Viewpoint: Facts, not feelings

BY FAHAD FARUQI

Published February 18, 2009

For weeks, students and alumni have riddled the Daily’s opinion section with perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although the dynamic dialogue between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups on campus serves a constructive and important role in understanding and perhaps contributing to a solution to the conflict, both sides too often repeat talking points and mold the facts around their own ideology.

A good example of this occurred in a Letter to the Editor by Dan Shuster (UPZ ignores Israel’s need to defend its own existence, 2/16/2009). Shuster states, either by mistake or on purpose, that Palestinians elected Hamas to launch rockets into Israel. Almost any scholar of the situation in the Middle East would take exception with that view. Palestinians elected Hamas because they did not trust the infamously corrupt Fatah government. Palestinians’ growing frustration at Fatah’s inability to move the peace process forward and the economic circumstances under which Palestinians lived created momentum for Hamas. Additionally, Hamas moderated its stance on many issues to gain support in the elections.

Likewise, in the recent Israeli elections, the citizens of the Jewish state did not vote to kill Palestinians and continue the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Israelis, growing frustrated at the incumbent party’s inability to deal with Hamas and rejuvenate the peace process, decided to give more power to right-wing parties that promised security.

When we hear phrases such as “Israel has a right to defend itself” and “Palestinians have a right to resist the occupation,” we learn nothing. And repeating those talking points does a disservice to the cause. The arguments against Israel’s actions in Gaza do not pertain to whether Israel has a right to defend itself — which it does. The arguments speak to the question of whether Israel’s actions were in the name of defense or oppression.

This logic also applies to pro-Palestinians. The arguments against Hamas’ actions do not have to do with whether or not Palestinians deserve a sovereign state free from the influence of Israel’s military. The arguments address Hamas’ anti-Semitism and targeting of Israeli civilians.

But pro-Palestinian groups and individuals are too often labeled as anti-Semitic merely because they are critical of Israel’s policies and motivations. This marginalization and name-calling must stop. It is dishonest to say that someone who has legitimate criticisms about Israel’s policies is anti-Semitic. The difference is clear — believing that the Palestinians live in an apartheid regime under Israeli occupation is not anti-Semitic. Believing that there is something inherently wrong with Judaism and Jewish people is.

Pro-Palestinian groups must also recognize that resistance to the occupation does not justify Hamas’ targeting of civilians. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did not lead the civil rights movement with guns. Gandhi did not lead his movement to free India through the use of violence. Nelson Mandela did not target civilians even during the most militant years of his movement to resist apartheid in South Africa.

Whether the Israeli regime established in the occupied territories is comparable to apartheid, however, is a matter of contention. Many of Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories mimic those of the former South African regime. These policies include separate highways for Palestinians and Israelis, banning of Palestinians born in Jerusalem to visit Jerusalem without a permit, regular checkpoints (many of which are not necessary for security) forced occupation of civilian homes, illegal building of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories and blockage of non-military humanitarian aid in Gaza.

On the Palestinian side, continued rocket attacks on Israeli towns, refusal by Hamas to recognize Israelis’ right to exist, Hamas leadership’s unapologetic anti-Semitism and corruption in the ranks of the Fatah party make it difficult to believe that a Palestinian state could peacefully exist alongside Israel.

I encourage both sides to shed their ideological bubble and look at the facts. It is often difficult to separate emotions from the realities on the ground. No doubt, I have probably made some ideological arguments in this viewpoint. But I am willing to reflect and change my perspective if presented with facts. I hope the same can be said for the students on campus that care deeply about this issue but tend to just think with their emotions.

I am assuming both sides can agree that a two-state solution is the only just and viable solution to the conflict; this is my only ideological assumption. If both sides cannot agree to that much, especially in the intellectual ranks of academia here at the University, then perhaps the peace process is doomed and the final outcome of the conflict will leave yet another black mark in the history of human civilization.

Fahad Faruqi is an LSA senior.