A Dialogue on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

compiled by Miller Saltzman, Editor-in-chief & Nicolas Tourani, Staff Reporter
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has recently become an extremely contested issue at Pitzer. Our goal is to start a dialogue between the different groups at the 5Cs that focus on the conflict. To do this we have interviewed J-Street (JSU), Claremont Students for Israel (CSI), and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to learn more about their views and what needs to happen for there to be a respectful dialogue among the three groups. Please contribute your thoughts on the comments section below. 
Elliott Hamilton ’15, Executive Board Member of Claremont Students for Israel (CSI)
Sage Lachman ’16, Founder and President of the J Street U chapter at the Claremont Colleges (JSU)
Kelsey Frenck ’14, Member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)*
*SJP is not officially registered with the Claremont Colleges due to the club splitting up after last year’s Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). They plan to become a 5C group again next year.
1) What is Israeli Apartheid Week, and what are your views on it?
While supporters of Israeli-Apartheid Week would argue that the week is meant to shed light on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the week is, in my opinion, more about delegitimizing Israel. It is not about hearing or supporting the Palestinian narrative, but it is about making Israel seem as the sole oppressing entity in a situation that is likely more complex than any conflict in modern history. By likening the situation to South African apartheid, the discourse is deeply offensive and breeds a one-sided and inaccurate picture of the conflict. The definition of apartheid, according to the 1998 Rome Statute, is “Inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” Since Israeli-Arabs vote, hold government offices, are in the supreme court, and share the same resources and public spaces as Israeli Jews, it is incomprehensible to label Israel an apartheid state. We firmly believe there are better ways to address these pertinent issues that are much more effective and positive.
The inhabitants of the West Bank fall into two tiers: the Israeli citizens, living in illegal settlements, who enjoy democratic rights and protections from the Israeli government and military, and the Palestinians, who are subject to the dictates of the Israeli government and military, even in the most mundane aspects of their daily lives. We understand that many people who use the word apartheid are extraordinarily concerned about the ongoing circumstances in Israel and the Palestinian territories. We, too, are genuinely concerned; thus, we are invested in changing the status quo. As members of J Street U, a pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace organization, our commitment to reaching an end to the occupation is rooted in a strong dedication to human rights and democracy. Israel’s long-term survival is threatened as long as it continues occupying another people’s land. This must change. But what we are seeing in the Palestinian territories is not apartheid; it is occupation. This occupation is extremely multifaceted. While race does play a role, it is not the cause for the occupation. It is about race and nationality, but also about land, history, natural resources, and self-determination. Reducing the many faces of the conflict to an issue of racial oppression is not the most productive or effective way to advocate for real change.
Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is an annual international series of events held in cities and campuses across the globe. The aim of IAW is to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement (more information can be found at apartheidweek.org) Although this is the 10th year as a national movement, this is the second year SJP-Claremont has held events in honor of IAW. SJP believes this week is critical to raising awareness regarding Israeli policies and military in reference to the Palestinian people. People often become critical of the title, stating it’s unfounded. However, SJP stands by their belief that Israel is an apartheid state. Now when we say this, we make references to South Africa and discuss parallels between the two situations. But never have we declared them identical. Policies such as segregated roads, unfair wages and second-class treatment all highlight similarities between Israel and Apartheid South Africa.
2) What are the most important issues to you in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
The most important issues to me are the end of the terrorist attacks, the end of illegal settlement building on both sides, and the recognition of both Israeli and Palestinian states. These issues will help to create a lasting peace and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Firstly, we believe that the occupation of the West Bank is morally reprehensible and unsustainable. As long as the occupation continues, the rights of Palestinians will continue to be violated by the Israeli military presence in the West Bank. Furthermore, the viability of Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state will be compromised.
While this status quo persists, resentment and frustration with Israeli policy grows in the West Bank and internationally. While ending the occupation is by no means the only step necessary to ensure peace, it is absolutely necessary from a human rights perspective and must be a priority in a final status agreement. Thus, securing and formalizing international borders, based on pre-1967 lines with mutually agreed-upon land swaps, is essential.
Secondly, we are committed to ensuring Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. If the status quo persists, Israel will have to choose between being democratic and being Jewish. Apart from changing demographics that may soon make Jews a minority in Israel, it is not possible to have a democracy in a country in which a large sector of the population is treated as second class, with fewer protected rights and little meaningful representation in government. It is crucial that Israelis and Palestinians are each given the opportunity to self-determine and self-govern. This is only possible with a two-state solution.
Boiled down into two words: human rights. When really looking at the conflict, one can easily see that the fight is unfair. Israel controls basically everything. “All the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) comprises only 22% of historic Palestine between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. The fragmentation of the Palestinian territories began in the Oslo ‘peace process,’ when in the Oslo II agreement of 1995 the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. Today the Palestinian Authority controls Area A (18% of the West Bank, though in fact Israel invades at will) and Area B (another 22% of the West Bank, although Israel controls the security and patrols the territory). Area C, 60 of the West Bank (where the settlements are), is under full Israeli control. East Jerusalem, where 240,000 Palestinian live and which the international community considers occupied territory, has been formally annexed by Israel and, from Israel’s perspective, is not part of the occupied territories. The PA is forbidden to have any presence in East Jerusalem. Gaza, only 6.5% of the OPT, is under PA/Hamas control. Under the Oslo agreements Gaza is considered an integral unit of the OPT and should be treated as one in the same as the West Bank. In fact, Israel has besieged and isolated it completely in the late 1980s. – See more at: http://www.icahd.org/faq#sthash.fNikNpn3.dpuf.” Palestinians have no voice in their lives. Take for example, the eviction notices we placed across Pitzer, Scripps, CMC and Mudd. This closely simulated one portion of daily life in Palestine. When Palestinians are given eviction notices, they are charged for demolition if home owners don’t complete it themselves. Since January 1st, 2014, 106 structures have been demolished leading to 179 people being displaced. That has only been in two months. Since the beginning of the occupation, around 27,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed, 800,000 olive trees (around 33 central parks) have been uprooted resulting in 12.3 million dollars lost annually from those relying on olive trees for a living. And attempting to build another house is nearly impossible as Israel conveniently named most of the West Bank “agricultural land,” meaning Palestinians may own the land but not build upon it. Similarly, East Jerusalem has been zoned as “open green space,” preventing Palestinian building to “reserve” for future urban development. This led to 94% of Palestinian building permits from 2001-2008 to be denied.  Some may say, but it’s fair for Palestinians within Israel, it’s a democracy. Well, unfortunately-albeit not surprisingly- it’s not even close. “All urban policies related to housing and residence – permits for Palestinians to live in the city (they only have permanent residency that can be revoked, not Israeli citizenship), land expropriation and zoning restrictions, house demolitions, settlement expansion into Palestinian neighborhoods, the isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of Palestinian society and its subsequent impoverishment, routes of highways through Palestinian communities or, conversely, neglect of Palestinian infrastructure – are tied to what in Israel is called the “Quiet Transfer,”: reducing, fragmenting and isolating as much as possible the Palestinian presence in order to “judaize” Jerusalem (an official term actually used by the Israeli government in planning).” – See more at: http://www.icahd.org/faq#sthash.VSzxmQPD.dpuf . Along with education, healthcare, prison systems and occupation, Palestinians are discriminated against heavily in regarding to housing. SJP doesn’t believe any peoples, no matter a conflict, should be treated in this manner. 
3) What is the mission of your club?
CSI: Claremont Students for Israel (CSI) seeks to present pro-Israel discourse to the Claremont Colleges through social and educational events, meetings, and programming. CSI is an autonomous, nonpartisan, and nonreligious group. We support Israel’s right to security, to defend its borders, and to exist as the only Jewish state in the world. We also believe it must not be judged by different standards than any other countries. CSI responds to any biased and anti-Israel media presented on the Claremont Colleges. CSI not only focuses on engaging students and leaders on campus, but it also works to influence United States foreign policy via direct communication with the United States Congress. More importantly, we wish to promote positive dialogue in which those who care about the conflict can come together respectfully and find a means to coexist.
Many chapters of J Street U have grown out of a frustration with the polarized conversations about Israel and Palestine on our campuses. We believe that placing the blame wholly on the Palestinians or wholly on the Israelis is unproductive. We are driven by a commitment to democracy and human rights for all people. Therefore, we are organizing across the country to advocate for a two-state solution, which we believe to be the only solution that will ensure a sustainable and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians.
J Street U is a network of campus chapters across the US whose primary goals are education, open dialogue, and most importantly, advocacy.  We are committed to advocating for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, facilitated by US leadership and diplomacy. Because the fates of Israelis and Palestinians are so deeply intertwined, we believe that advocating for Israel as a Jewish state necessitates advocating for a Palestinian state alongside it. Both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples deserve the right to self-determination, sovereignty, security, and democratic self-governance. 
SJP’s mission statement is to promote the liberation and self-determination of the Palestinian people. We work to strengthen pro-Palestinian support through our various programs. Additionally, we support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement. Unlike many assume, we are in no way, shape, or form anti-Semitic. We stand in opposition to the state of Israel, the IDF, and their policies towards the Palestinian peoples. Contrast to popular belief, it is possible to criticize the state of Israel while disregarding the faith of Judaism. We criticize the political and militaristic governmental facets of Israel; not the religious.
4) What do you see as the next steps in resolving the conflict? 
To me, the most important steps toward resolving this conflict are the recognition of the State of Israel’s rights to exist and defend itself, and the recognition of the Palestinian people as a nationalist identity that has a right to exist in a state of its own. Since 1987, the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have clashed over how to coexist and to address the various political problems regarding autonomy, land ownership, and sovereignty over Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians have a right to roam freely without hindrance or threat of violence. Unfortunately, many parties feel that Israel needs to increase security to defend the only Jewish state in the world. However, those same increases in security measures result in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas’ lack of trust in the peace process, just as Israel lacks trust due to the terrorism it faces. Competing like this in a zero-sum manner benefits neither party and both sides need to come to talks openly acknowledging the other’s right to exist to gain trust before any peace agreement can be signed.
As American students, it is our responsibility to show American politicians that there is serious US support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that there is also support for the tough compromises that such a solution will necessitate.
We support Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to put pressure on negotiators from both sides so that they take the peace process seriously in order to make the concessions necessary for a peace deal. Among the compromises we see as essential are: Jerusalem as a shared city (West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital, and freedom of access to holy sites for all parties), pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed-upon land swaps, mutually-beneficial security agreements, and a symbolic right of return and family reunification for an agreed-upon number of Palestinian refugees. 
We believe the next, and only step, is the liberation of the Palestinian people. Even basics, such as food and water are under the control of the Israeli government. Israel takes 80% of the water from the West Bank Mountain Aquifer, annually. With the meager 20% left to the West Bank, Israel controls the distribution to each family. The World Health Organization has deemed 100 liters of water daily per person. Israelis are privileged to 300 liters a day whereas Palestinians are limited to 70 liters. Furthermore, in 2011 alone, Israel demolished 89 water-related structures, while no new wells have been approved since 1967 (visualizingpalestine.org, http://visualizingpalestine.org/infographic/wb-water). We need people to step up in opposition to the atrocities committed by Israel. As a community, we need to step away from political beliefs, and examine the inhumane actions of one group of people to another. As an organization, SJP purposefully does not take a stance regarding a solution (i.e. one or two state). SJP is fighting for human rights; we leave the nation composition to those who will inhabit it.
5) What do you think of US involvement in this issue?
Claremont Students for Israel is in strong support of the US-Israel relationship. When the United States ensures Israel its safety and security, then Israel tends to do the more “good” things in the eyes of the international community, such as conceding land, dismantling checkpoints, and decreasing their presence in the West Bank. When Israel does not feel safe, it tends to tighten checkpoints and borders and builds settlements. Logically, Israel will not do things to minimize their power (and thus security) unless they feel like they have strong support by strong allies. The history of Israel’s relationship with her allies and with the Palestinian supports this notion. Thus, a strong US-Israel relationship is important in helping Israel to feel like it can safely negotiate with the Palestinians towards a future Palestinian state.
In addition, Israel’s relationship with the US makes for a strong economic partnership. 90% of the foreign aid that the US gives to Israel is reinvested into the American economy. Their relationship also improves cooperation in the arenas of defense, intelligence, homeland security, energy science and trade.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders are faced with making the challenging compromises involving issues of security, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem. The two parties have been unable and unwilling to resolve this conflict by themselves, so American leadership is necessary to support both Israeli and Palestinian leaders as they make the essential compromises for peace. Secretary of State John Kerry is currently facilitating negotiations between both parties, and we believe that supporting US leadership in these talks is the most efficient use of our political energy to reach a two-state solution. As American college students, we must demonstrate our commitment to strong American diplomacy in the region. Because the United States is in a unique position to bridge the gap between the two parties and to help ensure security, justice, and human rights for both peoples, we must demonstrate our commitment to strong American diplomacy in the region. 
The U.S.’s alliance with Israel prevents any substantial progress from being made. With the U.S. donating 30 billion dollars a year, they want to ensure their investment is secure. With the last 20 years of “peace talks,” there have been 20 more years of occupation. Since the first Oslo in 1993, 11,000 Palestinians have been forced out of Jerusalem with the Israeli settlement population doubling. There are 4.4 million Palestinians divided, physically by 522 checkpoints, between Gaza and the West Bank. For the last six years, Gaza citizens have lived in an open prison because of the Israeli blockade. Sitting down diplomatically and talking isn’t working. And we can’t wait another 20 years hoping a solution will be found. This is the reason SJP supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement. “Boycotts target products and companies (Israeli and international) that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions. Divestment means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies. And Sanctions are an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country’s actions. Israel’s membership of various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its crimes” (bdsmovement.net).
6) What are your views on the other two clubs? What needs to happen for there to be a respectful dialogue among the three groups?
J Street U has a very specific focus. The national organization is committed to finding a long-lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, and pro-peace. Our experiences at J Street events and with board members on campus have been overwhelmingly positive. While our personal views are not wholly represented by J Street, we feel they have been a positive force on campus and we have enjoyed being in close contact with leaders in the club.
We feel Students for Justice in Palestine’s goals are more anti-Israel than pro-Palestinian. Participating in “Israel Apartheid Week” as opposed to framing it as “Palestinian Solidarity Week” exemplifies their continued stabs at Israel, as opposed to purely supporting the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, we believe in the prospects for dialogue. We continue to hope that the three clubs can work together at some point in the future and begin a path towards creating a safe space on campus to discuss the nuances of the conflict.
Because our chapter of J Street U, like many others, was founded in response to the extremely polarized nature of the campus conversation on Israel and Palestine, we value open and productive dialogue with students from all backgrounds and perspectives, including those of students involved with CSI and SJP. Any productive conversation about Israel and Palestine should take into account the interests and needs of all groups invested in a solution to the conflict.
At each J Street U event, we start by establishing ground rules to ensure that each voice is heard and responded to respectfully. We find that these ground rules help maintain a safe space for all, allowing us to have constructive, honest, challenging conversations. We invite all students who are invested in ending the conflict, who want to get involved, or who just want to learn more to join the conversation at a J Street U event!
SJP respects J Street for their solidarity with the Palestinian people. However, their opposition to BDS prevents an effective call for Israel to stop violating international laws and seek to end the complicity of other nations in these violations. Because of CSI’s pro-Israel position, it is unlikely SJP and CSI will see eye-to-eye regarding the situation. This in no way means it’s not possible to have respectful dialogue. Last year, I constantly had dinners with an active member of CSI where we openly shared our beliefs surrounding current affairs in the conflict. I believe if the public so desires, it is completely possible to have an open forum with all three groups. 

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