As students at an institute of higher learning, we have the unique opportunity to explore the intricate dynamics involved in international conflicts and resolutions. We have the chance to consider all sides of a story, expose ourselves to others’ beliefs, and ultimately formulate our opinions after careful examination of the facts.

In a conflict as divisive and deeply rooted as that in the Middle East, incongruent narratives inevitably emerge seeking to explain the past, present and expectations for the future. But these narratives do not operate in polar black and white terms — indeed, a great deal of gray area exists between them. Campus discourse often focuses on different groups exchanging nothing more than opposing perspectives. The embittered and accusatory battle for the “right” story creates an atmosphere of mistrust, which prevents the conversation from progressing beyond simply laying blame in a situation where neither side is completely guiltless.

Mike Sayre’s viewpoint last Wednesday accused Israel — and U.S. support for Israel — of being the sole obstacle to achieving a just and lasting peace (Seeking solutions in Palestine, 10/07/2009). But this type of biased attack refuses to acknowledge the Israeli perspective.

An examination of the United Nations’ Goldstone Report provides an example of the importance of critical analysis in a situation that is seeped in complexity. Since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, Hamas’s perpetual bombardment of Israel caused physical damage, injuries and deaths in Southern Israel, as well as constant fear. In response to Hamas’s violation of international law and unrelenting bombardment of Israel, with 7,000 rocket attacks since 2005, Israel acted on its right to self-defense and launched a counter-terrorist operation last winter.

With a terrorist organization controlling the area and launching rockets from people’s homes, the protection of civilian lives during Israel’s attack on Hamas proved increasingly difficult. Aiming to preserve innocent Palestinian lives, the Israeli Defense Forces took extensive measures to limit civilian casualties. Such measures included warnings by phone calls, text messages, leaflets and radio announcements of impending attacks on Hamas targets. Israel willingly forfeited its strategic advantage to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties, only to later be accused of human rights violations.

The accusations levied against Israel by the Goldstone Report fail to take into account Israel’s right to defend itself according to international law. It serves as an example of the polarizing approach to the situation standing in the way of rational analysis. Its purpose was biased and nonobjective — the “findings” were predetermined and concluded before the writers actually began their investigation.

The mandate of the Goldstone Commission calls upon the Human Rights Council to “investigate all violations of international human rights law and International Humanitarian Law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people.” The mandate itself was titled “The Grave Violations of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” This presumption of guilt before an actual investigation is a severe problem in the protection of international human rights. This biased and illegitimate premise undermines the United Nations’ ability to safeguard human rights.

To learn from the mistakes of the Goldstone Report, students on campus have an important obligation to come together and rationally explore the situation’s multifaceted nature. More comprehensive views lead to critical understanding and effective discourse. Michigan’s campus is an ideal place to engage in this kind of effective conversation because of the rich diversity at the University that lends itself to healthy dialogue.

We hope that our fellow students will make the crucial distinction between pure bias and analysis of facts in future campus discourse. As we get further into the school year, we challenge the Michigan student body to educate, engage in constructive conversations, and avoid the “right” and “wrong” rhetoric that so often distracts us from productive conversation. The question now is what we can do to help contribute to a peaceful, fair and sustainable solution to the Middle East conflict, encompassing all views and sides of the story.

Danielle DePriest and Naomi Scheinerman are vice chair of American Movement for Israel and a board member of American Movement for Israel, respectively.

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