Column: Shifting attitudes on Israel

It has been years since students on either side of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have seriously clashed at GW. That’s why it wasn’t surprising to see that trend continue – but this time with a slight twist. While the Student Alliance for Israel put on their annual “Israel day” in Kogan Plaza, one law student stood on the H Street side of Kogan holding a sign that read “Israel Day: Celebrate the theft of Arab culture and land.” Though it seemed tempting for many of the students participating in Israel day to engage the protester, they refrained and continued to go about their celebration – a kick-off to GW’s Israel month. However, the protesters were engaged by many passing students who had no affiliation with Israel day or with any pro-Israel groups – the most notable being two Egyptian Muslim girls who were offended by the sign and what it stood for.

One of the girls told me that she would not classify herself as pro-Israel, but rather as pro-peace. She described her difference of opinion with the protester as a difference in vision. “They see this as a conflict with no end. I see it as a conflict on a path to peace,” she said. She told me that signs and demonstrations like the one last Tuesday help no one, and only contribute to the spread of misinformation and hate. “If you are going to educate people about what’s going on,” she said, “then it has to be done in an educational forum, not on the side of a street.”

Hopefully, this incident is indicative of a shift in the thinking of both the Arab and Zionist communities in America and elsewhere. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza strip and the handover of security to the Palestinian Authority in multiple West Bank towns are encouraging signs on the road to Palestinian statehood. The January elections in the Palestinian territories proved that this is a people ready to determine their own destiny in the wake of Yasser Arafat’s decades of failed leadership. The only viable solution to the conflict is the development of two states – living side by side in peace. Denying Israel’s right to exist based on false claims of “theft” does no justice to the Palestinians and Israelis who do live on the front line of this conflict. It is much easier to start arguments in Kogan Plaza than to live under Israeli occupation or ride the buses that are targets of terror.

Zionists must remember as well that it is in their interest to promote Palestinian statehood. Those who care about Israel’s existence must also remain steadfast in caring about the destiny of the Palestinian people. While there have been positive signs on the Arab street since the Palestinian elections, there are also signs that the peace process could once again unravel. A registered terrorist organization with designs for the destruction of the state of Israel, Hamas, is seeing unprecedented support in the territories. At the same time, Palestinian President Abu Mazen’s Fatah movement is losing support daily. The forces working toward peace on both sides need now, more than ever, the support of their domestic and foreign constituencies.

The intertwined histories of Israelis and Palestinians are filled with divergent truths that may never be resolved. The one thing that is true is that there have been fatal mistakes made by both sides. However, arguments over the past serve no purpose in stopping the bloodshed of the present and future. Israel is an established nation that will continue to fight for her existence. The Palestinian people are on the path to statehood and should not have to continue living under Israeli control. True Zionists and true supporters of the Palestinian people – those who wish to see the continued existence of the State of Israel, the development of a Palestinian state, and the emergence of a lasting peace – must realize these facts and refrain from the sort of rhetoric and blame that prevailed in Kogan last Tuesday.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet contributing editor.

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