The goal of any activism around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be to achieve peace through mutual understanding.
The Georgetown Israel Alliance works toward this end by hosting events that display the wide variety of viewpoints surrounding the conflict. Last semester, GIA hosted Roots — an organization that facilitates dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank — to discuss the legitimate, yet conflicting, narratives from those living in the region. GIA has also hosted a diverse group of American and Israeli politicians, activists and academics to discuss the conflict and answer students’ questions about the issue.
GIA has tried to build dialogue by including diverse viewpoints surrounding the conflict. However, the annual “Israel Apartheid Week” does not take the same thoughtful approach. The events and display in the Intercultural Center last week showed a one-sided, divisive narrative, baselessly denigrating Israel as an apartheid state in an attempt to delegitimize the Israeli narrative and the Jewish state.
Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and a place where Jewish refugees can freely practice their religion, unlike the countries they fled from. Its Christian, Muslim, Druze, Bedouin and Bahá’í citizens practice their religions without fear of persecution. As The Economist notes, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and women serve in the military and have the same legal rights as men. The LGBTQ community annually holds the only pride parade in the region — one of the largest in the world.
This democracy includes strong democratic institutions, as Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit recently recommended indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for corruption, demonstrating a system of checks and balances absent from all other Middle Eastern countries.
Despite this, last week’s events placed blame exclusively on Israel for the current conflict, an argument that contrasts with reality. When Israel unilaterally withdrew all soldiers and settlements from Gaza in 2005, the Palestinian Authority had a golden opportunity to demonstrate its ability to govern. Instead, Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist group whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, came to power via free and fair elections but has refused to hold elections since.
Now, life in and around Hamas-controlled Gaza is worse for everyone: For Palestinians who are unable to speak up against Hamas’ oppressive regime for fear of being tortured or killed, for Israelis who are killed by Hamas rockets and for Israeli children who take cover in bomb shelters inside their elementary school playgrounds. Israelis and Palestinians alike would be well-served by an end to Hamas’ brutal control of the Gaza Strip.
Life is worse in the West Bank, too. Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 14th year of his four-year term as Palestinian Authority president. The PA invests minimally in schools and infrastructure. Rather, the PA spends $300 million annually to pay terrorists who kill Jews, using what they call a “martyr fund,” as David Makovsky, former senior adviser to the U.S. special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and Ghaith al-Omari, former adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team and then-Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, note in a 2017 Washington Post op-ed.
The point is not that fault lies only on the Palestinian side, but rather that last week’s events excluded any mention of fault by the Palestinians, demonstrating the one-sided nature of Israel Apartheid Week. It zeroed in on Israel as a one-dimensional scapegoat for a complex, multi-dimensional problem. The week fails to build peace; rather, it tears down one side of the narrative.
To bring peace to the region, real negotiations must occur between two partners, not enemies. Glossing over the Palestinian narrative and Palestinian suffering contributes to the unsustainable status quo. Thus, GIA has held events featuring both Israeli and Palestinian voices with a variety of perspectives on the issue.
When it comes to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict, “it has to start from us, people to people,” as Shadi Abu Awwad, a Palestinian living in the West Bank, said at GIA’s Roots event last November.
We encourage our peers to continue engaging in conversations and recognize the diversity of narratives surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As an organization, GIA pledges to continue advancing those conversations by bringing ideologically diverse speakers to campus and providing platforms for deeper dialogue. One-sided, divisive narratives will not bring about peace. Mutual understanding is the only path to achieve that goal.
Maya Rabinowitz is the Co-President of the Georgetown Israel Alliance and a sophomore in the College. Alec Camhi is the Political Chair of the Georgetown Israel Alliance and a junior in the College.