Students and staff packed into the Hesburgh Center for International Studies Thursday afternoon to hear from a panel of experts on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Professor Ebrahim Moosa opened the panel by describing how Palestinian guerrilla militants of Hamas “wreaked tremendous havoc” in Gaza and Israel. He said the militants killed “many, many civilians.”
In the standing-room only auditorium, students lined the floor in front of the auditorium’s chairs and encroached on the stairs and the stage to hear from panelists.
Years ago, a lecture on the conflict between Israel and Palestine would have had limited attendees. Daniel Bannoura, a graduate student who grew up in a small town near Bethlehem said he was concerned about the turnout.
“Why are so many of you here and not in 2021 when we had a panel like this?” he asked the audience. “I think it’s because we don’t think that Palestinians are humans. They don’t have the same worth. And I’m kind of worried [that we] have a big showing here today because Israeli civilians were killed, not because Palestinians were killed.”
Titled “Israel-Palestine Escalation: The Current Chapter of a Long History” and organized by the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, the panel discussion contextualized the headline violence in Gaza and pointed to human rights violations on both sides of the conflict.
Bannoura spoke about his personal experience and those he knows who live in Gaza, demonstrating the gravity of the conflict.
“I have a lot of friends who I haven’t heard from since Monday and I don’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’m hoping for the best, but [not] expecting it.”
He and other panelists tallied the deaths resulting from the conflict: 450 children and babies, 1,400 killed in Gaza and 151 Palestinians killed the day of the panel.
“Twenty-two families on the Gaza Strip are erased from the records,” Bannoura said. “They’re all gone, whole families gone.”
Throughout the panel, those who spoke asserted the human rights of every person ensnared in the conflict and sought to contextualize the current violence.
“It's important to recognize the humanity of everyone involved,” said Atalia Omer, a professor of religion, conflict and peace studies. “Recognize that the terrorist actions that happen by Hamas [...] but be consistent ethically across the board in terms of condemning acts of terrorism, including state terrorism.”
Panelists comment on Israel’s history
Omer said Israel’s ability to “immediately cut off water, food, fuel and electricity” demonstrates the discrepancy of power between the two countries.
“[Israel] had control over all of this, so what does that tell you?” she asked. “The one thing doesn’t justify the massacre of babies in the kibbutz in Israel, but it offers a context that is so important, especially in resisting the rhetoric of revenge, war and destruction.”
On Oct. 9, Israel imposed a total blockade around Gaza. This resulted in medicine, water, electricity and other necessities being completely cut off from the civilians remaining in Gaza.
Omer said that the people of Gaza have been under siege by the Israelis for over 16 years. After the Battle of Gaza — also known as Hamas’s takeover of Gaza in June of 2007 — Israel made the blockade surrounding Gaza permanent, citing security concerns. After the blockade was made permanent, Israel regularly launched airstrikes into Gaza killing thousands of Palestinians.
After Omer, Moosa once again took the microphone and said the trigger of the attack was not simply a U.S.-backed truce between Saudi Arabia and Israel, but a culmination of events, including the disenfranchisement and suffering of the Palestinian people.
Though he said this “does not at all justify” acts of terrorism, Moosa described Gaza as a place where 2.2 million Palestinians live in an “open-air prison.”
Fellow panelist Bannoura said the word prison implies too much guilt.
“I think the most apt description is it’s a concentration camp,” he said.
Moosa said people should condemn Hamas’ actions, not their resistance.
“Everybody has a right in international law to resistance, but some actions [are] not include[d in] that,” he said.
Bannoura added that if people are condemning Hamas, they should also be condemning the Israeli government.
“If you're condemning Hamas, as you should, but still simultaneously you’re not condemning the Israeli government, the Israeli occupation forces, this long 75 years of violence, apartheid and oppression of the Palestinians,” he said. “If you’re not condemning at the same time, the unapologetic, unwavering, continuous American support for Israel, all of us here are participating in the killing of Palestinians. All of us, our tax money is going to support what’s happening in Gaza.”
He said failing to condemn both Hamas and Israel’s history opposing Palestine makes people “part of a narrative … where Palestinians are not human.”
Analyzing media coverage
As an example of the narratives presented in American media, Moosa mentioned that after Hayim Katsman, one of Omer’s friends, was killed on Saturday, Katsman’s brother went on CNN to criticize Israel’s publication of this death.
“He says, ‘my government is cynically using the death of my brother … to kill other human beings,’” Moosa said, paraphrasing Katsman’s brother.
Moosa warned that U.S. media is “looking for an Iran connection, in order to start the greater conflagration.”
Bannoura explained to the audience you only hear from the Israeli point of view because “the media here, the political reality, is an extremely white supremacist media.”
“Israelites are the white people and Palestinians are not white, Palestinians were not given the right to context,” Bannoura said. “This is a war between Israel and terrorism, there is no story to tell otherwise, right? There is no story of oppression and violence, there’s no story about the Palestinian continuous trauma and violent heart that has caused all of this to happen here.”
While Bannoura was speaking, he was interrupted by a student from the audience. However, Moosa was quick to jump in.
“I'm aware that many people in this audience are in pain and we recognize that just asking you to bear with us a little bit so that you can have the opportunity to speak,” Moosa said.
Moosa added to Bannoura’s comments about only hearing from one side.
“You have to stand with humanity. You shouldn’t be standing with only Israel. There are people on the other side,” he said.
Moosa took this opportunity to implore the audience to use what power they had to make changes so that the United States is a broker for peace.
Moosa then passed the microphone to the final panelist, law professor Mary Ellen O’Connell.
O’Connell began by reminding the audience that all humans have common accomplishments, one being “a set of impartial, neutral binding and universal legal principles that reflect all of our greatest cultural wisdom, religious beliefs and systems of ethics.”
O’Connell implored the audience to make use of those universal legal principles.
“And to use it and to stop using the language of division and inhumanity and saying our grievance is worse than your grievance. There is so much grievance and there is a way forward if we will join together and use what past generations offered us,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell continued to explain the conflict through a legal perspective.
“Israel's use of force also violates the principles of necessity… any use of force, armed conflict must comply with the four basic rules in the conduct of armed fighting: distinction, necessity, proportionality and humanity. All of these are being violated by Israel right now,” she said. “As Atalia [Omer] said there is never a right to cut off food, water, fuel and medicine to a civilian population. There is never a right to indiscriminately bomb civilians. The law demands that Hamas cease fire and release detainees and that Israel end indiscriminate punitive measures.”
O’Connell said that Iran and the United States have no right to join this fight, adding that the U.S. has a responsibility to restore respect for international law.
After O’Connell spoke the panelists turned the floor over to the audience for questions.
One student speaker asked why the U.N. and the U.S. don’t just go into Gaza and free the Palestinian people from Hamas.
“I don’t want to be harsh but you’re not listening to what Palestinians are saying,” Bannoura answered. “When we’re saying we want to free Palestine we’re not saying we want to free Palestine from Hamas but free Palestine from 75 years of oppression … Hamas is only one episode of a long journey.”
Omar underscored the importance of freedom as a motivating factor.
“This panel is not a kumbaya panel and it’s a real challenge, but never underestimate people’s desire for freedom,” Omar said.
The next student speaker voiced her concern for showing her support for Palestine without her Jewish and Israeli friends thinking she was anti-Semitic or offending them.
Another student stepped up to the microphone to share a story of her home back in Gaza.
“I just want to paint a picture of what’s happening from what I heard from my family and friends in Gaza. I just want to say that the house that I was born and raised in the first 18 years of my life was destroyed just two days ago,” she said.
This student pushed back against the suggestion that the U.S. and U.N. free Gaza from Hamas.
“Hamas is the only thing that's keeping Israel from taking over Gaza and killing everyone so we need some form of resistance,” she said. “Israel has been committing war crimes and no one is recognizing it. The media has no coverage and they’ve been killing journalists.”
In the last minutes of the panel, Bannoura shared his final thoughts.
“This is the same demand for justice and for goodness and for human rights,” he said. “Israel versus Palestine is the same unified struggle for justice for both …. we have a shared history, shared suffering and a shared future — what I'm talking about here is a one state solution where Palestinian kids and Jewish kids can be friends.”