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Watson panel discusses recent violence in Israel-Palestine

Jewish, Palestinian scholars analyze “Bloody May,” ponder future implications for region

In light of the recent violence this past month in Israel-Palestine, the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, the Center for Middle East Studies and the Department of History hosted “five renowned Palestinian and Jewish researchers” in a June 10 panel discussion to analyze the events of “Bloody May.”

The panelists of the event, “Troubles between the Jordan and the Sea: Israel/Palestine in Light of the Recent Violence,” spoke of the latest bloodshed within the context of the larger history of the conflict, focusing on what these developments mean for the future of the embattled region. 

Professor of History Omer Bartov, moderator of the panel, said that this most recent flare-up changed the tenor of international debate on the issue and the conflict itself.

“In some ways, the violent events of Bloody May in Israel-Palestine appear to be just one more episode in a depressing and seemingly endless cycle of violence between the State of Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip,” Bartov said.

But, “in fact, it now seems quite clear that the events of May shook the country, as well as many conventional concepts and predictions much more profoundly than anyone anticipated,” Bartov added. He emphasized that the recent escalation of violence in the region “showed clearly that the question of Palestine,” which had been “previously sidelined by Israeli and American leaders and other observers, remains a foundation of politics and identities in this contested land.”

As’ad Ghanem of the University of Haifa also sees this moment as a turning point. “We are in the age of a paradigm change from the ending occupation, to ending apartheid and the Jewish supremacy in the whole land of Palestine,” he said. 

Many of the panelists spoke of how this recent conflict further damaged prospects of a  two-state solution.  

Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Dahlia Scheindlin of the Century Foundation both spoke in support of a two-state confederation instead. 

“I do not support the old version of a two-state solution that was negotiated and conceptualized 21 years ago and is no longer relevant on the ground,” Scheindlin said. “Therefore, I'm with (Yiftachel) and maybe other people here: I support a two-state Confederation, two sovereign states with a more open and cooperative mode of interaction, sharing certain sovereign powers, which I think is the only humane, feasible and maybe, yes, optimistic approach.”

The speakers did not universally agree on the most accurate language to describe the conflict, with some using phrases like “apartheid” and “colonialism” and others pushing back against these characterizations. 

Yiftachel repeatedly referred to the inequality between Israelis and Palestinians as “apartheid.” He explained his reasoning for doing so, saying, “as scholars, as researchers, we have the responsibility to speak truth to power … We have to actually describe the situation as it is. If you want to resolve a situation, call the situation by its real name as a foundation for progress.”

He expressed his hope that this acknowledgment leads to a more honest conversation about inequality in the region. There are “Palestinians and Jews that are for peace,” he said, adding that if the two groups come together “you'll see a possibility of a joint struggle which is so, so important to break the apartheid,” he said. 

Yossi Yonah of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev argued that terming Israel a “colonial state” did not fully capture the realities of the Israeli state. Yonah said he agreed with “most of the things” said by Yiftachel, but he still has “a problem describing Israel as a colonial state,” he added. “It is important to make this distinction between colonial apparatus and colonial state.” 

Scheindlin urged the audience not to forget about the Gaza Strip now that a cease-fire agreement has been signed. “We can never forget that Gaza at present is a humanitarian catastrophe, which contributes to the situation and exacerbates it,” she said. “It is now worse, it is worse after every war.”

“I'm just using the opportunity of the recent war to remind everybody that we can never cope with this,” Scheindlin said. “We can never take responsibility for this region by forgetting, in between wars, that Gaza is a humanitarian disaster.”


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