Regarding the ongoing struggle between Israel and Palestine, most people would use the word “conflict.” However, at a panel discussion on April 29, speakers Asil Abuassba, Assistant Professor of Sociology/Anthropology Ibtesam âl-Atiyat and Northfielders for Justice in Palestine and Israel member Ruth Hansen pushed students to reframe how they think about the situation.
“Use the word ‘colonization’ instead of ‘conflict,’ because we’re not equal,” Abuassaba said.
The panel focused on correcting common misconceptions about the situation, ranging from this word choice conundrum to broader misunderstandings of historical events. Titled “Understanding Palestine: A Discussion of Life Under the Occupation,” the event was co-sponsored by the Political Awareness Committee and Oles for Justice in Palestine and also included discussion of resolutions to the violence.
“I will not divide up my identity according to some sort of map,” Abuassaba said, stating that the majority of Palestinians do not believe in a two-state solution “because we’ve lived it, and it doesn’t work.” Abuassaba expressed her support for a one-state plan in which “we are all living together equally.”
âl-Atiyat, however, presented an alternative solution: “Everyone recognizes Israel’s right to exist given certain conditions,” she said. She claimed that many people involved in the struggle, including Palestinian extremist groups, believe in the two-state option. However, she emphasized that this “right to exist” cannot be defined as it currently is by many pro-Israel groups.
“In order for Israel to exist and to declare this right to exist, Palestinians have to cease to exist,” she said. Referring to villages taken over by the Israeli army, she added, “Somebody decided that the history of an entire family should be erased.”
Before the panel got to these proposals for the future, though, they gave audience members a better undertanding of the the past. The discussion began with a brief history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and then âl-Atiyat launched into a more detailed backstory.
“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a modern conflict,” she said. “Jews and Arabs have never been in conflict, historically speaking.”
As âl-Atiyat explained, the two populations interacted peacefully until the rise of Zionism at the turn of the century. She traced Israel’s origins to 1917, emphasizing that the country was not created as a response to the Holocaust, but rather that the events of World War II gave the already-existing Zionist movement additional momentum.
Hansen, who has taken over 20 trips to Palestine, added an outsider’s perspective on the situation, further emphasizing the struggle’s recent origins.
“It’s the outside world, it’s the Zionists that really cause the trouble,” she said. Hansen went on to discuss her own experiences, where she witnessed Palestinians and Israelis living side by side and interacting peacefully. According to Hansen, the Zionist movement has stunted the Palestinian economy by making transportation of agricultural products through checkpoints impossible and diminishing employment opportunities.
As an international student who grew up in Palestine, Abuassba added a personal touch to the history lessons by sharing some of her own experiences. She explained the toll of Israel’s creation on Palestinian identity.
“[Zionism] means that there’s a chunk of history that has been replaced by Zionist narrative,” she said. “This is colonization. It’s actually replacing our entire narrative.”
Abuassba told how some Israelis living in former Palestinian villages know nothing about the historical displacement of Palestinians and how teachers can be sent to prison for teaching Palestinian history. More poignantly, she noted that some Palestinians cannot even refer to themselves as “Palestinians” for fear of repercussions.
“People start internalizing their own inferiority and inequality,” Abuassba said, noting that the Arab identity in Palestine has been reconstructed as that of an “enemy other” because of Israeli colonization.
Although stories like these provide a bleak picture of current-day life in Palestine, all three panelists expressed hope regarding the possibility of a peaceful resolution to the situation. Hansen pushed students to take action and speak out against the Israeli occupation.
“Do you know how to call the president?” she asked, eliciting a few nods and some nervous laughter from the audience. “It’s easy. Dial 202-456-1111, and you’ll get somebody to talk to.”
Hansen told students to demand that their political leaders work for peace. Abuassba concluded the event with other practical suggestions, including boycotting Israeli products or companies that fund the Israeli military. She also suggested another vocabulary change, asking students to “use the word ‘colony’ instead of ‘settlement.'” The panel’s conclusion seemed to be that in the struggle for peace, purchasing power and word choice can all make a difference.