Mar 30th, 2024, 04:30 PM

AUP and the Schaeffer Center Navigate Division on Israel-Palestine

By Ally Poehailos
(Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Brahim Guedich)
Three guest speakers and self-proclaimed peacebuilders visit the campus to conquer the topic of coexistence

On Thursday, March 28, AUP professors worked in collaboration with the Schaeffer Center to host an important talk on the state of affairs in Gaza through the lens of peacebuilding initiatives and coexistence. The event featured three guest speakers who gave brief presentations of their professional work in activism, as well as their responses to the Israel-Palestine “conflict” before engaging in a discussion with an eager room, filled beyond capacity with AUP students and faculty.

The three speakers – John Lyndon and Orly Noy visiting in person, and Dr. Rula Hardal on Teams – each come from diverse backgrounds and relationships with the war happening in Gaza. Among them, however, was the general consensus that the circumstances are growing increasingly desperate, and clear and decisive action is needed from international communities more than ever. 

Following a brief introduction, the first guest to speak was Dr. Rula Hardal, who began with addressing the sentiment of hopelessness that she is witnessing first-hand from her home in Ramallah. She addressed the war several times throughout the session as the “second Nakba”, referencing the 1948 mass displacement of the Palestinian people. As a Palestinian-born woman living in Israel, Dr. Hardal spoke about the asymmetrical power struggle between the two national groups and her work with Land for All towards a solution which is politically centered first and foremost. 

She proposed five central factors in this work: first, a paradigm shift in both national narratives towards an understanding of shared belonging. Second, she proposes individual and collective equality, followed by the right of both peoples to self-determination, recognition of trauma and, finally, reconciliation. With Land for All, the organization engages with this work while advocating, according to their website, for “two states, one homeland”. 

The next guest to introduce themself was Orly Noy, who led with a comment acknowledging the tragedy in Gaza as “perhaps the darkest moment that any of us can remember.” Like Dr. Hardal, Noy also expressed the difficulty in making sense of the events since October 7 and the perception of irreparability that many have as far as peace talks go. As she spoke, she took a look back at the history of the conflict, defining Israel’s regime as operating under “the logic of apartheid” in a comment which garnered noises of approval from the audience. 

Noy went on to talk about the work that her organization B’Teslem is doing. While the NGO started with the goal of reporting, documenting and advocating against the occupation, Noy specifies the growth that the organization has shown in terms of decisive action against the Israeli government and military. In 2021, B’Teslem published the Apartheid Report, with Noy reporting the fallout faced by the organization and its members in the fashion of severe threats targeting employees and organized government campaigns inciting hatred. She specifically recalled having to hire bodyguards for the organization’s executive director who often went and spoke out publicly against Israeli apartheid.

In another comment which seemed to garner approval from students, Noy spoke to the conflict as an “ongoing ethnic cleansing”, echoing Dr. Hardal’s sentiment of the second Nakba. To finish, she said, “Persecution is very open now, very unapologetic, and extremely dangerous.“

The last speaker was John Lyndon, hailing from Ireland and working in ALLMEP (Alliance for Middle East Peace) establishing a network of peace-building organizations and NGOs with the mission to “disrupt the fragmentation”. He started by addressing how the events unfolding in Gaza are unlike anything we’ve seen before, while also making reference to the Nakba with the sentiment that today’s atrocities can only be categorized in a league of their own. To see more on ALLMEP's mission, check out their website.

“We were on a glide path to tragedy,” he said of the long-running history of atrocity in the Israel-Palestine region. He proposed that October 7, if anything, created a shift which may just allow “structural issues to be interrogated”, with hegemonic beliefs shifting in terms of the level of conflict that can be sustained by the Israeli state. 

Another issue that Lyndon highlighted as contributing to the sense of hopelessness concerns the young median age of inhabitants of Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. He brought up the important reality that many of these individuals have never known peace or trust in the international community, and that unlike the usual case in conflict resolution where the international community will strengthen the weaker party, the world has never empowered Palestinians and their civil society. 

After the speakers were through with their introductions and presentations of their own respective works, the moderator opened the floor for an hour of discussion. Due to the sheer amount of people in the room, questions were taken three at a time in their own small segments. 

The first question came from a student who argued that Palestinians have not been denied self-determination, despite the opposing sentiments from the three speakers. He addressed each of them in asking, “At what point is it the responsibility of Palestinian authorities to come to Israel with a two-state solution, something they would not reject as they have so often in the past?” Lyndon, Noy and Hardal each responded to the question in similar dissent with the student’s portrayal of events, Noy specifically rejecting the good faith of Israel in their past attempts at “negotiation”. Hardal contended that Israel has done “everything in terms of [settlement] policies, annexation and economic punishment against Palestinians in order to prevent any chance for negotiations and solutions, including the two-state solution.”

The next questions came from students interested in knowing strategies to engage Israeli and Palestinian youth, as well as how international students can engage with strategies to stop and prevent dehumanization. To this, Lyndon emphasized the importance of initiating conversations and doing it quickly. Engaging youth, he said, “has to happen urgently, because if [divisive] attitudes are let into adulthood, the problem is going to get worse.” He went on to say “The vast majority of Israeli and Palestinians live and die without ever having a meaningful conversation…most Israelis don’t know what’s happening, because they’re very deliberately kept from knowing.” 

Generally, education and awareness were key goals emphasized among the speakers and the remaining session’s questions, both inside and outside of the region. Lyndon asked students to imagine “if we had ten times as many peacebuilders graduating as we did military officers”, pointing towards the importance of international communities putting our resources into the voices of the people. While Hardal agreed with this sentiment, she also pointed out how nothing is possible without prioritizing a solution on the political level. Noy also reiterated several times the specific point that citizens of Western countries should also be careful to hold their governments accountable, a sentiment echoed by the other two. 

Towards the end of the discussion, one student took out a piece of paper where they had been diligently taking notes throughout the session. Amid their comments, one stood out. “It’s not a conflict, it’s a genocide.” Following a few scattered claps from around the room, they walk out.

Coming from just one engaged student among the many who hope to see AUP take a more forward stance in engaging in meaningful conversations with the international community they so ardently advertise, the overall results of this event demonstrated a step in the right direction. Students and other attendees remained generally respectful and considerate of the speakers’ time and showed a genuine interest in hearing from each unique perspective in order to learn how they can take action.

Now that students have an idea of how they can contribute, one must ask, is there an equal responsibility for the institution teaching them to take action as well? Is hosting three guest speakers enough, or does AUP need to use its social and economic capital to do more? The University may take its guest speaker's advice when it comes to advocating for policy and making decisive calls for action, especially where it pertains to the complicity of Western governments.

After October 7, AUP saw the creation of Students for Justice in Palestine, a club whose mission is to promote understanding as well as “advance the cause for transnational social justice in solidarity with all communities”. For students interested in participating and staying up-to-date with information, you can feel free to seek more information or join the club’s page via AUP Engage.