On March 2, 2007, presidential hopeful Barack Obama made a speech in Chicago regarding his "clear and strong commitment to the security of Israel." He went on to say that Israel was "our strongest ally in the (Middle East) region and its only established democracy," and then added, "That will always be my starting point."
Last week ushered in the Israeli Apartheid Week discussion, and students walking on the Main Green were encouraged to sign a petition condemning Brown for supporting Israel due to the apartheid that it is allegedly practicing against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Apartheid is defined by Princeton's WordNet database as "a social policy or racial segregation involving political … economic and legal discrimination against people who are not whites, the former official policy in South Africa." It was implemented in South Africa to suppress its native black community and maintain white control of the country. Why, then, would Obama support Israel if its actions resemble such discrimination? The same man who has championed health care reform, economic change and equality for all Americans is supporting a clearly anti-democratic country?
Obviously, the issue is more complex than it appears to be.
The Jewish people are more than just a religious group. The Jewish people are a nation — a nation whose culture and traditions are deeply rooted in the land of Israel. The Palestinians, too, are a nation that has dwelled in the same land for generations. Both nations have legitimate but conflicting claims over the small parcels of land that are now the state of Israel and the West Bank. If you believe that both peoples should coexist and have a right to self-sovereignty, then you support what is called the two-state solution. Both peoples should have a country that is ruled by their own democratically elected governments. Due to population discrepancies, the only way to have sovereignty in a democratic fashion is to have two distinct countries — Israel and Palestine. American politicians, including Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as Israeli politicians such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have long recognized this reality.
So the issue is not apartheid because we are not talking about one country imposing internal discrimination upon its own ethnically different citizens. Instead, we are talking about two separate and distinct nations locked in a stalemate in peace negotiations and border disputes that make heads spin in the foreign media as well as among Israelis and Palestinians.
In this sense, we are not talking about discrimination at all. Palestinians are given access to Israeli hospitals, as demonstrated by Brown's own Israeli Film Festival of College Hill's showing of "Precious Life," a documentary showing a Palestinian family's struggle to keep its baby boy alive and the Israeli doctors who treated him despite his nationality and religion. Palestinians are given opportunities to work and live in the state of Israel and are provided with electricity and infrastructure subsidized by the Israeli government in many of the areas where they reside.
Khaled Abu Toameh, a Palestinian journalist and documentary film maker, said in his article "Islam Today" that "Israel is a wonderful place to live and we (Israeli Arabs) are happy to be there. Israel is a free and open country. If I were given the choice, I would rather live in Israel as a second-class citizen than as a first-class citizen in Cairo, Gaza, Amman or Ramallah."
I had the privilege of hearing Toameh speak at a seminar I attended in Israel three years ago. He argued that the most effective way to achieve peace is to address the problems in the current Palestinian authorities. He claimed that until the Palestinian leadership — not its people — becomes more interested in helping the livelihood of its citizens, rather than wage war with Israel, peace could not be achieved. I agree with Toameh that peace will require both sides to come to the table in earnest, and Israelis need to continue their support of the two-state solution and not abandon hope.
For there to be peace, Israel needs to continue making concessions and have patience in its policy development, but I know that such a thing can only happen if Israel feels secure enough that making those concessions will not put its citizens at risk. Following the evacuation of the Gaza Strip by Israeli military forces in 2005, the Palestinian organization Hamas responded by shooting over 6,000 rockets into the Israeli town of Sderot. Those rockets killed innocent Israelis. How can Israel evacuate the West Bank without the assurance that its security will be preserved?
As Americans, we need to stand by Israel, not condemn it. By showing that we are on its side and that we will not allow our support to falter, we can give its leaders the confidence in Israel's security to make additional concessions and negotiate. Brown has always been a bastion of liberal values and a leading intellectual powerhouse. The students here are bright future leaders, and by showing our support, we can aid the peace process and bring more prosperity to the region.
Solomon Swartz '14 is the spokesman for Brown Students for Israel. He can be contacted at email@example.com.