was a shock to many in the Brown community. While I did not know him well, many students here did, and his death hits very close to home for many of us. My little brother grieves the loss of one of his summer camp counselors and personal friends. To cross Israel off that list is to suggest that those on this campus, some of whom had very personal relationships with Ezra, do not have the right to mourn. It should be noted that the two others murdered in the same attack were one Israeli, Yaacov Don, and one Palestinian, Shadi Arafa.

More likely than not, whoever crossed off Israel meant to make a statement about Israeli government policy. It would never occur to them, however, to cross off Pakistan for its government’s collaboration with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, nor should it. Nor would it occur to them to cross off Paris because of the French government’s history of colonial rule and crimes against humanity, or even its current controversial interventions across Africa and the Middle East, and nor should it. They wouldn’t cross off Beirut over the Lebanese government’s discrimination against Palestinians, or its corruption and incompetence (which have brought the Lebanese people into the streets in protest), nor should they. Or Japan for its government’s increasingly militaristic policies under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, or its attempts at erasing “comfort women” and other war crimes from Japanese history. Or Baghdad for the complicity of its government in ethnic cleansings perpetrated by the Popular Mobilization Units on which its U.S.-backed military depends. Or Syria for the genocide perpetrated by its government, or Russia for its government’s backing of that genocide, the annexation of Crimea, the suppression of LGBTQIA+ rights activists, etc. The list goes on.

I have never heard challenged Americans’ right to grieve for American civilian deaths in any context. The United States has led global colonialism for the past several decades, supports allies such as Saudi Arabia in massacring thousands in open bombardments of civilian marketplaces in Yemen (while America’s own drone strikes in that country show nearly total disregard for civilian life as well), and today fields a presidential candidate who unabashedly supports the registration of all people of a particular religious group with the government and several who wish to spurn refugees who come to this country’s shores based on their religious and ethnic backgrounds. For all of that and more, Americans are allowed to mourn their losses — and should be.

But Israel is singled out time and again on our campus, not just for reasoned criticism but also for such extreme hatred that those of us who value Israeli and Jewish lives have to defend our right to mourn civilian deaths.

One other issue that I noted was that whoever crossed off Israel did not also think to add Palestine to the list. During the clashes in Israel/Palestine over the past several weeks, many Israelis and Palestinians have been killed, and some, on each side, were civilians. I found myself scrawling “Palestine” on the top of that list, in mourning of the civilians who have died there.

The attacks all over the world have been horrific, and Brown should mourn all of the casualties. For someone to have so little respect for those on campus who are feeling the personal trauma of having lost a friend in some of these attacks, to single out one state among all others for aggressive condemnation, and to conflate the actions of a governing coalition with an entire people, is a testament to how uncritically Brown students tend to think about such a nuanced and challenging part of the world as Israel/Palestine. I hope we can all do better in the future.

Benjamin Gladstone ‘18 can be reached at benjamin_gladstone@brown.edu.